Prince Joe waxes poetic about Muhammad Ali

Week of June 28, 2006

Jun 28, 2006 at 4:00 am
Hey Joe: The only thing bigger in baseball than steroids is my ego. Are egos all that bad? Did you like Muhammad Ali?

Milton Bradley, Oakland, California

Not at first. But here's a poem I wrote about him some 40 years ago.
February twenty-fifth of sixty-four
Is the night for young Cassius to hit the floor.
He'd bragged about being the Champ at twenty-one
But a year has passed and the time had come.

He screamed and hollered until no one could rest,
Trying to make people believe he was the best.
He got so cocky he would predict the round
Of the fighters he fought and when they would go down.

He called them "bums" and slandered their names,
While proclaiming he was the greatest fighter in the game.

He made statement after statement without a slip,
And he was dubbed by sportswriters as "The Louisville Lip."

He beat "Aging Archie," who was worn and aching,
Ducked Zora Folley, Williams and Eddie Machen.
His campaign was great to gain him fame,
But his ability wouldn't let him live up to the name.

He called Sonny Liston "The Big Ugly Bear,"
Although Sonny was champ and really didn't care.
Sonny used him as Chester who plays with Matt Dillon
Letting Clay have the show while he made a million.

Now it's Sonny's night to have some fun,
His intentions are to put Clay to rest in one.
When in mid-ring with Clay, Sonny stood and stared
And could tell right away that the "Lip" was scared.

Clay's pockets will be crammed with money from the fight,
But he wonders if he has really treated the Champion right.
If all those words that were said, he could eat.

He has talked himself into boxing's largest gate,
But if Sonny scarred his face, that he would hate.
He had ridiculed Sonny and called him a tramp
But was now facing the man who would be our greatest champ.

Many, many people were curious to know
What kind of fighter to Liston Clay will show
Will he try to outslug him or turn on the fan
When he realizes he's in the ring with a dangerous man?

How happy I am the night has come
Because I have predicted Clay will go in one.
He will get his dream and a very large fee.
If he gets by the first — I say no later than three.

I wish him success and all kinds of luck
Although he is educated in making a buck.
But on his way back to his home in the South,
He's learned fighting is serious and not all mouth.

His talents aren't limited exactly to the ring.
He writes a little poetry and, I hear, he can sing.
Hang on to your money and you can leave these alone.
So don't be disappointed about the Heavyweight throne.

Prince Joe Henry, one of professional baseball's original "clowns," was an all-star infielder for Negro League baseball teams in Memphis, Indianapolis and Detroit throughout the 1950s. But up until the late 1940s, Prince Joe didn't know anything about the Negro Leagues. His knowledge of organized baseball was limited to the Cardinals and Browns games he attended during his preteen years at Sportsman's Park, accompanied by lifelong buddy Eugene "Gene" Crittendon, who could pass for white.

Perhaps Henry's most vivid memory of those games: Upon entry, white ushers would politely escort the boys to a small section of the left-field stands reserved for "Colored." After climbing past several tiers of bleachers, they'd arrive at their stop, rows and rows behind their white counterparts.

Even at a young age, the boys were conscious of the double standard -- and determined to vent their disdain. The opportunity would arise with the urge to urinate. Rather than head for the latrine, the boys would edge their way to the front of the section and let fly. As the liquid foamed its way down the concrete steps toward the white kids, Henry and his pal would ease back and relax, politely rooting for the visiting team to beat the hell out of the Browns or the Cards.

After all, Henry and Crittendon hailed from Brooklyn, Illinois, a small, predominantly black township just east of the Mississippi River. So hospitable were the residents of Brooklyn that they were known to take in a rank stranger, treat him to breakfast, lunch, supper and a night out on the town -- and afterward, if he messed up, treat him to a good ass-whippin'.

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