The reasons were twofold for the 4,500 residents of Canastota, N.Y., to get behind the idea of establishing the International Boxing Hall of Fame. First, there was an ongoing pride over Carmen Basilio, Canastota's famous fighting son from the 1950s, and second, the village is located 70 miles from Cooperstown, creating the possibility of a detour for some of the tourists traveling to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The boxing building was opened in 1989 and the first group of inductees was honored the next year.
"Canastota is such a small place, I wasn't sure what it would be like," Bill Miske said. "But the museum is a very impressive place."
Miske is a retired "St. Paul copper," as he says. The boxing records list his grandfather as Billy Miske Sr. He fought as a St. Paul heavyweight from 1913 through 1923. There's also Billy Miske Jr., Bill's father, and another heavyweight in the 1940s.
Billy Sr. fought the best boxers of his era, including multiple fights with Jack Dempsey, Harry Greb and Tommy Gibbons.
"We wrote a few letters through the years, but I'm sure it was the TV show that made the people at the hall of fame more aware of my grandfather," Miske said.
There was a series called "Amazing Sports Stories." It ran on the Fox Sports regional networks. In 2008, there was an episode titled "Billy Miske: Dead Man Fighting," a look at Billy Sr.'s last fight on Nov. 7, 1923, when he was dying of kidney disease.
As the legend goes, Billy's motive was to take the purse ($2,400) and provide his wife and three young children with a final, wonderful, gift-filled Christmas. And that's what took place in the St. Paul home, and then the next day Billy called his manager, Jack Reddy, and asked for a ride to the hospital.
Miske died in St. Mary's Hospital on New Year's Day 1924. He was 29. "My dad was 5 or 6 at the time, so he really only remembered Billy Sr. through the stories he heard," Bill Miske said.
No matter. Billy Jr. was a character -- owned a music bar in St. Paul, managed a few boxers -- and would always add gusto to the tale when sportswriters called in the search for a heartwarming Christmas morning column.
Blackie Sherrod, the Dallas legend, wrote the Billy Miske column on Dec. 25, 1996 -- and admitted it wasn't the first time. A lad named Joe Soucheray wrote the Billy Miske column for the Star Tribune on Dec. 25, 1983.
Billy Jr. was wintering in McAllen, Texas. He told Soucheray by phone:
"I was 6 years old in 1923, but I remember that Christmas Day. I remember my mom sitting down at that baby grand piano. I remember my dad. I think we all knew that he took that last fight for us."
George Barton, a sportswriter and boxing official from Miske's era, provided most of the lasting details for this Christman story in his memoir, "My Lifetime in Sports."
There is one discrepancy: Barton states the fight with Bill Brennan in Omaha was held on Dec. 7, 1923. The official boxing record has it being held a month earlier.
What's agreed on is that Miske -- weakened and without being able to train -- mustered the strength to knock out Brennan in the fourth round.
That put his final pro record at 51-8-3. Thirty of those fights came in the five years after he was diagnosed with the then-fatal Bright's Disease and was advised by his doctor to give up boxing.
Billy Sr. might have followed that advice, except he went into the car business and quickly lost every dollar he had saved and then some. He had to start taking fights again -- including rematches with Tommy Gibbons and Dempsey -- to make a living.
The International Boxing Hall of Fame took a look at the record of Billy Miske Sr. and voted him into its induction class for 2010. The ceremony was held last weekend in Canastota, with a banquet in nearby Syracuse.
Seven family members made the drive to upstate New York, including Bill's grandsons, Joe and Luke, 11 and 12.
"It was a terrific weekend for all of us and especially the boys," Bill said. "Joe and Luke had a great time finding out so much about their great-great grandfather."
Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP. • email@example.com