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Friday, June 11, 2004

SportsProf's Recommended Sports Books for Summer Reading

SportsProf has read a bunch of good sports books over the years and finds them to be a welcome relief from the bad news he watches occasionally on his local Fox channel, long New Yorker articles on topics that sometimes relate to the end of the world, management books on how to run a better company and the occasional John Lescroart/Stuart Woods/Steve Martini/John Grisham/Tom Clancy/David Morrell novel. There are some good choices out there (some are old and perhaps hard to find), so here goes:

1. "The Glory of Their Times" by Lawrence S. Ritter. Originally published in the mid-1960's, this book is simply a classic, an oral history of baseball players who played at the turn of the century. Ritter, who passed away a few years ago, was a professor of money and banking at NYU, and he turned oral history into an art form. Just a great, great book.

2. "Friday Night Lights" by Buzz Bissinger. Bissinger spent a year in West Texas, covering a team there. A great look into the culture that is Texas high school football, and, where it is said, "We have two sports -- football and spring football."

3. "Big Game, Small World" by Alexander Wolff. Wolff, who writes for SI, traveled around the world and wrote about what Dennis Hopper's character in "Hoosiers" called "the greatest game ever invented." I especially enjoyed the part about hoops in Angola while fighting was going on.

4. "Teammates" by David Halberstam. Part of the eloquence of this book, now in paperback, is how short it is. Halberstam wrote about Dominic DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky and Bobby Doerr, Boston Red Sox teammates in the 1940's. This is a warm, moving book and a very good read.

5. "A Good Man: The Pete Newell Story" by Bruce Jenkins. Jenkins writes about the Cal Bears coach who won a national title with Darrell Imhoff and others in 1960, who is known for his big men's basketball camp, and who is a mentor to Bob Knight. If you wonder why John Wooden had a somewhat lengthy gap from the time he got to UCLA in the late 1950's to when he won his first national title in 1966, look no further than Newell's Cal Bears, who were 8-0 against UCLA during a four-year stretch in the early 1960's. Newell retired from coaching because of the stress, and the book is worth reading not only because Newell is a good man, but also because of a joke attributed to Bob Knight in the book.

6. The Mark Harris novels on baseball, starting with "The Southpaw", where Harris introduces his narrator, the thoughtful pitcher, Henry Wiggen. His most famous book of four is "Bang the Drum Slowly", which was made into a movie starring Michael Moriarty as Wiggen and Robert DeNiro as Bruce Pearson, a slow-witted third-string catcher who was dying of cancer. Good stuff for adults -- and your young teenagers as well.

7. Finally, check out the McFarland Publishing website for its fine selection of scholarly baseball books. Some are better than others, and because it's a small press the books are a little pricey. Still, I've found some good reads at McFarland, including a very nice biography on one of the best pitchers of all time, Lefty Grove.

By no means, of course, is this an exhaustive list, but it's a good place to start. Enjoy!