2012 Bison Books paperback edition

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Favorite Sports Books


I just wrote a sports book -- well, it's a history book, too -- so people assume I've read sports books all my life and know all about them. I don't. 

Up until about age 22 I hadn't read much of anything published before 1900. I was the only one in my high school honors English class in California to read and really like Tom Jones (1749). I lived in my own private time machine filled with afternoon tea, crumpets, crazy Russians, dissolute French people, and Anglo-Irish aristos hanging on to eccentric elegance in crumbling Georgian mansions beyond the Pale. Sports? That was what my father, brothers, sister, uncles, cousins did. That was time away from reading. Time spent out of the time machine, blinking in the bright sunshine of the present.

At some point my brother Buck turned me on to sports books. Buck is the natural athlete of an athletic family. We like to say he could ski beautifully on two-by-fours. Buck has the instinct for a good story. He also haunts the mailbox every week, waiting for Sports Illustrated to arrive. The family often hides it, just to see his reaction: "Anybody seen the new SI?" "Gee, no, Dad." Buck told me about Stolen Season (see below) and that started it all. I liked the immediacy of sports stories, their apparent simplicity. But of course, behind the game, the life, there was so much more. A good sports book was like a transparent three-dimensional structure (cubic tic tac toe?) that you played as you read. Dynamic.

So, below are 1) my idiosyncratic list of my favorite sports books; and 2) Sports Illustrated's Dick Friedman's gaming of the system of putting sports books into such lists. Add in your favorites. Tell me what I haven't read and should! And, thanks, Dick!

1) My Turn at Bat: The Story of My Life (Fireside Sports Classics) by Ted Williams
"Introducing the ingenious, addictive tool for judging everything under the sun: ENLIGHTENED BRACKETOLOGY, the new science that makes opinion a sport." And Dick Friedman has applied it to sports books. Click on THE ENLIGHTENED BRACKETOLOGIST title above and be sure to turn the page to see which book Dick ended up with as The Best (it wasn't on my list, but I'm going to read it right now).