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The Only Game in Town: Sportswriting from The New Yorker Edited by David Remnick (Random House, $30.00)
This garden of delights contains acknowledged classics: John McPhee on Bill Bradley, A.J. Liebling on the 1955 Rocky Marciano--Archie Moore bout. These are complemented by modern gems, such as Nick Paumgarten's chilling 2005 essay on chute skiing, and forgotten ones, most notably Alva Johnson's 1950 piece on boxing manager Wilson Mizner, with the delicious line: "After the fight, the fighters were arrested on suspicion of fighting, but the case was dropped for lack of evidence."
Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu: John Updike on Ted Williams (The Library of America, $15.00)
The title essay, a match between "the best damn hitter that ever lived" and one of the best damned writers, originally appeared in The New Yorker (and is in its collection). Red Sox rooter Updike ventures to gloomy Fenway on Sept. 28, 1960, to see Teddy Ballgame's final home game. When Williams, contrary to the end, disdains a curtain call after his swan-song homer, Updike bats out the Hall of Fame line: "Gods do not answer letters." Brilliantly etched, it may be the best damned sports story ever.
The Game from Where I Stand: A Ballplayer's Inside View by Doug Glanville (Times Books, $25.00)
A good-field, light-hitting outfielder for three clubs from 1996 to 2004, Glanville provides an entertainingly clear-eyed look at big league life. Ball Four it's not; Penn grad Glanville takes the cerebral route. "Everyone has a little bit of doubt that maybe today they won't have it anymore," he writes. Glanville (now an ESPN analyst) lightens up with a list of on- and off-field bests. ("Best Fans for a Visiting Player: St. Louis. The only place where I got compliments for a defensive play I made against their team.")
Third and Long by Bob Katz (Trolley Car Press, $15.00)
Like a Harold Hill of football, an inscrutable former Notre Dame halfback alights in a moribund, gridiron-mad Midwestern factory town. As a plant manager Nick Nocero revives Longview's fortunes; as a coach he resurrects its high school team. Early on in this sly, lyrical novel (think Friday Night Lights meets All the Right Moves, only funny) we figure out that all may not be what it seems, but Katz (Hot Air) makes us root for his put-upon characters. And have you ever read that a placekick "lifted like a heron off a tranquil pond, in a perfect trajectory over the crossbar"?