The Caddie Was a Reindeer By Steve Rushin ($24). Essays, columns and features from one of SI's senior writers.
Dick Enberg: Oh My! By Dick Enberg and Jim Perry ($24.95). The legendary broadcaster takes you into the booth.
God on the Starting Line By Marc Bloom ($22). The successful mix of a Jewish coach and a Catholic school running team.
Bugatti Queen By Miranda Seymour ($24.95). The story of Hellé Nice, a former cabaret star turned race car driver.
Just For Openers
The first two lines of The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty by Buster Olney ($26.95):
Mariano Rivera paused to stand behind the crowd of teammates watching The Jerry Springer Show in the Yankees' clubhouse. As they laughed loudly and exhorted the on-screen combatants, Rivera remained silent, shaking his head.
Five Under $5
Think words are cheap? These books won't break your bank (prices from barnesandnoble.com):
At the Altar of Speed By Leigh Montville ($3.98). The life and death of Dale Earnhardt Sr.
When You Come To A Fork In The Road, Take It! By Yogi Berra ($3.98). Wit and wisdom from Yogi.
Knight: My Story By Bob Knight ($4.99). The controversial coach discusses his life.
Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy By Jane Leavy ($4.98). The Hall of Famer's legendary career.
True Believers By Joe Queenan ($4.98). Musings from a Philadelphia fan in a foul mood.
As Stephen King explains in one passage in Faithful, the diary of the 2004 Red Sox season that the horrormeister has written with fellow novelist Stewart O'Nan, the word "fan" is short for "fanatic." By the end of this breezy and engaging book, that fact would have been obvious even if King hadn't spelled it out.
Both men clearly suffer from the addiction of hardcore fandom, with all the day-to-day frustration, loss of perspective and occasional bouts of elation that the condition entails. Fortunately for King, O'Nan and their publisher, the Red Sox season they chose to memorialize is one of the most historic in major league history.
We all know how the season ends, of course, with the dramatic comeback from a 3-0 deficit against the hated Yanks in the ALCS followed by the World Series sweep over the Cardinals for the team's first title since 1918. One thing that makes this book worth reading, however, is that the authors are the only ones who don't know what's going to happen.
Faithful consists of a series of dated diary entries by the two authors (King's efforts are in bold, perhaps because he's sold as many books as Johnny Damon has strands of hair) starting from spring training, interspersed with e-mail exchanges between the two. The latter should be familiar to any serious fan, a series of missives alternately ripping and praising their squad amidst pop culture references and inside jokes. (They always refer to struggling Sox pitcher Derek Lowe as "tragickal," until his brilliant postseason, when he is transformed to "magickal.")
Fortunately, the duo aren't the kind of famous (or in O'Nan's case, semi-famous) pseudo-fans who airlift into town just in time to be shown by Fox during the postseason. O'Nan, in particular, acts like an overgrown kid whenever he gets near a baseball field or his beloved Sox. He regularly brings his glove to games to snare grounders down the line in BP and even customizes a 10-foot fishing net to snare balls successfully from the Green Monster.
O'Nan also hunts autographs as if the resulting scrawls were the words to the Great American Novel, even trying to get one from Red Sox third baseman Bill Mueller during a photo event in which autographs were specifically off-limits. Mueller demurs, saying, "I'll get in trouble."
The diary approach catches the low moments of what ends up being a dream season with an immediacy that no postmortem book could accomplish. The pair ride new manager Terry Francona mercilessly all year, primarily for refusing to bunt in Moneyball fashion, not handling defensive replacements the way they would like and for not using their favorite bench players (especially Brian Daubach and Kevin "The Greek God of Walks" Youkilis) more often.
King avers that "Yon Francona has a lean and stupid look" in the season's first week, while O'Nan later calls him a "numbnut" and "Francona the Terryble." By early July, with the Red Sox in an apparent free fall, King is openly calling for the skipper's head "while there's still a season to save." By year's end, of course, all is forgiven, and Francona is accorded status as "a legendary Red Sox manager."
The reader can forgive the authors for such moments of churlishness, for in-the-moment irrationality is part of the makeup of the diehard fan. That's what makes the pair's relatively hopeful tone when the Red Sox fall into that 0-3 hole against the Yanks that much more poignant. The duo convince themselves that there is indeed hope, even though no baseball team had ever rallied from such a deficit in the postseason. Especially not the cursed Red Sox, who hadn't won the Series since Woodrow Wilson was in the White House.
When Boston does complete that unlikely feat and then makes surprisingly easy work of the Cards in the World Series, it's hard to begrudge King and O'Nan the expected lyrical waxing. ("The day is bright and blue, the leaves are brilliant and blowing," writes O'Nan. "It's a beautiful day in the Nation, maybe the best ever.")
The book makes a perfect holiday gift for any Red Sox fan and will likely be polished off well before the ball drops on New Year's Eve. It's also a worthwhile read for a serious fan of any team (save the Yankees), who will recognize King's and O'Nan's season-long passion play as their own. Plus, have we mentioned there's a happy ending?