When Amsterdam’s Carmen “Shorty” Persico was on a boxing card, regardless if the fights were taking place in the Rug City or one of the many other upstate New York communities that comprised the Adirondack section of the Amateur Athletic Union back in the 1930’s, the young South Sider was usually a crowd favorite. He was built like a fire hydrant, short for a lightweight but packed with muscle. The problem was his reach. He often fought much taller opponents in his weight class who had longer reaches. He therefore had to work twice as hard as a typical boxer to defend himself and get good punches landed. But round after round and fight after fight he was able to do just that. Its why regardless of what town he was fighting in, the fans took to this condensed dynamo and cheered him on and none cheered harder than his legion of admirers from Amsterdam’s South Side.
Shorty Persico was without a doubt one of the all-time most popular members of Amsterdam’s Port Jackson neighborhood and his boxing exploits as a young man were only a small reason why. He had the sort of friendly, outgoing and respectful personality that made him instantly likable. How likable? When he joined the Army to fight for his country, Luigi Lanzi’s old restaurant on Bridge Street was filled to capacity to pay tribute to Shorty the day before he left for basic training in January of 1941. Those assembled included Amsterdam Mayor Arthur Carter, Mt. Carmel Pastor John Reidy and Recorder Sports Editor Jack Minnoch.
When he returned from four years of action in the Pacific he married his beloved Philomena “Phil” Morini. He then opened what would become one of the most popular bars in the history of the Rug City and called it Shorty’s Tavern. It was located on Broad Street next to the legendary Pepe’s Bakery and for the next 25 years, it became “the place to go” for good drinks, great food and the opportunity to talk to one of Amsterdam’s most respected, kindest and well-liked sports personalities.
I will never forget the first time I ever met Shorty. My older brother used to hang out there and would one day marry Shorty’s oldest daughter Maria. He took me to his Tavern for one of Shorty’s famous sausage and provolone sandwiches. Shorty reached over the bar with his Popeye-sized right arm grabbed my right hand in a vice-like grip, looked me straight in the eye and told me what a pleasure it was to meet “Jerry’s little brother.” I could instantly tell this wonderful man sincerely meant every word that had just came out of his mouth. He treated me, my brother and our friends as if we were family not customers and we all came to love him. I’m not exaggerating when I say that he was “perfect” for the role of a South Side tavern owner. He sponsored our softball teams, made sure we acted responsibly and bragged about our accomplishments like a proud father.
His heart was even bigger than his huge biceps. He was constantly helping folks in the neighborhood who were down on their luck and he was a big contributor to his beloved Mt. Carmel Parish. Shorty donated the money for the beautiful bell tower that is located on the grounds of that church. In addition to Maria, he and his wife Phil had two sons, Felix and Anthony and another daughter Louise, all of whom he adored. When Phil died a week before Christmas in 1971, a part of Shorty went with her. A year later he sold the bar and retired. During the last six years of his life, Shorty suffered from dementia but his eyes would still twinkle when he’d see me and he’d still shake my hand with that vice-like grip. Even though his death was expected, when it finally came in 1997, it hit the entire South Side hard. Those of us who were fortunate to have known him were most sad because we realized those who came after us would never have that same wonderful opportunity. It truly felt as if an era had ended.
His Tavern still stands and still uses his name. It should never be called anything else.
In 2017 I wrote an article entitled “All-Time Top Ten Amsterdam, NY Boxers in which I included Shorty Persico. You can read it here.