"Irish Bob" In The Morning

18.01.04 - By Bernie McCoy: Its been validly stated that drinking is the "black lung disease" of the newspaper business. It certainly was back in those long gone years when I was starting out on what can only generously be referred to as a "career". I learned the drinking part of "newspapering" long before I mastered the "five Ws and an H in the lead graph" part of the business. I logged a generous amount of time in saloons and my rationalization was that was where you met and gathered interesting material that might get you a byline on a story. It was where I met Irish Bob Murphy.

If you've ever been in what in Florida is known as a gin mill, you know the "Pilot House". It was directly across 36th Street from the Miami International Airport in a section of the city known as Miami Springs, a bit of Chamber of Commerce overstatement. In those days, the Pilot House was heavily populated by Eastern Airlines workers and other round-the-clock employees, including a fair number of cops. The bar's primary draw was that it was open 21 hours a day, 7am-3am, and 24 hours if you knew where the back door was and the guy behind it recognized you.

This particular morning, it was either a couple of hours before or shortly after my shift at the paper and I was, at least to anyone who asked, in the Pilot House looking for material. A big guy came in and sat on the stool next to me and ordered "a shot of Bushmill, beer back" (I remember that detail because that was also the drink combination in front of me). I remarked on that and we got to talking. After a short time, I told him he looked like a fighter and he conceded that he had done some fighting in his time, in and out of the ring, and in response to my question said he was Irish Bob Murphy.

At this point in his life Murphy was not yet forty and not only did he look like a fighter, but he suggested a line you often hear in Texas: he had the look of "being rode hard and put away wet". Fueled by youthful impetuousness and the beer and Bushmill, I jumped headlong into a sililoquy on Murphy's career. I told him that the first fight of his that I had seen was against Harry Matthews in the Garden in early '51 on the Friday Night Fights on NBC TV. He, of course, remembered it well and said that when he lost, he was sure he had blown his chance at a shot a the lightheavy weight title. But, he remembered, he came back in the same ring shortly thereafter and knocked out a "tough Philly fighter" named Dan Bucceroni and that coupled with the fact that "Joey Maxim wanted no part of Harry Matthews got me a title shot later in the year". Murphy remembered that Joey Maxim was the cleverest boxer he was ever in with, "I couldn't have hit him if we had fought in a phone booth" (Murphy was actually a big favorite going into the bout but lost a lopsided 15 round decision to Maxim, again in the Garden).

I asked Murphy if "Kid" Matthews was the toughest guy he ever fought and he replied that Jake LaMotta was "way tougher" than anyone he had fought; that hitting LaMotta was like "hitting a telephone pole" and that he had never been so relieved when his first fight with LaMotta was stopped after the seventh round. "If that bell for the eight round had rung, I'm not sure I could have gotten my hands up. "LaMotta, Murphy said, "was like Marciano in the sense that he just kept coming forward and throwing punches and no matter where he hit you, he hurt you". LaMotta later beat Murphy over ten rounds in a fight that, if you're fortunate, you might catch on the ESPN Classic station which shows it periodically.

I made the assumption, then, that LaMotta was the hardest puncher that Murphy had ever faced and he quickly contradicted me. "Not by a long shot, I fought a guy by the name of Clarence Henry, a tall skinny heavyweight who caught me as hard as I was ever hit, knocked me flat cold, in Detroit, and that was at a time was I was knocking out everybody I got in with. I mean, Clarence Henry could punch".

We had been talking for sometime at this point and I figured I had a good human interest piece which would go a long way toward explaining another day in the Pilot House. Murphy said his main regret about his career in the ring was that he didn't "smell the roses" when he was up near the top of the lightheavy weight division. "You think its going to last forever, the big cities, the nice hotels, the great meals, the women, everyone looking to get close to you, to do something for you. "Then one morning you look around and you're fighting in someplace like Waterbury Connecticut and the hotel isn't as nice and neither is the pre-fight meal and instead of the Garden its some auditorium with a couple of thousand people. "Then about a day later, its pretty much over, you're on a losing streak and everybody wants a chance to beat Irish Bob Murphy. "And after that..." Bob Murphy, once one of the best lightheavy weight fighters looked around the Pilot House, the sun now coming into the place in dusty streaks, and shook his head and signalled the guy behind the bar, "give me and my friend here, one more". The Bushmill had kicked in by then and I remarked that I thought that the streaks of sunlight in the bar seemed similar to patterns I had seen in some gyms across the country. Murphy snorted into his drink and he said he had hated training, particularly the road work and that sunlight patterns in gyms were not something that stuck in his mind. We finished "the one more" and had another, and then Murphy got up to leave, vaguely referring to some people he had to meet. Not long after that I saw a line come across on a wire service that "Irish Bob Murphy, former fighter" had died. He never did make forty.

I did that "human interest" piece for the paper. I left out the part about the Pilot House and the "Bushmill, beer back", but I thought it was worthwhile and made interesting reading. Of course in those days, I was convinced every word I wrote was worthwhile and made for interesting reading. The copy editor, at the time, disagreed, making the point that Murphy wasn't from Miami "so there's no local angle, plus nobody's interested in another 'stumblebum fighter story". He was right about the local angle, but Irish Bob Murphy was never a "stumblebum fighter" even that morning he spent with a kid writer in a Miami gin mill.

Article posted on 18.01.2004

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