We rank 'em. You react. That's how the Daily List rolls.
7/03/2008 12:14:00 PM
Top Five Sports Books
Check out "Fever Pitch" -- the book, not the movie.
Courtesy Riverhead Trade
By Lang Whitaker, SI.com
OK, it's time for a holiday, a chance to get out of the office, bury your feet in the sand and let the sun touch your skin that's been bathed solely by fluorescent lights for way too long. Now you just have to find a beach read -- something to help you kill a few dozen hours. And for my money, there's nothing better than a book about sports. Here are my top five sports books of all-time. (Buzz Bissinger was bumped from this list for having a bad attitude.)
1. Fever Pitch: Forget that this was turned into a cloying movie about the Red Sox; Nick Hornby's memoir perfectly captures the essence of being a sports fan and the complicated lives sports cause us to lead. (And if you're into soccer, check out Bill Buford's chilling Among The Thugs.)
2. A Season On The Brink: I vividly remember reading this a few years after it came out and racing to turn the pages to continuing seeing behind Bob Knight's Hoosier curtain. Today, it's probably not as revolutionary, just because we're given so much inside access, but Brink was as inside as it got.
3. Moneyball: Five bucks to the first person who can get Joe Morgan to sign a copy.
4. Paper Lion: Toward the end of his career, George Plimpton was best known as an erudite figure on the New York literary scene, but this book reminds us that Plimpton was one of the greatest participatory journalists of all time.
5. Seabiscuit: I know nothing about horse racing or training, but Seabiscuit kept me riveted. (And if you only saw the movie, the book's about a dozen times better.)
What's your favorite sports book of all-time? Let us know below...
Lang Whitaker is the executive editor of SLAM magazine and writes daily at SLAMonline.com
Not sure that it beats out Fever Pitch, but a fairly recent book that is a must read is "The Match" by Mark Frost. Couldn't put it down and have passed it on to three others who have finished it in just a couple of sittings.
Fever Pitch? Are you kidding me? Isn't being in the tank for the Red Sox so like 2006? What a joke. Has this guy ever actually read a sports book? First, any list of best sports books that doesn't include "North Dallas Forty" and "The Boys of Summer" is not a valid list. Paper Lion and Sea Biscuit I will give him.
Ok, Buzz Bissinger had a bad attitude and rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. His book, Friday Night Lights, is still a great book, and you won't enjoy it any less just because of what you think of the author.
Lame list. Best sports book I've ever read is "The Greatest Game Ever Played," about the 1913 U.S. Open. Disney might have Disney-fied the book rather poorly in their film adaptation, but the book itself is spectacular.
"The Amateurs" by David Halberstam - the most penetrating and least formulaic of his several sports books.
"The Babe Ruth Story" by Babe Ruth as told to Bob Considine - sure it was ghost written, so what? A great story. I read this when I was eleven, and my mom threw out the book but I still remember that the Yankees GM (a German fellow) called Ruth "Root". As in "Root, you can not even manage yourself. Vat makes you think you can manage Yankees?"
"My Turn at Bat" by Ted Williams - lots of pride and anger, especially directed at the Boston press. Ted gets mad, and even. One time Williams was in a horrible slump and the Boston press was on his case daily, so one day he decided to bunt his way on (easier than it sounds b/c the other team was using the "Boudreau shift" with all infielders on the right side of the diamond). The headline in one of the Boston papers the next day was "WILLIAMS BUNTS". "Not who won, not the score of the damn game, but 'WILLIAMS BUNTS'!" wrote Williams.
"No Excuse to Lose" and "Comeback: My race for America's Cup" by Dennis Conner. Conner's first two books were his best.
The main character goes back in time and travels with the first professional baseball team (1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings). The game happens to be a little different than he expects. He also runs into a lot of other stuff including Mark Twain.
Just a great book overall. You learn stuff you didn't know and are entertained throughout.
The Muhammad Ali biography compiled by Thomas Hauser had a lot of interviews with Ali's contemporaries and was very well done.
In a similar vein, Loose Balls by Terry Pluto was outstandingly funny, if for no other reason than the chapters about Marvin Barnes.
Fab Five by Mitch Albom would be really interesting with an updated afterward now with everything that's gone with them since then. Like Lang's comments about A Season on the Brink, inside access as well as recruiting coverage is so much greater now that the book might not appear as unique.
Back before everybody and his brother started doing cross-country tours and writing books/keeping websites/updating blogs, minor league baseball was largely overlooked by writers. Roger Kahn's Good Enough To Dream is a hoot. Not only does he follow the team, he becomes a part-owner.
Other good books: Football Against the Enemy by Simon Kuper, The Blind Side by Michael Lewis, Tark by Terry Pluto (far superior to the recent autobiography), Bootlegger's Boy by Barry Switzer, and A Payroll to Meet by David Whitford.
The funniest football book of all time: the autobiography of Baltimore Colt Hall-of-Famer Art Donovan (he thrives on baloney sandwiches!). Also very highly recommended--the biographies of Johnny Sample and Dizzy Dean.
John, I'm guessing this guy has read more sports books than you as Fever Pitch isn't about the Red Sox. The American remake of the film is but the original book is about the Arsenal football team from London.
The Glory of Their Times, by Lawrence Ritter. A simply terrific series of interviews with early 20th century ballplayers. Former Commissioner Fay Vincent published a similar text of players from '50s and 60s.
Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball, by Lawrence Hogan.
Carrying Jackie's Torch: The Players who Integrated Baseball -- and America, By Steven Jacobson. This is a must read.
The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America, by Joe Posnanski. You will remember Buck O'Neil to be one of the two enduring figures (Rachel Robinson was the other) from Ken Burn's documentary. The author was terrific in that his efforts were transparent and Buck's personality transcended the pages.
The Science of Hitting, by Ted Williams. Major league player use this book as a reference. 'Nuff said
Somebody needs to tell "Paul" above ^ that Fever Pitch the book has nothing to do with the Boston Red Sox, it's about Arsenal, the North London soccer team. Also - there is a movie based on the book, starring Colin Firth, that has nothing to do with the Boston Red Sox.
Do a little research before posting an ignorant comment.
"Nice Guys Finish Last" a great baseball book about Leo Durocher. "Meat on the Hoof" a look at Texas football during the early 1970's. I read it a long time ago but it left an impression on me. May not be so eye-opening these days. Most books by John Feinstein. I have not read MoneyBall but I did read "Fantasyland"
C'mon SI, "The Boys Of Summer" is probably one of the 5 best books ever written in any genre. "North Dallas Forty" is a novel --wink, wink-- that is raucous, funny and has a shattering ending that the (excellent) movie shied away from. "Eight Men Out" and "The Pitch That Killed" are fantastic true stories that make you feel like you're time travelling back to those eras. For the 5th spot take your pick among Robert W. Creamer's autobio, Babe", another autobio "Koufax", "Ball Four", "Instant Replay" or another novel "Bang The Drum Slowly". Cheers.
Fever Pitch was made into a good sports-fan movie with Colin Firth, then 'reimagined' as a baseball movie years later with Jimmy Fallon. Check out the original (in which the 'pitch' is an English football field).
Fever Pitch, the book, is about an Arsenal soccer fan. It is quite possibly the only book ever to truly explain what being a fan can really be like, and undoubtedly one of the greatest sports books of all time (though I, like you, would argue passionately for The Boys of Summer).
Fever Pitch, the movie, is an abomination, and that it shares its name with Nick Hornby's book is a disgrace. A passionate Red Sox fan, I can honestly state that I dislike Fever Pitch more than I do any other movie. It puts all real fans, not just Red Sox fans, in a bad light.
Just wanted to clarify. And, by the way, anyone who has "ever actually read a sports book" I daresay would not have required such an explanation. Why don't you try doing so before spewing drivel that I can only hope was a indeed a joke.
Five more to add to the list: 1. DiMaggio by Richard Ben Cramer (Brutal but honest look at the Great American Hero-warning Yankee fans: you might not like this portrayal of your hero) 2. Ted by Leigh Montville (Another brutal but honest look at a baseball legend-warning to Red Sox fan: you might not like how Teddy Ball game is portrayed here on some occasions) 3. The Assist by Neil Swidey (Brand new this year but already a classic in the high school sports genre) 4. Fall River Dreams by Bill Reynolds (another classic in the study of high school sports heroes) 5. King of the World by David Remnick (One of the standouts in a crowded field of books on Ali).
Dan Jenkins is one of the best humorist sports writers ever, as his books clearly reveal. "Semi-Tough" was hilarious; what the movie people did in turning Jenkins' book into a celluloid abomination, with Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson (a better actor than a singer, which is faint praise) and Jill Clayburgh, made me nauseous.
Missing Links - by Rick Reilly... for anyone who likes golf, sex, jokes, gambling, or who likes to joke about sex, gambling, golf, etc... All of Reilly's stuff is hilarious, with a sophisticated college-humor ... great stuff!
Friday Night Lights... Buzz Bissinger captured the true meaning of high school sports. The program at Permian was gauged by wins and losses, but the real story was the teenagers, the kids that shouldered the burden of an entire community. All the characters, including the city of Odessa itself, were so real. It's not easy to do, and Bissinger does it beautifully.
I'll also add Road Swing by Steve Rushin to my list of favorites. The book was the second best thing to actually take a trip like that myself.
My top five: "Run to Daylight" by W.C. Heinz "The Summer Game" by Roder Angell "Be Quick--But Don't Hurry!" by Andy Hill & John Wooden "Clemente" by David Maraniss "The Long Season" by Jim Brosnan ...I also really enjoyed "Seabiscuit"
I would recommend "Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer" to any college football fan. It follows the Bama Nation RV's for the 1999 SEC Championship season. I'm sure any fan can find a character that reminds them of someone they know or have seen at one of their favorite team's games.