Sorry, baseball. The best sports novel of all time doesn't belong to your sport.
It's a book about boxing: "The Professional," by W.C. Heinz.
Heinz is also the mastermind behind the terrific novel "M*A*S*H," which inspired an equally-brilliant movie and a television show that redefined the genre. Heinz, whose name is largely unknown these days, can be credited for an enormous cultural impact.
I began re-reading "The Professional" this week, and one of the things I'm struck by is the blurb on the front of the book. As you probably know, authors often have other authors write blurbs for their dust jackets. It's a common practice, and it's a good way to sell books. If you write a horror novel and Stephen King pens a blurb for your dust jacket, you've just sold a million copies.
Anyway, Heinz' novel had this blurb on the cover:
"THE PROFESSIONAL is the only good novel about a fighter I've ever read and an excellent novel in its own right."
The blurbist? Ernest Hemingway.
I'm not going to tell you about the story, because you should buy this book and read it. If possible, get the edition with a foreword by Elmore Leonard. That's damn fine reading, too.
But I will say that after you read "The Professional" you'll know where Stallone stole the blueprint for "Rocky." And I will share one passage from the book, wherein Heinz writes about a trainer creating a boxer:
The greatest sculptor in the world, working in marble, cannot add a thing. It it is not there, it is not there. No man makes it, and so no man is truly creative, but by subtraction from the whole he reveals it. That is the nearest that man can come to creation, and that is why the great are afraid. Only they can see all of it, and they are afraid that, in their process of subtraction, they will not reveal the all of it, and what is hidden will remain hidden forever. They are even more afraid that, in the process, they will cut too far and destroy that much of it forever. It is that way in the making of all things, including the making of a fighter.
Could truer words ever be applied to editing?
Heinz died in 2008; here's a nice obituary from the Washington Post.