Friday, August 21, 2009

Summer of Sports Reading

I always complain that I never have free time to read casually. This summer, I decided to change that. I knew I had a busy summer ahead of me, what with working 40 hours a week at the MTC in addition to my wedding and such, but I was confident I could get a couple of books read over the summer.

You might say I surprised myself.

From May 1 to August 31, I will have completed TWELVE books. All but one of them are sports-related, so I figured this would be an appropriate forum to let you know what I thought about them. For my review of the non-sporty book, check out the married blog.

As for the other eleven, here they are, in the order in which they were read (At least, I think it's right):

1. A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez by Selena Roberts
Oy...I've already written about this book. Let's just look at a funny ad instead, eh?

2. American Icon: The Fall of Roger Clemens and the Rise of Steroids in America's Pastime by the New York Daily News Sports Investigative Team

This was an engrossing read. Clemens is in the title and on the cover, but he is not the only one whose dirty laundry is aired within the pages. The back stories of unsavory characters like Brian McNamee, Kirk Radomski, Jason Grimsley, Rusty Hardin and many others are intended to give the reader a sense of just how deeply steroids dug into both baseball and the well-being of the steroids dealers and their associates themselves.

3. The Teammates by David Halberstam

After wading through the muck of a couple of scandal-based books, this was a nice change of pace. Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky and the immortal Ted Williams were four men who were clearly destined to be together. This recollection of decades-old stories frames the tragic motivation for their compilation: the imminent death of the Splendid Splinter in Florida. No mention of the cryogenic freezing, though. Probably for the best.

4. The Yankee Years by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci

A definitive history of the first dynasty I vividly remember as told by its ringmaster. The stories are straightforward: the book starts the week Torre is hired and ends when he refuses to take the Yanks' diminished offer. Lots of in-depth interviews with Torre's players also make this a very vivid story. My personal favorites were David Cone and the Captain, Derek Derek Jeter Jeter.

5. Game of Shadows by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams

The book that started it all. I saw it in hardcover on a bargain rack at Barnes and Noble for $6 and gobbled it up immediately. If you already hate Barry Bonds, this book will thoroughly satisfy you. Victor Conte and his BALCO cronies don't come off any sweeter; slimier would be an appropriate word.

6. Hideki Matsui: Sportsmanship, Modesty, and the Art of the Home Run by Shizuka Ijuin

In addition to winning the "Most Intriguing Title" award, this skinny Dollar Tree find is very Japanese: succinct, honorable, modest, and interestingly translated. Maybe it's just because the author is a close personal friend of Godzilla's, but Matsui is essentially beatified throughout as the most honorable Japanese man in America.

7. Man in the Middle by John Amaechi

Another Dollar Tree pick-up. I remember the firestorm when this book first came out: A pro athlete coming out of the closet? I bought it specifically to see how he handled being in the SLC during his tank job with the Jazz. (He blames it entirely on not meshing with Jerry Sloan's abrasive coaching style. The lesson: Don't let large, sensitive, gay British men near Jerry Sloan. He will single-handedly force them to average 3.2 points and 2.0 rebounds per game...or less.)

8. The Punch by John Feinstein

My first Feinstein, which is a Dollar Tree find from nearly two years ago now. Not the smoothest read, but I was amazed that Feinstein could get over 350 pages out of a vicious blow that landed in less than a second. It is a study in contrast: Rudy T's rise to prominence as the Rockets' head coach, and Kermit Washington's fall from grace that has reverberated in his inability to both find an NBA head coaching job and maintain his marriage.

9. Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger

I bought this from a bargain pile in the BYU Bookstore about two years ago and just now got around to it. I wish I had gotten to it sooner. The book vividly reminded me of the small Texas towns I served in during my mission. The human element in the machine that is Permian High football (and, really, Texas high school football as a whole) is at times heroic and at times tragic. A fascinating study of a small town's struggles to fulfill big-time aspirations.

10. Why Not Us? The 86-Year Journey of the Boston Red Sox Fans from Unparalleled Suffering to the Promised Land of the 2004 World Series by Leigh Montville

Yet another Dollar Tree find. I'm glad I found it there, because I would have been upset with myself if I had bought it for $22.95 when it first came out. For me, this quick mash-up just wasn't memorable. You can tell the fans' stories were mashed together very quickly to get this book on the shelves. Maybe I couldn't get into it because I'm a bitter Cubs fan. Oh, well...

11. Turning of the Tide: How One Game Changed the South by Don Yaeger with Sam Cunningham and John Papadakis.

This was a Wal-Mart $4 purchase. I don't know why I've been so intrigued with the blending of race and sports, but this book is a nice blend of the two. Plus, it's getting me excited for the impending college football season. As I said with Feinstein earlier, I am constantly amazed that writers can get so much material out of just one game or one moment.

Now school is starting and the leisure reading will probably stop for the foreseeable future. My next great read? Not sure yet, but you'll hear about it when it happens.

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