Title: The Best American Sports Writing of the Century
Editor: David Halberstam
One of the joys of getting into classes that you enjoy is getting material that you enjoy reading. Not many people want to sit down with an English grammar textbook and memorize rules upon rules. That is what junior high English classes are for. When I began taking writing classes, especially sports writing classes, one of the first required books for the class I bought was The Best American Sports Writing of the Century. And it turned out to be quite an enjoyable read.
This 776 page book features writing that covers many sports -- horse racing, football, basketball, boxing, and golf. For this review, I’ve only read the articles written specifically about baseball, since that is what we cover here at At Home Plate. Most everything in this book comes from famous newspapers like The New York Times, The New York Post, The Los Angeles Herald Examiner, and The Washington Post. Magazines ranging from Sports Illustrated, Esquire, GQ, and Playboy are represented, too. Names like Tom Wolfe, Ira Berkow, Ring Lardner, Dick Shaap, John Updike, and Frank Deford are featured within the pages. All of these publications and writers represent some of the best and brightest from the 1900’s. Editor David Halberstam did a wonderful job putting together this book.
The baseball articles open with a Gay Talese write up of Joe DiMaggio. Since I never had the pleasure of seeing Joltin’ Joe play, this piece does a wonderful job telling about DiMaggio’s magical 1956 season, as well as describing the Yankee Clipper’s recluse life after baseball. Next is a look at DiMaggio’s main competition -- Ted Williams. Richard Ben Cramer does a wonderful job recapping the Splendid Splinter’s career from start to finish, and we learn about Williams’ life after baseball. Both of these cover many pages, as they were feature pieces from magazines.
The next section of the book is a collection of columns. First is a wonderful eulogy for Babe Ruth by Grantland Rice after the Bambino passed away in 1948. Red Smith’s story of how the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers defeated their hated rivals the New York Yankees is next. We come to pity the sportswriter sitting in the press box with the v on his typewriter broken, just as we come to cheer for those underdog Dodgers. Smith then takes us to 1951, when Bobby Thompson hit that home run heard around the world and finally back to the days of the legendary Jim Thorpe.
Columns on Babe Ruth, Dizzy Dean, Jackie Robinson, Sal Maglie, Walter O’Malley, and Steve Carlton finish the second section, and they are all entertaining from start to finish. The column I enjoyed most was Mike Royko’s book review of Keith Hernandez’s “If at First…with the Exclusive Inside Story of the 1986 Championship Season.” Royko, a die-hard Cubs’ fan who despises the Mets, writes of his destruction of what became to be known as “A Very Solid Book.”
There are more feature pieces on Branch Rickey, perhaps baseball’s greatest front office mind; players, like Ted Williams; and significant baseball moments, such as that wonderful October in which Reggie hit three in one game. It would be merely impossible for me to recap everything contained within the covers of The Best American Sports Writing of the Century.
For the pure baseball fan, this book certainly ranks up there. If you want to relive those glory days of DiMaggio, Ruth, and Williams or are a younger fan and want to take a peak into their lives, this is a good read. For the pure baseball fan, I’d give it three balls, but if you are a fan of more sports than the National Pastime, consider it a must read.
Our Rating System is based on a four ball system as follows:
One Ball: Average. It has something to say but is nothing special.
Two Balls: Something men usually have - also means its a cut above average, and worth reading/owning.
Three balls: Stands out from its peers and is highly recommended.
Four Balls: More than just what two men have when hanging out together, it means it is an exceptional book that truly earns a walk - straight to the local book store to get a copy.
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