If, or rather when, you are caught in the last-gasp dash for Christmas presents, books are always a good idea. This has not been a vintage year for sports books, but here are one reviewer's admittedly personal choices.
The Man Who Invented Baseball, Harold Peterson (Scribners, $7.95). Much more than a biography of Alexander Cartwright, who did what Abner Doubleday didn't, this is an affecting re-creation of the 18th century America in which baseball was "invented."
The Suitors of Spring, Pat Jordan (Dodd, Mead, $6.95). These eight pieces on pitching by one of the best young sportswriters—himself a onetime minor league pitcher—are perceptive, knowledgeable and handsomely written. The profile of Sam McDowell is especially recommended.
Team, Richard Woodley (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, $7.95) and The Forgettables, Jay Acton (Crowell, $6.95). These go together because both explore with commendable sensitivity what Lionel Tiger calls the "male bonding" of team sport—a high school football team in the first, a minor league football team in the second.
Ninety-Two in the Shade, Thomas McGuane (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $6.95) and North Dallas Forty, Peter Gent (Morrow, $7.95). Two novels. McGuane's is serious fiction, only incidentally about fishing in Key West. Gent's is a pro-football "expos�," not great shakes as fiction, but written with feeling and firsthand knowledge.
Sport and Society, edited by John T. Talamini and Charles H. Page (Little, Brown, $10; paperback, $4.95). The going gets a bit murky in some essays in this anthology, but in considering how we play, the contributors have a good deal to say about how we live.
The National Football Lottery, Larry Merchant (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, $7.50). How an irreverent New York journalist made $17,000 off a $30,000 stake by betting on NFL games. There is much to be learned here, Pete Rozelle and the Internal Revenue Service notwithstanding, and you'll cheer for Merchant as he insouciantly beats the system.
The Stainless Steel Carrot, Sylvia Wilkinson ( Houghton Mifflin, $7.95). This talented young novelist is a sports-car freak here turned journalist to describe the world of formula competition. She knows whereof she writes, and her writing is uncommonly fine.
It should not be forgotten that many of the best sports books of other years are still in print and widely available. And paperbacks are, of course, grand stocking stuffers. A fat package of them is a welcome gift in itself: for the price of one of the books on this list you can purchase enough paperbacks to brighten any sports fan's Christmas.