April 25, 2003

Sports-themed books... Much more inside

posted by vito90 to culture at 10:46 AM - 25 comments

We've covered movies here, but if my search is accurate we have never discussed our favorite sports-themed books. If it wasn't for sports books when I was growing up, I never would have completed a single book report in school. Here are my favorite sports books of all time. I'd like to hear what is on your list? You Gotta Have Wa - If you have any interest in Japan and Japanese culture and Japan's take on America's national pasttime, then go out and read this book. With more and more Japanese players flourishing in America, I'm hopeful that the author will update this classic. The Umpire Strikes Back - Almost every funny, obscure baseball anecdote I ever use I first read here. Ron Luciano went on to write several more books that were not as good, before asphyxiating himself in his own garage in 1995 Ball Four - The all time classic baseball book about a year in the life of Seattle Pilot/Houston Astro pitcher Jim Bouton. This book, which broke open the stories of "greenie" use rampant in MLB caused him to become a pariah to many owners and fellow players. Commisioner Bowie Kuhn claimed he had done a great disservice to the game and tried to force him to disavow the book. Any anecdotes I use that didn't come from "The Umpire..." came from this book. Lords of the Realm - Melding my two favorite topics, baseball and business, this is a sharp recounting of the figures that turned baseball into a high-stakes affair. Great stories about some of the great innovaters. Find out how Astroturf got it's name. And one from my childhood...A Mile From Here to Glory - Little runt makes good on the track.

posted by vito90 at 10:48 AM on April 25

Never could get into sports books as an adult, but as a kid, by far my favorite books were by Matt Christopher. My favorites were the baseball ones, especially Kid Who Only Hit Homers.

posted by corpse at 11:00 AM on April 25

When I was in high school and university, I was a big fan of W.P. Kinsella. The book that was the basis for the movie is great, but I really enjoyed his second work more. I've also touted the works of Bill James in the realm of baseball history, or something with an even deeper statistical background.

posted by grum@work at 11:16 AM on April 25

Not sports books per se, but I've really enjoyed the mysteries of Harlan Coben. His first seven were starring sports agent and former college basketball star Myron Bolitar. Each novel focuses on a problem faced by one of his clients. Of course Bolitar is an idealized version of Harlan, whom I knew well when we were growing up together in New Jersey. He sets a lot of the scenes in that town, actually uses the house and neighborhood he grew up in (even the real neighbors!), so I can identify when he talks, for instance, about going to Seymour's for a shake. Sadly he has not chosen to mention me yet.

posted by billsaysthis at 11:19 AM on April 25

SOCCER BOOKS! I've enjoyed Joe McGinniss's The Miracle of Castel di Sangro, an American journalist's introduction to the obsession that is soccer via a season in residence with a lower division Italian team. And of course there's Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch, a recounting of his life-long Arsenal fanaticism. I also found another intriguing prospect on Amazon: Futebol [book site], about football and Brazil. And Pele, of course. And, whoa, Roza FC, the world's only all-transvestite team?

posted by worldcup2002 at 11:40 AM on April 25

The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It A tremendous book. Check the reviews at the site. Includes the tale of how Napoleon Lajoie stole first base.

posted by Mookieproof at 11:56 AM on April 25

One sports book stands out above all others for me. It's Pete Davies' brilliant All Played Out. The story of the 1990 World Cup from within the England camp. Honourable mentions also go to Hunter Davies' The Glory Game - "the story of the 1971-72 season of the English football team the Tottenham Hot Spur Football Club." Also good is Steve Claridge's Tales from the Boot Camps - a wonderfully revealing autobiography of the much-travelled striker and gambling addict. Barry Fry's Big Fry is a very funny retelling of the life of the largest of the larger than life football managers.

posted by squealy at 12:27 PM on April 25

squealy! Get back to the interview and answer my question!

posted by worldcup2002 at 12:45 PM on April 25

I love Levels of the Game and A Sense of Where You Are, both by the great John McPhee. The first is a game-by-game analysis is an Arthur Ashe tennis match, the second the story of Bill Bradley's truly awesome college basketball career. Both succeed in conveying how sports shape and reveal the psychology of the contestants.

posted by jason streed at 12:53 PM on April 25

I mostly read cereal boxes, but I read a book once or twice. In the Bin is a pretty entertaining bunch of stories written by a guy who was a penalty box attendant. It gets old after a while, but would be a perfect book for when you're sitting on the pooper. Yeah, you heard me. And here's a book on Mark Messier, which I didn't mean to enjoy, but did. And I've heard Goon is awesome, but haven't run across it yet.

posted by Samsonov14 at 12:59 PM on April 25

Levels of the Game has just been added to my summer reading list, jason! Thanks for giving me one more thing to do. ;-) btw, nice thread, vito90. I bet you're wondering how I'll top this. Hmm ...

posted by worldcup2002 at 12:59 PM on April 25

My Losing Season is a great book, although it's written a bit melodramatically at times, as Conroy is wont to do. It is one of the few sports-related books I've read where I felt the writing wasn't completely dumbed down by some editor trying to make the book more sellable. I also recently read The Punch, which was interesting, but not really a book length topic, I decided after finishing. There is a lot of repetition that seems to be there solely to stretch the text out to book length.

posted by pitchblende at 01:15 PM on April 25

I'll second worldcup2002's recommendation of Fever Pitch. The movie was dumb, though. (And apparently there's a remake in the works with Gwyneth Paltrow as the girlfriend of a longsuffering Boston Red Sox fan. Changing the setting worked for the movie adaptation of High Fidelity, but won't work for Fever Pitch because the essence of the story--a fan's obsessive love/hate relationship with a team--is mostly internal and unfilmable. But then we're supposed to be talking about books.) Bill Buford's Among the Thugs is a fascinating look at crowd psychology and the sociology of football hooliganism.

posted by kirkaracha at 01:34 PM on April 25

Fever Pitch was made into a movie? I had no idea. God, did it happen before or after High Fidelity? I liked High Fidelity, but I can't imagine FP going to film. It was just too internal, as you pointed out, kirka. Dumbasses. Now there's a remake? Who's going to be the fan. Oh, wait, let me guess ... John Cusack? He really pulled off the whiny asshole role in High Fi. But I think he was best in Grosse Pointe Blank. Rich suburbia, guns, bullets, Minnie Driver. Oh yes.

posted by worldcup2002 at 01:56 PM on April 25

Squealy, is right All Played Out is an absolute classic and makes Hornby look like the dilettante he is. It's not just the story from within the England camp though. He had unparallelled access to the players, although not all were welcoming, and he offers some intriguing insights on the qualities of Bobby Robson which are at odds with his current status as a footballing guru. He also stayed away from the hotel, amongst the fans, and this was a tournament in which our fans were particularly active. Again he gives brilliant insights into the experience of what it was like to be in Italy for a month, surving on little more than booze and being loathed and feared wherever you go. Interestingly, the book was not well received, particularly by the players, and no one has had anything like his access since. It is a remarkable book, written by a fan, with a fans sensibilities, who, despite privileged access, still had to rough it. It is honest and truthful in its assessment and despite the protests of the players at the time it is largely sympathetic to them. Even if you hate football you should read this book. I think it is actually out of print, but bleeding hell we have the worlds biggest second hand book finder under our very fingertips. Another, more recent football book that comes highly recommended is A Season With Verona by Tim Parks. I haven't actually read it but 2 young Blues fans have and if they say it's good, it's good. Much of it was serialised in The Guardian, the first article is here; a search for Tim Parks on the Guardian site will lead you to the rest. Angry White Pyjamas by Robert Twigger is superb. It is an account of a year the author spent training with the Tokyo riot police and is fascinating and profound. Funny too; it made me smirk more than once and actually changed the way I think, a bit anyway. When I was a nipper I loved Striker by Hunter Davies, which is in the style of the classic kitchen sink dramas of the sixties. Davies was also responsible for the classic The Glory Game. Nothing, or nobody, beats Alf Tupper though.

posted by Fat Buddha at 02:06 PM on April 25

Where High Fidelity got it right, just about, was in relocating to Chicago and getting Cusack and his buddies to write it. Even then, it is only just about watchable. There is something very smug and knowing about Hornby and some of that irritating quality remains in the film. Fever Pitch, on the other hand is the worst and most odious kind of limpwristed chickflick you can imagine. Be very thankful you haven't had to sit through it.

posted by Fat Buddha at 02:11 PM on April 25

FB: Two warnings from my respected SpoFi-ers will ensure that I stay away from Fever Pitch, the movie. Besides, having read the book, I don't really think I need to watch it. And two recos from my two favorite brummy bog bandits means I also have to add All Played Out to my reading list. And maybe Angry White Pyjamas, too. Damn it! ;-)

posted by worldcup2002 at 03:02 PM on April 25

Hey Brits! FB's Alf Tupper link got me thinking of the marvels that were Roy of the Rovers, Hot Shot Hamish, The Hard Man, Mighty Mouse, Nipper (that scruffy rapscallion!). Unleash the fury.

posted by worldcup2002 at 03:09 PM on April 25

Can anyone recommend a good book or two that will clue me in on the history of European/World soccer and the subtleties of playing? I watch the games and enjoy but would like to understand things much more than I do. I compare this to, say, the NFL, where I've been watching since birth and can understand nearly everything.

posted by billsaysthis at 03:48 PM on April 25

I would point you to some superb coffee-table books that I coveted as a kid. They had superb stories and illustrations of classic goals, the build-up passes and off-the-ball runs, as well as demonstrations of different tricks one could do (like Osvaldo Ardiles' using the outside of his boot to flick a mid-air ball from behind him, over his head to his front, all while making a run through midfield). But that was at least 20 yrs ago. I don't remember the name to even Google or Amazon it. Anyone able to help? God, I'd buy ten of those right now if I knew where to find them.

posted by worldcup2002 at 04:00 PM on April 25

worldcup - I HAVE the book of which you seek at home. Yes I was a huge footy fan growing up but have moved away from it. I will post the title of it later when I look at it. If I can in fact find it I would happy to send it to you since you would appreciate it much more than I...

posted by vito90 at 04:14 PM on April 25

I have broken down and am sobbing in my cube. SpoFi has brought an end to two of my quests today. First, the Dr. Who sports song mystery is solved, now this. Well, vito90, perhaps you should send it to bill first and then he and I can meet over drinks and a soccer match on TV to transfer it. A brilliant day, this. *snif*

posted by worldcup2002 at 04:25 PM on April 25

Also meant to include Norman Mailer's The Fight, which records just about every punch in the amazing '74 Ali-Foreman fight. Now that Foreman is kind of a cartoon, it's startling to read Mailer's account of air of menace about him. Best press-conference exchange ever: Reporter: "Do you think you'll knock out Ali?" Foreman: "I'd like to." And, from Hemingway's In Our Time, "My Old Man" and "Big Two-Hearted River." The latter is "about" flyfishing, which is sort of a sport and makes me think of Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It. And on and on.

posted by jason streed at 04:40 PM on April 25

Jason - OOH - that Mailer book is my next must-read. I also forgot to mention the Biography of Ali...Not this one, which was okay, but this one which was phenomenal. Oh Mr. WorldCup sir, you better shoot a mailing address my way, because I'm your new best friend. After I send you the collectibles I have you're going to be the most popular boy on the block! You're going to have to open this care package while in the bathroom, because you'll want to shit your pants when you see what I got. (Maybe Samsonov can help you with that...) This is the book I have, the link has very little description, but it is exactly what you were asking about above...(or Bill maybe you guys can arm wrestle for it)

posted by vito90 at 05:44 PM on April 25

"...and "Big Two-Hearted River." The latter is "about" flyfishing..." That river is known as the Fox River in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. My dad fishes that river all the time, and he's also a huge Hemingway fan. With that in mind, you would think that my dad sought that river out on purpose, but it's pure coincidence since the river isn't too far away from our cabin. My favorite sports books are baseball related. The previously mentioned Ball Four is excellent, as are Maybe I'll Pitch Forever by Satchel Paige, and Veeck, As In Wreck by Bill Veeck. Excellent first hand accounts of baseball by some of the best characters to have been involved in the game.

posted by NoMich at 09:51 AM on April 26

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