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  • Budd Bailey

Top Ten Sports Books of the Year

Updated: Sep 29, 2023

By Budd Bailey

I’m at 81 books and counting for the year, representing more than 24,000 pages. That’s a step down from last year, when I polished off 96 books. However, that’s probably a pandemic-influence personal record that will stand for quite a while.

About two-thirds of the books I read are sports-related. As a one-man operation, I guess I didn’t hit all of the major titles. But I think I covered most of them. So I am as qualified as anyone to come up with a Top Ten list for 2022. It was, all things considered, a really good year. I gave five stars on Goodreads to nine of these books.

So here goes:

All In – Billie Jean King – Hardly anyone has had a more interesting life that King, and she goes over it all in her autobiography. She has had a huge influence on society, which is quite an achievement for a woman tennis player. This pioneer deserves respect and attention.

Baseball Prospectus 2022 – This is a regular on this list, but it’s hard to argue with its inclusion. The production crew usually do a great job at looking back and forward, and this one was another excellent effort.

Blood in the Garden – Chris Herring – I wasn’t a big fan of the Knicks’ basketball teams of the 1990s. However, I am a big fan of this look back at those teams. Herring did a fabulous job of accumulating information about the era.

The Church of Baseball – Ron Shelton – A lot of people loved the movie, “Bull Durham.” Those wanting to learn more about how it came together certainly will love the creator’s story about how it came together. There’s even a description of the plot of a planned sequel that never worked out … even though I’d buy a ticket for it right now.

Game – Grant Hill – We all knew the ex-basketball star was really smart. Still, it’s not easy to translate that to a worthwhile autobiography. Hill, as he did on the court, makes the transition look easy. If anything, this might be underrated by the public.

It’s Better to be Feared – Seth Wickersham – The New England Patriots’ dynasty is over, but what a ride it was. Wickersham accumulated plenty of information about those teams in the first 20 or so of the 20th century, and piles it up in this volume. Even a Buffalo Bills’ fan will enjoy it.

The Last Folk Hero – Jeff Pearlman – I don’t have a fancy “Book of the Year” award, complete with a banquet, to salute my favorite volume of the season. If I did, this would win it. Bo Jackson’s story is told in superb details, reading often like fiction along the way.

Path Lit by Lightning – David Maraniss – I’ve read most of the books by Maraniss, to the point where he should send me thank-you notes for helping pay for college tuition and vacations. But they are all worthwhile, and this is another topnotch effort. Thorpe’s complete story comes out here, and it’s a fine look at a man and the era.

Rickey – Howard Bryant – The author turns one of the greatest athletes of his time, and strips away the cartoonish qualities that some have given him in order to make him more real and human. It really was insane how good he was at his peak.

True: The Four Seasons of Jackie Robinson – Kostya Kennedy – It’s been 75 years since Jackie Robinson wore a Dodgers uniform on the field for the first time in the majors. This focuses on four particular years of his life, and that turns out to be a really good decision. Besides, Kennedy has put out several excellent books over the years, and this is a good fit with them.

Footnote: I haven’t gotten to a book that is part of a series that usually pops up on this list: Best Sportswriting 2022. It’s on my on-deck circle.

For the record, my five-star picks in the non-sports nonfiction category were:

And There Was Light – Jon Meacham – Just when you thought there were enough books out there on Lincoln, along comes Meacham with a great look at how the 16th President dealt with a divided country. That may sounds quite relevant about now. Meacham shows us that Lincoln was a masterful politician who did what he could, step by step, in the battle to eliminate slavery from the United States.

Beyond – Stephen Walker – If you are looking for information on both sides of the race to put a man in space during the early 1960s, this is the place. The amount of detail is astounding, particularly on the Soviet side.

Franklin and Winston – Jon Meacham – This was a nice warm-up for the Lincoln book, one I hadn’t gotten to read for more than 20 years ago. Meacham clarifies the complicated relationship between two of the most important figures in World War II. Sorry it took 20 years or so to get to it.

Happy reading, happy holidays.

(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)

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