Eddie De Losh Trained and Fought With the Best in His Day
When the hair tonic people showed the movies of the 1909 bout between Stanley Ketchel and Jack Johnson on the "Fights of the Century" TV program recently there was one Grand Rapids man who would have had a special interest in the film could he have been near a receiving set. As it was he was "on the road" at the time, so he missed the picture.
He is Eddie De Losh, for 37 years now a trainman employed by the Pere Marquette Division of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, but who, as a young man, was the No. 1 middleweight boxer of Grand Rapids. He was one of the best in the Middle West as a matter of fact. De Losh and Ketchel were boyhood pals on Grand Rapids’ West Side and later De Losh, a tyro pugilist in his first year as a professional, acted as the middleweight champion’s sparring partner at Little Pine Island Lake.
The Johnson fight was an ill-advised one for Ketchel. He was pitted against a man who not only was a champion heavyweight, but a great champion -- one of the greatest of all times. Johnson had every physical advantage -- height, reach and 49 pounds in weight. Had Ketchel remained under the guidance of his former manager, Joe O’Connor, Ketchel never would have been permitted to take the match. But Ketchel, just 21 years old, high spirited and insisting on having a free rein after he won the middleweight title, had chafed under the strict discipline insisted upon by O’Connor and broke with him.
When he took the Johnson match Ketchel was under the management of Willis Britt, brother of a former lightweight great, Jimmy Britt, of San Francisco. Ketchel earlier had wanted to fight Tommy Burns, the Canadian who briefly held the heavyweight championship, but O’Connor had ruled that out. Now that Johnson had dethroned Burns, Ketchel wanted Johnson, and Britt arranged the bout.
Those who saw the films will recall the sensational ending in the twelfth round. Johnson, after toying with the smaller man from the start, suddenly was floored. He got to his feet and, even more suddenly, knocked down the middleweight champion, who apparently stood facing him with his hands down at his side. Ketchel rolled over on his back, his arms outstretched and took the full count.
Johnson and his manager then split and the latter was quoted as saying that the sensational double knockdown had been carefully staged, the "knockdowns" rehearsed in a hotel room, with pillows placed on the floor to break the falls.
DeLosh didn’t care to comment on that angle. He doesn’t recall that Ketchel ever returned to Grand Rapids after the Johnson fight. He was murdered afterwards by a jealous farm hand in Conway, Mo. DeLosh did not have the opportunity to discuss the Johnson matter with his old pal.
"Stanley was the greatest middleweight boxer who ever lived," he declared the other day. "He had something no other boxer could successfully imitated or defend against. It was a shine he perfected. He was a natural south paw, but he boxed in orthodox style. He had tremendous power in his left as well as in the right. He’d feint you with his left, then just miss you with the right. You’d think he was off balance and try to nail him, but he’d come in with that left like a trick hammer.
"He fooled me with it a number of times even though I knew what to expect. He didn’t knock me down, but he’d send me flying backwards on my heels. We would be boxing near the edge of the lake and he’d nearly knock me into the water.
" That was 1908. That year DeLosh had worked out with a number of the pros who trained and fought at Godfroy’s old pavilion at Reed’s Lake Wolgart, who went on to become lightweight champion, got his start there. So did a number of others, including the late Eddie Nelson, clever Grand Rapids lightweight. DeLosh later was to become associated with both of these fighters.
That summer DeLosh was offered his chance as a substitute against a rugged colored boy from Arkansas,. A Kid Smith, at Grand Haven. He accepted and won by a knockout. From then on he was a pro.
When Ketchel, newly crowned as middleweight champion, returned here that summer to vacation at the farm of his grandparents at Little Pine Island, it was only natural and that he and DeLosh should get together again. "When we were kids we both belonged to the Fourth Street Hill gang," DeLosh recalled. "We had a lot of fun together." One gathers that they got into a certain amount of devilment, too, though apparently nothing serious.
"One of our stunts was to snitch beer from a nearby warehouse and go up onto Fourth Street hill to drink it. It was all woods around there then. Some of the boys would get a little plastered, but not Ketchel. One or two bottles of beer was all he’d drink.
"That’s all he’d drink even after he became champion. It was part of the game then for a champion to be a good fellow to advertise himself and make himself popular with the sporting crowd. I’ve seen Ketchel walk into Hagen’s bar at Monroe and Michigan St. and shout at the top of his voice at the bartender for service, so everybody would know who he was. But he’d only drink a beer or two himself. He’d stand there and keep on buying’em for the house."
DeLosh also confirmed stories that Stanley was never quarrelsome and got into few fist fights as a youngster.
But, back to the Summer of 1908 at Ketchel’s Little Pine Island Lake training camp. An old scrap book kept by DeLosh contains a clipping describing activities as the newspaper writer found them. In the presence of his father, mother, brothers and "a few farmers from the countryside who had dropped their haying to come over to the camp, " Ketchel went to work.
After the fighter had punched the small and large bags -- he had named the big bag "Tommy Burns" -- the article continued: "Stanley put on the big practice gloves and took a four-round whirl with a human punching bag."
"His sparring partner is Eddie DeLosh, well known locally, and anyone who wants Eddie’s job is foolish, in our opinion. He was on the aggressive all the time for two rounds but Ketchel came in often with the stiff lefts which mark his strength as a fighter and before the four two-minutes sessions were over, DeLosh was about all in and Stanley was in a fine heat." Which would indicate that for an 18 year old novice, DeLosh had plenty of courage.
But DeLosh, from the time he was a small boy, had to have plenty of courage -- fighting courage -- to survive.
The DeLosh family was far from affluent, so instead of sticking to his studies at the old Union school, Eddie spent most of his time on the streets, selling newspapers, shining shoes, delivering telegrams as a messenger boy -- anything to earn a dime.
"I had to fight then," he relates. "Whether, it was selling papers or shining shoes, the other kids would push you off the corner if you didn’t fight back."
"Then when I got delivering telegrams I’d run into different gangs of kids who’d try to chase me out of their neighborhood. The city was divided into zones by the company and the farthest zones from the center of town paid us the most money. I got a dime for delivering some messages. A lot of the kids were afraid of the gangs. They either wouldn’t try to go out of the downtown zone or they’d get scared out and turn back,
"As for me, I needed those dimes pretty bad so I took all the messages given me. I had a lot of fights and on an average of once a month, I got a black eye, but I always delivered the messages.
On the pleasanter side, DeLosh recalls a night when the late Senator William Alden Smith won an election, he and a number of other boys stormed the Penclub with Herald "extra." They sold a lot of papers and the tips were liberal, he says.
Breaking in as a professional boxer wasn’t easy either and, for DeLosh, it was not a royal road to riches.
The year following his workout with Ketchel, DeLosh and Eddie Nelson decided to seek their ring fortunes in other fields. Boxing was flourishing after a fashion in Windsor, Ontario, so the two aspiring local pugilists, with less than $5 between them, rode a freight train to Detroit.
They took the ferry across to Windsor and sought out a fight promoter. The latter could use DeLosh, he figured, to go against a colored fighter named Harry Blackburn, at the show to be held the following week. It seem that Blackburn was meeting all comers, but the promoter was having difficulty in lining up opponents for him. Blackburn was pretty tough.
Two days before the fight the Grand Rapids boys were down to $1.31 capital. They were sleeping on the docks and subsisting principally on rye bread they would buy by the loaf at grocery stores. Talk about your hungry fighters!
However, they managed to hold out until fight time, although they could do but little training. How’s a fellow going to do road work when he’s starving? But undernourished though he was, DeLosh managed to hold his own with the opponent. That feat gained him immediate popularity and some bouts in Windsor; also $7.50 for his night’s fighting. Nelson had managed to get on the card, too, and was paid $5.
"We had $12.50 between us then, so the first thing we did was to buy a meal ticket. Then we were sure of eating for another week."
Back in Grand Rapids after a few months, DeLosh got occasional bouts here and in Muskegon, Grand Haven, Grand Ledge, Cedar Spring, Lake Odessa and other towns, but always he found it necessary to work at a fulltime factory job to make both ends meet. He had taken up the trade of metal polisher and after putting in a 10-hour stint he would take to the road or gym at night to keep in trim. In 1909 DeLosh, then 20 years old, was married and while a wife and two daughters who came along later, added to his responsibilities, this proved to be the best contract he ever signed. He and Mrs. DeLosh today are proud grandparents and live happily in their attractive home in the southwest part of the city.
In the cement of the top step leading to the door has been inscribed in bold letters the name "Pauline."
"That’s my wife’s first name," DeLosh explains. "I told her as long as I was giving her a home it should have her name on it, so there it is."
In addition to his early local fame, DeLosh made quite a reputation in Wisconsin rings, particularly in Racine and Milwaukee. In Racine in 1913 he knocked out Steamboat Bill Scott, a rough, tough heavyweight, in five rounds, although he was greatly out-weighted. Scott, in 1919, acted as sparring partner for Jess Willard at Toledo when the latter was preparing for his fight with Jack Dempsey.
DeLosh appeared in the semi-windup at Milwaukee on the card that featured Eddie McGoorty and Frank Klaus, champions in their day, and also on the card which brought together Ad Wolgast and Battling Nelson. That was a 10 round affair in which Nelson vainly sought to prove that the loss of his title to Wolgast in 44 rounds in 1910 was a "fluke."
DeLosh also appeared in exhibiting against such top notchers as Jimmy Clabby and Packey McFarland, two of the cleverest boxers of their day, in local rings.
But DeLosh’s greatest ring thriller came here in 1913 in two sensations bouts with J. Irl. Croshaw, better known to ring fans as "The Fighting Conductor."
Their first meeting was a "natural" and one which stirred followers of the ring sport here to a near-frenzy, Croshaw had a most colorful background. Employed by the local street car company he had been assigned to the Grandville Ave. line with the caution to "be careful" at night as hoodlums at the end of the line had been making life miserable for other conductor pulling trolleys, beating the car men up and even robbing them.
It wasn’t long before the gang tried to plague Croshaw, but they more then met their match. The next morning the Herald recounted that Croshaw single handed had routed the gang, compose of several rowdies. Another newspaper said there were four in the gang and that Croshaw had knocked them all out; yet a third version was that there were seven mobsters and Croshaw had knocked out five. The other two, it was reported, took to their heels. The papers noted that Croshaw was a former Pacific Coast amateur boxing champion. That statement caught the eyes of E. W. Dickerson and William T. Morrissey who were promoting bouts here. George Chip, the former middleweight champion, was in town, training for a contest with Jimmy Clabby at the coliseum. Dickerson induced Croshaw to spar with Chip and the latter declared the Grand Rapids man had the makings of a great fighter. Croshaw decided to turn "pro."
DeLosh also had been working with Chip and, at the request of Dickerson, put on the gloves with Croshaw in the gym. The wily Mr. DeLosh, featuring the time might come when he would be matched with Croshaw, didn’t display all his wares. Croshaw got the impression he could beat DeLosh. So did Dickerson. He pair were matched.
Building up Croshaw was an easy matter. He was nicknamed "he Fighting Conductor" and the story of his Grandville Ave. exploits was told and re-told. It improved with each telling. Croshaw was aggressive, possessed of a knockout punch in either hand and was fast.
He was a handsome, personable chap and built up a big following after scoring victories in the first "pro" contests in which he appeared.
The DeLosh-Croshaw fight was billed for Powers’ Theater and the place was crowded to the doors for the event. Dickerson was the referee.
In the first round it looked as though Croshaw and Dickerson had been right and that DeLosh had outsmarted himself. The round ended with DeLosh knocked through the ropes. The gong sounded at the count of nine and DeLosh was barely able to get back to his own corner.
Experience told, however, and DeLosh evaded Croshaw’s rushes throughout the next round. In Round 3 he had the Conductor on the floor twice, once for a nine count. In the sixth round, Dickerson was forced to stop the fight to save the badly beaten Croshaw.
But the Conductor and his followers weren’t satisfied. They claimed DeLosh had been saved by the timer ending the first round ahead of schedule at the count of nine. Then, too, the lights in the theater had gone out rather mysteriously at one stage of the fight. Croshaw claimed he was hit twice in the darkness. His friends maintained that a pal of DeLosh had pulled the switch. DeLosh countered that it was a Croshaw supporter who had plunged the theater into darkness, to save Conductor.
The upshot naturally was a re-match. In the meantime, Ad Wolgast, no longer lightweight champion, had become interested in Croshaw and announced he would manage and second him against DeLosh. He was in Croshaw’s corner when the men met in the re-match.
But Wolgast or no Wolgast, DeLosh lost no time in getting to Croshaw. One story was that he let the Conductor "have it" while latter turned his head to seek guidance from Wolgast.
At any rate, DeLosh had the Conductor completely out in just one minute and 40 seconds of the first round. Croshaw’s nose was broken by the impact of a DeLosh punch. Harry W. Musselwhite, who later became a United States Congressman from Manistee, was sports editor of the Herald at the time and the next morning his top headline read: "DeLosh Rings Up One on the Conductor in a Hurry." He predicted that Croshaw would "carry a facial souvenir of the encounter to the end of his pugnacious career." And he was right.
But Croshaw was dead game too, and feared no man. Twice later he boxed draws with DeLosh, one an exhibition at Powers. During World War I, Croshaw won two medals for bravery in action in France with the 126th Infantry. He rose to the rank of Colonel and was one of the officers in charge of the state’s selective service machinery at Lansing when he died in 1944.
Wolgast, incidentally, was so impressed with DeLosh that he withdrew his connection with Croshaw and announced that henceforth he would manage DeLosh. He stated he planned to take the latter to California with him. He actually did second DeLosh in a bout at Grand Haven, but the big future plans failed to materialize and eventually DeLosh decided to quit the ring.
The level headed Mrs. DeLosh never did think much of prize fighting. "I never
went to see Eddie fight," she said as she sat in her well furnished living room.
"Besides, he never made any real money at it. The most he ever got for a fight
was about $100.
"But," she added, "Eddie has done better than most ex-fighters. We own this home and we’ve got something more, too." Eddie, 65 years old March 10 of this year, agreed with "Pauline."
Transcriber: Barb Jones
Created: 16 January 2010