Henry Hecht arrived with his chest full of figurative medals when he came aboard this spring to write our INSIDE PITCH column; he'd spent the last 10 years on baseball's front lines, which included covering the Yankees for the New York Post. "That was a daily bombardment," says Hecht, 36. "You'd just put on your helmet and go into the trenches. Shells flying everywhere." Shells fired, be it noted, by some rather heavy artillery—George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson.
Yet Hecht hardly came out of it shell-shocked by the ordeal. Whether he was reporting the Yanks as the regular beat man or, sometimes, as part of his job as national baseball writer, his dispatches earned him a solid reputation. It was Hecht and The New York Times' Murray Chass who first reported Martin's "One's a born liar, the other's convicted" allusion to Jackson and Steinbrenner.
We don't actually see much of Hecht around here, because he's either on the phone or on the road gathering material for INSIDE PITCH. Henry isn't a shy guy; if he has a question, he asks it. "You can be too aggressive or you can come off as a wimp," he says. "You have to be able to ask that tough question without making it personal."
Hecht is a native of New Haven, Conn., but, as he says, "I'm the quintessential adopted New Yorker. I was born to live here. I love it. My metabolism is perfect for the city." And vice versa: Manhattan teems with Hecht's two off-field haunts—theaters and movie houses.
His childhood was spent "trying to convince my father [Izzy, who was a die-hard Giants fan who saw his first baseball game in 1920] to let me stay up for one more Mickey Mantle at bat," and if Hecht's own athletic triumphs were minor, they were memorable. "I had perhaps the best fastball in our stickball games on Gilbert and Sherman avenues back in New Haven," he says, "and once I hit a home run over Gig Fraulo's house." (Inside pitch on that blast: The Fraulo home was three stories high.)
In college Hecht was sports editor of the Vanderbilt University Hustler, and after he joined the Post as a clerk in the sports department in '69, he covered high school basketball and harness racing before being given a baseball beat in 1974. Though he sometimes misses the daily interplay of beat writer and player, he doesn't regret putting the interminable vicissitudes of the Yankees at a certain distance. "With INSIDE PITCH, I'm looking forward to covering real baseball," he says, "not the stuff that goes on with that team."
Still, Hecht admits some affection for one Yankee team—the 1978 club that rallied to defeat Los Angeles in the World Series. "Once they got to the Series, I rooted for them," says Hecht. "You had to. That team epitomized professionalism."
And so, in his own way, on a different battlefield, does former war correspondent Henry Hecht.
HECHT AND HIS YANKEE FRIEND, LOU PINIELLA