Greb, Walker and the tale of the Silver Slipper
Harry Greb and Mickey Walker met in the ring on July 2, 1925. According to legend, 15 rounds wasn't enough to settle their differences. Don Stradley explores their supposed fight after the fight.
No less an authority on embellished sports tales than Damon Runyon once said, "Ninety-five percent of sports tradition is fiction. Lies, if you like. But harmless. Who the hell cares if the facts get twisted?"He wasn't referring directly to the bout on July 2, 1925, between Harry Greb and Mickey Walker, a classic that saw Greb beat Walker down the stretch to earn a 15-round unanimous decision, but he may have had it in mind, for after the fighters left the New York Polo Grounds, they wandered onto the murky landscape of boxing mythology. "That night we met in a nightclub," Walker told author Peter Heller in 1970. "I had a date, and Greb, of course, had his gal, too." According to Walker, he and Greb enjoyed some drinks and left together, sans female companionship. Once outside, Walker teased Greb about his less-than-sportsmanlike style. Greb offered to pick up Round 16 right there in the street. "So he started to take his coat off, and when he had his coat down around both his elbows so he couldn't move his arms, I wound up with my best punch and hit him on the chin," said Walker. Just then, a cop named Pat Casey happened to walk by and separate them. "And nobody was around," Walker said. "Only Pat Casey, to see that I won the second fight. They say I licked Greb the second time."[+] EnlargeHarry Greb and Mickey Walker/harrygreb.comWas one fight enough for Harry Greb, right, and Mickey Walker to settle their differences?
He started to take his coat off, and when he had his coat down around both his elbows so he couldn't move his arms, I wound up with my best punch and hit him on the chin.
-- Mickey Walker, on clocking a not-quite-fight-ready Harry Greb
Walker may have scuffled with him, and Greb may have cuffed his ears, but there was no fight. We know there wasn't any second fight. What a story that would have been.
-- Columnist Bugs Bear, on setting the record straightBut this version gets even weirder. A rematch was soon in the works, according to Walker, with each fighter guaranteed $100,000. A moment before they signed, Greb had a change of heart. He extended his hand to Walker and asked for his friendship. It's hard to believe Greb would turn down $100,000 to fight a guy he'd already whipped, but Walker was polishing the story to his own liking. Walker was at it again in 1961 when his autobiography was published. "I lost the first fight to Greb, but I always thought I won the second one," he wrote. Walker's manager, Jack "Doc" Kearns, was sometimes accused of starting the rumor to create interest in a rematch, but when Sports Illustrated published his memoirs in January 1964, Kearns not only verified the Silver Slipper story, he made himself a major part of it. He took credit for separating the fighters and playing peacemaker. Kearns is barely mentioned in any of Walker's versions, but when Kearns told it, he played a key role in the proceedings. In 1971, Walker told the story to the Syracuse Post Standard. This time, Walker added a new character, a former pug named Sailor Grande who was employed as the Silver Slipper's doorman; he patiently held the door while Greb and Walker fought. "Great stories have legs," said Sugar. "Stories are what made the Roaring '20s roar." Walker's final years were spent in a Freehold, N.J., rest home. When Sugar visited one afternoon, he asked about the Silver Slipper incident. "Nah, never happened," Walker said. "Mickey said they were just nightclub-hopping, trying to get lucky," Sugar said. "It seemed to me he didn't want to talk about it." If Walker was putting the story to sleep at last, he was doing so reluctantly. He'd been welterweight champion for 3½ years and middleweight champion for 3½ years, but the part of his career that thrilled people most was that Silver Slipper story. Perhaps Walker liked the way a listener's eyes brightened when he told the story. As Damon Runyon said, it was harmless, and who the hell cared? The story also served as a way to put a positive spin on one of Walker's worst nights. You see, not only did Walker lose at the Polo Grounds, but there was a second story about the fight on July 2, 1925 -- a story that didn't have legs. Late in the bout, a microphone placed in the ring for a radio audience allegedly picked up a voice saying, "Carry me along. Don't put me away." Since Greb was winning the bout, the voice could only be Walker's. The Walker camp denied its fighter had said anything, but the story persisted before it died down. With two rumors swirling around the bout, one in which Walker asked to be carried and another in which he dusted Greb outside a nightclub, it's no surprise that the latter survived. The legend of the Silver Slipper tapped into a fantasy enjoyed by all fight fans -- a fantasy in which a macho man's fury has to be taken to the streets. Don Stradley is a regular contributor to The Ring.harrygreb.comAccording to Walker, left, Greb agreed to a rematch -- only to renege moments later.
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