In an earlier comment, Bill asked for a list of my favorite sports books. This will surely be incomplete, and is in no particular order, but here ya go …
1. Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life, by Richard Ben Cramer: Best thing about it—no bullshit. Unlike many other “romantic” books of the time (with overdone decsriptions of grace and purity), Cramer is willing to show DiMaggio as he truly is. Greedy. Arrogant. Selfish. But also great and majestic. A masterpiece, sports or not.
2. Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig, by Jonathan Eig: Jonathan’s become a friend, but I loved this one before we ever met. Take excellent writing with even better reporting, and here’s what you get. The end-of-life material is riveting, and Jonathan’s digging shows itself off.
3. Namath: A Biography, by Mark Kriegel: Mark was a columnist with the Daily News here in New York when I was at SI, and he always struck me as a cocky dude. But he’s not. He’s a great, great, great guy and an equally taleneted writer/researcher. This book really inspired me to dig into biography. Because, when it’s done right, it’s beautiful.
4. Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero, by Leigh Montville: Leigh and I worked together at Sports Illustrated, which is the equivelent of Mariano Rivera sharing a bullpen with Armando Benitez (which, for a brief time, he actually did). Leigh is absolutely terrific, and this book is proof. I had never much cared about Williams; never curious or interested. Yet the book sucked me in.
5. The Courting of Marcus Dupree, by Willie Morris: I’ve been reading this recently, and it’s soooooo rich and detailed and powerful and … sad. Morris is deceased, but this book shows how outstanding he was; how inventive he was; and how, if you have the right idea combined with the right writer, it’ll work. (In case you’re too young, in the early 1980s Dupree was a football prodigy from the nowhere town of Philadelphia, Mississippi. The book is really about the evilness of college recruiting; and how all these white scoundrels suddenly loved an 18-year-old black kid—when they learned he could carry a football).
*** Others worthy of great praise: The Bronx Zoo by Sparky Lyle and Peter Golenbock; Running the Table by L. Jon Wertheim; Friday Night Lights by Buzz Bissinger; God Save the Fan by Will Leitch. On and on the list goes—but I’ve gotta write my own. Sorry. 🙂