Why isn't Pete Riccitelli in the Maine Sports Hall of Fame?
That was the question posed in the Portland Boxing Club's program this past weekend, as the 124th annual USA Boxing New England Championships wrapped up. When I read that, I had two thoughts, the first being Maine has a Sports Hall of Fame? (Yes. Cindy Blodgett is a member. Two-time Olympic snowboarding champ Seth Wescott is being inducted this year, along with Doug Roberts, the longtime basketball coach at my alma mater, Sanford High.) My second thought was How in the hell could Pete Riccitelli not have been inducted?
Nobody embodies the glory era of Maine boxing like Portland's Pete Riccitelli. This was when the three most important sports-related places in the state were two bars and an arena: the Expo, the nearby Sportsman's Grill, and the Griffin Club, across the old Million Dollar Bridge, in South Portland. Eddie Griffin, the late owner of his eponymous bar, knew everyone in New England sports. It was not uncommon to go into his joint back in the '70s and see Red Auerbach having a drink with M.L. Carr. The Griffin Club sponsored countless sports teams and leagues in the state, and even had a boxing ring in the basement. Eddie Griffin was so important in his community that a friend of mine recently told me he thought the Casco Bay Bridge should have been named for him. He was not kidding.
Thousands of fans packed the Expo every weekend for boxing, and they loved nobody above Riccitelli. A light heavyweight born in 1944, Riccitelli was flashy. He drove a Cadillac with vanity plates that read BOXER. Every pugilist that has loomed large in the public's imagination needed a nemesis, and Pete Riccitelli had Jimmy McDermott, from Holyoke, Massachusetts (and to a lesser degree, Eddie Spence, from Pittsfield, Mass.). Their fights were the stuff of lore, and when Maine men of a certain age mention Riccitelli (and they do), McDermott is usually the next word to pass their smiling lips. Riccitelli was 3-2 against McDermott, 2-2 versus Spence. Riccitelli's overall record was 56-30 (with 24 KOs). Eighty of his 86 pro bouts occurred in Maine, 72 of those at the Expo.
Like many fighters, life was a challenge when his fighting days were over, and when you ask the old fight fans about Riccitelli's final years, they shake their head, clearly preferring to discuss his fights with McDermott and Spence. If you push, they'll relate the rumors: that Riccitelli's downfall was hastened by a penchant for underage girls; that he owed underworld figures big money; that he became a recluse, washing dishes in area restaurants under an assumed name; that when he died young, in his 30s, he committed suicide.
None of that should matter in terms of the Maine Sports Hall of Fame. Hell, Ty Cobb is in Cooperstown, and it's beyond dispute that Cobb was a racist, and a dirty ballplayer. And no offense to Coach Doug Roberts, of Sanford High, who will soon be inducted, but Sanford never won a title under him, and the most memorable thing I ever saw Roberts do was drag my buddy Eric Booth down the hall to the office by Booth's throat after Roberts broke up a high-school scuffle.
The Maine Sports Hall of Fame encourages the public to nominate inductees on their website,www.mshof.com, and I encourage everyone to nominate Riccitelli. He deserves induction. In terms of the wider world, that Riccitelli's not already there isn't the biggest wrong, but that doesn't mean it's not worth setting right.
Rick Wormwood can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.