Any boxing fan in this country who ever sat at ringside would be able to tell you that Pictou County’s Art Hafey rose to number one contender status in the world featherweight division but was never given his deserved shot at the championship.
Any knowledgeable follower of the fight game would also be able to identify Art’s brother Lawrence as the former Canadian middleweight champion who was always willing to take on an opponent regardless of the odds.
No surprise in either instance.
Both brothers were inducted into the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame, Art in 1980, Lawrence 33 years later. Both, naturally, have pews in the Pictou County Sports Heritage Hall of Fame.
But would any of those boxing enthusiasts know, when the whole Hafey story began to unfold at Stellarton Memorial Rink in the mid-1960s, that there were actually three brothers on those amateur cards?
There was Art Hafey. There was Lawrence Hafey. And, lest we forget, there was Ernie Hafey.
He never won a national boxing title or gained international fame. He never turned professional. He never dreamed of doing anything significant inside the ropes.
Nonetheless, I remember when he was in the spotlight for a very unique and unusual reason.
If you’re from away, or don’t know Stellarton well, the rink was located directly across the street from the town’s very fine baseball field, the one where the Stellarton Albions played during their nine seasons in the legendary Halifax and District League in the 1950s.
Well, between that ball park and the rink, Ernie wrote his own kind of athletic tale. You may not have heard much about what he was achieving. Ernie was too soft-spoken, too mild-mannered to brag.
But I love telling his story.
On those summer evenings, Ernie was the winningest pitcher with the Stellarton Keith’s in the Twilight Senior Baseball League. I happened to be the president of the club then. We could always depend on Ernie when he pitched. He was winner of the top-pitcher award.
Yes, he was a fine hurler. But what did that have to do with his boxing brothers?
Quite a bit.
You see, Ernie’s nights weren’t over when he completed his nine-inning assignments. Instead, he took the two-minute walk across to the rink. There he took off his baseball uniform and put on a pair of boxing trunks.
You see, he was the third Hafey on many of the cards.
If you know the development of Art and Lawrence, you know they trained at Donnie MacIsaac’s Archie Moore Boxing Club in Hillside. Soon Ernie was accompanying them to the gym.
Make no mistake: Ernie loved baseball, more than boxing, more than any sport.
He told me about it years later.
“I want to get something straight,” he said. “Everybody thinks I would have been better than Art and Lawrence if I had stayed (in boxing). But there’s no way. They were dedicated and everything.
“I never fought guys the calibre that they fought. Lawrence had a natural ability. He was never in shape for a fight in his life. Never. But Art, holy dying, he was dedicated! He got the runaround down in Los Angeles or he would have been the world champion.
“I was like Lawrence. I never liked training. My heart was set on baseball. If you made a mistake in baseball, you had eight guys to back you up. If you made a mistake in the ring, you only had the canvas to back you up.”
What prompted him to do the baseball-boxing act?
“When you’re young,” he said, “you don’t care. You just do it.”
Ernie was fun to chat with. Of all the subjects we discussed, there was one I loved best. It involved himself and Johnny Young, one of the stars on the baseball team.
“I couldn’t afford a new ball glove,” Ernie told me. “and Johnny Young had a glove that was perfect and I often used it. He said to me one night, if I could beat Antigonish and then go over and knock my opponent out in the first round, I could have the glove. I pitched and we beat Antigonish, and I knocked the guy out in 57 seconds. Johnny was right there at ringside and handed me the glove.”
Long after his baseball-boxing adventures, he reminisced about the ball.
“You don’t enjoy it enough when it’s happening,” he explained. “If you can enjoy something right now, and take time to enjoy it, it’s best because maybe a couple years down the road, you’re not going to have it again.
“I realize now how good we had it. You go up to see the young guys today, I don’t think they take the time or make the effort that we put into it. What we had, I don’t think it will ever come back unless there’s professional ball.”
When I think of Ernie, I think of those days when he did so well on the mound – and amazed us all by getting into boxing, too.
It’s hard to believe he’s been retired so long after more than 30 years as a lineman with the power corporation.
When the Hafeys came out of Lourdes to do so well in sports, it should be pointed out that there was a fourth brother, Charlie. He played baseball with Ernie, displaying a great love for the game in the Keith’s outfield. He always described himself as “a baseball player” and always played his heart out on the field.
Art and Lawrence were talented enough to excel on the national and international boxing scenes, but the Hafey story is incomplete if you don’t mention Ernie and Charlie.
They were four close-knit brothers who supported each other in everything they did. And it was sure enjoyable being around them.