George Plimpton made me envious.
First of all, he was a first-class writer. He was a learned man — a kind of Renaissance man, if you will. He studied at Harvard and Cambridge. How can you go wrong with degrees from those institutions? I envy those who can construct sentences with grace and precision. Plimpton could do that.
Mostly, though, I envied him because he had plenty of nerve to do what some of us only wish we could do. He would take part in events — mainly of the athletic variety — he would cover for this publication or that one.
American Masters is going to profile the late author at 8 p.m. Friday on Panhandle PBS. The special is titled, quite obviously, “Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself.”
What kind of nerve did Plimpton possess?
My favorite part of Plimpton’s career was how, while on assignment for Sports Illustrated magazine, he put on the gloves and sparred with two of boxing’s most legendary fighters: long-time light-heavyweight champion the late Archie Moore and the welterweight and middleweight champ the late Sugar Ray Robinson.
He felt it necessary to know what it would be like to take a punch from two great fighters. He picked two of the very best, pound for pound, ever to lace on a pair of boxing gloves.
Moore would fight twice for the heavyweight championship, losing to Rocky Marciano in 1955 and then to Floyd Patterson the following year. Robinson held the welterweight title several times in the 1950s and was middleweight champ, also several times, in the 1950s and early 1960s.
He also took some snaps during a Detroit Lions professional football scrimmage and pitched baseballs at major league hitters at an exhibition contest. The teams were managed by a couple of pretty fair ballplayers, fellows named Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays.
George Plimpton was a risk-taker, to be sure. He also was a master of the English language, not to mention a demolition expert who served his country with distinction in World War II.
American Masters has picked a masterful wordsmith to profile.