Just finished “All the Way to the Grave,” by Frank Graham. It’s a retrospective piece on Joe Gould, manager for former heavyweight champion Jim Braddock. If you saw the Braddock movie, “Cinderella Man” (and I recommend that you do), he was the guy played by Paul Giamatti, one of my favorite character actors. The essential point of the story is that Joe Gould was a man who staked his life on the success of another man and never wavered in his commitment to him. This commitment was rewarded with a lifelong friendship, one that continued “all the way to the grave,” with the final sentence talking about Jim Braddock attending Gould’s funeral. It was a short, sweet, sentimental piece about a not particularly well-known figure in sports.
I had just finished a couple of other essays on boxing when I read this one, and it was kind of interesting to think about the relationship between the boxer and the manager, the athlete and his trainer. It’s a fascinating relationship, the support staff and the athlete. Essentially you have a person who believes in another person so seriously that he or she is willing to give everything s/he has to that person in the hopes that that person succeeds in a way that the trainer never can. It takes guts, maybe even a bit of heroism. And for every athlete who makes it there are so many more who don’t. And they too need trainers and managers, people willing to work for them and with them DESPITE the lack of success, hoping the athlete finally turns it around and makes it in some way. That takes a level of commitment that I don’t know if I personally have.
What must it have been like for Joe Gould when Braddock’s career began to decline during the Great Depression? How trying must it have been to watch Braddock reduced to dock work and government relief? How hard must it have been for Joe Gould to stick with his man, despite what I’m sure were opportunities elsewhere? We know from the movie, and confirmed by this article, that Joe Gould lost nearly as much as Braddock did with the onset of the Depression. He was forced to sell off most of his possessions, sleeping on the floor of his apartment and just trying to keep up the appearance of wealth so as to keep his career alive. And yet his belief and love for Jim Braddock must never have waned, because he stuck with him through all the trying times. This was rewarded with a lifelong friendship, not to mention the resurgence of Braddock’s career, leading all the way to a world heavyweight championship.
History will remember Jim Braddock, to at least a certain degree. But history will barely remember Joe Gould. He was just another manager, a man whose entire livelihood was out of his control. All of it lay with another man. And that takes a phenomenal degree of courage. Joe Gould decided that his career was going to rest entirely with another man’s success or failure, and just prayed that it would work out for the both of them. In this case, it did.