The $50,000 Bluff (Ring Magazine, September, 1947) By Nat Fleischer "Feel topping, do ya, ol' clod? Well, then, let's 'ave a bit of a gargle!" That was something in the nature of a standard greeting to a pal when Squire Abingdon was abroad in our fair land many years ago the most amusing and picturesque British sportgsman ever to come to this side of the big drink. The Squire was of noble blood and I believe, if memory serves, he was one of the Beresford tribe, or clan, but not having a copy of Burke's Peerage at hand, I would not be sure of this. But Beresford or no, he was a royal sort of great fellow, a gentleman always, despite at times a decidedly questionable atmosphere and hazy companionship. A blunderingly gracious sort of clown whom everybody liked and took to, and who, chiefly because of his great spendthrift tendencies, was welcomed everywhere. And "a bit of a gargle" it was with the Squire every turn of the road, every bend of the journey, until the stuff and a sudden attack of pneumonia caught up with him in New Orleans. He was on the eve of sailing for home when the hand of death beckoned. It was the late Charley Mitchell, persistent and insistent challenger for the world's main fistic title, and John L. Sullivan's undoubted Nemesis, who was chiefly responsible for Squire Abingdon's presence in this country. At that time, though -- the late '80s and al through the more or less gay '90s -- British sportsmen were quite common in this country and attracted little or no attention. They came for all sorts and manner of sports events, came and went, some with money they were willing to spend and some only with reputations on which they attempted to capitalize. Squire Abingdon was different, different in every way. Of all the many quaint and unusual sport characters I've read about or met in a long experience through the years of lean and fat, I recall no man who lived more for the sheer joy of it all, one who made every second count and who everlastingly and always was for and with his friends. It proved the death of him, that sort of rackety and rickety living, but I'm sure the Squire would have had no other way were it his say in the matter. "Nonsense, my boy," he told the attending physician, who, in great alarm, had called in three others for a consultation. "It's the blawsted cold I picked up and I shall be around again in just a bit. Tell Charley to order up another case of the bubbly stuff and we shall all feel better!" Alas, that final case was never ordered. Even at the moment, Charley Mitchell and his father-in-law, the inimitable "Pony" Moore, once great English bookmaker and "pub" proprietor, had been told that the end was fast approaching for his lordship, badly weakened and lacking resistance with which to combat the dread leveller, was sinking into a coma that spelled the end. Contrary to the accepted notion, this Briton had a keen sense of humor, even to the point of the ludicrous. He could carry on a rapid-fire bit of wise-cracking, then tabbed as joshing, with the fastest of the day's American raconteurs. Never came there a time when the able and likeable Squire didn't have a ready reply, crisp and delectable, but always kindly and devoid of rancor or that disagreeable "bite" that so distinguishes the caustically sarcastic. The Squire had one tremendous aversion. It was simply and plainly the mere mention of John L. Sullivan's name. Such mention would transform the Briton from a mild-mannered, easy-going citizen into a frenzied madman. All of the hate that was within this strange personality seemed vented right on that one point. And if a bit of praise were added for the once mighty John L., the case was all the worse. It was to see and bet on the Sullivan-Kilrain fight back in 1889 that Abingdon first came to this country, then as usual, in the company of Mitchell -- the handsome, affable but at times sneering English champion. Charley came here to help Kilrain against his ancient enemy, the Boston Strong Boy. It was a feud that flared for many years when the late Richard K. Fox was in his heyday and was drenching the country with his Police Gazette belts, medals and cups for all sorts of sporting championships. Sullivan had flatly refused to wear or even compete for one of these Fox baubles, hence the feud, and Fox continued his expensive attempts to get Sullivan licked. It was in 1888 that Sullivan so signally failed in his attempt to whip Mitchell in France and still a year before that, in 1887, that Kilrain and Jem Smith had fought a draw of 103 rounds. Both of these were bare-knuckle battles under the ancient London ring rules and brought out a lot of dissension and bad feeling, no end. The upshot was the match in Richburg, Miss., between Sullivan and Kilrain in 1889. Mitchell came over to help Kilrain as much as he could, financially and morally, even going to the extent of being in Kilrain's corner for the prupose of taunting and annoying Sullivan as much as possible. And Abingdon came along to bet quite a chunk of money and also to nag Sullivan by constant references to his failure in France. "E'E cawn't even whip a tiny bit of a middleweight like Mitchell, bloime me!" the Squire would roar from time to time. These efforts were futile, however, for Sullivan prevailed in the end after what was, as it should have been, the last big bare knuckle fight in this country. Abingdon was perhaps the best informed man of his day on pugilistica. He liked nothing better than to relate his experiences of far back and to argue over the present day matters of the ring. Mitchell was always with him, a sort of paid retainer and court jester. Whether he really believed it or not, Abingdon had an idea he himself could lick Mitchell and when along in his cups dearly loved to pick a fight with his handsome companion. Generally these wordy affairs were egged on by Mitchell himself in the presence of a barroom full of companions. They always wound up one way -- Abingdon would sock Mitchell a punch in the nose and then of course they would be separated. Charley was asked why he permitted this and his smiling reply was: "Well, the blighter likes it, the show-off that he is, and always pays me twenty quid when it's over." Mitchell was willing to take a lot of punches on the nose at the rate of $100 per. And there was no one quite so sartorially perfect as this same Abingdon. During their grand tour of America, which was for pleasure mostly, though Mitchell picked up plenty, for that time, with occasional exhibitions, he made everybody gasp with displays of exceptional clothes, generally in the very highest of good taste. He said that his ordinary suits cost him ten guineas, or over $50 in American coin at the time, but the better grade always put him back a matter of fifty and sixty guineas each. He carried many of these around with him that he never wore at all and it was his pleasure, when he found a pal about his own size to give him two or three of the suits. One of his prizes was a sable overcoat that cost him $5,000. And he had a stock of walking sticks, many of them inlaid with jewels and worth hundreds of dollars apiece, the Squire being careful to have his "crutches" match his suiting as well as having the boutonniere and the somewhat lavish display of jewelry in pleasing harmony. Men of coin were much bejeweled in those piping times. Abingdon was by long odds the most remarkable British sports character ever to come over to America. When George A. Baird, better known as Squire Abingdon, died in New Orleans in 1893, his death created an international sensation. When he came from New York with Hall and Mitchell and their party, he started immediately to lead a life of dissipation and after Hall's defeat by Fitzsimmons, he kept exceedingly late hours until he broke down in health. He found New Orleans very fast in a sporting sense and he cut out a pace that all who were with him followed except Hall. His ambition to shine as a sporting luminary was the incentive that brought him into a sphere which his wealth and social rights might have induced him to avoid. He chose his companions from among the most famous or rather infamous of England's sporting men. Fighters and toughs of all descriptions he numbered among his pensioners and to deserve his patronage, the latter were disposed to go to any lengths to serve him. Some queer stories were told of assaults upon inoffensive people who happened to have incurred the Squire's displeasure. With an income estimated at from $75,000 to $1,000,000 per year, Baird might have bought his way to a much higher position than the one he occupied in English sporting circles, but his fondness for the society of race track touts, toughs and fighters, caused him to be ignored by the leading sporting set, then headed by the Prince of Wales. He was a great purchaser of thoroughbred stock but his stable transactions were always effected with a view to keeping that branch of his affairs on a paying stock. Barring his liberality in dealing with his pugilistic constituency, he was in every sense a sportsman for revenue only. Before his death he was the owner of one of the most famous racing stables in Great Britain. He was the most liberal purchaser of yearlings every season at the Great Doncaster Blood Stock Sales. The era of Squire Abingdon was the most notable one in the history of American pugilism. It was an era of grudge fights, of colorful ringmen, of brawny, two-fisted gladiators. That era has passed in fisticuffs. Gone is the drama, the color and the glittering spectacle of the prize ring as it was known in the days of Charley Mitchell, Pony Moore, Squire Abingdon, John L. Sullivan, Bob Fitzsimmons, James J. Corbett and James J. Jeffries among other pugilistic greats. That was the era when the signing of a heavyweight fight, especially one for the world title, was a momentous occasion. Today, when Joe Louis signs for a championship defense, he goes into the inner sanctum of the Twentieth Century Sporting Club, places his John Hancock to the contract offered him and when it is all over, out of the room he comes with the officials of the organization to announce that he will defend his crown on such-and-such a day. It's cut and dried commercialism. No drama. No hair-raising side bets. No fanfare. No excitement. No color. Not so in the days when Squire Abingdon backed a fighter. Let's go back to the year 1892, shortly after James J. Corbett had taken the world heavyweight title from John L. Sullivan. The scene is the New York Evening World. The sports editor is Clarence Ryder, famous the world over as a sports writer. Charley Mitchell, his father-in-law, the old Minstrel Pony Moore, Jim Hall, Squire Abingdon and several of their friends walked into the sports department seeking the sports editor. They were ushered into Ryder's office. Clarence offere the Squire a seat but before the chair could be placed before him, the Britisher plunked down on Ryder's desk fifty thousand dollar bills -- crisp, new money he had just received from the Hanover Bank near the Pulitzer Building. The editor stood motionless. He was amazed. It was the first time he had ever seen so much money on his desk placed there by any of the many fight managers who frequented his office to place side bets for their charges in fights that Ryder had a hand in arranging. "My name is Squire Abingdon of England. This is my friend Charley Mitchell, the champion of England. You no doubt have heard much about him. This is his manager, Pony Moore, his father-in-law. Here is fifty thousand dollars which I am prepared to turn over to you as a side bet that my man, Mitchell, can whip your Jim Corbett who just took the title from John L. Sullivan. "This little man you see here, is the fellow who went thirty-nine rounds with your Sullivan and had him whipped to a frazzle when time was called and the bout was declared a draw only eight years ago. We came here to challenge Corbett to a match for the title. I have also brought Jim Hall, the Australian middleweight champion, here to challenge Bob Fitzsimmons whom he knocked out in Australia in four rounds. "You're the man who can arrange matters for us. Here's the money, get us the fights. What we are mostly interested in is the fight with Corbett. Mitchell will thrash your champion within an inch of his life if given the chance and I'll be ready to back that statement up with a side bet of $50,000." Ryder was flabbergasted. He told Baird to wait. Into the office of the dramatic editor Clarence went, to see if Leander Richardson, owner of the Dramatic News and one of the founders of the Morning Telegraph, was still there, as Clarence and he had only a few minutes previously engaged in conversation. Richardson was there, discussing a play with the dramatic editor. Ryder explained his mission. He asked richardson where he could get Bill Brady, Corbett's manager, and today the dean of Broadway theatrical producers. "Leander, don't let that money get away from us. Call Bill Brady. Phone him and tell of Abingdon's $50,000 splurge," said Ryder. Richardson put in a call for Brady and soon had him on the wire. "Bill, get busy right away. We must cover that bet. Round up $50,000 to cover it. There are dozens of sportsmen, Bill, who will be glad to help you get that sum together and back Jim. It's a cinch. I'll get plenty of it, myself. That money mustn't get away from us." An arrangement was made with the Squire to meet him within forty-eight hours in the office of the Evening World's sports department to have the bet covered and the fight arranged. But the editor figured that the affair was too big to stage in his office and the Hoffman House was chosen, instead. Two days later Bill Brady, Richardson, Ryder, Mitchell, Hall and Billy Delaney, trainer of Corbett, were together in the Hoffman House to close the deal. Brady called Abingdon's bluff because that is what it amounted to when the showdown came. Abingdon, with all of his wealth, wasn't prepared to back his man for so much money. He pulled out fifty thousand dollar bills, placed them on the table and told Brady to cover the amount. But he almost fainted when Brady, contrary to Abingdon's expectations, put up his fifty grand plus one thousand additional, and said: "There you are, Squire. The winner to take all. Let's sign for a fight. I'm going you one thousand better. The bet is for $51,000." The Squire paled. he didn't expect Brady to come across with the dough and he crawled. He finally agreed to bet $5,000 on the side, the purse to be $25,000. The deal was closed and then Brady went hunting for a battleground. He contracted to stage the fight at the Coney Island Athletic Club but the reformers got busy and there was an awful yelp from them, so big, in fact, that Judge Gaynor, later Mayor of New York, chased the bout out of Brooklyn. Then Brady tried to stage it in Georgia but the governor placed a ban on it in that state. Finally it landed in Jacksonville, Florida, with the State Militia in charge to see that nothing was done contrary to the law. Just before the fight got under way, they rushed the best seats and held on to them regardless of the actual owners. Mitchell was knocked out in the third round and Squire Abingdon never did see that fight. Nine months previously, the Squire had clinched a fight between Hall and Fitzsimmons for New Orleans in which Hall was knocked out by Fitz in four rounds and it was after this fight, in which the Squire dropped a fortune, that he became ill and died of pneumonia. As for the bout with Mitchell, the Britisher shoudl have won that bout on a foul. When Corbett floored Charley in the third session, Mitchell was taking the count on one knee. Looking up at Corbett, he began a tirade of filthy language aimed at Jim. It was part of the play to get Corbett's goat. He wanted Jim to lose his head and commit a foul and this Corbett did. Enraged at the language, Corbett slapped Mitchell across the mouth with his open glove while the count was still on. It was a ticklish moment. Bat Masterson, sports editor of the Morning Telegraph, and one of Mitchell's men, there to protect him, immediately rose in protest. So did Pony Moore. They shouted to Honest John Kelly, the referee, to disqualify Corbett, but he took no action. Brady, Billy Delaney and Nonpareil Jack Dempsey leaped into the ring to protect Corbett's interest and in so doing, they also had committed a foul because the count had not yet been completed. But despite this, Kelly decided not to punish Corbett, who he figured was fully justified in silencing the Britisher.