In the 1952 story “G.I. Lew” about Lew Jenkins, a former lightweight champion who enlisted in the Army and won a Silver Star in Korea, W.C. Heinz shows his mettle. Reporters laid into Jenkins after an awful bout, but Heinz knew the fighter had three broken vertebrae following a motorcycle accident and a drinking binge. “They knew a lot about Lew and they put it in the papers, but they didn’t know the half of it.” Heinz was in the business of filling up so many halves in a time when writerly imagination was at most at home with simple, declarative sentences. He listened hard, took notes, and used Salinger-style vernacular to distill the honor and loyalty between the lines of all the sports he covered.
At home among boxers when boxing was urban America’s foremost blue-collar sport, Heinz often flirts with perfect prose.
- Of legendary promoter Jack Hurley he writes: “The old dreamer that was in the old pragmatist had dreamed too much too late…”
- Of a Joe Louis bout: “For three rounds Paolino Uzcudun moved around him, shielding himself with his forearms. In the fourth round he raised one arm just enough to look through the mail slot at Joe, and Joe shot the right. It drove Uzcudun’s teeth through the mouthpiece ands through his lower lip, and gold teeth bounced, glittering, on the canvas.”
The fiction in this vital volume includes an excerpt from MASH (few know Heinz ghost wrote it) and a gorgeous and brief baseball story published in Colliers and called “One Throw,” in which a veteran scout disguises his identity to measure the moral principles of a prospect.
Some have called Heinz America’s greatest sportswriter. Ernest Hemingway and David Halberstam tipped their hats; David Maraniss is a fan. Heinz got to the so-called “New Journalism” before anyone even had a name for it. That’s how it is with naturals. Heinz died in 2008.