"Cinderella Man"

This article is more than 15 years old.

Superlatives are the blood and bone of boxing, so you have to be suspicious of a book that includes in its subtitle "the greatest upset in boxing history," but in "Cinderella Man," Jeremy Schaap makes a fair case that James J. Braddock's victory over Max Baer in 1935 qualified for that distinction. Braddock struck most observers as an earnest but damaged and unlucky journeyman. Baer was an intimidating champion, though he lacked the consistent desire to beat his opponent into unconsciousness and worried too much about what the crowd thought of him.

Mr. Schaap's great good fortune is that the energetically promoted movie about Braddock's career has appeared at the same time as his book, though he says the two are unrelated. The book's chief strengths are the melodrama of Braddock's circumstances and Schaap's recognition that boxing has created lots of stories worthy of retelling, even if they aren't specifically about his subjects. How else to explain his inclusion of John Lardner's magnificent lead to a newspaper piece about a fighter who never fought either Braddock or Bear?

"Stanley Ketchel was twenty-four years old when he was fatally shot in the back by the common-law husband of the lady who was cooking his breakfast."

Jeremy Schaap is to be congratulated for understanding that the more times that sentence is reproduced in print the better, relevance be damned.

As far as the heavyweight championship of the world is concerned, Jim Braddock was a one-hit wonder, no pun intended. In his only title defense, he was beaten senseless by Joe Louis, and that was that. But as the ubiquitous promo for the movie has told the television-watching world, Braddock's story was the stuff that unlikely dreams are made on.

This program aired on June 3, 2005. The audio for this program is not available.