There have been many greater champions than Jimmy Slattery, but rarely has one passed the test of time as well. It has been over 55 years since Slattery departed for the great beyond, yet in the city of Buffalo, his legend continues to thrive. If one needs any evidence of this, go no further than read Rich Blake’s fine book “SLATS” THE LEGEND & LIFE OF JIMMY SLATTERY.
Blake 47, grew up in Buffalo and spent a good part of his life there. Eventually he moved to New York City, but never left his fondness for Slattery behind.
It took Blake 15 years to write the book or in layman’s terms two years longer than Slattery’s career (1921 – 1934) lasted. The book was a labor of love for Blake, but one he also felt obligated to do. There had never before been a book written on Slattery. After being regaled with tales about Slats from his father and others in the Buffalo area, Blake wanted to both preserve and honor the legacy of the city’s favorite son. That he was able to shelve his hero worship of Slattery and share a candid, unbiased view is remarkable. Blake praised Slattery throughout, but never shied away from his shortcomings. The reader is never deceived into thinking Slattery is something he is not, both inside the ring and out.
Slattery’s career slate was 111-13 (49). He held a couple of versions of the world light heavyweight championship, but an argument could be made that he was no more than what we refer to today as a belt holder. Slattery was able to beat many good fighters, but usually came up short against the exceptional ones. The only film that exists of Slattery was his unsuccessful challenge of Paul Berlenbach’s world light-heavyweight championship in 1925. It was the only time Slattery fought for the linear crown. Slats was unable to thwart Berlenbach’s aggressiveness and was stopped in 11 rounds.
Harry Greb, Jim Braddock, and Tommy Loughran all had Slattery’s number as well, but were profuse in their praise over the resistance he showed. Slattery won four of seven against Maxie Rosenbloom, twice defeated Jack Delaney, and split two fights with Young Stribling. A few other recognizable names adorn his ledger, but to say that Slattery underachieved would be fair.
Blake is not directly critical of Slattery, but his words leave any objective reader no choice but to be. Slattery at one point was a young teenage phenom whom some expected to eventually grow into a full – fledged heavyweight and dethrone Jack Dempsey. Promoter Tex Rickard had big plans for him.
Perhaps Slattery’s potential was overrated, but he never gave himself the chance to see how great he could become. Slattery was highly gifted, but very immature. He was essentially washed up when in his late 20s, retiring at 30. Slattery lived life in the fast lane when he should have been focusing on his ring career. His carefree attitude resulted in him predictably winding up broke. Efforts by well – meaning admirers and friends to help him get back on his feet would often be rebuffed by the less than responsible former champion. Slattery’s family life fell apart and ultimately he became a drifter, getting into trouble with the law. The one thing that always survived the turmoil was Slattery’s good name. To the adoring fans who idolized him in Buffalo, he was always their franchise so to speak. The NFL’s Buffalo Bills would not come into existence until after Slats died. Ditto for the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. The city had other prominent champions like Rocky Kansas and Jimmy Goodrich, but as proud as they were of them Slattery was always number one.
Ironically the charisma Slattery had could be traced in the fight footage of the Berlenbach bout where he fought with his hands down, dancing around the ring. That style would not be seen again until 35 years later when the world was introduced to the then Cassius Clay.
In 2006, Slattery was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Last year the New York State Boxing Hall of Fame inducted him into its fourth class of honorees.
Slattery reached his sports pinnacle and to this day is revered in his hometown. The stories of Slats have been passed from generation to generation. That is as good as it gets. Still, somehow you come away from reading Blake’s book that Slattery could have been so much more both as a boxer and as a man. Everyone waited for him to grow up, but he never did. He was an endearing yet tragic figure.
“SLATS” THE LEGEND AND LIFE OF JIMMY SLATTERY can be purchased by going to Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble.com. I highly recommend it not only for what it tells us about Slattery, but for the many wonderful stories about the other fighters of his era as well.