Boxing Reporter Robert Morales, an Edgewood graduate and friend, has quite a story to tell as he prepares for another big mega fight

By Doug Krikorian, Sports Columnist
As he gets set to cover the Floyd Mayweather-Sugar Shane Mosley welterweight title match Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas, Robert Morales admits it’s become a rite for him to pause momentarily before the proceedings unfold and reflect on his glad destiny. He will be in a ringside seat amid tumult, and not in an iron-barred cell amid silence. He will be jotting down notes on his steno pad, and not be quaffing down vodkas in a saloon. He will be doing what he savors without fear of violence, and not on the streets ducking gun shots from adversaries bent on putting him in a graveyard.

“I’m so lucky to be alive,” says Morales, a 53-year-old Long Beach Press-Telegram sportswriter whose popular weekly boxing column appears in this newspaper and seven other MediaNews Group ones in Southern California.

Boxing is a sport rife with tough guys with mean backgrounds. But I doubt any of those men Morales has been chronicling for the past 16 years lived a more self-destructive existence than he once did when he engaged not only in gang-banging but also in frightening levels of alcoholic consumption.

At 15, Morales was one of the founders of an outfit called West Covina Trese, and routinely began getting into rumbles with rivals from nearby cities.

At 17, as a senior at Edgewood High a day before graduation, he was targeted in front of the school in a drive-by shooting as the perpetrator in a pickup shrieked Morales’ gang cognomen-Sapo-before unloading five shots at him.

“Pure luck I didn’t get hit,” says Morales. “I dropped to the ground and bullets were whizzing past me and striking the grass.”

At 21, on a weekend pass from the Marines, he was involved in a drive-by in La Puente-the guy with whom he was in the car did the actual shooting without hitting anyone-and was quickly arrested.

“Spent 23 days in L.A. County jail, and was facing 1 to 5 in prison,” he says. “Was set to plead guilty, when we wound up at the last moment with a different attorney because the public defender we had didn’t show up. Well, the new attorney found the authorities had made some mistakes in the booking process, and the judge wound up dropping all charges against both of us.”

That was in July of 1978, and Robert Morales immediately was seized by an epiphany.

“Suddenly, I realized that if I kept up the gang life that either I was going to prison, or I was going to be dead,” he says.

“I already had figured I was going to spend time in prison, and then I’m saved by a legal technicality.

“I immediately informed the other gang members I was quitting, and that meant I was going to be `jumped out,’ which meant five or six of the gang members would beat the hell out of me. But the guys told me they weren’t going to do that to me since I was one of the gang’s founders. I was pretty lucky because most guys who suffer such a fate wind up in a hospital.

“So I went from being a cholo, low-rider gangster who wore khaki pants and pendleton shirts to a disco guy who wore Angels Flight bell bottoms with silk shirts.”

After Robert Morales got out of the service, he became a carpet layer-he had learned the craft from his father-and, ironically, in the summer of 1984 he even did a job at my old east Long Beach house when I recall his telling me he read the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, where I then worked.

He soon started his own business, but his life began unraveling because of his increasing dependency on booze.

“I had become a full-blown alcoholic who at the end was drinking six half pints of vodka a day,” he says. “At the end, I lost my rug laying business and had become an insomniac. I just never stopped drinking. I once went five days without sleeping. And when I finally did get to sleep, I slept only an hour and woke up and couldn’t breathe.

“That really scared me and got my attention, especially after the doctor told me if I continued to drink I’d die. Finally, I gave it up. I had no choice. I wanted to live. I’ve been clean since November 2, 1990.”

Robert Morales soon also branched out into another vocation.

For years, he had been a passionate follower of athletics and an avid reader of newspapers.

And so, when he saw an ad in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune seeking stringers to cover prep sports, he interviewed for the position.

“Here I had no college education, nor did I know anything about writing sports,” he said. “But I still got hired.”

In September of 1991, he made his reporting debut, covering a football game between Workman High and Gladstone High. And for the next three years he covered dozens of high school events for the Tribune while doing carpet laying during the day.

“I was working about 70 hours a week,” he says.

And in October of 1994, Sam Pollak, then the Tribune’s sports editor and a strong advocate of Morales, offered Morales a full-time position.

“Sam’s eyes welled up with tears when he was telling me because he knew all about my background and knew how much I wanted to become a sportswriter-and I wept, too,” says Morales, who has a 27-year-old daughter and two granddaughters and has been married three times. “It was very emotional. I remember calling my then wife, and she screamed in ecstasy.”

Robert Morales would join the Press-Telegram in 2006, and has handled a variety of assignments for the paper, but his boxing work has gained him widespread recognition among those involved in the sweet science.

“As far as I’m concerned, Robert Morales is as important to our sport as HBO and Showtime have been,” says promoter Dan Goossen.

“I believe he’s the only newspaper sportswriter in the country writing a weekly column on boxing.”

“Robert is a dedicated, cut-to-the-chase kind of reporter who takes his job very seriously and is on top of all the action,” says publicist John Beyrooty. “He’s never scooped, and is a fair and honest reporter.”

“When Robert first started with the Valley Tribune, he was an ordinary writer,” says Bill (Bozo) Caplan, Bob Arum’s long-time propagandist. “But, like Manny Pacquiao, he’s improved tremendously and become great. Who’s been his teacher, Freddie Roach (Pacquiao’s trainer)?”

“Robert thoroughly enjoys the sport of boxing and it shows in his excellent prose,” says PR mogul Steve Brener. “He writes about all the people with great insight.”

“I feel so fortunate to be doing what I’m doing,” says Morales, whose array of tattoos on his anatomy are the only vestiges remaining from his dark past. “Every day I count my blessings. I brought everything that happened to me on my own.

“I grew up with great, loving parents with three sisters and two brothers, but I was always fascinated by the gang life as a youngster. That’s what spurred me to get into it. At least I never shot a gun, or peddled drugs. The drinking also was my choice. I’m just glad I stopped all those things before they put me in a cemetery and kept me from doing what I love doing most. And that’s writing sports…”

doug.krikorian@presstelegram.com

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  • http://www.insidesocal.com/sgvfootball Aram

    Great story on Bobbo! I’ve said for a long time and I stand by it, Bob Morales is the best boxing writer in the country. I miss our conversations around the office. He was one of few people who agreed with me about the greatness of Larry Holmes.

  • FredJ

    Funny story, Steve Bogan and Bob were on the same Pony League baseball team, Morales once told a story that the infielder Bogan booted a ground ball that cost him a no-hitter.

  • Sorry but that’s how I feel

    While I congratulate Robert Morales on his “luck” I have had it up to my eye balls with guys like him, sorry. The “neighborhood” he started is still around and the people he shot at are still living with those fears, as were the innocent people at the graduation that “luckily” weren’t hit, but yet have stories to tell. The irony of all this is Fred’s mention of Bogan being on “Bobbo’s” team. Two kids, on the same team, going in different directions , ending up in the same room. Guys like Robert never realize the impact they have on those that live around them. My kids have to endure sht because cholos ruin it for Latinos everywhere. One thing that I know about cholos is they are like Pit Bulls, loving, kind and loyal…until they turn on you. Then it’s all bets off. Sorry Robert but anyone who drive by’s and lives to tell about it should be alive to tell about it. I’ll stand by that comment to our dying day. The irony of all this is while Robert and his homeboys lived their life of crime, intimidation and stupidity they were side by side with quality all around them. The Bogans, the Ganos, the Robledos, the Zyltras went to school side by side with these fkn lowlifes who “want to romanticize” the gansta lifestyle. Excuse me if I don’t give a fck about Robert anymore or will forever pass his columns. I too had a rough upbring, surrounded by that lifestyle. Had knives pulled on me, been shot at, seen people get shot, killed, stabbed and run over but my Dad made sure we never entered that lifestyle. While he had his issues he was always focused on providing a life away from that lifestyle.

    He once told us all if we ever got in a gang he would find out who the rival was, take us to them and tell them to “beat the cholo out of us”…and he wasn’t kidding!

    When I was a senior I saw a man get killed 15 yards from me. You know what he did? He was taking his wife and her 12 year old brother to Mc Donald’s. Two 16 year olds and a 15 year old with a need to gain a “rep/respect” shot him while he was holding a tray of drinks. I worked there at the time witnessed it all. My boss fired me the next day because cholos were looking for the guy who “saw it all”. Funny thing but they didn’t even close down while the investigation took place and the body lay there, uncovered.

    I still remember the crowds that “came in”, sat down and ate their food…just to be “there”. For weeks I worried some one would come hurt our family until the “boys” fessed up and they went to “juvie” for a year or two. Robert was “lucky” a technicality got him off. Lucky for me those homeboys weren’t so lucky.

    That’s what cholos do and long after they find “religion” their filth and disease is still with every Latino who struggles to over come that image so many have of us. It’s always the same, “we started our neighborhood to defend ourselves”…right! Doug Kirkorian is a great writer but even he can be duped into thinking this story does any good, by romanticizing “his struggle”. I say, Fk HIM! glad you got out not keep it to yourself. NO need to hear about your story. NONE!

  • Mr. Miyagi

    A person with no forgiveness in heart, living even worse punishment than death — Mr Miyagi

  • JFR

    Mr. Robert,

    I still get my paper delivered everyday and always look forward to your articles with a cup of joe. I love the fight game but realize there is so much to the game that I don’t know, that is why I enjoy your expert input even if you went to the same school with Fred and Bogan. I am a true fan, GO SHANE!

  • Bullets have no name

    Mr. Miyagi

    Sorry, I don’t forgive drive by shooters.

  • Born and Raised In BASSETT without drama and no excuses.

    I am sure there are several readers that just finished reading this piece and said wow thats great. What’s so great about it? You are just like Pookie Williams with out balls. You started a gang that brought down the city of West Covina, Realy West Covina? What kind of rough place was WC back them that you needed to start a gang? Let me guess, you were mexican and just saw the movie BLVD nights and said “hey that seems pretty cool, I mean firme”. At least pookie died in jail for his wrong doings. You were out because someone working at the prison did not do the job right. You then walked away like punk without getting jumped out…crazy enough to start a gang and jump others out but not crazy enough to get out the right way. You may be out but what you started is still out there. Have you gone back to Varrios to stop the crime? What have you brought to the table besides boxing?

    I grew in Bassett and did well with out the gang life.

    Robledo, stick to the kids and high school sports…please.

  • Sorry that’s how I feel

    “At least I never shot a gun or peddled drugs”, is that the measuring stick for one to live by?

    I googled WC13 and found countless “hits” of wasted Latino youth “mugging” in the Facebook and MySpace photos. As college students everywhere take to the streets to protest the Arizona law that makes a mockery of “our” Constitution I wonder how many non Latinos will once again stereotype Latinos everywhere. Men like Robert Morales “fed” that stereotype and are responsible for the pain and suffering inflicted on cities in the name of “romanticizing” a life that is filled with destruction and abuse.

    As I move my family from one city to another I am constantly “followed” by their “reach” that festers my culture and brings shame to those hard working Latinos who have to over come and survive one Robert Morales after another.

    The first time I went to pick up my girlfriend, who is now my wife, in a part of Whittier called North Whittier or Avocado Heights I was struck by how beautiful the lawns were and how big the houses were. As we sat on the hood of my car, as teenagers do, before I dropped her off we were approached by a car load looking for trouble. As I turned to see what the problem was my future wife said, “Don’t turn around.” The car waited there for minutes and then the car window rolled down. Finally someone said, “Where you from?” The Kiss of Death I thought, as my mind ran thru every option I was struck with one miserable thought, “I’m going to die here?” somehow the irony calmed me. My wife said, “He’s with me.” ..long pause. Then I heard another voice…”Okay” And they drove away.

    I thought to myself, all the way over here, in this nice neighborhood? Years later I moved into that neighborhood and started my family to be close to my in-laws. We became part of a Neighborhood Watch Program that drew National attention because of “leader” was a blind man who’d been shot when he was a young man. Ironically I remembered him from the area I grew up in, and here we were together again, two Dads fighting against the influences of men like Robert Morales…light years away from our past- or so we thought.

    The names change, as every community has their Robert Morales, but the damage is the same. They start gangs for no reason other than to impose fear in others and to “rob” us all of our young Latino sons and daughters with their small time visions of grandeur.

    One day, before I moved out here, I ran across the guy driving that car, that night. He was once the most feared man in that neighborhood. He was a “hype” now and just about homeless, riding the “former big shots” vehicle of choice…a beach cruiser. You see those guys everywhere, big mustaches, proud hard looking vavosos who still have neighborhood “yank” peddling away in their later year, their veterano years.

    He was begging for “change” outside the liquor store. Homeless and recently out of jail he was miles away from the bully he once was. Today that neighborhood is just that, “a hood’. What was once an LA TIMES “featured” community is now a community where people lock their doors and hope their kids aren’t shot in the street like dogs.

    To men like Robert I say FU! Today my sons and daughter enjoy a good life, one like your father tried to provide you Robert. Yet you chose a different path. “Luck” played a role, as did the kindness of others and teh “stupidity” of some but you started something you can’t stop and that’s something you can never change. And for what?

    Aram likes to play the gansta rapper card now and then but he has no clue how that “lifestyle” has ruined countless lives by intoxicating youth with images of bravery, thuggery and violence. I once had a knife at my side for 10 minutes. All I could think about was, “if he pushes it in don’t let it come out.’ I once had a man try and shot my brother for not drinking his wine. When he started that stare down of death I said, “Give me that bottle and give that man a beer!” He laughed as I drank his wine and told my brother to hand him a beer. When I gave him back his bottle he said, “Mas firme homes”…and shot the guy next to me. Just like that! I seen a “hit” go down at the Roger Young when I was a Sophomore in HS. Seen heads busted up with billy clubs as everyone scrambled and I saw animal hate as a guy charged me with a knife in that frenzy. You never forget that. The security guard that busted his head to save me was rushed to the hospital….never knew hat happened to him.

    As I read the Robert Morales story I was struck by one thing, Doug doesn’t get it. Romance it all you want but please don’t mistake it for what it is. They called him Sapo, that means toad in Spanish, it also means “Lucky” and in that was a “sapo shot”. The grin say it all Robert, you got over.

  • http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0103671/ Montoya Santana

    How does this story have a place here on a HS sports blog? Not sure what the Tribune is trying to accomplish by this.

    Is there anything Mr. Morales is doing now that is worthy of praise? Is he giving back to the community? etc.

    As I read this article, I have no connection whatsoever. Besides escaping the lifestyle he once led to lead a ‘normal’ life – what is Mr. Morales doing to help others? Sounds like he should be speaking to at-risk youth or spearheading some type of intervention program. We don’t even know how he feels about todays youth.

    This story lacks any type of feeling or emotion. I did this, I did that…. how so you feel about it now Mr. Morales? What would you do differently if you could go back?

    I wish Mr. Morales all the luck with keeping his life together and the continuous pursuing of something he loves but there has got to be more. Not only will it be good for those who he has the ability to positively influence but it will be good for Mr. Morales too. Come on Robert, you got plenty of effort left in you and it sounds like you can give back if you wanted.

    Stop glorifying an unfinished life Kirkorian. You are a better writer than this.

    May God have mercy on us all.

    God Bless you all.

  • No more Herald Examiner “greats”

    Doug is an interesting story himself. For years I listened to him on the radio with the big guy McD. Here’s what I learned…he had talent to spare. Not run of the mill, I write a column talent…I mean “real” talent…and he let so much of it go as he enjoyed the excesses of early success, remarkable that he’s so well accomplished in spite of himself. Robert’s story is reflects Doug at his worst. The talent is gone. My uncle use dto open a bottle of liquor by spinning the cap off and boasting comically, ‘We won’t be needing THAT anymore!” Doug, sorry to say what could have been. Robert’s story wasn’t about redemption or contrition….but it could have been. A said day for sure.

  • http://www.insidesocal.com/sgvfootball Aram

    I think SOME (one) of you missed the message that you can turn your life around and that the gang life is a dead end. It’s all right there in the story, but if you choose to see only what you want to see, then you’ll miss it. Bob saw the light, got out, and made himself into a damn fine boxing writer, who’s respected nationwide. Believe me, I know what other sportswriters think of Bob’s talents. He even admits he was lucky to get that chance. Again, in short:

    –Don’t do it, it’s a dead end
    –If you do it, you can hopefully get out and lead a productive life. Hope isn’t lost.

    I think what Krikorian was trying to convey is that this is one sportswriter who doesn’t come from the usual sportswriter background. And believe me, in some odd (maybe sick) way I think it helps Bob earn credit with the fighters he covers.

  • Different Worlds Aram, Different Worlds

    Gee Aram you’re in rare form once again. Some (one) has a little bit more knowledge than you on this topic, in all areas being discussed, and you try and re-educated Some (one) once again. Sorry you’ve been wrong before and you’re wrong now.

    Call me back when you have kids. Call me back when you’re a home owner. Call me back when you have to be lumped in with guys like Robert ran with only because you can’t take the “roughness” off you, learned from the streets. Call me when you have to worry if your kids will run into WC13 gang members when they go to the movies or the mall in West Covina.

    Call me when the school district stops having to spend money to “deal” with the influence of gangs. Call me when parents hold their dying kids after a bullet, one like the one that almost killed Robert or worse like the one that Robert and his homies “let fly” in La Puente.

    You know nothing about gang life, its influence on the Latiino community or the BS that carries over to “our” kids that walk the straight and narrow. Isn’t Bishop Amat routinely bagged on for being a cholo Raider beer toting parent parade when in fact they bust their nutts to struggle for a better live for their kids, deep in the heart of La Puente. But they’re all cholos right? Are those comments about the Price or Austin families as well as Jerry Mac’s family? Isn’t the word Mexican in certain circles lathered in racial hate, why? Because “we’re” hard working or because “gang life” is what people think of first.

    Sapo, I mean Robert, shot at some one’s house, the Law and our God doesn’t distinguish between the shooter or the driver. That bullet could have killed my neice, my cousin any “innocent”. Here’s how it breaks down Aram, from Some (one) who knows. That drive by begat other drive bys, that act of violence begat other acts of violence and so forth and so on. That’s a fact. I won’t excuse that, sorry…that’s how I feel. You and Doug think this is West Side Story or something that ends with “song and dance”. Get real.

    Understand the difference redemption and contrition Aram and stop being a child.

    I can not excuse anyone who participates in a drive by shooting, sorry. He wasn’t a young vato loco minor at the time, he was a U.S. Marine and knew that bullets follow their own path. How does being a Sportswriter, respected as he is, dilute the damage his gang has had on countless lives in his community…even today.

    Doug got it wrong as he romanticized Sapo’s past. You don’t have to like my opinion but you do have to respect I know more about the Sapo’s of the world than you do. Better yet ask Robert how wrong I am… if he says I wrong I’ll give him a call myself. If he doesn’t regret sharing his story, to that extent, he’s a fool, as he knows “no se habla de todo”.

    I won’t go on and on because we come from different worlds Aram, entiendes? You know Robert, I know Sapo. Know the difference.

  • http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0103671/ Montoya Santana

    I agree with ‘Different Worlds Aram, Different Worlds’

    I wonder when Aram is going to stop taking his job for granted and write and report with some sort of responsibility. You owe it to us Aram and you owe it to yourself.

    Robert Morales is a terrific boxing writer, but this romanticized account of his past is downright rude and unecessay. It could have been done in a way more positive light. Krikorian missed out bigtime.

    Robert Morales does have ‘street creed’ indeed but Aram you do not.

  • Repeat

    A person with no forgiveness in heart, living even worse punishment than death — Mr Miyagi

  • What exactly am I forgiving?

    Mr. Miyagi

    Wax on and wax off, doesn’t change the truth.

    I knew a man who told me his wife was in Hiroshima when the bomb hit. She was forever traumatized by that event. She was a young girl at the time, he was in the USA service after being “interned” here. He went as an interpreter after the war and saw the devastation first hand. One day as we sat at his Hot Dog stand he told me all about it. I don’t know why. We never talked more than the usual chit chat of ordering food. That day he poured his heart out about the war, the camps, the bomb and his wife. When I asked him where she was he said she was at UCLA as part of a study to examine the long term affect of radiation. I asked him if she had cancer. He said, “The cancer “we” can live with…but the nightmares….the “fear”…..it’s inhuman…” and then he trailed off as tears rolled down his face. We sat there for what seemed like an eternity as he finished his cigarette. The year was 2000, the bomb was dropped when?

  • neutral

    After reading all this, I guess it’s okay to be upset with Morales or cheer for him, depends on where you come from, how you feel about remorse, forgiveness, etc, etc. I for one believe in second and third chances in life. Not all ex-gang members should be forced to wear a scarlet letter forever

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