As the coronavirus pandemic continues and Western New Yorkers are forced to stay home with only so much Netflix that you can possibly watch, The Buffalo News' sports department has created a virtual book club.
Here are the favorites sports books from our club and why we recommend them:
“The Complete Book of the Summer Olympics” by David Wallechinsky. This book can be widely found on the resale market, with 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 editions. It is an amazing almanac of the Games, with short passages about each major event. The author packs amazing facts into each passage. Hitler made a pass at the U.S. winner of the 100 meters at the ’36 Games. The first female 100 meters winner was “discovered” running for a train. And on and on.
“The Other League. The Fabulous Story of the American Football League” by Jack Horrigan. This coffee table book was written by the late, great, former PR chief of the Bills. I practically memorized it when it came out in 1970. It’s not a comprehensive history. It’s out of print, and hard to find. As a substitute, I recommend “Going Long” by Jeff Miller, a well-researched, straightforward oral history of the AFL.
“Golf is Not a Game of Perfect” by Bob Rotella. This is the gold standard book on the psychology of golf, published in 1995. There are so many great ideas in it. Have a conservative strategy but a cocky swing. Short game practice should take up 70% of your time. Allow yourself seven mistakes a round. Keep a “hot streak mentality.” Have an improvement plan and stick to it. And on and on.
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"Not A Game" by Kent Babb. Terrific biography on Allen Iverson by my buddy at The Washington Post, who traces the path of the former 76ers star from Virginia to Philadelphia to Turkey. Iverson never agreed to an interview for this book, and that somehow ends up making it even better.
"Undisputed Truth" by Mike Tyson and Larry Sloman. Brutally honest and entertaining autobiography of the youngest heavyweight champion in the history of boxing.
"The Best American Sports Writing." This anthology has been published every year for three decades. They’re all exceptional.
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"The Good Son" by Mark Kriegel. A fast-paced biography on former lightweight champion boxer Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini. After Mancini defended his title with a TKO, his opponent, Duk Koo Kim, suffered a subdural hematoma, and died four days later.
"The Game" by Ken Dryden. An incredible look at life in the National Hockey League, centering around the Montreal Canadiens in the 1970s by the Hockey Hall of Famer goaltender. A must-read for anyone interested in the sport.
"Boy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard" by John Branch. You’ll never look at fighting in hockey the same after reading this compelling tale about Boogaard, who played six seasons in the NHL before he died at 28 years old from an accidental drug and alcohol overdose while recovering from a concussion.
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"The Match" by Mark Frost. Historical retelling of the big-money match in 1956 between two of golf’s top pros – Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan – against top amateurs Harvie Ward and Ken Venturi.
"The Art of Fielding" by Chad Harbach. Fictional novel that follows the fortunes of Henry Skrimshander and his career playing college baseball with the fictional Westish College Harpooners.
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"A Civil War: Army vs. Navy" by John Feinstein. As a child of Annapolis, I dust off this book every year during the week of the Army-Navy football game. It doesn’t just recall the 1993 game, but also what leads up to one of the most heralded traditions in college football and the stories of some of its key players, coaches and administrators. It also examines one of the most tumultuous times in the history of the United States Naval Academy: the school was rocked by a cheating scandal; three midshipmen were killed in a car accident less than a mile from campus; and midshipmen were involved in a major drug sting in the Baltimore suburbs.
"Tropic of Hockey" by Dave Bidini. Author literally goes around the world to find hockey. Each stop in each region brings a new discovery. He finds a hockey rink on the eighth floor of a mall in China; he finds first-time players enthralled with the sport on the Arabian Peninsula; and he scours newspapers to find some sort of NHL coverage while he’s abroad – in fact, he finds a story on Buffalo’s 3-2 win against the Rangers in March of 1999 in the International Herald Tribune. He even finds a photo of a 15-year-old Jaromir Jagr in a rink in Transylvania.
"Journeyman" by Sean Pronger. For every Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux in the NHL (and there aren’t a lot of them), there’s plenty of players like Sean Pronger. He tells the story of being a hockey journeyman: fourth-liners and role-players who bounce from team to team, from league to league and sometimes from country to country to pursue a pro career. Pronger, the brother of former NHL defenseman Chris Pronger, shares stories that will make you laugh out loud and also make you understand why some continue to chase a living in the game.
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"Emperors and Idiots: The Hundred Year Rivalry Between the Yankees and Red Sox, from the Very Beginning to the End of the Curse" by Mike Vaccaro. From Babe Ruth and Harry Frazee to Zimmer-Pedro and ARod-Varitek, the longtime New York Post columnist and St. Bonaventure graduate puts a century of baseball's greatest modern-day rivalry under the microscope. Lots of stories around the epic confrontations of 2003 and 2004 that I was lucky enough to cover for The News.
"The Last Amateurs: Playing for Glory and Honor in Division I College Basketball" by John Feinstein. A winter in the Patriot League is quite a bit different than a season in a conference the likes of the ACC. Dating to the 1980s classic "A Season on the Brink" that followed Bob Knight and Indiana, Feinstein made this genre his own. This one has lots of local ties: Holy Cross' Chris Spitler, a St. Joe's grad, is a central character and the league season ends at the 2000 NCAA Tournament in Buffalo, as Lafayette practices in the Koessler Center and coach Fran O'Hanlon is then frustrated on gameday by HSBC Arena security demanding to see his court credential while not bothering big-name coaches like Temple's John Chaney.
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"When Pride Still Mattered" by David Maraniss. There are many books about Vince Lombardi, but this is one of the better ones. Really good insights and stories about what made him tick.
"Namath" by Mark Kriegel. A good look at the life and career of one of the more fascinating figures in sports.
"Belichick" by Ian O’Connor. As strong and detailed a look at the life and career of the smartest and most successful coach in NFL history. It does an excellent job of explaining what shaped his thinking and approach to the job, and it accounts for all of the scandals with which he has been involved.
"Collision Low Crossers" by Nicholas Dawidoff. Inside look at the Rex Ryan Jets coaching staff. You can roll your eyes, but there’s plenty of interesting behind-the-scenes material of how NFL coaches do their jobs.
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"The Last Pass: Cousy, Russell, the Celtics and What Matters in the End" by Gary M. Pomerantz. Cousy and Holy Cross basketball was huge in New England when I was a kid, especially after Crusaders won 1947 NCAA championship in his freshman season. How he got to Holy Cross, after his career at Andrew Jackson High in NYC and his remembrances of his college career got my interest. I was not a Celtics fan in his years there, but in encounters with him after with the Cincinnati Royals and Boston College, I found him to be real decent guy. Book addressed Cousy's "racial guilt" over his dealings with Russell, but Russell was a complicated person.
"Hang Time: My Life in Basketball" by Elgin Baylor and Alan Eisenstock. Saw Baylor play against Connecticut in MSG when I was in college. It was in the old Holiday Festival when it was eight-team tournament. Baylor was amazing for a 6-foot-5-inch center. Seattle won the game, and UConn went on to beat NYU and Pittsburgh in the consolation round. Interesting was his background as a high school star in Washington, D.C., when schools there were segregated. Saw him play in NBA in person only one or two times after injuries had taken their toll. First game Randy Smith started for Buffalo in 1971-72, he was lined up as a small forward against Elgin. Don't think that's in the book.
"Play by Play: Calling the Wildest Games in Sports – From SEC Football to College Basketball, The Masters, and More" by Verne Lundquist. Interesting insight into a career of veteran and very professional sports broadcaster. He was easy to listen to and a great partner with a guy I got to know a little, Bill Raftery, on NCAA basketball. My favorite broadcaster of all time was Marty Glickman, though. "Good like Nedick's."
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“Imperfect: an Improbable Life” by Jim Abbott. Uplifting story of the former major league pitcher's life and his famous no-hitter in 1993.
“First Down and a Billion” by Gene Klein (former owner of the Chargers) and David Fisher. It’s a look at the humorous side of owning a football team before Klein sold to the Spanos family and retired.
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"Basketball (And Other Things)" by Shea Serrano. A light-hearted series of bizarre questions about basketball, answered by Serrano in detailed arguments, with fantastic illustrations throughout.
"The Crazy Game" by Clint Malarchuk. Malarchuk’s memoir reflects on his time in hockey, but more importantly, his struggles with mental health and stress.
"The Little Red Book of Baseball Wisdom" by Wayne Stewart. The Little Red Book is a compilation of great quotes from prevalent figures in baseball history with a quote that can be related to nearly any situation.
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"Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig" by Jonathan Eig. The story of one of the team's most iconic players been told many times but not with this much stunning detail, from replacing Wally Pipp to his sad demise. And that's what makes this stand out from other literary works about him.
"If These Walls Could Talk: New York Yankees, Stories from the Dugout, Locker Room and Press Box" by Jim Kaat with Greg Jennings. Kaat pitched in the majors for 25 years, including very briefly with the Yankees, and served as the team's TV analyst for more than a decade. He spins many tales here of players and principals in the Steinbrenner-Martin era.
"Scooter: The Autobiography of Phil Rizzuto" by Carlo DeVito. Local boy makes good. The Brooklyn native is arguably the most colorful man to ever be affiliated with the team. He spent parts of seven decades as a player and broadcaster. Among the many entertaining passages is his take on the "play-by-play" he did on that Meat Loaf record.
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"Summer of 49" by David Halberstam. Baseball fan. Yankee fan. Enjoy reading history and loved behind the scenes glimpse of Yanks-Sox rivalry and players who made it tick during that thrilling pennant race. Like the anecdotes. Learned of Ted Williams' disdain for soft-throwing lefty Eddie Lopat by reading that book.
"Pinstripe Destiny: Story of the 1996 New York Yankees" video. Loved behind the scenes of the Yankee team that ended the long World Series drought and the stuff going on with Joe Torre off the field with his ill brother, etc.
Nonsports. "Batman Superman Enemies and Allies" by Kevin J. Anderson. Two iconic comic book heroes. Two of my favorites. Loved the fact author reworked a couple comic/cartoon stories (think World's Finest) into a period piece (World War II) with Russians somehow having kryptonite to keep Superman prisoner and Batman basically doing what Batman does, saves him and ends up teaming with him to save the day.
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"Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream" by H.G. Bissinger. A nonfiction book that follows the story of the 1988 Permian High School Panthers football team from Odessa, Texas, as they made a run towards the Texas state championship. It was later adapted for television and film.
"When the Game Stands Tall" by Neil Hayes. De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., is home to perhaps the greatest dynasty in sports history. Coach Bob Ladouceur launched a legend, "The Streak," and his teams amassed the highest winning percentage in football history with 151 consecutive victories. This book takes readers behind the scenes, closely following individual players, including former St. Joe's football coach Derek Landri, in the 2002 season.
"Heart of the Order" by Thomas Boswell. Boswell of The Washington Post hits a grand slam with this classic collection of heartfelt and humorous pieces on our nation’s pastime. Boswell showcases those players, past and present, who deserve a spot on the All-Star team for their talent and their “governing passion for excellence.”