Robert “Sailor” Waters is a good, decent, and honorable man in a dirty business—the brutal, barbaric sport of big-time prizefighting. When his young wife, Annie, and small daughter, Amy, are killed in a tragic accident, Sailor drifts, and eventually goes to Europe in WWII.
Upon his return to New York City he becomes a prizefighter. The shy and gentle Sailor has a smooth, elegant, and classic boxer’s style, but lacks the ‘killer instinct’—a necessary ingredient for success in the fight ring. When he enters the world of professional boxing he is thrown into the company of promoters, gamblers, gangsters, and Broadway characters. Almost all the people he comes in contact with sense his innate goodness and generosity, and everyone wants to be his friend.
In 1952, he inherits a large amount of money, and is confused with his new-found wealth. He hopes the money can help him reconnect with the beautiful Jonquil Lantana, a fickle Park Avenue socialite who had toyed with him in the past, but has moved on to greener pastures and now, wants no part of him.
The naïve Sailor invests all of his money in an ill-advised—and ill-fated project suggested by his well-meaning, but incompetent former manager, Richard “Pudge” Walker. He eventually loses his inheritance in the project and is pressured by gangsters for more fees and expenses.
The naïve Sailor is now a prime target for the sharks that prowl the Midtown and the West Side. The evil and psychotic Dwayne “The Kid” Foxglove, also a semi-retired prizefighter, blackmails Sailor into participating in a robbery. He tells the confused Sailor that his friend Pudge has been kidnapped, and unless Sailor agrees to be involved in the robbery, Pudge will be killed.
After Sailor and Pudge escape from the gangsters, Sailor must choose to leave New York for good, or commit to an extraordinary act of compassion. The choice presents him with an opportunity to redeem himself for the mistakes he has made in life.