There are hundreds of sports books in my library. Most were gifts from friends and family, and over the years I’ve probably read less than half of them (lots of good reading to look forward to). Here, I’ll share with you the seven that truly stand out. I’ve listed them in the order that I read them, and I’m restricting myself to three sentences per title:
The Mental Game of Baseball, by H.A. Dorfman and Karl Kuehl
This book was loaned to me by then-9th grader (and later, NHL defenseman) Deron Quint in about 1991 (at age 23) when I was a teacher at the boarding school he attended. I had always believed there was an important psychological side to pitching, hitting, and fielding success, yet this book was the first to verify that and to offer many useful techniques. I know that this book gave me an edge in my Yawkey Amateur League of Boston pitching career, from 1991-1999, and I’ve integrated many of its basic teachings into my everyday life.
Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, and a Dream, by H.G. Bissinger
It breaks your heart to read about these teenage athletes reaching the pinnacle of their lives in high school, then re-living their adolescent glory days the rest of their lives while pumping fuel at the gas station on the corner (similar to the movie, Hoop Dreams). And it’s stunning to see the religious fervor that’s generated by high school football in Texas. Superior writing makes this an unforgettable reading experience.
The Legend of Bagger Vance, by Steven Pressfield
Just a marvelous, metaphysical golf story, incredibly well written. When I finished it, I remember thinking, “That’s one of the greatest novels I’ve ever read – if not the greatest.” One of those books that casts a spell on you while you’re reading it, then leaves you enchanted at its conclusion.
Golf Is Not A Game Of Perfect, by Dr. Bob Rotella
I read this in 1998 and promptly went out and shot my best round of golf ever – BY FAR (best piece of advice: don’t add up your score – or even think about your score – until the end of your round). I won’t even tell you the score I achieved because you wouldn’t believe me, but I’ve also never come close to playing that well for 18 holes since then. After reading the book, I wrote its most important principles on a sheet of paper, and I review this sheet prior to every round I play (I keep the tattered old piece of paper in my golf bag).
For Love Of The Game, by Michael Shaara
I’m not sure when I read this, but I know I read it in one sitting (it’s a compact, 152-page paperback). An aging, former all-star pitcher, in the last year of his career, unexpectedly finds himself pitching the best game of his life, and each out brings him closer and closer to perfection. It’s the kind of novel I would write if I knew how to write a novel (and Shaara, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, knows how to write a novel).
Moneyball, by Michael Lewis
A non-sports fan would enjoy this book and call it “an excellent piece of non-fiction,” but to sports fans, it’s just about the best non-fiction book we’ve ever read. Michael Lewis is a masterful storyteller, and what a fascinating story this is about the “small market” Oakland A’s using insights into player statistics to compete against teams with payrolls five times as large. After reading this book, you’ll never look at baseball statistics the same way again.
The SABR Baseball List & Record Book: Baseball’s Most Fascinating Records and Unusual Statistics, by the Society for American Baseball Research
There are a lot of record books out there, but this one is definitely the most entertaining. The title of this book describes its contents perfectly: it’s filled with “fascinating records and unusual statistics” that keep you smiling, page after page. Here are two examples:
i) “Most at-bats in a season without a hit by a non-pitcher”
(answer: 35, by Hal Finney, Pittsburgh, 1936);
ii) “Batting Champion by Widest Margin”
(answer: .086, by Nap Lajoie, Philadelphia, who hit .426 in 1901 – the runner-up, Mike Donlin, Baltimore, hit .340).
What are your favorite sports books of all-time?
Check out Where Else Would You Rather Be? by Hall of Fame Coach Marv Levy. Even if you’re not a beleaguered Bills fan, you’ll appreciate his story, his storytelling, and his intelligence. (Did you know he has an Ed.M. from Harvard in English Literature?)
This book was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received, sports-related or not.
Makes me want to read more and writ4e more. Great job. Merry Christmas.
One of my favorites ….
“Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy” by Jane Leavy.
A great book about Koufax.
Yo…not sure it counts as a sports book, but it is to me: “Fantasyland” by Sam Walker is a great book about a season in fantasy baseball written by someone who went into it thinking “how stupid is this” and then gets completely addicted. Also, Baseball Prospectus’ “Baseball between the Numbers” is a fantastic book on baseball strategy based on statistics, rather than hunches and conventional wisdom.
If you haven’t read it already, check out Now I Can Die in Peace by Bill Simmons. I haven’t finished it yet, but I love it so far.
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