Another Curious Omission in the International Boxing Hall of Fame
Ninety-seven individuals have been elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the non-participant category. It's a catch-all division that includes promoters, trainers, matchmakers, and boxing officials. Recent inductees include ring announcers Michael Buffer and Jimmy Lennon, Jr.
Conspicuously missing is Thomas "Uncle Tom" McCarey, the first boxing promoter to make headway in Los Angeles.
From 1900 to 1914, McCarey promoted a slew of important bouts. Twelve boxers enshrined in the IBHOF -- Abe Attell, Joe Gans, James J. Jeffries, Jack Johnson, Stanley Ketchel, Sam McVea, Battling Nelson, Billy Papke, Tommy Ryan, Freddie Welsh, Jess Willard, and Ad Wolgast -- appeared on one or more of his cards. Jack Johnson headlined seven shows, twice in interracial matches that would have been taboo in other jurisdictions. If not for Tom McCarey, Johnson might have never climbed the ladder to fistic fame.
McCarey promoted the July 4, 1912 "double knockout" bout between Ad Wolgast and Mexican Joe Rivers. It ranked as the most famous controversy in boxing until 1927 when it was eclipsed as a topic of endless debate by the Dempsey-Tunney "long count." As for the most spectacular fight of his making that he ever witnessed, McCarey named the first meeting between Jack Johnson and Denver Ed Martin. The combination of science and ferocity made it special.
McCarey, born in Ohio, had a second career as a racetrack bookmaker. This was in the days when there were no parimutuel machines in California and race-goers bet with on-site bookies. When horseracing was outlawed in 1911, McCarey lost this income stream.
McCarey also ran afoul of the authorities in boxing. When the LA city council abolished 20-round bouts, he moved his operation to Vernon, an industrialized pocket of Los Angeles that had the legal status of an independent city. But there was no place for McCarey to run without leaving the Golden State when California effectively abolished professional boxing in 1914, passing a law that restricted all bouts, amateur and pro, to four rounds.
When McCarey was running his big shows, the motion picture industry was flowering. His house referee, Charles Eyton, a New Zealander, went on to become the president of Paramount Pictures. His sons Leo McCarey and Ray McCarey became Hollywood film-makers.
Leo McCarey, the older son, became a giant in the history of cinema, winning Academy Awards for producing, directing, and screenwriting. He wrote and directed the 1944 movie "Going My Way" and the 1945 sequel "The Bells of St. Mary's," iconic Christmas tear-jerkers that reflected his devout Catholic upbringing.
In obituaries, Uncle Tom McCarey was described as the greatest boxing promoter of his age. That was a bit of a stretch. At the beginning of his career he was overshadowed by San Francisco's Sunny Jim Coffroth and toward the end of his career he was overshadowed by George "Tex" Rickard. But McCarey occupies a special niche in the history of boxing and it's curious that the electorate hasn't yet seen fit to enshrine him in the Hall of Fame.