New-York Historical Society's Bill Shannon Dictionary of New York Sports

Category Archives: Sportsman

Jimmy Walker

Jimmy Walker (Sportsman.  Born, New York, NY, June 19, 1881; died, New York, NY, Nov. 18, 1946.)  In a book by Gene Fowler and a subsequent film starring Bob Hope (both entitled Beau James), James John Walker was immortalized as a bon vivant and a trusting politician caught in the vortex of municipal scandals that terminated his mayoralty prematurely.  While some of this is accurate, Walker was also a modestly successful songwriter who was pressed by his father into a political career.  To sports fans, he was a benefactor.  Walker attended New York Law School, passing the bar in 1912, by which time he was already politically involved as a Manhattan Democrat.  He served in the New York State Assembly (1910-14) representing the 5th A.D. (Greenwich Village).  Walker was elected to the State Senate in 1915 from the old 13th and served 10 years.  While a State Senator, he successfully steered through the Sunday Baseball Law that allowed sports events on the Christian Sabbath, no mean feat at a time when religious feeling was extremely strong.  Next, he authored the Walker Law, which created the New York State Athletic Commission and legalized pro boxing in the state (1920).  Walker in no small way helped trigger the “Golden Age of Sports,” in the 1920s, which had New York City as its epicenter.  He was elected the 97th Mayor of New York City in 1925 by a two-to-one margin and was reelected in 1929 by an even wider margin (over Fiorello LaGuardia).  After an extensive investigation led by Judge Samuel Seabury, Gov. Franklin Roosevelt convened hearings in Albany on Aug. 11, 1932, on the mayor’s “fitness” to hold office.  Following several days of intense legal maneuvering, Walker resigned Sept. 1, 1932.  He later divorced, married long-time girlfriend Betty Compton, and moved to Europe.  In 1945, a survey regarding potential mayoral candidates found Walker favored by 38% of those polled, far more than any other candidate, including the incumbent LaGuardia.  But he didn’t run.  He received a unique honor July 11, 1948, when a plaque was placed in centerfield honoring his memory among four Giants baseball heroes and two Football Giants who had died in World War II.  The plaque read, in part, “friend and fan whose Sunday baseball law made it possible for millions of his fellow citizens to enjoy the game.”  Walker was a lifelong Giants fan and also often attended games at Yankee Stadium.  He is remembered in the boxing community by an award presented annually by the New York Boxing Writers.  In the overall, Walker was probably a better mayor than historians usually acknowledge.  The Sanitation Department was formed during his administration, the subways expanded their reach, schools and highways were built.  But regardless, New York sports fans remain in his debt.

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The Bill Shannon Biographical Dictionary of New York Sports is an open database of sports biographies maintained by Jordan Sprechman and Marty Appel. We welcome public and scholarly contributions and suggestions.

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About Bill Shannon

A prolific author, wire service sports reporter, long time Major League Baseball official scorer, football statistician, sports museum founder, theatrical agency owner and public ... read more

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