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Saturday, December 17, 2005

Holiday Sports Book and DVD Buying Guide -- Updated

Original Post on November 24; Updated on November 26. Re-Posted on December 17 for those of you who haven't done their shopping yet.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope that you get your fill of turkey and football today. We've already tossed around the football, and the turkey is cooking. The pies are baked (if interested in my pecan/chocolate chip pie that has been a hit for several years, please send me an e-mail).

I'm sure some of you will hit the stores tomorrow or this weekend to purchase holiday presents for loved ones and friends, and I figured that I'd give you ten book ideas and DVD ideas for you:


1. The Glory of Their Times. Lawrence Ritter, a one-time professor of money and banking and New York University, visited turn-of-the-century ballplayers in the 1960s and got their recollections as to how they got into the game and the memorable moments and people of their careers. My copy is old and dog-eared (it cost $2.95 when my father gave it to me decades ago), and it remains my favorite baseball book. Among those featured are Hall of Famers Sam Crawford, Goose Goslin and Paul Waner, as well as such notables as Rube Marquard, Fred Snodgrass, Harry Hooper and Bill Wambsganss. Some were great players, some participated in a single moment, and all of it is great reading. Try to find a copy of this book for an avid baseball fan; he or she will not be disappointed. This is really a must read.

2. A Sense of Where You Are. New Yorker writer John McPhee wrote this portrait of now former-U.S. Senator, New York Knick and Princeton basketball star Bill Bradley, who was a Rhodes Scholar. McPhee's mastery is his economical use of words and his ability to describe details with the skill of a painter. Sounds easy, but this is more than a sports book, it's so good it's almost literature except it's non-fiction. Even if you're a rabid Penn fan, you'd have to admire the craftsmanship of this book.

2A. Friday Night Lights. I brain-cramped when I originally posted this list and neglected to mention H.G. Bissinger's classic about the year he spent with the Odessa Permian High School football team and its "mojo" in the late 1980's. This is an outstanding book and piece of sociology about the importance of football to a small Texas city. After all, as it's once been said about The Lone Star State, "there are two sports, football and spring football." I don't think that the movie in this case did justice to the book; the movie was a two, two-plus stars out of four affair, while the book is an all-timer. (That said, Bissinger wrote Three Nights in August, which I reviewed here and compared it to Michael Lewis's Moneyball, and while a good read, it is a letdown after Friday Night Lights and isn't as good as Moneyball).

3. My Personal Best: Life Lessons from an All-American Journey. In his late 80's and early 90's, Hall of Fame basketball Coach John Wooden has delivered a series of outstanding books that reflect on leadership and personal work habits. If you want to improve yourself, your team or a group that you lead, read any one of Coach Wooden's books. He's a humble man who didn't win his first national title until he was in his fifites, when he began his amazing streak at UCLA. I have reflected on some of Coach Wooden's philosophy and teaching and have found his wisdom very helpful and sometimes inspirational.

4. Babe: The Legend Comes to Life. One-time Sports Illustrated stalwart Robert Creamer wrote this all-time classic about baseball's best player of all-time. Creamer hit a home run here as he wrote about a true American original. It was written a while ago, so if you haven't read it yet, it's worth getting.

5. The Miracle of St. Anthony. This is a great book which I reviewed before here. It's a season with Bob Hurley, Sr., head basketball coach at St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, and a very compelling story.

6. Castro's Curveball. Great novel by Tim Wendel regarding a retiree's reflection on his days playing baseball in Cuba in the forties, where he ran into a promising pitcher named Fidel Castro. Wendel pulls off a great feat by blending baseball with good literary writing. Sometimes sports novelists are much better at the sports part than the writing part, while other times the good writers can't capture the feel of the sport. Wendel does both.

7. In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle. This book isn't currently in print, but it's the story about a high school hoops season (mid-1990's) of an excellent girls' high school team in Western Massachusetts amidst the five-college area that is home to Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith Colleges and UMass. Author Madeleine Blais had great access to the entire team, including its two stars, one of whom, Jamila Wideman, excelled at Stanford and played for a while in the WNBA and has a compelling life story of her own.

8. My Losing Season. Novelist Pat Conroy (Prince of Tides) recalls his senior season at The Citadel in the 1960's, a turbulent affair where he busted his rear end for a volatile coach. Again, Conroy's skills as a writer shine, as you can feel the floor burns, cramped gyms and emotional blows that he had to endure during his last year playing organized basketball.

9. The Southpaw. This novel is the first in a series by author Mark Harris that features the pitcher/narrator Henry Wiggen, who plays for a fictional New York team. The most famous part of this series is Bang The Drum Slowly, but The Southpaw is the first in the series and a very good read. I would recommend this for a teenager who is interested in baseball, but adults would like it too. I believe there were four or five novels in this series.

10. Baseball's Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon. Conlon was a newspaper photographer who liked to take portraits of baseball players while on his vacations. He did that from 1904-1942, and the collection is just astounding. This man had a great gift for capturing the essence of his subjects in black and white, and you'll appreciate this book not only for who Conlon photographed, but for how well he did it.

Other outstanding books worth mention, in no particular order: "A Coach's Life" by Dean Smith (former Carolina coach discusses his teams and his philosophy and shows what a special place Carolina is and what a special show he was -- without bragging in the least), "Big Game, Small World" by Alexander Wolff (Sports Illustrated senior writer traveled the world to cover basketball in about twenty different countries, and his love for the game and the world's broad interest in it are brought to life here), "Foul!" by Connie Hawkins, the chronicle of the hoops life of one of the first street legends in NYC from the early 1960's,


1. Eight Men Out. John Sayles turned Eliot Asimov's outstanding baseball book about the 1919 Chicago White Sox into a first-rate movie featuring, among others, David Strathairn (as Eddie Cicotte) and John Cusack (as Buck Weaver). Sayles is a gifted filmmaker, and his capturing of 1919 Chicago and the atmosphere surrounding the World Series then is just terrific stuff.

2. Hoosiers. Perhaps the best hoops film ever made, Hoosiers tells the story of a fictional 1950's small Indiana high-school basketball team and its quest to win the state title. It's based on a true story, and Gene Hackman gave a memorable performance as demanding coach Norman Dale.

3. Seabiscuit. Based on Laura Hillenbrand's best-selling book about this great depression-era horse, you get great narration from award-winning author David McCullough and wonderful performances from Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper and Toby Maguire, with William H. Macy doing a great job in a cameo performance. The cinematography helps make this film the gem that it is, and as a bonus you get some great acting by real-life jockey Gary Stephens.

4. The Rookie. Dennis McQuaid does a great job playing Jim Morris, a high-school teacher and once-upon-a-time outstanding baseball prospect whose career seemingly ended because of arm troubles and then who resurrected it in his mid-thirties when he went to a major-league tryout on a lark after he lost a bet with his high school players. Morris' most unlikely journey to the majors is something that fiction writers couldn't have conjured as effectively. McQuaid does a fine job in the lead role, and this is a case where the movie honored the book, called "The Oldest Rookie", which was excellent as well.

5. Bend It Like Beckham. Fun story about an English young women's soccer team and the quest of a girl from a traditional Indian family to play soccer instead of immediately finding a husband. Head-turner Keira Knightley had her first major role, and I thought at the time she would blossom into a major star, which she has.

I chronicled my list of my all-time favorite sports movies here, so if you want other recommendations, click here.

Giving sports books and DVDs to loved ones and friends over the holiday season is a wonderful thing to do, and I hope that with the books particularly that I have given you ideas that go beyond the current best sellers.

Happy Thanksgiving and Black Friday, everyone!


Anonymous The Sports Curmudgeon said...

I have read several of the books you recommended; and with one exception, I will echo your positive comments. The one entry on your list that I have read and did NOT enjoy at all was "My Losing Season".

Conroy is indeed a gifted writer and I'll even enter into the "willing suspension of disbelief" with regard to the level of detail he might possibly be able to remember from events that happened 35 years in the past. What I could not get past was the fact that a man of his age had not yet found a way to deal with the issues he had with his father and how those issues translated into his dealings with others in authority.

His season at The Citadel produced a losing record. This book indicated to me that he had some other serious failings in living his life as a mature adult.

3:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An interesting selection of sports related books that I'll have to check out. I would like to know if you recommend any sports books related to gambling and the effects that it has on the sports industry.

3:25 PM  

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