We lost another great one. George Kimball, Phoenix sports editor (back when there was such a thing) for nearly 10 years, Boston Herald columnist for 25 more, and truly one of the great boxing writers of our time, passed away last week at his home in New York City. He was 67.
I can't say I knew George Kimball, but I was lucky enough to work with him once. Our late, great managing editor, Clif Garboden, had put me in touch with George to go over some edits I had for one of his stories. This was one of those larger-than-life people who built this paper in the 1970s, and I remember being as eager to impress him with my edits as I was with some banter about an upcoming fight. I hope I did a better job on the copy, because I'm sure I sounded like an idiot talking to George about boxing.
An Army brat who grew up in the counterculture '60s, George bounced around the country, from Kansas to Greenwich Village, before arriving in Boston. He was one of the founding editors of the Cambridge literary journal Ploughshares, and joined the Phoenix as sports editor in 1971, helping nurture the careers of Mike Lupica, Michael Gee, and Charles P. Pierce (all three of whom wrote outstanding tributes to Kimball, easily found online), among many others.
Over the next quarter century, George worked nearly every major sporting event in the world, from the Super Bowl to the America's Cup. He covered nearly 400 world title fights, and was the 1985 recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism.
George was diagnosed with inoperable esophageal cancer in 2005, but instead of slipping off into a quiet march to the end, he became even more prolific as a writer. His Four Kings: Leonard, Hagler, Hearns, Durán, and the Last Great Era of Boxing was published in 2008, followed by The Fighter Still Remains (2010), edited with John Schulian, and Manly Art (2011). In March, the Library of America published another Kimball-Schulian collaboration, At the Fights: American Writers on Boxing. He was a regular contributor for espn.com and thesweetscience.com, and wrote the popular weekly "America at Large" column for the Irish Times.
And he continued to write for the Phoenix occasionally, contributing some terrific book reviews on subjects ranging from Roger Clemens to Jack Kerouac and the Beats.
In a January 2009 interview with Gelf magazine, George talked about the inevitability of looking back. "As far as I can tell," he said, "every generation has fretted about the decline of the sport and longed for the good old days."
Today, that longing is even more bittersweet.