A bittersweet goodbye to Sugar
The obituaries for Bert Randolph Sugar, who died at 74 on Sunday, laud him as an "iconic" and "legendary" boxing writer and historian and even as "the heavyweight champion" of the genre, from which the only conclusion to be drawn is that the shameless self-promoter wrote them himself before the angels swooped.
When it came to hymning the greatness of Bert Sugar, nobody was better at and louder about it than Bert Sugar. The cover blurbs he wrote about himself for various boxing books were preposterous monuments to an ego proportionate to his hat size. My favorite: "Bert Randolph Sugar, called 'the guru' of boxing, is one of the most flamboyant and charismatic writers ever to capture the drama of fights and fighters on paper."
His vaunted charisma may have lit up many a barroom, but it wore thin on the many Sugar stiffed for services rendered. I took my place in that long line in the early 1990s as a frequent contributor to Boxing Illustrated, then edited by Sugar. Getting him to pay for what he used required the stamina and doggedness of 1890s ring dynamo Sailor Tom Sharkey. Frequent calls and messages left at Bert's office and home were ducked and ignored.
"I'm juggling a million balls in the air, and two of them are mine," he would say when finally cornered, and then promise a check that never came.
I was in good company.
"Your experience with Bert Randolph Sugar is not unique," wrote W.C. Heinz – a legitimate sports writing legend – in a 1990 letter to me. "Last April ... he ran without permission my piece on Norma Graziano ("Fighter's Wife").
"When my agents finally got him on the horn he said that he had tried to reach me by phone and then had left a message on my answering machine and when he heard nothing presumed I had no objection. The problem is that I don't have an answering machine. If I were in New York (Heinz lived in Vermont) I'd take him to small claims court, as up to the moment he still refuses to cough up."
He never did. Two years later, wrote Heinz, "Whenever I think of Bert Randolph, and always unpleasantly, I remember a quote from (famous boxing manager) Al Weill, born in Alsace, who described his exodus to this country: 'We come over storage because my old man had no sugar.'"
Writing fondly of Sugar in The New York Daily News on Sunday, Tim Smith recounted the tale about when sportswriter Dick Joyce yanked the trademark fedora off Sugar's bald head at a Boxing Writers of America dinner in New York and tossed it out the window of the 20th story room. But Smith left out the reaction of former heavyweight champion Jack Sharkey, who obviously had his own history with Sugar.
"Why didn't he throw the rest of the bum out, too?" growled Sharkey.
nice. slamming a dead guy, and suggesting his parting is just a little bit "sweet". peddle it elsewhere ya jealous hack.
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