By Budd Bailey
I read 46 sports books that were published in the past five years during the course of 2019. I read several other titles that either had nothing to do with sports, or that were older sports books, during the course as well. Welcome to retirement.
It’s fun at this time of year and look back and what I’ve “consumed” in that time. Therefore, here’s my list of my 10 favorite relatively new sports books read in 2019. Most of them have been reviewed on this site, while a few others are coming soon.
Ali – Jonathan Eig – It’s a little difficult to explain what Muhammad Ali’s career was all about; it helps to have seen it first-hand. Still, Eig does an excellent job of putting it all into some sort of perspective. This should stand up at the definitive look at “The Greatest.”
Basketball: A Love Story – Jackie MacMullan, Rafe Bartholomew and Dan Klores – ESPN did something of an oral history of basketball recently; this is something along the lines of a print version. The authors were given the time and space to cover the past 60 years or so nicely, and they did an outstanding job. Must reading for hoopologists.
The Big Chair – Ned Colletti with Joseph A. Reaves – If you’ve ever thought baseball general manager was a cool job, well, be careful what you wish for. Ned Colletti had the job for several seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and it sure doesn’t sound like he could relax much. Published in 2018, it’s as good a look at the job as outsiders will get.
The City Game – Matthew Goodman – As we edge toward legal sports betting taking a more prominent place in our culture, Goodman reminds us of an earlier episode involving gambling in college basketball around 1950. Don’t be surprised if we have more episodes like this one.
The Cost of These Dreams – Wright Thompson – There have been some great feature writers in sports over the years; Frank Deford might be the standard there. Thompson is our answer to them. Here’s an anthology of some of his best work, and it’s a treat to go through such work piece by piece.
The Down Goes Brown History of the NHL – Sean McIndoe – Who says history isn’t fun? McIndoe, a blogger turned journalist for The Athletic, is a refreshing voice when it comes to hockey. Here he looks back on the history of the NHL, a league that has taken all sorts of wacky turns over the years. You’ll race through it.
The Great American Sports Page – Edited by John Schulian – Sports writing for newspapers may not be what it used to be, but at its best it was and is mighty good. Here’s an outstanding collection of stories that are worth your time – and maybe help convince you to subscribe to your own local paper.
The Phenomenon – Rick Ankiel and Tim Brown – What’s it like to live your dream, only to have everything taken away from you? Rick Ankiel, a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, knows the feeling. He’s the person who suddenly forgot how to throw strikes, and who had to reinvent himself as an outfielder. This is a rare exploration of mental illness in sports.
Russian Five – Keith Gave – You’ll never get closer to the inside story about how the Red Wings brought five Russians together to win Detroit’s first Stanley Cup in more than four decades. Gave offers some fascinating details on the process.
Scotty – Ken Dryden – This probably is as close to an autobiography of the former Buffalo Sabres coach. Dryden casts his thorough eye at his old coach with the Canadiens. Bowman is particularly good at analyzing the matchups of a mythical tournament of the NHL’s greatest teams.
Here are 10 others who deserve honorable mention status:
Cujo – Curtis Joseph with Kirstie McLellan Day
NFL Century – Joe Horrigan
The Best American Sports Writing 2019 – Charles P. Pierce
Homegrown – Alex Speier
Full Count – David Cone with Jack Curry
Mind and Matter – John Urschel and Louisa Thomas
K – A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches – Tyler Kepner
Baseball Prospectus 2019
108 Stitches – Ron Darling
Power Ball – Rob Neyer
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)