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Thread: The Onion Picker: Carmen Basilio and Boxing in the 1950s

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    The Onion Picker: Carmen Basilio and Boxing in the 1950s

    BOOK REVIEW

    The Onion Picker: Carmen Basilio and Boxing in the 1950s
    By Gary B. Youmans, Syracuse University Press, 214 pp., $24.95

    Though neither a pulverizing puncher nor a fast and fancy boxer, Carmen Basilio won both the welterweight and middleweight titles during an era that was flush with fistic talent. One of the most enthralling fighters of the late '40s and early '50s, Basilio once beat Sugar Ray Robinson, the man widely considered the greatest pugilist of modern times.

    In the ring, Basilio would wade through fusillades of blows delivered by fighting machines such as Kid Gavilan, Ike Williams, and Johnny Saxton. Like Marciano, he was a zealot in his conditioning and would wear more gifted opponents down with his enormous energy and tenacity. Angelo Dundee, his onetime trainer, told me, "There was no one with more determination than Carmen." Basilio was, in short, a Godzilla of the will.

    In his quest for boxing greatness, Basilio was not only up against highly elite fighters but organized crime as well. Though possessed by dreams of title belts, Basilio, unlike Jake LaMotta, steadfastly refused to cooperate with the mobsters who were the gatekeepers to the boxing kingdom.

    I had the honor of meeting the great champion two years ago at the International Boxing Hall of Fame that he helped establish in his hometown of Canastota, N.Y. Looking at the small but rough-hewn octogenarian, I could not help but wonder why no one had written a book about this remarkable character.

    No need to wonder any longer.

    In "The Onion Picker," Gary B. Youmans has told the tale of Basilio - at least up until March 1958, when Basilio lost his middleweight title in a rematch with Robinson, who at the time had an astonishing record of 140-6-2 and had never lost twice to anyone.

    The son of Italian immigrant onion farmers, Basilio was one of 10 children. The family was tight and so were their financial circumstances.

    While Mama Basilio loathed the fight game, Carmen's father was an ardent fan and encouraged his boys to study the sweet science. Although then, as now, pugilism was largely an urban sport, the Syracuse area was a hotbed of boxing. There was even a Canastota High School boxing team, of which Carmen was the star. When World War II broke out, Basilio signed on as a Marine. His boxing acumen was quickly recognized and Basilio never saw action.

    After the war, he took a job with the electric company and doggedly pursued his boxing ambitions at night - working out as much as three hours a day. As Youmans notes, the first quarter of Basilio's boxing career was unspectacular. He suffered serious hand injuries and during one stretch, lost five out of eight bouts. However, when he hooked up with local trainer John De John, Basilio began to master the whirlwind style that would make him one of the most popular fighters of his age. Indeed, as the author makes clear, for all of Basilio's caveman physicality, he was a supremely intelligent boxer who knew how to analyze his opponents and to adjust his tactics in the heat of battle.

    Youmans's descriptions of bouts, such as the legendary tussles with Boston hero Tony DeMarco, are enough to conjure vivid memories of the Gillette- sponsored "Friday Night Fights," on which Basilio would frequently appear. Thick with eye-catching photos, the book nails the brutish and criminal politics of the postwar fight game, yet it also reminds us of the immense popularity of the sport that today can barely command a column on the sports page.

    Basilio had an awkward style and like his subject, his biographer comes at his man from many angles. The transitions are not always as fluid as they might be and there are pages of plain block quotations culled from archived newspaper and magazine articles. Still, many of these quotes are ageless and in the end Youmans succeeds in pressing this very tough and yet noble man into the pages of our collective memory.

    A professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College, Gordon Marino is also a boxing writer and trainer in Northfield, Minn.

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    Re: The Onion Picker: Carmen Basilio and Boxing in the 1950s

    Carmen Basilio
    (the "Upstate Onion Farmer")

    BORN April 2 1927; Canastota, New York
    HEIGHT 5-6 1/2
    WEIGHT 143-155 lbs
    MANAGERS Johnny DeJohn, Joe Netro
    TRAINERS Angelo Dundee, Al Silvani
    INTERVIEW Dave Iamele


    Basilio was a warrior, born with the "Will To Win"; He was ready, willing and able; He was relentless in his attack - could dish it out and take it too - his forte being head-to-head warfare until he wore down his man; During his career, Carmen won the Welterweight Championship of the World and the Middleweight Championship of the World

    He defeated such men as "Sugar" Ray Robinson, Lew Jenkins, Ike Williams, Billy Graham, Don Jordan, Johnny Saxton, Gil Turner, Art Aragon, Tony DeMarco, Vic Cardell, Eddie Giosa, Pierre Langlois and Carmine Fiore

    Herb Goldman ranked Basilio as the #17 All-Time Welterweight; Basilio was inducted into the Ring Boxing Hall of Fame in 1969, the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1982, the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990 and the United States Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame in 2002

    1948
    Nov 24 Jimmy Evans Binghamton, NY KO 3
    Nov 29 Bruce Walters Syracuse, NY KO 1
    Dec 8 Eddie Thomas Binghamton, NY KO 2
    Dec 16 Rollie Johns Syracuse, NY W 6

    1949
    Jan 5 Johnny Cunningham Binghamton, NY D 6
    Jan 19 Jay Perlin Binghamton, NY D 6
    Jan 25 Ernie Hall Syracuse, NY KO 2
    Feb 19 Luke Jordan Rochester, NY W 6
    Apr 20 Elliott Throop Syracuse, NY KO 1
    May 2 Connie Thies Rochester, NY L 6
    May 8 Jerry Drain Syracuse, NY KO 3
    May 18 Johnny Clemons Syracuse, NY KO 3
    Jun 7 Johnny Cunningham Syracuse, NY KO 2
    Jul 12 Jesse Bradshaw Syracuse, NY KO 2
    Jul 21 Sammy Daniels Utica, NY W 8
    Aug 2 Johnny Cunningham Utica, NY L 8
    Aug 17 Johnny Cunningham Syracuse, NY W 8
    Sep 7 Tony DiPelino Rochester, NY W 8
    Sep 30 Jackie Parker Syracuse, NY KO 3

    1950
    Jan 10 Sonny Hampton Buffalo, NY W 8
    Jan 24 Cassill Tate Buffalo, NY W 8
    Feb 7 Adrien Mourguiart Buffalo, NY KO 7
    Mar 6 Lew Jenkins Syracuse, NY W 10
    Mar 27 Mike Koballa Brooklyn, NY L 8
    Apr 12 Gaby Ferland New Orleans, La D 10
    May 5 Gaby Ferland New Orleans, La KO 1
    Jun 21 Guillermo Giminez New Orleans, La KO 8
    Jul 31 Guillermo Giminez New Orleans, La KO 9
    Aug 28 Eddie Giosa New Orleans, La L 10
    Dec 15 Vic Cardell New York, NY L 10

    1951
    Mar 9 Floro Hita Syracuse, NY W 8
    Apr 12 Eddie Giosa Syracuse, NY W 10
    May 29 Lester Felton Syracuse, NY L 10
    Jun 18 Johnny Cesario Utica, NY L 10
    Sep 17 Shamus McCray Syracuse, NY W 8
    Sep 26 Ross Virgo New Orleans, La L 10

    1952
    Feb 4 Emmett Norris Wilkes-Barre, Pa W 10
    Feb 28 Jimmy Cousins Akron, Oh W 8
    Mar 31 Jackie O'Brien Wilkes-Barre, Pa W 10
    May 29 Chuck Davey Syracuse, NY D 10
    Jul 16 Chuck Davey Chicago, Il L 10
    Aug 20 Billy Graham Chicago, Il L 10
    Sep 22 Baby Williams Miami, Fl W 10
    Oct 20 Sammy Guiliani Syracuse, NY KO 3
    Nov 18 Chuck Foster Buffalo, NY KO 5

    1953
    Jan 12 Ike Williams Syracuse, NY W 10
    Feb 28 Vic Cardell Toledo, Oh W 10
    Apr 11 Carmine Fiore Syracuse, NY KO 9
    Jun 6 Billy Graham Syracuse, NY W 12
    Jun 25 Billy Graham Syracuse, NY D 12
    Sep 18 Kid Gavilan Syracuse, NY L 15
    -Welterweight Championship of the World
    Nov 28 Johnny Cunningham Toledo, Oh KO 4
    Dec 19 Pierre Langlois Syracuse, NY D 10

    1954
    Jan 16 Italo Scortichini Miami, Fl D 10
    Apr 17 Pierre Langlois Syracuse, NY W 10
    May 15 Italo Scortichini Syracuse, NY W 10
    Jun 26 Al Andrews Syracuse, NY W 10
    Aug 17 Ronnie Harper Fort Wayne, In KO 2
    Sep 10 Carmine Fiore New York, NY W 10
    Oct 15 Allie Gronik Syracuse, NY W 10
    Dec 16 Ronnie Harper Akron, Oh KO 4

    1955
    Jan 21 Peter Muller Syracuse, NY W 10
    Jun 10 Tony DeMarco Syracuse, NY KO 12
    -Welterweight Championship of the World
    Aug 10 Italo Scortichini New York, NY W 10
    Sep 7 Gil Turner Syracuse, NY W 10
    Nov 30 Tony DeMarco Boston, Ma KO 12
    -Welterweight Championship of the World

    1956
    Mar 14 Johnny Saxton Chicago, Il L 15
    -Welterweight Championship of the World
    Sep 12 Johnny Saxton Syracuse, NY KO 9
    -Welterweight Championship of the World

    1957
    Feb 22 Johnny Saxton Cleveland, Oh KO 2
    -Welterweight Championship of the World
    May 13 Leo Owens Longview, Or EX 3
    May 14 Leo Owens Spokane, Wa EX 3
    May 16 Harold Jones Portland, Or KO 4
    Jun 27 Leo Owens Jeanette, Pa EX 3
    Sep 23 "Sugar" Ray Robinson New York, NY W 15
    -Middleweight Championship of the World;
    Basilio relinquished the Welterweight
    Championship of the World

    1958
    Mar 25 "Sugar" Ray Robinson Chicago, Il L 15
    -Middleweight Championship of the World
    Sep 5 Art Aragon Los Angeles, Ca KO 8

    1959
    Apr 1 Arley Selfer Augusta, Ga KO 3
    Aug 28 Gene Fullmer San Francisco, Ca LK 14
    -NBA Middleweight Championship of the World

    1960
    Jun 29 Gene Fullmer Salt Lake City, Ut LK 12
    -NBA Middleweight Championship of the World

    1961
    Jan 7 Gaspar Ortega New York, NY W 10
    Mar 11 Don Jordan Syracuse, NY W 10
    Apr 22 Paul Pender Boston, Ma L 10
    -Middleweight Championship of the World

    *** Assistance Was Provided By Jonas Callis ***

    Record courtesy of Tracy Callis, Historian, International Boxing Research Organization

  3. #3
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    Re: The Onion Picker: Carmen Basilio and Boxing in the 1950s

    Here is a link to a good photo of Carmen Basilo returning to his corner in a fight with Sugar Ray Robinson from 1958.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=cbc...BAJ&pg=PA36&dq
    Last edited by brutu; 12-16-2010 at 11:00 PM.

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    Re: The Onion Picker: Carmen Basilio and Boxing in the 1950s

    Thanks, Brutu - and thanks Gor. I loved Basilio - a real fighter's fighter!

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