If you follow this blog or follow me on Twitter you know I have a fairly intense addiction to sports. I love to read about sports and athletes almost as much as I love to watch them. These ten books are my favorite sports books I have read to this point in my life. Some of them are favorites because of when I read them; they formed my affection (addiction). Others are favorites because they are just that good. They aren’t ranked in any particular order.
1) Moneyball by Michael Lewis
A fascinating book for baseball fans, but really for those interested in good ideas. Lewis does a masterful job telling the story and explaining the principles of Billy Beane’s early 2000s Oakland A’s teams. Their master plan to overcome their financial deficiencies to become competitive is full of principles business owners and entrepreneurs can learn from too. When a good story is well-written a book like this happens.
My love for Kirby Puckett is as well documented as my addiction to sports. I checked out Kirby’s autobiography from the Franklin library in Minneapolis when I was about 10-years-old. It was the first sports biography I ever read and it was about my favorite athlete of all time. I was hooked from that day forward.
Kahn is a marvelous writer, and this book puts the reader on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn in the 1940s outside Ebbets Field. From there you get to follow his believed Dodgers through ups and downs and meet the fascinating characters from that team. Half the book focuses on the team and half tells the individual stories of the players. All of it is wonderful.
Before I read this book in junior high I didn’t know sports and literature mixed. Halberstam showed me what happens when they do, and wow. Since that time I’ve always been on the lookout for books like this one. For a baseball fan to be taken back to post WW2 Boston and New York to follow the Splendid Splinter and Joltin’ Joe is sheer heaven.
No one can call him or herself a true baseball fan without digging into the historic Negro League, and Posnanski’s book is a delightful introduction. It’s not really about the Negro League; rather it’s the story of (and stories from) Buck O’Neil, one of the most interesting and magnificent men in baseball history. O’Neil is more likable and charismatic than Morrie Schwartz (Tuesdays with Morrie), and he’s a hall of famer too.
An encyclopedic but highly entertaining book of, well, basketball. Simmons ranks the greatest players ever. He breaks down different eras. He rearranges the hall of fame into tiers to feature the greatest of the great. He unearths ABA history and piles of interesting NBA tidbits. He revels in conspiracy theories and creates new theories about what makes great teams great. In all, one must be a devoted fan to read all 750 pages, but it is marvelous reading.
7) Tip-Off by Filip Bondy
The 1984 draft brought Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, and one Michael Jordan into the NBA, but the backstory is as fascinating as the people involved. Bondy does a wonderful job unpacking the power-plays and finagling that went on behind the scenes so teams could get the players they wanted and players could avoid the teams they didn’t. Such a power-packed cast of characters (throw in David Stern and a bunch of greedy team owners) can’t help but make a story worth reading.
8) The Miracle of Saint Anthony by Adrian Wojnarowski
Bob Hurley is a legend in coaching, and he truly is (or was) a great coach. But wow, talk about a love/hate relationship. As you read this book you find yourself rooting for him, his players, and his school but other times you hate his methods and harshness. Two things, though cannot be denied. First, the story of the Saint Anthony basketball team is unbelievable, and second, Hurley is an amazing man and coach.
9) Bo knows Bo by Bo Jackson and Dick Schaap
This is not a great book, but Bo Jackson was such an incredible athlete that it makes the list. I got this book at a school book fair in about 5th grade. Bo Jackson was the first athlete I recognized as truly transcendent. I had other favorites, and I never really rooted for him, but he was just so overwhelming. If you don’t know his story, you ought to read this.
10) Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger
Anyone, and I mean anyone, who played high school football should read this book. The rest of you would like it too. (It has next to nothing to do with the TV show other than being set in Texas.) Bissinger spent a year with the Permian Panthers football team in Odessa Texas, and this is their story. The reality of football as community glue and community god in Texas is powerful. The stories of individual athletes, both on and off the field, are moving. Another instance of powerful story meets strong writing. A truly great book.
What are your favorite sports books? I’m always looking for more! Leave suggestions in the comments.