A Tribute to Vince LaSalva
By Stephen B. Acunto
Vince “Leo” LaSalva, a native of Pelham, New York, who was a tremendous crowd pleaser at the Westchester County Center over six decades ago, died on December 2nd. 2009.
He was born on September 1st. 1921 to emigrant parents from Italy. I can still hear his father, a shoemaker; sing arias from Operas, as he worked out of the front of the house on a glass porch.
Mable LaSalva, Vince’s mother was a homemaker, like so many women back in the day.
LaSalva was a fine athlete and became the short stop at the Pelham High School Baseball Team. He also starred as a short stop on the New York Athletic Club at Travers Island, where his talent caught the eye of New York Yankee Scout, Paul Krishel. He gave Vince a chance to tryout with the New York Yankees but unfortunately; Vince had a problem with his height being even shorter than Phil Rizzuto.
LaSalva then turned to boxing and won a couple of tournaments. He became a professional under my tutelage. The following are a few of his major opponents, all victories. Right off we think of his major victory over Danny Kaplow in 1945 at the Sterling Oval in the Bronx. Then a win and a draw versus Tommy Marra at the White Plains County Center. Another victory was over Lou Valles on the under card of Tony Zale and Rocky Graziano at Yankee Stadium. . Leo was also the victor against Ralph Zannelli at the latter’s home arena in Providence, Rhode Island. There were more tough wins over Joey Manfro, Vic Pignarato, and Pat Scanlon, whom he stopped. Vince fought a draw with the very tough Canadian Phil Palmer at the County Center. Another win was against Sammy Mammone of Mamaroneck. LaSalva had a draw and a win over Ray Polacco and, there were other tough wins as well as losses.
Stylistically, Vinnie was a dancing boxer with a good dart jab. One of his severe handicaps was that he was known as a “bleeder” in the fight game and that caused stoppage of a few of his important fights.
This writer, who was his manager at the time, will remember one of his earliest fights; it was a bout that took place at the old Madison Square Garden before the fifteen round title fight between Allie Stoltz versus Tippy Larkin. In the first round of the semi-final Perry had Manfro down and then Manfro rose and had Perry down, finally Perry stopped Manfro. There then existed some twenty-five minutes of time to fill in before the main event. Promoter Mike Jacobs came into the dressing room and asked me if LeSalva was in condition and I assured him that he was. So Vince entered the ring before 16,000 fans at the old garden. This young pro’s opponent was Percy McGee of Newark New Jersey. The Referee was the famous Arthur Donovan. In those days Gillette Cavalcade of Sports was on radio and started at precisely 10:00 p.m. In those days the referee was one of the scorers of the fight. Because McGee was an old warrior of the fight he moved in flat footed in an attempt to butt the young fast moving LaSalva. I beckoned Donovan to the corner to voice my concern and he put me down in a way I will never forget. LaSalva captured three rounds and set McGee up with a jab followed by a right hand uppercut and then knocked out the crouching McGee.
Vince, whose real name was Leo, having adopted the name Vince in honor of his brother, Vincent, who was killed during World War II in the Pacific was married to his wonderful wife, Hazel for fifty-seven years and was a father of five children.
He was a very hard worker, held various jobs and was never unemployed. His courage was evidenced while as a manager of a restaurant in Yonkers he was held up at gunpoint but refused to open the register. For this he received a bullet wound in the neck but the bandit was later apprehended.
This column is intended to be a tribute to Vince LaSalva, the ring man who could be touted at the end of his life as one of the good guys in the ring game.