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Dan Parker Bashed the Bad Guys in Boxing and Earned a Ticket to the Hall of Fame

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  • Dan Parker Bashed the Bad Guys in Boxing and Earned a Ticket to the Hall of Fame

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    By Arne K. Lang

    Twenty-five years ago this month, sportswriter Dan Parker was formally ushered into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the non-participant category. Parker wasn’t there to enjoy the moment. He had been dead going on 30 years.

    Dan Parker, who began his career in journalism as a court reporter in his native Waterbury, Connecticut, hired on with the New York Daily Mirror in 1924, was named sports editor two years later, and remained with the paper until it folded during a prolonged newspaper strike in 1963, a total of 39 years.

    Parker has been underappreciated by historians of the sports page because he worked for a paper that didn’t make the cut when advances in microphotography allowed copies of old newspapers to be stored on microfilm. During this reporter’s days as a college student -- and here I date myself – the only out-of-town papers archived in the school library were the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post, and to cull something out of them for a term paper one had to commit to spending long hours manually scrolling through reels of microfilm on a clunky machine. The tabloids – and the Daily Mirror was a tabloid – were considered too lowbrow for serious research, and even today in the digital age, stuff by Dan Parker is hard to find if one doesn’t have the luxury of hunkering down for an extended stay in the periodicals section of the Library of Congress. His online omnibus consists entirely of scattered stories that were picked up by other newspapers and a few magazine pieces.

    But among boxing writers, Dan Parker was a giant. He did more than anyone to cleanse the sport of the hoodlum element. The IBHOF electorate has come up with some curious choices in the non-participant category over the years, but in the case of Dan Parker they certainly got it right.

    Parker was a big man, carrying about 240 pounds on his six-foot-four frame, but a man’s size is irrelevant when staring into the barrel of a gun and Parker was fearless when facing off with the goons that infested the fight racket. His best year, one might say, was 1955 when a story he authored for Bluebook magazine flowered into an award-winning, six-part series in the Mirror titled “They’re Murdering Boxing.” The series spawned an investigation that ultimately resulted in the imprisonment of Frankie Carbo, boxing’s so-called underworld czar, a man with a long rap sheet, and several of Carbo’s collaborators, most notably Philadelphia numbers baron Frank “Blinky” Palermo.

    Parker’s friends urged him to lay off the hoodlums before something bad happened to him, but he ignored their counsel. “Everybody in boxing lived in fear of this enforcer (Frankie Carbo) but not Dan Parker. Nobody ever put enough heat on Parker to slow down his typewriter,” reminisced Hartford Courant sports editor Bill Lee.

    Parker’s reputation as a reformer was well-established before he zeroed in on the machinations of Carbo and others of his ilk. In 1944, when a vacancy came up on the New York State Athletic Commission, Governor Thomas Dewey, who had made his reputation as a racket-busting District Attorney, offered the post to Parker.

    It was easy money, but he declined. “What would I use for a punching bag if I were on the boxing commission myself?,” he said.

    During a portion of the early years of Parker’s tenure with the paper, there were eight other New York dailies competing for readers. The Mirror was the paper of choice for well-informed boxing fans thanks in large part to Murray Lewin who came to be recognized as the city’s best fight prognosticator within the ranks of the newspaper writers. Lewin, the boxing beat writer, did the grunt work, attending all the little shows and writing up the summaries. Parker, as he freely admitted, was more interested in writing about sporting characters than about the games they played. And like his good buddy Damon Runyon, who wrote for the New York American (later the Journal-American), Parker was inevitably drawn to boxing and horseracing because that was where the most colorful characters were found.

    Parker found time to write one book, a primer for novice horseplayers published in 1947 when horseracing was on the cusp of the boom that would lead it to becoming America’s top spectator sport (a distinction, needless to say, that wouldn’t last).

    The book had a chapter on touts, one of Parker’s favorite subjects for his newspaper column. They were all charlatans, he wrote, an opinion that did not endear him to the bean-counters as they were forever cluttering up his sports section with ads from racetrack tipsters. Parker wasn’t afraid to make enemies on his own paper.

    Believe it or not, but there were still folks back then who believed that professional wrestling was on the up-and-up. Parker educated them when he wrote a column that gave out all the winners on a show that hadn’t yet started.

    The programs for the wrestling shows, which included the bout sheet, were published well in advance and then hidden away until they were needed. Parker procured a copy and from it was able to glean which wrestlers had won their preceding match.

    “Dan was a shy, gentle, and kindly man with a quick sense of humor,” wrote New York Times sports editor Arthur Daley. But within his profession, he wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The legendary Herald Tribune sports editor Stanley Woodward once likened him to Fearless Fosdick, a character in the L’il Abner comic strip who was a parody of Dick Tracy. Parker had a long-running feud with New York Daily News sportswriter Jimmy Powers which may have had something to do with Powers becoming a well-known radio commentator. In the eyes of the old guard, a true journalist didn’t do “electronic media.”

    When Damon Runyon died from cancer of the larynx in 1946, several of his close friends, notably Parker and the famous gossip columnist Walter Winchell, a Daily Mirror colleague, got together and resolved to create a charity in Runyon’s memory. What resulted was a foundation that has raised millions for cancer research. Parker worked tirelessly on its behalf.

    Daniel Francis “Dan” Parker died on May 20, 1967, at age 73. He was quite a guy.

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