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CROWE'S NEST

Almost five decades later, boxer Davey Moore's death still resonates

The featherweight champion's death after a 1963 bout at Dodger Stadium prompted Bob Dylan to take boxing to task in his song 'Who Killed Davey Moore?' This month, Sports Illustrated rated it the best sports song of all time.

July 17, 2011|Jerry Crowe
  • Davey Moore, left, trades punches with Sugar Ramos during the first round of a featherweight title bout at Dodger Stadium in 1963. Moore fell into a coma after the fight and died three days later.
Davey Moore, left, trades punches with Sugar Ramos during the first round… (Associated Press )

Davey Moore may be gone, but he's not forgotten.

Longtime boxing fans remember him as a featherweight champion who fell into a coma shortly after losing his title in a bout at Dodger Stadium in March 1963, and died three days later.

Pop music fans remember him as the ghostly presence in Bob Dylan's anti-boxing harangue, "Who Killed Davey Moore?"

And Moore's 75-year-old widow, Geraldine, remembers him as a hardworking provider and loving husband and father.

"We got along famously," she says.

She's tickled that her late husband's name reentered the public consciousness this month when Sports Illustrated ranked Dylan's accusatory ballad, in which several characters deny their culpability in Moore's death, as the No. 1 sports song of all time.

She calls it "not such a bad song" but also admits, "I really didn't listen to it that much. I kind of avoid stuff like that."

She's grateful, however, for anything that keeps her late husband's memory alive, such as a statue in his hometown of Springfield, Ohio, that sits in storage while backers work to raise the last $30,000 needed to have it bronzed.

Moore would be the first athlete and first African American so honored in Springfield, notes Tom Archdeacon, a Dayton Daily News sports columnist leading a push to secure the funding.

"But it's hard times in the Rust Belt," Archdeacon says.

Moore was well known in Springfield — and far beyond — even before Dylan wrote about his final bout, of course.

His match against Cuban émigré Sugar Ramos was part of the only fight card ever staged at Dodger Stadium, a "Carnival of Champions" tripleheader of world-championship bouts that drew a crowd of more than 25,000.

"It was a hell of a fight," says John Hall, a former Times boxing writer and sports columnist. "Both guys punched each other around and, up to the last minute, Davey kept coming back."

In the 10th round, however, the 29-year-old champion was knocked to the canvas for the second time, the back of his head snapping against the bottom rope.

The referee stopped the fight before the 11th round.

Afterward, a lucid Moore met with reporters for 40 minutes, telling them, "It just wasn't my night," and vowing revenge.

Then he fell unconscious.

"He was in control of himself right up until the time he passed out," Hall says. "It was really a shocking, awful thing, the way he went out. Nobody had any idea he was that badly hurt."

Doctors later said that swelling in his injured brain stem sent Moore into a coma. He never awakened.

In death, Moore left behind three daughters and two sons, impetus for boxing to install safer ropes and grist for a "searing indictment of the fight game," as Sports Illustrated described Dylan's song, introduced only weeks after the fight.

"Who killed Davey Moore?" Dylan sings. "Why and what's the reason for?" A series of characters — the referee, the boxing fan, the manager, the gambler, the sportswriter, the opponent — all sing, "No, you can't blame me at all."

The All Music Guide called it "one of Bob Dylan's absolute worst songs," reviewer Stewart Mason noting, "Boxing is corrupt and violent? Who knew?" And Dylan didn't include it on an official release until nearly 30 years later.

In Ohio, Moore's widow paid the song little mind.

Six weeks after her husband's death, she took a government job arranged for her by then-Ohio Gov. Jim Rhodes.

"Naturally, you're sad and you miss your husband, and the children miss their dad," she says, "but you just have to move on. You can't just die because he died. . . .

"My mother and dad stepped right in and helped me with the children and I took that job and didn't look back."

Thirty-two years later, her children all grown, she retired. Briefly remarried in the early 1970s, she is matriarch of a family that includes nine grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren.

"And sometime this fall," she says from her apartment in Springfield, "I'll have my first great-great-grandchild."

Who killed Davey Moore?

She doesn't point fingers.

"I can't blame boxing for my husband's death," she says. "Boxing made us a good living when he was alive, and he loved it."

Maybe Dylan does too.

He told Rolling Stone that boxing was his favorite form of exercise and, according to Los Angeles magazine, the rock bard owns a secret fight club beneath a Santa Monica coffee shop where he once was knocked down by actress Gina Gershon.

One of his earliest songs, "I Shall Be Free No. 10," includes the lines, "I was shadow boxin' early in the day/I figured I was ready for Cassius Clay." And another, "Hurricane," is a powerful protest song that tells the tale of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, a falsely imprisoned former middleweight contender.

Archdeacon, the Dayton newspaperman, laid all this out in a column when Dylan's tour stopped in Dayton two summers ago, hoping to appeal to the singer's sensibilities.

He envisioned Dylan opening his wallet for Moore's statue.

"I was hoping he'd see it and say, 'Here's $30,000,'" Archdeacon notes. "But that didn't happen."

jerome.crowe@latimes.com

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