There must be a certain irony in being inducted into a sports hall of fame when you're 89 years old.
If there is, Bill Heinz probably smiled at that irony when he was welcomed into the Boxing Hall of Fame earlier this month, though his health prevented him from attending the ceremony in person.
According to the hall's publicists, Mr. Heinz qualified for enshrinement because he wrote brilliantly about boxing. But the fact is that Bill Heinz wrote brilliantly about what it's like to be alive on the planet. Boxing was one of many beneficiaries of Bill's curiosity, his sense of humor, his exceptional ear, and his determination to tell stories worthy of the people who did him the favor of intriguing and delighting him.
Baseball was another beneficiary and so was horse racing. War, too. With a surgeon who'd served in Korea, Bill Heinz co-wrote the novel mash under the pseudonym Richard Hooker.
I had the good fortune to meet bill several years ago when Da Capo Press reissued some of his books, which had been out of print for years. Among the works was a 1958 novel entitled "The Professional," which is set in boxing. "The Professional" ends in a defeat that seems surprising and unfair. The first time I talked with bill in person, I asked him if he'd been tempted to write a more cheerful ending.
"No," he told me, "because that's not the way it happens."
I don't watch boxing. I think the fact that this week Mike Tyson, 38, was once again licensed to fight in New Jersey is only the most recent bit of evidence that the alleged sport is foul in its appeal, thoroughly corrupt, and brutal beyond sensible tolerance. But if news of the induction of Bill Heinz into the Boxing Hall of Fame encourages somebody to read something Bill wrote, the result will justify the existence of the place, and it'll have to serve until somebody puts together a writers' hall of fame and plunks Bill Heinz into that.
When that happens, the odds are excellent that Mr. Heinz won't take the honor — or himself — seriously. I suggest this because a couple of months ago, after I'd sent him a postcard featuring a painting by Paul Gauguin, bill wrote in reply: "I like Gauguin, too. He was another guy who knew how to beat the old 9-5."
This program aired on June 25, 2004. The audio for this program is not available.