When you write sports books, you read sports books.
Actually, scratch that.
When you write sports books, you likely grew up reading sports books. I certainly did. They were staples of my boyhood; so much so that the people at the Mahopac Library would call me and say, “We’ve got [X book] in. Come down and we’ll hold it for you.” Hell, I’m 44 and I still head immediately to the sports book section when I enter a Barnes & Noble.
Anyhow, enough babbling. Top of my head, here are 10 sports books you need to read:
• “A False Spring” by Pat Jordan: Simply beautiful, haunting, funny look at Jordan’s time as a minor league ballplayer. Prose+sports=true love.
• “The Last Hero” by Howard Bryant: Best Hank Aaron biography ever written—and there have been many. I’ve said for years that Howard is the business’ most underrated writer. This is the man at his best.
• “Gunslinger” by Jeff Pe—Seriously, what kind of egomaniacal asshole would I have to be to include my own crap on the list. Just kidding—carry on …
• “When Pride Still Mattered” by David Maraniss: His Vince Lombardi bio is the absolute gold standard for sports biography. A big, beautiful book from the king of the game.
• “Namath,” by Mark Kriegel: I’ve never met a person who A. Doesn’t like Mark; B. Doesn’t like his books. Braodway Joe didn’t participate, but Kriegel made that matter nary an iota.
• “Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life” by Richard Ben Cramer: In the aftermath of the release of “Sweetness,” when everyone in Chicago took a shit on my motives (“How dare you write about someone this way after he’s gone!”), I often found myself reading through Cramer’s master class. Honest, rough, harsh, brilliant.
• “Loose Balls” by Terry Pluto: I’m usually not a big oral history guy, but Pluto nailed this. A fun, funny, insightful look at the ABA. Just gold.
• “Luckiest Man” by Jonathan Eig: I started this Lou Gehrig bio because Eig and I share an agent (I didn’t know him well at the time), but was forever unable to put it down. The perfect marriage of reporting and writing.
• “Heaven is a Playground” by Rick Telander: Rick is one of Chicago’s all-time fantastics, but for this one he came to New York and immersed himself in 1970s pickup hoops. As raw and gritty as sports journalism gets.
• “The Bronx Zoo” by Sparky Lyle and Peter Golenbock: I have nephews who tell me certain movies are funny. I see them, they’re painfully unfunny. That’s because tastes change from 10 to 40. Well, I first read this when I was 10. Still love it. Just the perfect inside-the-clubhouse baseball diary from a guy who sits naked on birthday cakes.
• “Dream Team” by Jack McCallum: I’ve known Jack a long time, and he’s always had this thing. It’s like a twinkle in his eye, and people respond to it. This book is an ode to writing and reporting, sure. But really it’s an ode to a reporter (Jack) who built very real and human relations with members of the ’92 Dream Team.