Gerardo Gonzales, better known as Kid Gavilan – the world welterweight boxing champion – took a fighter’s stance, as the emcee of the post-fight TV show asked him to demonstrate his famous bolo punch. The broadcaster was – without much doubt – the most famous sports announcer in the country at the time, Mel Allen. Allen was the long time voice of the New Yankees on radio and television, broadcast the World Series and the Rose Bowl almost every year, called NFL games for the New York Giants, hosted NBC Radio’s Monitor program and was the voice of Fox Movietone News; a mega star — Al Michaels, Jim Nantz and Joe Buck all rolled into one.
Allen took a respectful distance opposite the boxing champ and Gavilan quickly swung a right hand punch that boxing fans of the day were very familiar with.
“Woa! Woa there, Kid!” Allen then quickly took a step backward and raised his hands in surprise. Gavilan’s practice punch had grazed mellifluous Mel on the chin. The bolo punch — thrown for fun by the champ — was a story in its own right. Gavilan had grown up in Camaguey province Cuba and earned money cutting sugar cane in the fields, using a sweeping motion with his right arm that produced a half hook and half uppercut.
In 1943, the 17 year old Gavilan became a professional boxer, the same career path chosen by the famous Cuban boxing champion of the 1930s Kid Chocolate, who became featherweight and lightweight champion. Gavilan’s first 16 fights were on Cuban soil and he won them all. He then took matches in Mexico and eventually reached the United States to stay in 1948. The Kid was a master boxer and had an impregnable defense; he was flashy and used the bolo punch for show. When he spared with Allen in their post-fight interview, he was already established as a popular champion and Ring Magazine selected him as their Fighter of the Year in 1953.
Both Gavilan and Allen spent a good deal of time in Miami, especially Kid, who eventually moved here in the 1980s. Gavilan met the best fighters around during his career: Sugar Ray Robinson (twice), Carmen Basilio, Bobo Olson, Johnny Bratton, Johnny Saxton, Billy Graham (three times) and successfully defended his title in 1952 against hometown boy Bobby Dykes in Miami Stadium; it was the first interracial boxing match held in segregated Miami.
Mel Allen’s popularity as a sports announcer stretched from the late 1930’s through 1964, but on the eve of the ‘64 World Series the Yankees shockingly fired Allen as their long time baseball announcer — replacing him with Joe Garagiola. As the late Neil Rogers, a popular Miami radio talkmaster, jokingly said, “ … that was one of the worst days in the history of our country.”
Allen’s influence was enormous; he was better known than many of the athletes he interviewed. But broadcasting was not intended to be his career choice; he got his first job with CBS Radio as a lark, while vacationing in New York City in 1938. One year later he became the “Voice of the New York Yankees.”
Allen’s family name was Israel; his parents were Russian Jewish immigrants who settled in Alabama. The father, Julius, was in the clothing business, operating stores and working as a traveling salesman throughout the South. By age seven the inquisitive, intelligent child named Melvin Allen Israel was astounding friends and relatives with his flawless recitation of newspaper editorials. He entered the University of Alabama at age fifteen, graduated, got a law degree at Tuscaloosa and passed the bar exam. His family had little money during the Depression and Mel worked his way through school selling shoes and becoming the p.a. announcer at the Crimson Tide games. By 1936 the team needed a football broadcaster for radio and Allen won the audition. How could he lose.
At the CBS interview, which Allen insisted was “just for fun,” that unique voice did the trick. A few months later, he was broadcasting band shows from NYC ballrooms and the Vanderbilt Cup races. His voice was rich in timbre, masculine, and authoritative, albeit with a slight Southern drawl which he flavored with down home sayings and catch phrase like his signature opening “Hello there, everybody” and the words most associated with an Allen broadcast “How About That!”
Legends of The Game got their nicknames from Mel Allen: Joe Di Maggio (The Yankee Clipper), Ted Williams (The Splendid Splinter), Tommy Henrich (Old Reliable) and Phil Rizzuto (The Scooter). Every home run came with Allen’s famous “ … going, going gone,” and he was adept working in sponsors on the call. Yankees home runs were dubbed “a Ballentine blast” and a “White Owl wallop.”
When the Yankees let Allen go, another of his broadcast partners — the legendary Red Barber– recalled that “it broke his heart.” Allen was a workaholic and a lifetime bachelor often seen squiring models around in public. This led a New York sportswriter to caption it this way, “ There goes Mel Allen with the future Miss Jones.”
Allen was practically ostracized from the Yankees, his team and his life for more than 25 years. He took announcing jobs with the Cleveland Indians, Milwaukee Brewers, the new Miami Dolphins and our own Miami Hurricanes. Allen was at the mic for the telecast of the ‘Canes – Ohio State football game in 1976 and broadcast the NCAA tournament on WINZ from Mark Light Stadium in ’77. It was a delight hearing him give Hurricane Randy Guerra’s home run the “… going, going gone” treatment.
It was left to the Yankees volatile owner George Steinbrenner to finally square things with Mel Allen and the famous ball club. Starting in 1976, Allen was back emceeing the annual Old Timer’s Game and was once again the Voice of the Yankees for their cable TV broadcasts. This led to a new assignment as the host of the television program This Week in Baseball. Starting in ‘77 Allen’s work for TWIB continued until he passed away in 1996, but the show went on till 2002 featuring Mel Allen claymation dolls accompanied by many of “The Voice’s” phrasings.
The end for Kid Gavilan came in 2003. The old champ was not doing well and endured years of financial hardship. Former boxers and friends found him penniless and living in an assisted living facility. Upon his death, boxing people led by Mike Tyson and Angelo Dundee secured financial contributions to pay for a marked, upright headstone so the Kid could receive proper credit for his contributions to boxing. Gerardo Gonzales/Kid Gavilan is buried at Our Lady of Mercy Cemetery in Hialeah. His final boxing record was 108-30-5.
About the Author
Bob Goldstein is a retired broadcaster and advertising executive who has lived in South Florida for more than forty years. He is a veteran political activist (dsdcfl.org) and a member of the South Florida Writers Association. If you would like to comment on Bob’s columns, send your response by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.