In today's climate of giveittomeasfastasyoucan information, sports fans can be forgiven for being unaware that once upon a time, before sports cable TV, before sports radio, before the Internet, the only way to find out about your favorite player or team was by reading all about it. What we've come to expect (and demand) as the norm was preceded by thoughtful men of words who painted images of players and events in magazines and newspapers.
It's therefore very welcome when a book like The Best American Sportswriting of the Century comes along, giving some a chance to reminisce and others the opportunity to discover a brave old world of sports journalism.
Pulitzer Prize winner David Halberstam, author of several sports books, as well as more serious works, does a marvelous job of collecting these pieces to weave a full tapestry of sports reading.
The book is divided into distinct sections. In The Best of the Best, we have the likes of Gay Talese writing on Joe DiMaggio's life after baseball; Tom Wolfe on race car driver Junior Johnson; and Brad Darrach on chess master Bobby Fischer. In Columns and Writing on Deadline we have examples from Red Smith, Grantland Rice, and Westbrook Pegler, among others, to remind us why they are considered masters of the (typewriter) keyboard.
Features and Longer Pieces include contributions from such sports reporting icons as Ring and John Lardner, Roger Angell, George Plimpton, and Frank Deford. Regular journalists are well represented, too: Hunter Thompson demolishes the sacred rituals surrounding the Kentucky Derby; Mike Royko, Chicago's curmudgeon laureate, lambasts a book by perennial all-star Keith Hernandez; and John Updike says his own goodbye in the celebrated Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu, one of the most reprinted sports pieces of all time.
There's also an entire section devoted to Muhammad Ali, who was recently selected as the all-time favorite athlete by consumers of a renowned breakfast cereal.
The Best American Sports Writing is a true treasure that fans of sports and good writing will surely savor.
Ron Kaplan is a reviewer in Montclair, New Jersey.