Next week, The Library of America will publish The Top of His Game, the definitive collection of sports writing by W.C. Heinz, who was the writing equivalent of a five-tool player in baseball. A newspaper reporter, war correspondent, and columnist, Heinz wrote magazine features and books, including one of the most famous football books ever written, perhaps the best boxing novel of all time, and oh yeah, MASH, a novel co-written with Richard Hornberger that served as the basis for the hit movie and TV show.
Heinz was no celebrity, he didn’t have a persona. But his work endures and thanks to David Halberstam, Glenn Stout, and Jeff MacGregor, his work enjoyed a revival before Heinz passed away seven years ago.
He did so many things well but it was as a freelance magazine writer in the ’50s that Heinz, according to MacGregor, “perfected his signature approach to the craft of storytelling. Like a master mason, Heinz built each of his long-form stories as though he were building a wall of mortarless stone. Every word and phrase was carefully set on the words and phrases that went before them. At his best, he was the equal of a Joseph Mitchell or an E. B. White. What can top the two paragraphs which open ‘Brownsville Bum’?”