Today, I want to talk about two of my favorite things - sports and reading. I had planned to ask about this topic even before I got word that Jim Bouton, author of Ball Four, died on Wednesday, but today’s question is:
What are some of your favorite sports books?
And no, I don’t mean the ones in Las Vegas where you can win money. I mean literature, memoirs, histories...you know, books.
The book that prompted me to think about this is a book I haven’t even finished yet, It’s a book about baseball, called K: A History Of Baseball In Ten Pitches. It’s exactly as advertised - each chapter is about a different pitch, and it goes into both the history and development of that pitch and the current usage and context of it in the evolution of the game. It’s a fascinating read if you like baseball, and it reminded me how good books about sports can be.
There’s also the aforementioned Ball Four. It’s from a completely different era of sports writing - it really ushered in the confessional/behind-the-scenes style of writing, and Bouton was largely blackballed from the game after its publication. But it’s a great read and a great insight into what a baseball team was like behind the scenes and day-to-day. Bouton updated it several times since its original publication, but the original is a classic.
Other sports books I like (NOTE: I’m excluding the obvious choices of Fever Pitch and Among the Thugs, because I assume most of you have read them and if not you should):
- Moneyball, by Michael Lewis. One of the most misunderstood-in-hindsight books ever, but it’s a really interesting look at how teams with low/no budget - this book is about the Oakland Athletics - can compete in a highly moneyed atmosphere. All sports have benefitted from the analytical approach detailed in this book.
- The Wave, by Susan Casey. Not a “sports” book in the sense that it’s not about a team in a league, but it’s about giant waves and the people who surf them, and it’s every bit as compelling as any sports team.
- The Miracle of Castel di Sangro, by Joe McGinniss. A story of an American who moves to a small town in Italy and gets absorbed into the life and culture of the local Serie B team.
- The Damned United, by David Peace. The story of the legendary Brian Clough’s 44 days in charge of Leeds United, told through a fictionalized monologue of Clough’s thoughts.
- A Few Seconds of Panic, by Stefan Fatsis. A journalist decides to see if he can make the cut with the Denver Broncos as a punter.
- The Boys In The Boat, by Daniel James Brown. I could not care less about rowing, crew, or boating at all. But this is one of the most engaging books about sports I’ve ever read.
I could go on for days, there’s a million really good sports books out there. What are some of your favorites?