Gilbert Cruz
June 06, 2005 at 04:00 AM EDT

If you’re pinning your book’s success on a movie with the same subject, you could do worse than the two-fisted juggernaut that is Ron Howard’s latest. First-time author Jeremy Schaap (host of ESPN’s Outside the Lines) hopes his book on James J. Braddock’s rise from washed-up boxer and welfare recipient to heavyweight champ can ride the film’s coattails. Like the movie, Schaap’s book is titled Cinderella Man, though the two projects are related only by subject. (In May 2004, Schaap’s literary agent approached him with the idea of writing a book to dovetail with the movie’s release.) Unlike Howard, though, Schaap tells the stories of both Braddock and the man he beat for the title, Max Baer, in 1935.

Though Schaap has not yet seen the film, he hopes it doesn’t paint Baer as a brutish killer. In real life, while cocky and overpowering, Baer was also conflicted. ”It haunted him his whole life, killing Frankie Campbell [who died in 1930 after a bout with Baer],” Schaap says. ”There were fighters he fought later in his career that said [Baer] didn’t finish them off when he could have because he was afraid of hurting them.” In the opposite corner, the book paints a less angelic portrait of the Cinderella Man (a nickname concocted by legendary sportswriter Damon Runyon). Schaap writes of a 1932 incident where Braddock punched out a police captain in a precinct house and suggests that he took investment advice from a notorious New York gangster. ”This guy was not Mother Teresa,” the author says.

Still, Schaap is pumped for the movie and lauds its casting. ”Braddock wasn’t the most expressive guy verbally. It takes a very fine actor to physically express what he’s thinking without the words coming out of his mouth. And there’s no better physical actor than Russell Crowe.”

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