“Introducing the Sam Muchnick Papers: Correspondence With the Department of Justice, 1956-1964,” https://concussioninc.net/?p=12170
by Irvin Muchnick
As I prepare to move on to other categories of some of the rescued papers of my late uncle, St. Louis wrestling promoter and National Wrestling Alliance chief Sam Muchnick, I pause to address the last page of the batch already viewable at http://muchnick.net/nwa-doj.pdf.
Before doing so, however, I want to underscore a master theme: Sam Muchnick was not part of organized crime.
Repeat after me: Sam. Muchnick. Was. Never. Mobbed. Up.
The last page of the NWA’s file of correspondence with the Department of Justice is a 1965 letter from the United States attorney in Los Angeles. There, Sam was told that copies of records he had requested in a criminal case against gangsters Paul John Carbo and Joseph Sica could not be released yet, pending resolution of an appeal.
This letter combines with the fact that this entire group of Muchnick papers is stamped at the bottom consecutively, “00659” through “00722.” These are markings used in litigation and known as Bates numbers.
I can only theorize, but it appears that Muchnick was acquiring a complete set mirroring back to him of NWA files that were previously subpoenaed by the U.S. attorney in Southern California in the prosecution of Carbo and Sica. (One alert reader who caught the Bates numbers is David Bixenspan, the pro wrestling writer for Deadspin.)
I further theorize that the LA prosecutors had been interested in the Washington-based federal antitrust investigation of the NWA only in the broadest sense. They were being thorough, since pro wrestling and boxing — the sport in which Carbo and Sica’s nefarious activities took place — were considered cousin industries, at least in those days. Most likely, the U.S. attorney’s office wondered if anything from the NWA might shine additional light on these two actors.
Make no mistake, Carbo and Sica were bad guys — made men, mobsters. And Sam Muchnick did have one brush with them: a 1959 boxing promotion in St. Louis. It was the briefest of associations, innocent on its face at his end. Perhaps he regretted it. But to read anything more into this historical tidbit would be to confuse Muchnick’s lifelong proximity to colorful characters with his simultaneous ironclad record of fastidiously honest business practice.
As Muchnick remarked along the way to DOJ official Roy D. Hunter: “We, in the wrestling business, have prided ourselves through the years that we have kept our game clean from outside influences and, unlike other sports, we do not have thugs or gangsters connected with it.”
I don’t think this was an idle boast (even though it must be conceded that wrestling’s “worked” nature in some ways made it easier to police than boxing, which is legit except when it isn’t).
St. Louis, overall, had its share of Mafia influence. Sonny Liston, the boxing champion who was dethroned by Muhammad Ali, was known to have been controlled by the St. Louis crime family. Morris Shenker, the local superlawyer who — in a turn of Alanis Morissette-level irony — was appointed by Mayor A.J. Cervantes to head a crime commission in the late sixties and early seventies, represented Frank “Buster” Wortman and other area mobsters, as well as Jimmy Hoffa, the disappeared Teamsters Union boss. (In his spare time Shenker also raised boatloads of money for pro-Israel lobbying groups.)
But Sam Muchnick? Not a chance. John Auble, a late and legendary television news reporter who wrote A History of St. Louis Gangsters, went beyond simply not mentioning Sam in his 2000 book. Around town, Auble told the story of how the head of the St. Louis Police Department homicide unit put out the unmistakable word that Muchnick and his wrestling operation were not to be messed with — that anyone with such designs just might find his own carcass floating near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. And this would be courtesy of the inlaws, not the outlaws.
It was strictly hands-off for one of the mascots of the city’s sports and entertainment. Sam Muchnick, a nails-hard businessman to be sure, was more the anti-Mafia.
Back in the Prohibition era, Muchnick had met Al Capone, which is not surprising. Riding long Pullman car trips with the baseball players he covered for the St. Louis Times — and sometimes carousing with them and containing the resultant bulging scandals — he also was friendly with Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey … and with Mae West. These guys and dolls went with the territory.
I know of only two specific instances when Muchnick was directly involved in boxing. One was the 1941 fight in St. Louis between heavyweight champion Joe Louis and challenger Tony Musto. Louis kayoed Musto, one of the tomato cans of this “Bum of the Month Club” period of the champ’s run, in the ninth round.
Back then Sam was working for wrestling-boxing-circus potentate Tom Packs. And the output was that, following a lot of hard work as Packs’s publicist, Muchnick, who thought he had been promised an equity interest in the event promotion, instead was given a paltry cash bonus — $100 or something like that. This fueled a falling out with Packs and a decision to promote wrestling on his own. The Missouri State Athletic Commission, which was under the thumb of Packs, initially refused to approve Muchnick’s application for a promoter’s license. Backed by a court injunction, he managed to stage a few shows before heading off to the Army during World War II, after which, in 1945, the St. Louis Wrestling Club began in earnest.
The second instance of Sam’s promotion of boxing takes us to the story of Paul John Carbo and Joe Sica.
In 1966, when the defendants’ appeals of their 1961 conspiracy convictions were exhausted at the U.S. Supreme Court, United Press International reported: “Carbo, once known as ‘Mr. Gray,’ the underworld king of boxing, was accused along with Sica and others of pressuring the manager of former Welterweight Champion Don Jordan to get control of the fighter’s professional activities and a share of the purse.”
Sica had prior convictions for robbery, larceny, bookmaking, and extortion. The last came after the California Athletic Commission investigated gangster infiltration and discovered that Sica and cohorts were attempting to muscle in on fighters’ contracts. His three brothers were known organized crime figures.
The best rundown of the facts of the case that I could find (with a hat tip to Deadspin’s Bixenspan) was in the decision at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is viewable at https://www.courtlistener.com/opinion/259946/paul-john-carbo-frank-palermo-joseph-sica-louis-tom-dragna-and-truman/
The timeline of the case had a long tail, all the way back to 1949. One figure in it was Arthur Wirtz, who at various times partially or fully owned the National Hockey League’s Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks; the National Basketball Association’s Chicago Bulls; the fabulously profitable Ice Capades tours starring Olympic figure-skating sweetheart Sonja Henie; and several major arenas. One of the latter was New York’s Madison Square Garden, before Wirtz and partner James D. Norris, in an earlier stage of what would become the Carbo-Sica prosecution, were forced to divest of certain holdings on antitrust grounds. (Norris was the son of NHL pioneer James E. Norris, whose name is on the trophy given annually to the league’s best defenseman.)
In June 1958, Virgil Akins became the first St. Louis native to win a world boxing championship, when he knocked out Vince Martinez in the final of a tournament held to name a new welterweight champion. (Carmine Basilio had vacated the welterweight crown in order to focus on his title in the middleweight division.)
Akins was matched against Don Jordan in his hometown, Los Angeles, in December. The Mafia profited from both ends of the action: not only did Carbo and Sica control Jordan, but the contract of Akins was purportedly owned by Philadelphia crime bigwig Frank “Blinky” Palermo.
Jordan won a controversial decision. A rematch was set for Akins in his hometown, the following May. Sam Muchnick was tabbed as the local promoter. (I believe the show was originally scheduled for Wirtz’s St. Louis Arena, before a February tornado tore off the roof. The venue was switched to Kiel Auditorium.) Jordan won again.
The only other possible Muchnick connection I see is that the Carbo-Sica gang also had their claws into the failing boxing shop at Hollywood Legion Stadium. As we have seen in the National Wrestling Alliance correspondence with the Justice Department, Hollywood Legion was where Cal Eaton and Jules Strongbow were running the “North American Wrestling Alliance,” which was thumbing its nose at the consent decree-constrained NWA. In agreeing to get involved in boxing one last time, Muchnick may have been motivated in part by the opportunity to team up with what he perceived to be Strongbow’s opposition.
In any event, it was one-and-done with re-entry into the world of boxing. In the sixties and seventies, the work of the St. Louis Wrestling Club’s affiliate, Sam Muchnick Sports Attractions, would be confined to promoting the annual appearances in the city by basketball’s Harlem Globetrotters. He wanted no part of dirtying his hands with boxing or with the mob.
Readers who identify errors of fact in this series, or what they consider serious errors of interpretation, are invited to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WRESTLING BABYLON: Piledriving Tales of Drugs, Sex, Death, and Scandal (2007) is available by sending a money order or check for $17.95 to Irvin Muchnick, P.O. Box 9629, Berkeley, CA 94709. The price includes an autographed copy and free shipping within the U.S. For orders from Canada, add $5 US for shipping. For orders from all other places, add $10 US for shipping.
The Kindle ebook version of WRESTLING BABYLON, or used copies of the print version, are available at http://amzn.to/JpYBLk.
The first edition of CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death (2009) is available by sending a money order or check for $19.95 to Irvin Muchnick, P.O. Box 9629, Berkeley, CA 94709. The price includes an autographed copy and free shipping within the U.S. For orders from Canada, add $5 US for shipping. For orders from all other places, add $10 US for shipping.
Kindle, paperback, and audiobook versions of CHRIS & NANCY are available at http://amzn.to/JFZjGR.
ECW Press published a second edition of CHRIS & NANCY, with revisions and a new introduction, in 2013. It is available at https://ecwpress.com/products/chris-nancy. The full text of the new introduction also can be viewed for free at https://concussioninc.net/?p=6819.