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Jim Murray

Wimpy Isn't Fit to Fight, Only to Win

February 14, 1986|JIM MURRAY

His right name was Frank X. Farrell and I guess the X stood for "Excuse me" because he never pulled a play, good or bad, on or off the field, without apologizin' for it . . . "Alibi Ike" was the name Carey wished on him. Then Carey went on to tell me what Ike had been pulling out there. He'd dropped the first fly ball that was hit to him and told Carey his glove wasn't broke in good yet, and Carey says the glove could easy have been Kid Gleason's gran'father's. He made a whale of a catch out of the next one and Carey says "Nice work!" but Ike says he could have caught the ball with his back turned only he slipped when he started after it and besides that, the air currents fooled him. "I thought you done well to catch the ball," says Carey. "I ought to been settin' under it," says Ike. 'What did you hit last year?' Carey ast him. "I had malaria most of the season," says Ike. "I wound up with .356."

--From "Alibi Ike" by Ring Lardner. Ring Lardner would have loved Wimpy Halstead, the heavyweight box fighter. The worse he feels, the better he fights. If he's got a headache, you're in for it. If he ever gets leprosy, he'll make the world forget Joe Louis.

It's how he got his nickname in the first place. He was hanging around a gym in Oklahoma City, a 16-year-old kid with a reputation as a world-class whiner. He was a walking book of symptoms. Whatever he heard about, he came down with. His career was more ready for the Reader's Digest than Ring magazine. He made Camille look like an athlete.

"He'd get in the ring complaining he was feeling poorly," recalls his promoter, Pat O'Grady, who was running the gym at the time. "His teeth ached, his hair hurt, his feet were giving him fits, he thought he had a fever. You didn't know whether to call an ambulance or a coroner.

"Then he'd climb in the ring and destroy whoever was in there with him. Then afterwards, he'd say, 'There's a draft in here. I'm surprised I didn't catch my death of cold.'

"It got so the other guys in the gym didn't want any part of him. It got so they'd say, 'What's he got this time--the gout?' If he had anything worse than athlete's foot, no one in the room would spar with him. That's when they gave him the nickname Wimpy."

Wimpy actually launched his pugilistic career by accident. It was one night when he wasn't feeling at all well outside a fast-food restaurant in Oklahoma City. It wasn't anything he could put his finger on. A kind of general rundown feeling, a spot of indigestion, a scratchiness in the throat, a twinge in the neck.

The only thing that seems to help in these cases, Wimpy has found out, is to hit somebody. He was doing a pretty good job of it-- he was beginning to feel better already--when reinforcements arrived.

Wimpy Halstead didn't mind. If the fight went long enough, he could probably work all the kinks out.

The trouble was, the reinforcements turned out to be Oklahoma City's finest. The ever-lovin' fuzz.

All Wimpy noticed was that they kept their lefts too low. He had beaten up one cop, and the station sent four more. Reports had it that, from the looks of the one cop, they thought they had a full-scale riot on their hands.

All they had was the fastest hypochondriac in the West. The fight went on for an hour and 20 minutes. "It was a draw," recalls Pat O'Grady.

The judge was not impressed with Halstead's alibi that he didn't feel good that day. "Either go to a gym or go to a prison," he told defendant Halstead.

And that was how Jerry Halstead took his aches and pains to Pat O'Grady's sweat shop to work them out in a more socially acceptable way. The Oklahoma City Police Dept. was not to be considered a prescription drug.

Jerry Halstead came under the managership of Jeanie O'Grady, Pat's wife, and he knocked out 10 of the first 12 pugs he met.

He also shaved his hair.

Now, most people shave their hair because they don't have much, but Jerry had a fine shock of blond hair. He just happened to admire bald-headed people. He was like the guy who wanted gold teeth even though there was nothing wrong with the ones he had.

Jerry was unusually successful until he went back East to fight and got upended twice by nondescript foes named Mike Costello and Alvino Manson, neither of whom figured to be any more formidable than your average Oklahoma City policeman.

Halstead is at a loss to explain the reverses except that he got taken down with an attack of good health on the mornings of the contests. I mean, a man can hardly be expected to be at his best when he wakes up with a temperature of 98.6, a pulse rate of 50 at rest and his tattoos safely healed over.

Wimpy has since moved to California, where the weather has his sinuses acting up again, the traffic keeps him awake and the air makes his eyes water. And he has six straight knockouts.

He fights the ex-champ, John Tate, in Bakersfield March 4, and if the weather deteriorates any further or cholera sweeps his neighborhood, Halstead may knock him out before the bell. His battle plan should be to stand in the rain in his underwear.

The only other athlete I have known who was twice as dangerous when he had the sniffles or a stiff back was the late Roberto Clemente. Whenever Roberto showed up in the locker room calling for a heating pad or an aspirin, the opposing outfield always moved back.

So it is with Wimpy. Now that he's on the verge of getting mononucleosis again, he is flattening opponents in one or two rounds again, and his next victim, Tate, should have a clause in the contract that if his opponent enters the ring coughing or complaining of a dizziness or a ringing in the ears, the bout is off.

The fight game has heard of the Fighting Marine and the Belting Brakeman. Now it can make room for the Fabulous Invalid or the Battling Outpatient. The Walloping Wimp.

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