David Halberstam edits the annual Best of American Sports Writing anthologies and put this together with Glenn Stout in 1999 to commemorate the best of the previous century. There are some unusual choices in here, especially in the Writing on a Deadline section, but most of the others kept me up nights.
Among the great reads in this tome is what lead me to the book in the first place, "Brownsville Bum" by the recently departed W.C. Heinz, a 1951 piece for True magazine that, according to some (including Jimmy Breslin), is the best piece of American sports writing ever written. Heinz' style was flowing, somewhere between conversation and internal, and in the kind of common, bar room patois I've always enjoyed and which, due to its specifically 1950s style, we'll probably never see again.
Other pieces in this book that got under my skin include Richard Be Cramer's 1986 piece on great American hero Ted Williams ("How Do You Like Ted Williams Now?"), Roger Angell's thorough 1985 meditation on the mystery of pitching ("Gone For Good"), Thomas McGuane's 1965 ode to fly-fishing ("The Longest Silence") and Al Stump's 1961 piece on a dying, bottle-throwing, cursing, violent Ty Cobb ("The Fight to Live," later the basis for his book and the movie based on it).
I also have to call out some other remarkable stories. Get your hands on these in this or any other collection for some incredible writing:
- Frank Deford, "The Boxer and the Blond," Sports Illustrated, 1985. Tells the story of Billy Conn and his upbringing as an Irishman and a fighter in Pittsburgh.
- Paul Solotaroff, "The Power and the Gory," an incredible 1990 piece for The Village Voice about steroid abuse in weightlifting. You will not be the same after reading this.
- J.R. Moehringer, "Resurrecting the Champ," The Los Angeles Times Magazine, 1997, about an LA Times reporter who befriends a homeless man who may or may not be a former boxing champion. A great boxing story that probably not many fight fans know about because it comes from a non-fight writer. Makes me wanna read this.
Really, this is an amazing collection, an inspiration to me as a reader and a writer. There's even a John Lardner piece on golf that kept me interested and a George Plimpton piece on Ivy League football that made me want to read more Plimpton. My dad and my brother have birthdays coming up and are gonna get this from me.