Shrapnel, six fragments in all, tore through his back, arm and leg. Physicians were able to remove only four. He was six months recuperating. At the end of June 1945, he was discharged from the Army with a Purple Heart. But Boom Boom was no longer a lightweight. He weighed 190 pounds.
Against doctors' orders, Boom Boom began training again. Boxing was his life. That's all he knew. He got his weight down to 152, but could go no further. By 1946 he was fighting again as a 5'2" middleweight. He absorbed terrible punishment, but he never went down, and he was cut only once. His skin, uncommonly tough, would swell instead, and the fights would go the distance. Soon he was seeing double out of his right eye. There was talk of a fight with Rocky Graziano, who was on his way to the top, and a $25,000 payday, but Graziano fought Sonny Home instead. In December 1947, Boom Boom retired at the age of 28. His professional record was 73 wins, 12 defeats and three draws.
The phone in the Mancinis' Youngstown home rings for the zillionth time in the past two weeks, and Lenny, on a day off from his job at General Fireproofing, his employer for 30 years, grumbles as he rises to answer it. It's painful to watch him move. He limps all over. Age, boxing and the shrapnel wounds have all left their marks. On top of that, he broke his right wrist a month ago in a fall. He is partly blind in his right eye and speaks out of the side of his mouth, as if the old jaw injury still bothers him. His voice is deep and very gruff, not unlike Marlon Brando's Godfather. "El!" he calls to his wife, Ellen, after answering the call. It's another ticket order. The Mancinis have always sold tickets to Ray's fights out of their house in Youngstown, but Ray's popularity has overwhelmed them. The 1,480 tickets they were allotted for the forthcoming Ramirez fight were sold out in days, and when the requests kept coming, they finally had to take the phone off the hook. "Never again," Boom Boom swears.
Ellen Mancini—Mrs. Boom Boom to Lenny's friends—met her husband in 1947 when they literally walked into each other on a New York street. He took advantage of the situation to flirt with her. When she asked him to move out of her way, he declined. So she asked if he thought he owned the sidewalk.
"I bought it this morning," Lenny reported.
"Then I'll walk in the street."
Naturally, they fell madly in love. The next time they met, on July 15—his birthday—he asked her for a little funghi. Funghi is Italian for mushrooms. But Ellen is Irish. When Boom Boom demonstrated that what he wanted was a kiss, by puckering his lips in a mushroomish way, she gave him one. That December he retired from boxing, and in January they eloped to Baltimore. She was 19, and when she told her father, he started to cry. She asked him why. She was married; he should have been happy.
"But he's a fighter," her father said.
When he suggested that Lenny might start to knock her around, she reassured him. "Besides, I can always outrun him," she said.
Ellen plays a good game of racquet-ball, and once bowled a 269, with 10 straight strikes. It was she who used to play catch with Ray in the yard. But it was the father that Ray idolized. Other kids said they wanted to be policemen or firemen when they grew up, but Ray said he wanted to be a boxer. Everyone seemed to think that was pretty cute. "They'd tell me, 'Ray, your dad was the uncrowned champion,' " he says now, "and I saw how people around town treated him, how they idolized him."