Tuesday, May 26, 2015
John L. Sullivan appreciated a good pint—well, any pint for that matter—so I’m sure he’d be excited about a great afternoon of brews and books that will be hosted by the Beara Irish Brewing Company in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on Sunday, June 7, from 2-4 PM.
Sullivan's role as the country's first sports superstar and Irish-American hero has faded a bit from our collective memory in recent years, so I was particularly excited when I saw his image gracing the labels of a great local brew, Beara Irish Brewing Company's O'Sullivan Stout. The brewery has opened a new taproom on Route 1 in Portsmouth, and if you come in on June 7 you can sample the stout and the brewery’s other craft offerings, which I highly recommend. I’ll also be there to sign copies of Strong Boy: The Life and Times of John L. Sullivan, called “one of the best boxing books ever penned” by the Boston Globe.
And if you have a dad who loves to drink beer and imbibe sports and history, it’s a great two-fer for picking up some unique gifts! Father’s Day shopping doesn’t get any easier than this.
The Beara Irish Brewing Company is located at 2800 Lafayette Road in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Its web site is www.bearairishbrew.com. For more on Strong Boy, visit www.strongboybook.com.
Monday, March 9, 2015
STRONG BOY: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JOHN L. SULLIVAN, AMERICA'S FIRST SPORTS HERO is now available in paperback. Same great content, half the price!
Happy to see this great review from the Boston Globe on the front cover: "From the first page to the last, Klein's prose retains its powers of enchantment and illumination. It is one of the best boxing books ever penned."
Approaching nineteenth-century sports and boxing with a twenty-first-century perspective, STRONG BOY brings to life John L. Sullivan, a man who was the gold standard of boxing for more than a decade and the first athlete to earn more than a million dollars. He had a big ego, big mouth, and bigger appetites. His womanizing, drunken escapades, and constant presence on the police blotter were a godsend to a burgeoning newspaper industry. The larger-than-life boxer embodied the American Dream for late nineteenth-century immigrants as he rose from Boston's Irish working class to become the most recognizable man in the nation. The "Boston Strong Boy," was our nation's first sports hero, and his name was not Babe Ruth.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
What better way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day than learning more about one of the country's first Irish-American heroes? I'll be telling the colorful tale of the hard-hitting, hard-drinking Gilded Age boxer John L. Sullivan at a number of Boston-area institutions this March. Among the scheduled dates are the following:
March 6, 6 PM: Boston Public Library
March 8, 9:30 AM: The Irish Ancestral Research Association (Boston)
March 12, 7 PM: Medford Public Library
March 16, 2:30 PM: Stevens Memorial Library (North Andover)
March 18, 7 PM: Falmouth Historical Society and Museums on the Green
March 19, 7 PM: Thomas Crane Public Library (Quincy)
March 27, 6:30 PM: South End Historical Society
Come on out, and you'll
- Learn how Sullivan’s incredible career and oversized personality launched America’s modern sporting obsession
- Travel back in time to the extravagant Gilded Age to witness the birth of America’s celebrity culture
- Discover how Sullivan’s power and self-confidence transformed him into an idol for a generation of Irish-Americans emasculated in the wake of the horrific potato famine that gripped their homeland
- Grab a ringside seat to Sullivan’s epic brawls, such as his 75-round bout with Jake Kilrain, and his battles outside the ring with the law, a troubled marriage, and raging alcoholism
- Explore how Sullivan revolutionized boxing from outlawed bare-knuckle fighting into the gloved spectacle we know today
A full list of events can be found on the Strong Boy web site. I'll be bringing flat John L. in tow. He's bundled up for the winter weather and ready to go.
Hope to see you there!
Thursday, September 26, 2013
He was America’s first sports superstar. He was the gold standard of his sport for more than a decade. He was the first athlete to earn more than a million dollars. His rise from the working-class city streets epitomized the American Dream. He had a big ego, big mouth, and bigger appetites. He ate and drank with reckless abandon. He was loud and vulgar. His womanizing, drunken escapades, and constant police-blotter presence were godsends to a burgeoning newspaper industry.
He wasn’t Babe Ruth.
He was John L. Sullivan.
Nearly four decades before Ruth donned a baseball uniform, Sullivan ruled as heavyweight champion from 1882 to 1892. Born to Irish-American parents who fled the horrible potato famine that gnawed away at Ireland, the larger-than-life boxer rose from a working-class Boston neighborhood to become the most recognizable man in America.
Far from being a bygone, sepia-toned relic, Sullivan’s story is a familiar one. Everything we know of modern sports—the hype machine, the press coverage, the hero worship by fans, the pitfalls of celebrity, the endorsements, the greed and ungodly sums of money, the gambling, the intersection of show business and athletics, and the gossip—all appear in Sullivan’s tale. The man known as the “Boston Strong Boy” starred in theatrical productions, sought political office, owned his own bar, and shilled products for advertisers, activities that all seem commonplace for athletes today.
John L. Sullivan’s left his imprint on American culture in three significant ways:
1. John L. Sullivan was the first American sports hero.
If sports are America’s secular faith, Sullivan is not only among the pantheon of athletic gods, he is our Zeus. His decade-long reign coincided with the birth of American mass media, and his oversized personality gave birth to America’s celebrity obsession with athletes. Long before athletes’ private lives became fodder for TMZ, Deadspin, and ESPN, there was Sullivan’s dirty laundry being aired in Richard K. Fox’s National Police Gazette and Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World.
2. John L. Sullivan was the first Irish-American idol.
The legendary spirit of the fighting Irish that was made flesh in Sullivan transformed him into a hero for tens of thousands of sons and daughters of the Emerald Isle who had felt emasculated in the wake of the Great Hunger. At a time when millions of Irish Americans sought respect in their new homeland, Sullivan earned it with his fists. His strength and self-confidence were elixirs for a people who had suffered from malignant shame after the famine, and it transformed him into an Irish-American idol. “Because he meant so much as a minority champion, he prefigured Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, Billie Jean King and the many other athletes who became genuine heroes to the people they represented,” says illustrious sportswriter Frank Deford. “The Great John L. is as important a cultural figure as he was a sports idol.”
3. John L. Sullivan modernized the sport of boxing.
The last of the bare-knuckle champions and the first of the gloved title-holders, Sullivan was a transcendent figure in boxing history. By insisting on fighting with gloves under the newly developed Marquis of Queensberry Rules, he revolutionized the sport from barbaric, outlawed bare-knuckle fighting into the gloved spectacle we know today. “The Boston Strong Boy” pulled boxing from the back woods onto the front pages.
My latest book, Strong Boy, tells the story of the self-made man who personified the power and excesses of the Gilded Age. In vivid detail, the 368-page book offers readers ringside seats for Sullivan’s epic brawls, such as his 75-round bout against Jake Kilrain and his cross-country barnstorming tour in which he literally challenged all of America to a fight. Strong Boy also chronicles Sullivan’s battles outside the ring with a troubled marriage, wild weight and fitness fluctuations, and raging alcoholism. While he struggled with personal demons, his life story is ultimately a redemptive one.
Even those who aren't boxing fans will be entertained by Sullivan’s incredible exploits both inside and outside of the ring as they learn about America’s sports-obsessed culture, the seedy underbelly of Victorian society in the Gilded Age, and the rise of Irish America in the latter 1800s.
While Sullivan is referred to in some quarters as the “Babe Ruth of boxing,” Strong Boy readers will discover that in truth, Ruth was the “John L. Sullivan of baseball.”
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Monday, April 9, 2012
After this weekend's brutal opening series in Detroit, Red Sox fans like myself are in need of some sort of escape. I'm going to retreat my good ol' safe place: history.
Now, in case you might not have heard, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of Fenway Park. (Oh, did you hear the Titanic went down 100 years ago, too?) Most of the commemoration is focused on celebrating the events of April 20, 1912, when the Red Sox took on the New York Highlanders (soon to be Yankees) in Fenway Park's first major league game.
But that was not the first time that the Red Sox took to Fenway's emerald diamond to play a game. Fenway Park was actually baptized as Boston's baseball cathedral 100 years ago today--on April 9, 1912. The weather was better suited for football rather than baseball when the Red Sox took on a squad from Harvard University in an exhibition game. Snow flurries danced in the air as the hard-core fans entered into a still-unfinished ballpark. Even though it was the first chance that many Boston "cranks" (as baseball fans were called in those days) had to check out the state-of-the-art baseball stadium, the weather was so raw that it helped to keep the attendance to only 3,000. According to the Boston Herald, the sparse crowd “rattled around like a squadron of lima beans in a number eight hat.”
The Red Sox had arrived back in Boston late the prior night from Cincinnati, but they still fielded most of their regulars. At 3:30 p.m., third baseman and Harvard sophomore Dana Joseph Paine Wingate stepped up to the plate and into the history books as Fenway’s first batter. Red Sox pitcher Casey Hageman promptly fanned Wingate for the first of his nine strikeouts. In the bottom of the first inning, Boston second baseman Steve Yerkes followed with a single to right for Fenway’s first hit.
After setting down Harvard in order in the second inning, Hageman singled home shortstop Marty Krug to score Fenway’s first run. The Boston pitcher kept the Harvard batters at bay all afternoon. The Crimson managed just one hit before the game was called after Harvard batted in the seventh inning. The Red Sox won 2-0.
To commemorate the centennial, the Harvard baseball team will be taking batting practice at Fenway Park today. Not exactly the blowout planned for April 20. Once again the events of April 9 are being lost in the cobwebs of history.
If you're interested in reading more about Fenway Park's first pitch, check out my article about the game in Harvard Magazine. And hopefully, after washing my eyes out, I can get back to watching the Red Sox soon.
Friday, March 30, 2012
Traveling the world with kids can be a challenge, but exposing children to different cultures and cityscapes is as easy as a trip to the local bookstore or library. As I wrote about in The Boston Globe last year, the enchanting children’s travelogues penned by the Czech author and illustrator M. Sasek, even though most date back to the 1960s, are fantastic introductions to some of the planet’s most enticing cities.
Publishing house Rizzoli has reissued most of Sasek’s titles for a new generation to enjoy, and it has just released an update to the 1961 book “This is Munich.” Like all of Sasek’s stylish books, “This is Munich” features playful ink-and-gouache illustrations of landmarks and quirky street life.
The book is a visual tour of the Bavarian capital that includes landmarks you might expect in a children’s book, such as the Glockenspiel, and those you might not, like the city’s famous beer hall, Hofbräuhaus, complete with a beer maiden carrying eight huge steins by their handles. That’s part of what I think makes Sasek’s books so special. They don’t talk down to kids, yet Sasek’s subjects and colorful illustrations capture children’s imaginations.
There are plenty of charming drawings of the locals in traditional Bavarian clothing. There’s certainly no shortage of dirndl-clad ladies and men decked out in alpine hats and lederhosen. Kids can also get a flavor for daily life in Munich. The drawings of Oktoberfest are alive with colors, and the image of a train station filled with Sunday skiers dwarfed by a forest of rainbow skis is captivating.
Even adults are sure to learn something from Sasek’s book. Know what the Fohn is? Sasek informs us that it’s "a hot dry wind” that “causes physical discomfort and it has a depressing effect on the nervous system." As proof, he gives us an illustration of Frau Huber, a woman as green as the Wicked Witch of the West grabbing her temples.
“This is Munich” transports you not only to Bavaria, but also back in time to 1961. Illustrations include now-bygone images of horse-drawn carriages delivering ice to taverns and city workers sweeping roads with brooms and shovels.
Rizzoli’s “This is Munich” has 64 eye-catching pages and can be purchased through the Rizzoli web site. And if you do get inspired and make it to Munich, beware of the Fohn.