The captivating story of a boxing champion during the sport’s heyday.
"Youmans’s descriptions of bouts, such as the legendary tussles with Boston hero Tony DeMarco, are enough to conjure vivid memories of the Gillette-sponsored "Friday Night Fights," on which Basilio would frequently appear. Thick with eye-catching photos, the book nails the brutish and criminal politics of the postwar fight game, yet it also reminds us of the immense popularity of the sport that today can barely command a column on the sports page."
"On September 23, 1957, Carmen Basilio stepped into a dampened ring in the center of Yankee Stadium to challenge the Middleweight Champion of the World Sugar Ray Robinson. When the fight ended in a decision, Basilio exited the ring as the victor, attaining a title he had to put on weight to be eligible to fight for."
Please scroll down to read entire review by Lou Parrotta
—Boonville Herald, October 17, 2007
Boxing grew to be one of the most popular sports in America in the early 1950s. Thanks to television, fans tuned in each week, rooting for their favorites, watching the best fighters in the world battle on Gillette’s Friday Night Fights. These were the "Golden Years" of boxing-the ring echoed with the names of all-time legendary champions: Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson, Kid Galivan, Jake LaMotta, Gene Fullmer, and a tough guy from Canastota, New York, Carmen Basilio.
On September 23, 1957, Carmen Basilio defeated Sugar Ray Robinson to win the middleweight championship of the world. His remarkable career is a story of survival and perseverance during a fascinating time in boxing history. Basilio’s story celebrates the power of the human spirit to triumph over pain and self-doubt. A man of great integrity and drive, Carmen Basilio deliberately moved up in weight class for the opportunity to challenge the great Ray Robinson for his title. His belief in himself and his insistence on being treated fairly is a testament to his core value of living an honorable life, one in which he refused to compromise his principles. His story is a compelling look back at one of the most magical periods in sports history.
Gary Youmans is a sports marketing consultant and has owned a minor league basketball team. He is coauthor of ’59: The Story of the 1959 Syracuse National Championship Football Team, published by Syracuse University Press.
6 x 9, 230 pages, 38 illustrations
Distributed for Campbell Road Press
On September 23, 1957, Carmen Basilio stepped into a dampened ring in the center of Yankee Stadium to challenge the Middleweight Champion of the World Sugar Ray Robinson. When the fight ended in a decision, Basilio exited the ring as the victor, attaining a title he had to put on weight to be eligible to fight for.
This wonderful example of a David vs. Goliath story is wonderfully told in a new book by Gary B. Youmans. The book, titled The Onion Picker: Carmen Basilio and Boxing in the 1950s, takes its readers on the journey Basilio made from the onion fields of Canastota and Chittenango, New York to some of the most famous boxing venues of the 1950s. We watch him grow more determined every time someone tells him he cannot and should not be a prizefighter and that pugilism is not an appropriate career for a boy of his stature.
Youmans’ interviews with Basilio and those contemporaries that are still around were chock full of great memories. Remembrances made by boxers and industry-men such as Dickie DiVeronica, Angelo Dundee, Tony DeMarco and Gene Fullmer, among others, added to the book’s ability to transform the reader back to a time when boxing was still a relevant and largely American sport. In this age when boxing has few superstars of American heritage, The Onion Picker’s pages take the reader back in time when names like Kid Gavilan, Johnny Saxton, Sugar Ray Robinson, Gene Fullmer, Tony DeMarco, Chuck Davey and Joe Louis dominated the sports pages. These men were legends of their era; something that the sport severely lacks today especially on the heavyweight level.
The book describes Basilio’s pure hatred of Robinson because of Robinson’s ignoring Basilio during their first meeting years prior to their historic match in the Bronx. It goes on to build the story of how Basilio rose through the ranks and earned a title shot on that memorable September evening against Robinson, widely perceived to be the best pound-for-pound boxer in history. Youmans discusses pre-fight arguments between Robinson and the promoters over the monetary compensation he would earn from the gate receipts and the television receipts. Through it all, the author shows how stoic Basilio was as he let Robinson worry about money while he concentrated on training for this bout.
The story takes the reader into Basilio’s family, the era’s corruption of the sport, and behind the scenes of the training that is necessary to fight a championship fight. What lacks in the book, however, is Basilio’s post-pugilistic career. Not enough time is spent on how Basilio went on to work at Le Moyne College and how he inspired the creation of one of Central New York’s biggest tourist attractions - the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota. The reader is not given enough of a look into Basilio’s work with the Genesee Brewing Company or anything regarding Basilio’s Sausage. While the book is still a worthwhile read, it would have been nice to see how this famed fighter kept strong ties to Central New York even after he moved out to Rochester.