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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

In His Brother's Shadow: A Profile of Joey Silver

Joey Silver was a popular fighter in San Francisco during the 1920s, but he never reached the heights of his older brother Jack. Though Joey was considered a good prospect, a three-year hiatus quelled his career's momentum. After a brief comeback, he retired at the tender age of 25.

Joseph Silverstein was born in the Portola district of San Francisco, California in 1907. The seventh of eight children born to Morris and Molly, he was three and half years younger than the sixth child, Jacob. Jacob, who would go by Jack, entered the Navy where he learned to box. He turned pro in 1922 and he became extremely popular in San Francisco.

Younger brother Joey hoped to follow in Jack's footsteps. He even shortened his surname to Silver, just as Jack had done. Joey turned professional on January 22, 1926 at Dreamland Rink in San Francisco. Jack had headlined at Dreamland countless times over the past few years.

Turning Pro
Joey Silver won his first bout unimpressively but stole the show in his second against Jack Colotta in February. Joey was caught flush four or five times, but he just shook his head, smiled, and fired back. The crowd loved it. Quickly, Joey built up a good record, albeit against inexperienced opponents and mediocre journeymen. By 1927, the press began calling him "promising." In May and June of that year, Silver faced Pete Meyers in a controversial trilogy.

Joey had been friends with Meyers, who grew up in the nearby Potrero neighborhood. On May 24, referee Benny Wagner raised the arms of both fighters after a tough six-round battle. Once the fans realized Wagner had called it a draw, most "hollered themselves hoarse at the referee. They thought Silver won." On June 7, Meyers was given the decision by an unnamed referee in a six-rounder. The San Francisco Bulletin felt Meyers's hand was raised "for no reason if the fight were judged on execution." It was only Joey's second loss in twenty pro fights.

Silver finally earned his revenge on June 21 over the "Potrero Pole." Benny Wagner gave the verdict to Silver after the ten-rounder. Three years later, Wagner and fellow referee Toby Irwin went public with allegations against Tom Laird of the San Francisco News, claiming the sports editor had tried to influence their decisions in certain matches, including Silver-Meyers.

"Meyers is a swell fellow. Get his hands up tonight," Laird allegedly told Wagner before the third fight. "I'm interested. You'll be taken care of." Publicly, Wagner only mentioned the third fight; the one he called for Silver. If Laird had pressured Wagner before the third fight, it's hard to imagine he didn't do so before the earlier fights as well. Apparently, nothing came of it as Laird was celebrated upon reaching his thirteenth anniversary at the paper in 1941.

After two more wins, Silver beat the Hawaiian champ Johnny Priston when the latter broke his hand in the fourth round. Two weeks later, in September of 1927, Toby Irwin disqualified Silver for a low blow in the second round against Billy Adams. "Billy Adams missed his vocation," wrote Alex X. McCausland. "He should have been an actor, not a fighter." It amounted to another frustrating loss for the man known mostly as "Jack's brother."

Facing the Best
Silver next fought the reigning Olympic featherweight champion and future two-time welterweight world champion, Jackie Fields. It would be Joey's toughest test. Fields had knocked out his brother Jack the previous year. The fight against Joey was almost nixed at the last moment. The headliner, welterweight world champion Joe Dundee, wouldn't fight until he received his guarantee in cash before the fight. The promoter asked if Fields could fill in for Dundee and fight in the main event, but Fields's manager was opposed to the last minute change. With all the commotion, the fight was delayed a couple of hours.

Silver had some good moments in his biggest fight. He hurt Fields twice during the ten rounds, but Fields opened up a cut over Joey's left eye and split his lip. Fields won seven of the rounds in a fight that was overshadowed by the Dundee affair. After snatching revenge from Billy Adams, Silver closed out the year by facing the other toughest opponent of his career.

Hyman Gold fought under the name Oakland Jimmy Duffy. He had amassed a hundred wins in his career by the time he faced Silver late in 1927. Duffy came in overweight, six and half pounds heavier than Silver for their bout in Oakland. Duffy outboxed Joey to win by decision, but he was later suspended for missing weight so badly.

By 1928, Silver was considered a rising young welterweight. He didn't pack a powerful punch nor was he the nimblest boxer. Joey's popularity was due to his gameness. On March 14, he fought Jimmy Evans. Silver was the favorite, but Evans whipped him. Joey didn't fight again for five months, and when he did, he lost twice. Then, he retired.

Two Retirements
Even in retirement, his brother stole the headlines. Jack and Joey retired together, which earned Jack top billing. A desire to make a steady income was the reason given for their retirement. But it was likely more. Their mother had died that year. And Joey's year in the ring had been exasperating; ridiculous decisions and a spate of losses likely contributed to his impulse to do something else.

In his time away from the ring, Joey drove a truck, worked as a clerk, and became a patrolman. Failing to settle on a career, he came back to boxing in 1931 and gave a good account of himself in a draw against veteran George Brazelton. Joey scored three wins before the comeback fizzled.

Early in 1932, Silver retired again, this time for good. He felt he couldn't get the big names into the ring. "What's the use of remaining in the racket," he wondered. "Every time I try to get 'em into the ring with me they play the duck." He finished with a record of 25-10-4 with 9 KOs.

By 1935, Joey moved to Reno, Nevada and worked as a dealer at the dangerous Bank Club Casino. At some point before 1940, he married Catherine, a New Yorker who had moved to San Francisco. He spent some time serving as a judge for amateur boxing tournaments. In 1944, he was working as an electrician in a local war plant. After the war, he returned to his job as a dealer at the casino.

In 1962, Joey got into a car accident. On February 2, he tragically died of his injuries caused by the wreck. Survived by his wife and three children, his obituary described him as "a prominent San Francisco boxer in the 20's and a brother of Jack Silver, well known referee." Jack Silver's brother was 55 years old.

Baum. A.T. "Irwin, Wagner Aver Approach Made by Same Newspaperman." The San Francisco Examiner. Sep. 11, 1930. Pg. 21.
"Evans Winner over Joey Silver in Ring." Los Angeles Times. Mar. 15, 1928. Pg. B1.
"Joey Silver Dies at Age 55." The San Francisco Examiner. Feb. 4, 1962.
"Joey Silver Vows He Will Whip Meyers." San Francisco Bulletin. Jun 20, 1927. Pg. 12.
McCausland, Alec X. "Adams Declared Victor on Foul over Silver." The San Francisco Examiner. Oct. 1, 1927. Pg. 30.
"Sports Notables Fete Tom Laird, S.F. Sports Writer for 30 Years." The Fresno Bee. Feb. 11, 1941.
“Title Bout is Flop." Los Angeles Times. Nov. 4, 1927. Pg. 1.
U.S. Censuses from 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940, 1950.

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