One of the most respected boxing historians around, Kaplan is considered to have the largest private boxing library in the world. His knowledge and expertise is in constant demand by sportswriters, historians, and boxing fans alike. Pat Putnam, former sportswriter for Miami Herald and Sports Illustrated said, "I think Hank is one of a kind. I just don't know how anyone could know as much as he knows. A lot of writers around the world are calling him for information. He'll go and research it out of the goodness of his heart..."
Kaplan boxed as an amateur in the 1930s and had one professional fight in Bridgeport, Connecticut in the early 1940s, which he won. After retiring as a professional undefeated, he began a collection of books, articles, journals, Ring magazines, and other memorabilia so vast that the amount of material caused him, in 1988, to move to a larger house to accomodate everything. Kaplan has also been involved in helping former boxers in their retirement and has stated that his personal mission is to, "...keep the names of the forgotten fighters alive."
Birth and Death Dates:
Born in Brooklyn to Jewish immigrant parents from Lithuania, Kaplan was one of four children. At the age of nine, his father -- a tailor -- died of tuberculosis. His mother, a seamstress, struggled to make ends meet and Hank and his siblings were placed in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, also called the Academy (other famous people at HOA were Art Buchwald and Jewish boxer, Izzy 'Corporal' Schwartz). While at HOA, Kaplan was sent to Camp Wakitan in upstate New York, where he developed a love for nature, botany, and boxing.
In his mid-teens (around 1930), Kaplan moved back in with his mother, who had started her own business designing and making bridal and evening gowns. Hank and his family lived on the Lower East Side and he went to Commerce High School, although he dropped out because he worked several jobs (including delivering gowns for his mother) to help pay the rent. He later completed his high school education, when work permitted.
Still interested in boxing in his 20s, Kaplan joined the U.S. Coast Guard because the legendary Jack Dempsey did the same. Hank went to boot camp in Manhattan Beach, New York (Dempsey was the commander of the Coast Guard base) and while there, he met Dempsey's assistant, Dave Shaw. Shaw and Kaplan became friends and Shaw helped Hank go to chemical warfare school. Soon after, Kaplan was loaned by the Coast Guard to the U.S. Public Health department so he could fumigate boats.
After getting out of the service, Kaplan worked at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) from the early 1950s until 1978. He also worked informally as a public relations consultant for famed boxing trainer Angelo Dundee. Kaplan voluntarily wrote up bios and statistics on Dundee's fighters. Dundee explained that, "I presumed upon his friendship. I said, 'Hank, I like to send stories before I go into town (for a match) so the writers will have a foundation on the kid.' So Hank did that for me. He got to be friendly with my fighters. They trusted him."
Dundee's most famous fighter was the great Muhammad Ali, who would consult with Kaplan on his upcoming opponents' strengths and weaknesses. Hank said, "I'd tell him what to prepare for. I'd tell him about all these fights [his opponents] had had." While he was helping Dundee and fighters like Ali, Kaplan collected vast amounts of historical information and became a key source for many sportswriters. He is currently a primary consultant on a comprehensive biography on Ali to be published in late 2003. In the 1980s, Kaplan also became a promoter with partner Ramiro Ortiz -- one of their fighters was Juan Arroyo.
The founder and former editor of Boxing Digest, an American fight magazine, Kaplan was honored by the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2002 with the James J. Walker Award for "long and meritorious service to boxing." Known for always smoking a pipe and wearing a baseball cap, Kaplan is still active in 2003 and is a tremendous asset for anyone interested in the world of boxing. The Jews in Sports web site thanks him for his help in confirming the Jewish identity of many boxers and providing information on their careers.
Brooklyn, New York
5'11", 155 pounds