As someone who grew up north of Boston, two towns over from Micky Ward’s hometown of Lowell, Mass., I got a good handle on the local boxing scene by reading Piper’s column in the Lowell Sun. Borges did a great job writing about the sport on the national and international level (He still does). Kimball’s column had the best of both worlds, covering the fights that I could only see on TV, as well as the ones at the Whitman Armory and the Roxy.
I began covering boxing in 1994, writing about Peter McNeeley and Micky Ward for their hometown papers. Over time, I got to know Piper (who died in 2008), Buckley, Borges, Miller and Kimball. Over time, they became friends and mentors. Before I started covering boxing, I thought I knew a lot about it, as did my high school and college friends. The more I covered fights and talked to Piper, Buckley, Borges, Miller and Kimball, the more I realized I had a lot to learn.
For someone who was relatively new to covering the sport, the buildup to the Mike Tyson-McNeeley fight was an exciting time. In January of 1995, I covered McNeeley’s first-round knockout of Kevin Wyrick, a fighter from Kansas City, who looked a little like figure skater Scott Hamilton.
Four months later, Kimball was in Kansas City, covering a Tommy Morrison fight. The Sunday after Morrison’s fight, Kimball provided a brief update on Wyrick’s life. He reported that Wyrick was arrested on federal drug and weapons charges and was suspected in the 1989 contract killing of a Kansas City drug dealer.
A month after that report, I was talking to Beau Williford, who helped Vinnie Vecchione train McNeeley for the Tyson fight.
“Peter shouldn’t be afraid of Tyson,” Williford said. “He already fought a killer.”
I don’t ever recall Kimball giving me any specific advice but in the fall of 2000, he recommended a book to me called Rope Burns, written by F.X. Toole. One of the short stories in the book was Million Dollar Baby, the film version of which won an Oscar for “Best Picture.”
The last time I saw Kimball was in April, at a book reading at an Irish pub in Boston. His voice was going and that prevented him from doing the reading but he did answer questions. He expressed his displeasure with some of the factual errors in “The Fighter,” the movie about Micky Ward. Before the reading began, Kimball said, “Don’t get me started on ‘The Fighter.’”
There were a number of writers at the reading, Jay Miller, Leigh Montville- formerly of the Boston Globe and Sports Illustrated- many of Kimball’s colleagues at the Herald.
Al Valenti, who was one of the more active promoters in Boston through the ‘80s and ‘90s, remarked that those of us who covered boxing for newspapers were truly a dying breed.
That may be but many of us continued to write about the sport on the Web. After retiring from the Herald in 2005, Kimball continued to write his column for the paper. He also wrote for The Sweet Science and had five books published as an author and an editor. He worked right until the end.
George Kimball left a void and he will be sorely missed.
Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org