Blogs > The Best of Don Seeley's Columns

Former Mercury sports editor Don Seeley passed away in June 2013 from a heart attack. For more than a decade Seeley wrote about local sports. Featured here are his columns that were previously printed in The Mercury.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

John Calcinore was a boxer, gentleman and friend

Maybe it was his stature, but he wasn’t even six feet tall. Maybe it was that jutting jaw, but his face looked like it came right off a page in an Italian model magazine. Maybe it was his hands, as big as an anvil and as strong as a vise, but so soft to the touch.
Fifty-some years after meeting John Calcinore, and less than a month after whispering a personal good-bye at his funeral, I realized what it was.
John Calcinore was one of the greatest men I was ever blessed to have known.
A loving husband, caring father … a family man.
A gentleman. And, above all, a friend.
All that and, if possible, more.
I learned that and never once forgot any of his engaging qualities, from the first time we met — a long, long time ago in a Royersford barbershop when my late father introduced him to me as a former heavyweight fighter (which actually scared the living daylights out of me), until the last time we talked — on a recent sun-splashed spring morning in his backyard, then later in his living room, to chat about his fight with cancer.
Years ago, as that impressionable pre-teen, John Calcinore was a big, big man. Today, as a hard-to-impress senior, John Calcinore is still a big, big man with an even bigger heart.
A giant of a man. Very real, genuine … honest.
So much so, I remember, my curiosity got the best of me back in the early 70s. While researching old football clippings from a local newspaper, I glanced at a headline that had absolutely nothing to do with the story I was hoping to find: “Calcinore wins again.”
* * *
John Calcinore was indeed the boxer my dad said he was. A good one, too.
How he got into the fight game certainly piqued my interest. So I forgot about football that day, read everything I could about him and, of course, eventually got around to talking to “The Gladiator” about his career — often for hours and hours at a time.
Calcinore enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard in 1944. He was only 17, still a feisty teenager when he arrived for basic training up on Manhattan Beach in N.Y. So when the boxing-fanatic base commander offered 48-hour weekend passes to anyone who participated in his camp fights, Calcinore — with no more training than the occasional neighborhood scrapes — was front and center.
He fought, and he got more than his share of weekend furloughs.
Calcinore never lost while in New York, and by the end of 1945 — after “just fooling around on the canvas” as he once said aboard a destroyer escort ship in the North Pacific — he won both the Coast Guard’s light-heavyweight and heavyweight divisions. He owned a spotless 61-0 record when he received his honorable discharge the following year, but didn’t leave the ring.
He joined the Pen-Mar Boxing Club in Philadelphia and soon after would win all of his eight bouts on a swing up and down the West Coast. After returning home, he won the Pennsylvania Golden Gloves heavyweight championship, ending the title bout just 20 seconds into the first round.
Calcinore was 23-0 with 18 knockouts as an amateur. The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote, “(Calcinore’s) very popular … through his fistic powers and aggressiveness.” The former Daily Republican in Phoenixville wrote, “(Calcinore’s) a local gladiator with a pile-driving left hand and a right hand full of dynamite.”
Sure enough, Calcinore decided to move up into the professional ranks.
His light-heavyweight debut, against Trenton’s Ossie Sims at Hamid’s Pier on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, ended 40 seconds into the second round. That’s all the time Calcinore needed to deck Sims.
He picked up a couple of nicknames early on — like “Farmer John” and the “Blackhaired Belter” — and because of knockout after knockout, 61 wins without a loss as an amateur and pro, the 170-pound Calcinore ran out of opposition. Neither his trainer nor manager could come up with an opponent. The 23-year-old Calcinore, who Ring Magazine hailed as the “most outstanding light-heavyweight prospect in the country” simply could not get a fight.
So he moved up to the heavyweight division and, after undergoing surgery for appendicitis, lost for the first time. Dan Bucceroni, a towering presence, outlasted Calcinore for a 10-round decision. They would battle again, before an overflowing crowd at the former Shibe Park in Philadelphia, and despite knocking Bucceroni to the canvas, Calcinore lost another 10-round decision.
“We fought wars,” Calcinore said of the bouts with Bucceroni, who would soon become and then remain one of his closest friends until the Philadelphia native’s death four years ago.
In 1951, after three straight wins improved his professional record to 34-4, Calcinore decided to step out of the ring for good.
“I don’t know why I quit when I did,” he once said (and often repeated when asked through the years).
There were some people who could believe Calcinore was a boxer after he walked away from the ring and strolled into area paddocks to became a farrier — a specialist in equine hoof care.

“Some big words, but I was just a blacksmith who shoed horses,” Calcinore said, breaking into a laugh during a casual conversation several years ago.
It was a job Calcinore took as serious as a title fight. It was a job that required a blacksmith’s skills (fabricating, adapting and adjusting metal shoes) with a veterinarian’s skills (knowledge of the anatomy and physiology of the lower limb) to care for horses’ feet.
Calcinore was as good, if not better, working the thoroughbred tracks around the Delaware Valley as he was working a roundhouse in the ring.
But what struck everyone who knew him was how his big hands — the ones he used to fight his way through an outstanding career as a boxer and the ones he used to shape a very respected and successful career as a farrier (which included serving as president of the Blacksmith Guild) — could ever sculpt a slab or slice of steel, iron or any other imaginable metal into a piece of art.
Whether it was gates, grilles, railings, light fixtures or an iron fence around the house; the perfectly-fitted shoes for the many horses he and his family and friends rode in fox hunts; or the meticulously shaped necklaces, bracelets, lockets and rings … John Calcinore used only an anvil and hammer – along with an obsession to use both the best he could – to create a masterpiece.
It was oh so similar to the passion he had for life.
As a loving husband, caring father … as a family man.
As a gentleman.
And, above all, as a friend.


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