A long time ago, QT3 had a thread about people’s Top Five Science Fiction Novels. Since then, I’ve occasionally used that thread a resource to discover new authors. So I figure, why not a Top Five Sports Books thread? Here are my five:
Ball Four by Jim Bouton
I think this is the first book written about the day-to-day life of a sports player. Bouton is incredibly honest about every player and coach on the team, and was blackballed after publishing this book. He was also way ahead of the time in describing the use of performance enhancing drugs, in this case amphetamines.
Soul of Baseball by Joe Posnanski
Joe Posnanski is the Royals beat writer for the Kansas City Star, and is probably my favourite writer of this generation. Posnanski followed former Negro League player Buck O’Neill around the country for around a year as Buck proselytized about the Negro Leagues. Both Buck and Posnanski are great storytellers, and Buck himself is a great, uplifting character.
The Glory of Their Times by Lawrence Ritter
This is an oral history of the early days of baseball, say pre-1930s. I don’t remember much about the specifics of the book, but it was fascinating to read how different the game was in its early days. Players routinely made bets, spat epithets, and got in fights. It makes all of the alarm today about thuggish players seem hysterical.
Heaven is a Playground by Rick Telander
I like reading about baseball because it’s my favourite sport, but I like reading about basketball because it inevitably requires considering the racial and economic issues that surround the game. I am now reading Darcy Frey’s “Last Shot” about Stephon Marbury and Coney Island high-school basketball, which inspired this post. In any case, Telander spent a summer in New York coaching junior-high street players. He got a close perspective of how these players are recruited as young as junior high, and what basketball means in the inner city. In comparing Heaven is Playground, Hoop Dreams, and Last Shot, it seems that not much has changed in the inner city since 1970.
Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam
Halberstam followed the Portland Trailblazers during their 1979 season, three years after their championship. Jack Ramsay, Bill Walton, Kermit Washington, and Maurice Lucas are each featured. The NBA was still struggling to gain acceptance at the time, and Halberstam covers the NBA’s attempts at getting national TV coverage, and the racial dynamic of the league at the time. Again, I’m blanking on the details, but Halberstam is obviously a clear writer, and he could hardly have picked a better team to write about.
Just missing the cut would probably be Loose Balls by Terry Pluto, an oral history of the ABA; Foul! the Connie Hawkins story about a playground legend; and Bill Russell’s autobiography Second Wind. I have primarily read about basketball and baseball, so if anyone knows of any great football (or other sports) books, I’d be really interested.