Time was in this country when all you needed to hype a heavyweight title fight was a remote training camp with primitive communication facilities, a lively imagination and friends on the city's sports desks.
You had the heavyweight champ saving somebody from drowning, preferably an orphan, or stopping a runaway team of horses with the mayor's daughter screaming and trapped in the carriage. It might help if he were instrumental in putting out a convent fire or carrying nuns to safety.
Boxing needs hype. All sports need hype. A guy who wouldn't raise the kitchen shade to look at a ballgame in the lot next door will mortgage the house and pay scalpers' prices to go see a game if he knows Jose Canseco or some other guy whose picture has been in all the papers and on TV is in it.
No one knows this better than Irving Rudd, whose business it has been to put bottoms in chairs for sports promotions ranging from Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, to Yonkers Raceway to the Caesars Palace parking lot in Las Vegas.
No one does it any better than Irving Rudd, who has written a book on his life and times, "The Sporting Life, or The Duke and Jackie, Pee Wee, Razor Phil, Ali, Mushky Jackson and Me." The book, like its author, is pixieish, fun-loving, occasionally irascible, but full of the wonder of a guy who still can't believe his good luck over the years.
If you've never seen Irving Rudd, just picture a chipmunk with glasses. Or Bugs Bunny. That's Irving. The fighters used to call him the Happy Rabbit. You look at Irving and you want to ask him what he did with the carrot.
Life is not so simple for the sports flak anymore. Irving can't have the champ saving damsels from drowning because the sports desk will check the police reports and TV will want to interview the drowning "victim."
But Irving is not without his resources. When he signed on as press agent for the trotting track, Yonkers Raceway, and he saw the track's sign go up, a light went on in his head as he watched the letters being lowered into place. He asked the workmen to transpose the A and the Y to make the sign come out: "Yonkers Racewya."
Big mistake, right? Hah! Irving got the picture on every sports page and 11 o'clock news in the country. You go spell. Leave Irving alone.
Not that Irving didn't make mistakes. One of them was getting General Douglas MacArthur to go to the Brooklyn Dodgers' ballgames. It was the year Irving was the Dodger press agent. He read in the paper where the general, a big baseball fan, visited Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds. Irving is miffed. He phones the general. What about the Dodgers?
The general's aide agrees. The general shows up at a Dodger game. And another Dodger game. And another Dodger game. The general--God help us!--is a fan. He sees 13 games. The Dodgers lose all 13.
Alas! It is the year the Dodgers blow a 13-game lead in August and lose the pennant to the Giants in a playoff. Irving does some fast figuring. Anyway he adds it up, the Dodgers blow a 13-game lead. The general shows up for 13 losing games.
Who do you think lost the pennant? Historians may point to breakdowns in defense, the Ralph Branca pitch to Bobby Thomson, the manager's strategy. But Irving Rudd knows who lost the 1951 pennant: General Douglas MacArthur. The hero of Inchon is no use at all at the Little Miracle of Coogan's Bluff. Irving wishes he'd go jinx the Yankees.
You always know when a major fight is coming along. You get this upbeat call from Irving Rudd. What they do with Irving is not waste him on the favorite. Muhammad Ali is fighting Earnie Shavers? Irving goes to Shavers' camp. Anyone can get Muhammad Ali's name in the paper, reasons Rudd. But when Ali stops speaking to the press--on the eve of the first Leon Spinks fight--Rudd is rushed into the breach. Pretty soon, Ali is speaking again. So is Irving.
Irving works for Sugar Ray Leonard only once--the Marvin Hagler fight. It is enough. He doesn't care for the sensation. He doesn't care for Sugar Ray Leonard. "Enough incidents have occurred to make me think this chapter (on Sugar Ray Leonard) should be titled, 'The Boy Next Door Is a Deleted.' " Irving writes.
On the other hand, he loves Thomas Hearns. "A mensch ," he says of Hearns. It is Irving's highest compliment. Thomas gives interviews, Thomas makes appearances, Thomas hypes the gate. For the first time in his life, Irving roots for a fighter when Hearns fights Leonard the second time. "If you didn't have a good view of the fight, you could tell how it was going by observing Irving Rudd," Bert Sugar of Boxing Illustrated says. "How did the fight come out?" someone asked Irving after the match. "I got a draw," Irving answered. "I wuz robbed."
Says Irving: "If nothing else, Hearns differs from Leonard in his sincerity. He proves to me he is a very good, kind guy and he certainly makes my job easier."
The plight of the press agent is, he must serve two masters--the client and the media. Irving Rudd's strength was, he remained steadfastly loyal--and truthful--to his pals in the sports departments. When Irving went to work for Off Track Betting in New York, he acknowledged to reporters, "They haven't got anybody in the place who would know Secretariat from a mule. It takes them six minutes to book a bet." When they let him go, he thanked them. "It is like getting off the Titanic," he tells the media. When a New York Giant assistant press agent once wouldn't give Grantland Rice a seat in the main press box, Irving got up and gave him his.
Irving never got out of Brooklyn, really. Someone once said, "When he talks, if you close your eyes, you can hear the beer cans rippling in the old Gowanus Canal."
Irving is probably only a little over 5 feet, but about 4 feet 9 of it is heart. Once, when he walked into the barber shop of the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami, he sees a familiar figure. It is Beau Jack (ne Sidney Walker), the famous old pugilist whose fights he once publicized.
Beau is in an unfamiliar pose. He has a rag and a can of polish in his hands. The man who made millions in the ring is shining other peoples' shoes for a living. He smiles when he sees Irving. "Why, Mr. Rudd! Can I shine your shoes--for nothing?" Rudd looks at him. "No, Sidney, you can't shine my shoes," Irving says. "Why not?" Beau Jack says. "Because," says Irving Rudd, "you were the lightweight champion of the world."