Mark Kram, whose story of the first fight night in the new Madison Square Garden begins on page 35, hardly fulfills the image of what a magazine sports writer—even one primarily concerned with boxing—ought to look like. There are those, in fact, who claim that Kram is a ringer—or at least a leaner—for W. C. Fields. The physical resemblance is there, and Kram's way of life doubtless would have appealed to the eccentric old comic genius.
Reappearing periodically from some Catskills training camp or Eighth Avenue bar, Kram slaps down another remarkable bit of moodily descriptive writing and prickly interviewing on his editor's desk, growls around the office for a while and then disappears again into the violent and recriminatory realm of boxing.
On those occasions when assignments force him out of this murky microworld, Kram's talent as a writer shines at least as brightly.
A city boy from Baltimore, Kram wrote—when the Orioles appeared in the World Series in 1966—a vividly Menckenish piece on his home town that succeeded in combining acid attack, apologia and apotheosis and was long the subject of readers' delight and outrage. "I associate Baltimore with failure," Kram still says. And yet he adds quickly, "There was a lot more love in that story than I wanted there to be. It just came out somehow."
It just came out, too, when Kram went to Du Quoin, Ill, for the Hambletonian and wrote a wistful, wispy outsider's perception of its lace-curtained and white-painted small-town gentility. "Life in Du Quoin was so simple. It was beautiful. I felt I wanted to live there," remembers Kram.
Yet Kram mistrusts places like Du Quoin, which cloud the clear vision of a man who has seen his skepticism vindicated only too often. At Mexico City, another pleasant place, he found himself in a riot following the Ortiz-Ramos bout. Fans threw flaming balls of paper and tore down the ring. Cut under the eye by a flying peso, Kram considered himself lucky.
Ironically, Kram started writing because of another errant flying object. Playing ball in an outlaw league in North Dakota, he was beaned. His baseball career at an end, Kram had lots of time to think in the hospital. "I didn't know where to go," he says. "I had only worked on farms, beaches, a mining town once. I had gone to the University of Georgia half of a quarter and then played service ball. I knew I didn't want to work in a factory or steel mill. Well, I went to work as a stevedore on the Baltimore docks. But I remember how I used to go into libraries on hot summer afternoons just to look at the titles and run a finger along the books...never read much. As a last-ditch effort, I went to the Sun. They asked if I had a college degree. 'Yes,' I said, and when they asked for evidence I wrote myself a transcript. 'Fine, you're hired,' they said. Great. Now I've got a job but I don't know if I can write a line. My first assignment, I sat in the city room for 20 minutes after a football game without writing a word. People were looking at me. Then, somehow, who knows how, the words started coming."
They don't come easily, even now, but they come sharply.
MARK KRAM SURVEYS HIS BEAT