Don Elbaum, a boxing promoter who could probably outsell Cadillac Bud Selig anytime in any automobile showroom, has a message for baseball's commissioner.
Boxing may be dirty. It may be corrupt. It may be down for the count. But it is not hypocritical.
Not compared to baseball, which, despite all of the game's sordid problems of late, still insists on shunning one of its all-time greats.
There may not be a place in baseball's Hall of Fame for Pete Rose, but he is welcomed by boxing. Elbaum has arranged for Rose to be inducted tonight into the Summit County (Ohio) Boxing Hall of Fame as an honorary member.
"I think it's a disgrace that he is not in the Hall of Fame," said Elbaum, who is also being inducted tonight at the ceremony in Akron. "If baseball, with all of its faults, is hypocritical and stupid enough that they won't put one of the greatest ballplayers God has ever created in the Hall of Fame, then let boxing recognize his greatness. I think he is a Hall of Fame player and belongs in the Hall of Fame, so he can be in this one."
Rose accepted a lifetime ban from any connection with major league baseball as a settlement of a probe into allegations that he bet on games. His 4,256 hits are the most by any major league baseball player.
When Summit County Boxing Hall of Fame officials designated Elbaum - who promoted boxing in Cleveland and Akron in the 1960s and 1970s (he is the one to blame for getting Don King started in boxing) - he suggested Rose accompany him. "I told them there is a guy that if you voted him into the Hall, it would be great," Elbaum said. "They asked who, and I told them Pete Rose. They called an emergency meeting last month and voted him in."
Now, this has gimmick written all over it. Rose has been voted in, and invited, but it's unlikely he will show up tonight. Elbaum insists his intentions are sincere. "This is not a joke," the 62-year-old Elbaum said. "If you had a picture of a boxer, it would be Ray Robinson. He was boxing. If you had a picture of a football player, it would be Jim Brown. He was football to me. And if you had a picture of a baseball player, it would be Pete Rose. He was baseball as far as I was concerned. I don't know nothing about hockey. Maybe basketball I'd use a picture of [Wilt] Chamberlain because of the 20,000 chicks."
If you had a picture of a rogue, it would be Don Elbaum. He is a legend within boxing for his colorful promotions and gimmicks. He promoted Sugar Ray Robinson at the end of his career. In a 1965 Johnstown, Pa., news conference for a Robinson fight, Elbaum realized it was close to 25 years prior that Robinson had his first professional fight. He presented Robinson with a cake with 25 candles and all sorts of hoopla.
Then, in an emotional moment, Elbaum pulled out a pair of boxing gloves and told Robinson that they were the gloves he used in his first fight. "Ray was moved," Elbaum said. "There were tears in his eyes, and the writers are yelling for Ray to put them on. I took another look at the gloves and to my horror, I saw they were both right handed. I'm whispering to Ray, 'Don't put them on.' Ray finally got it and told the writers he couldn't bring himself to put them on." Elbaum had just pulled the gloves from the trunk of his car.
He staged a promotion where a fighter got married in the ring and fought right after the ceremony. He had a match between two winless fighters, calling it a fight for the title of the World's Worst Boxer, and even had a trophy made for the event. Speaking of trophies, he presented a fighter with one of Gordie Howe's MVP trophies he lifted out of the Detroit Red Wings trophy case after a fight at Olympia Stadium.
Elbaum tried to promote a man leaping across Niagara Falls from the Canadian to the American side, authorities said he couldn't land in the United States, prompting Elbaum to say, "What are they going to do, blast him out of the sky?" The jump never took place.
He has even risked life and limb, climbing into the ring several times when a fighter didn't show up for one of his promotions. One time he faced a fighter on his card and as they met in the middle of the ring said, "Don't forget who's signing your check."
Elbaum's latest gimmick is a 7-foot-2, 330-pound Russian heavyweight named Nicolai Valuev. He's fought once for Elbaum in the United States when he faced George Linberger last year and knocked him out. "One reporter pointed out that Linberger had been knocked out by Butterbean in 19 seconds," Elbaum said. "I said, 'Well, he was winning on all three scorecards when he was knocked out.'"
Rose and Elbaum share something else - both went to jail for income tax evasion.
He is a Hall of Fame promoter. Only Elbaum could figure out an angle for Pete Rose to be inducted into the Summit County Boxing Hall of Fame. "There has to be some connection with Summit County," Elbaum said. "I said he's flown over here enough times that there was probably a fight going on at least one time in Akron. That will work."