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The Brown Bomber Delivers the Biggest Night in Yankee Stadium History
2008-06-22 18:25
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

We're going to spend a lot of time waxing nostalgic about Yankee Stadium this year, sharing our own favorite memories and listing the all-time great moments. For all the Yankee highlights the place has seen, not to mention one of the most famous football games ever, the biggest event ever to go down in the House that Ruth Built may well have been the Joe Louis/Max Schmeling rematch which took place seventy years ago today (Here is audio from the fight).

In her review of "Beyond Glory," David Margolick's acclaimed book about Louis-Schmeling, Joyce Carol Oates wrote:

Boxing is the most pitiless of sports, as it can be the most dazzling, theatrical and emblematic. Where race and nationalism are involved, as in the famous Joe Louis-Max Schmeling heavyweight fights of 1936 and 1938, two of the most widely publicized boxing matches in history, the emblematic aspect of the sport can assume epic proportions. When the second fight, of June 1938, pitting the 24-year-old American Negro titleholder, Louis, against the 32-year-old Schmeling, the Nazis' star athlete, was fought at Yankee Stadium, the contest was as much between the United States and Nazi Germany as between two superbly skilled athletes. There were almost 70,000 spectators and an estimated 100 million radio listeners throughout the world: "the largest audience in history for anything."

...Most of the chapters are impersonal historical accounts, culled from numerous sources, in which the author's voice is subordinate to his material. Amid much summarizing, press clippings of the era, many of them painfully racist, provide candor and color; occasionally there are outbursts of a kind of comic surrealism, as in this rapid collage following the dramatic outcome of the 1938 fight:

"In the stands there was bedlam. Tallulah Bankhead sprang to her feet and turned to the Schmeling fans behind her. 'I told you so, you sons of bitches!' she screamed. Whites were hugging blacks. 'The happiest people I saw at this fight were not the Negroes but the Jews,' a black writer observed. 'In the row in front of me there was a great line of Jews - and they had the best time of all their Jewish lives.' . . . 'Beat the hell out of the damn German bastard!' W. E. B. Du Bois, a lifelong Germanophile who rarely swore, shouted gleefully in Atlanta. In Hollywood, Bette Davis jumped up and down; she had won $66 in the Warner Brothers fight pool. . . . 'Everybody danced and sang,' Woody Guthrie wrote from Santa Fe. 'I watched the people laugh, walk, sing, do all sorts of dances. I heard "Hooray for Joe Louis!" "To hell with Max Schmeling" in Indian, Mexican, Spanish, all kinds of white tongues.' "

If you didn't catch HBO's fine Joe Louis documentary earlier this year, it's well-worth watching.

It's difficult to fathom the magnitude of that night. But it begs the question: Has an event held at Yankee Stadium ever had a greater social impact on the entire country, let alone the rest of the world?

Comments
2008-06-22 19:11:32
1.   JasonO
Nothing else was even close in Yankee Stadium...the only other sporting event of the 20th century held anywhere that was in the same category was Jesse Owens's domination in Berlin.
2008-06-22 23:02:56
2.   Bob Timmermann
Family lore has it that my great grandfather had prepared all day to listen to the fight on the radio. He had his food. He had moved the radio on the porch.

But he forgot to bring something to drink, so he went back inside to grab something. When he came back, it was over.

He was most unhappy.

2008-06-23 06:33:30
3.   Knuckles
My great grandfather was a Brooklyn cop and semi-pro boxer. He used to spar with some of the pros when they were in town, including Louis and Conn. We have a great photo of him standing with Joe Louis, both wearing suits and hats, and while my great grandpa was a solid dude, Joe Louis looks like another thing altogether- the kinda guy where if you saw him walk into a room, you'd wonder what he did for a living, but you knew it was something supremely athletic.
2008-06-23 06:46:25
4.   Daniel Zappala
My great-grandfather was an Italian immigrant who took all kinds of jobs. One of them was laying bricks to build Yankee Stadium.

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