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Abe Attell

  • Series: 1919 Black Sox Scandal

Abraham Washington Attell (1884-1970) grew up on the streets of San Francisco relying on his fists to punish the bullies foolish enough to come after him. He gained national renown by taking the featherweight title in 1901. He regained the belt in ‘06, going on to defend 18 times. He became a popular Manhattan store owner before taking his Little Champ act to vaudeville while continuing to box occasionally until 1917.

Attell became notorious for his alleged involvement with “The Big Bankroll” Arnold Rothstein. He was reputed to be A.R.’s sometime bodyguard. Whatever friendship Abe may have had for the greatest crime lord of his day, Rothstein did not reciprocate, as indicated by his testimony in the Black Sox prosecution: “The whole thing started when Attell and some other cheap gamblers decided to frame the Series and make a killing. The world knows I was asked in on the deal and my friends know how I turned it down flat. I don’t doubt that Attell used my name to put it over. That’s been done by smarter men than Abe. But I was not in on it, would not have gone into it under any circumstances and did not bet a cent on the Series after I found out what was underway.”

Many who have tried to unravel the sordid affair assert that Attell and another gambler, Sport Sullivan, vied for the direct role in the fix. Rothstein, it has been reliably reported, sought to take advantage of the rivalry among leagues of gamblers to make a killing as a bettor, not, as was oft alleged, as the financial backer of the misbegotten enterprise. In any event, Abe Attell became inextricably tied to Rothstein and was one of those formally charged. He fled to Canada for a year, supposedly to avoid being deposed. Eventually he and others were prosecuted, but the case dissolved when, wonder of wonders, the whole grand jury file somehow disappeared. The fingerprints of notorious defense attorney Bill “The Big Mouthpiece” Fallon seemed to be all over the matter, perhaps explaining why he made the big bucks.

  • Before his alleged involvement in the Series fix, Attell’s stellar fight career had included a first: he and brother Monte, a bantamweight, became the first brothers to hold concurrent world championships
  • In 172 professional fights, Attell lost just 9 of them. He won 125, 51 by KO, and had 21 draws and 8 no contests.
  • Despite the stain of scandal, Abe lived a long and colorful life and was honored with numerous inductions into boxing halls-of-fame, including the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1955, the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in ‘82 and the San Francisco Boxing Hall of Fame in ‘85