I’m in California on a working vacation this week. But I want to break blog silence to pay tribute to the great George Kimball, a sports columnist for the Boston Phoenix and the Boston Herald who died on Wednesday at the age of 67.
I remember reading Kimball in the Phoenix when I was in high school. Kimball would sit in the bleachers at Fenway Park and write about the Red Sox from a fan’s perspective. His column was called “The Sporting Eye,” after his glass eye, which, as legend would have it, he would pop out in order to entertain and intimidate as the spirit moved him.
Eventually Kimball left for the Herald. I didn’t read him all that much after that because his beat was boxing, which interested me some when Muhammad Ali was fighting and not at all otherwise. But I do have one measly Kimball anecdote that no one else has.
At the beginning of the 1986 Woburn toxic-waste trial in U.S. District Court (the case immortalized in Jonathan Harr’s book “A Civil Action”), Judge Walter Jay Skinner ruled that the media could cover jury selection on the condition that they not report on what had happened until the jury was seated. The Boston Globe and the Herald refused to go along and boycotted the proceedings. I was covering the trial for the Daily Times Chronicle of Woburn, and saw no reason not to sit in. I got a pretty good story out of it, too.
Among the prospective jurors brought in for questioning was Kimball. He was polite and obviously very intelligent. He told the judge that the case would pose a significant hardship for him, since he had to travel to cover boxing for the Herald. (Indeed, the trial lasted five months.) I don’t think Kimball ever expected to be seated, but after he left the room, the judge and the lawyers expressed considerable interest. “Your Honor, he’s a great boxing columnist,” Neil Jacobs of Hale and Dorr, part of the legal team for the defendant Beatrice Foods, told Skinner. (Obviously that quote may be off by a word or two.)
There was quite a bit of discussion regarding the pros and cons of choosing Kimball. In the end, Skinner decided that the trial would, in fact, pose an unfair burden to him, and he was dismissed. But it was a close call. A year later I ran into Kimball at a New England Press Association function and told him about what had happened after he left the judge’s chambers. I don’t remember what he said, except that he appeared to be amused by the story, and glad he’d dodged the draft.
If you want to know more about Kimball (and I’ve told you very little), you must read this appreciation by Michael Gee, who followed Kimball as the Phoenix sports columnist and later joined him at the Herald. This Phoenix blog post by Sean Kerrigan hits the highlights of Kimball’s pre-Herald career. And the Phoenix has posted a classic Kimball story from 1976 on a boxing match between Ali and Ken Norton.
Finally, here’s a great story from the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World on Kimball’s early days as “one-eyed radical who once campaigned as a ‘two-fisted’ candidate for Douglas County sheriff.” I had no idea.