• “The Boys of Summer,” by Roger Kahn. I’ve read it four times, probably due for a fifth. The book that made me want to be a sports writer. Now you know who to blame.
• “The Breaks of the Game,” by David Halberstam. When I was desperate for any book about the NBA, one of the great journalists of our time came along and wrote a classic. A must for Jack Ramsay fans.
• “The Universal Baseball Association Inc.,” by Robert Coover. A strange, wonderful book that touched the soul of a man who has played more Strat-o-Matic than he cares to admit.
Honorable mention: “The Might Have Been,” by Joseph M. Schuster. A largely unknown novel from 2012 about a failed player, it’s a great baseball book. Also, any of Mark Kriegel’s three stunning sports biographies, on Joe Namath, Pistol Pete Maravich and Boom Boom Mancini.
• “Boys of Summer.” Roger Kahn’s classic set around the Brooklyn Dodgers. He offered terrific insight into old-school sportswriting, the relationships reporters had with the teams they covered and the torturous existence both sides shared while trying to perform.
• “Men at Work.” George F. Will taps into the minds of baseball deep thinkers and comes away with a brilliant masterpiece covering pitching, hitting, fielding and managing.
• “Instant Replay.” Former Packers guard Jerry Kramer offered an inside view of the 1967 season. It was the first book that made me wonder if I could ever write for a living. All these years later, I’m still blaming him.
• “The Hardest Game,” by Hugh McIlvanney. The compilation of the Scottish boxing writer’s columns is so inspiringly great it’s what I read to get through writer’s block.
• “Positively Fifth Street,” by James McManus. While on assignment in Las Vegas to cover a sensational murder trial, McManus entered the World Series of Poker and finished fifth. He weaves the stories magnificently.
• “The Natural,” by Bernard Malamud. If you’ve seen only the movie, then the book will surprise you. It’s much darker and much better.
• “The Other League,” by Jack Horrigan. A wonderful, pictorial history of the AFL, with some great stories and anecdotes, too. Published in 1970, it was a gift from my father, and I practically memorized it, cover to cover.
• “The Boys of Summer,” by Roger Kahn. All-time classic story of the 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers, and also about the misfortunes that befell them after baseball.
• “You Gotta Play Hurt,” by Dan Jenkins. Maybe only a sportswriter would put it on the list, but it is a tasteless, hilarious look at a globe-trotting sportswriter and the big-time sports events he covers.
• “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” by Ben Fountain. What better setting than the home of the Dallas Cowboys for a novel with underpinnings of societal hypocrisy and misguided values?
• “Why Time Begins on Opening Day,” by Thomas Boswell. Insights that make the stadium grass greener and the hot dogs tastier. First read it … uh … is this right? … 30 years ago.
• “The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football,” by Jeff Benedict and Remen Keteyian. The truth doesn’t hurt for those who choose to ignore it.
• “Veeck as in Wreck,” by Bill Veeck with Ed Linn. Not only does this show how far ahead of his time Veeck was (which makes it still hold up today), but it’s absolutely hilarious.
• “Friday Night Lights,” by H.G. Bissinger. Some of the best sports books are only somewhat about sports, and this fascinating look at high school football in Texas forces us to examine and question our cultural priorities.
• “The Bill James Baseball Abstract 1982,” by Bill James. A most unlikely revolutionary, James’ first published annual started us down a road of improved analysis that all sports continue to follow 40-plus years later – and it was done with completely original thinking and an entertaining writing style.
• “As Good As Gold: 1 Woman, 9 Sports, 10 Countries and a 2-Year Quest to Make the Summer Olympics,” by Kathryn Bertine. Funny, self-deprecating look at a journalist trying to see just how easy (or hard) it is to make an Olympic team.
• “Running for My Life: One Lost Boy’s Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games,” by Lopez Lomong. A poignant personal story of how Lomong survived his life as a lost boy from the war in Sudan to his journey to becoming an American citizen and an elite runner.
• “A Life Without Limits: A World Champion’s Journey,” by Chrissie Wellington. The most amazing woman in Ironman history tells her inspirational and unassuming tale of how she became the best athlete in the world without ever losing her smile.
• “The Best American Sports Writing 2012,” guest editor Michael Wilbon, series editor Glenn Stout. My parents have given me this volume for Christmas every year since it started in 1991. This edition is a favorite (I’m more than halfway through the 2013 edition and 2012 is much better). A great collection thanks to tremendously written features by Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post (Bryce Harper) and S.L. Price of Sports Illustrated (Novak Djokovic).
• “If At First” and “Pure Baseball,” by Keith Hernandez. This Met fan loved how he played the game and was something of a manager on the field. The first book is a biography which reviews the 1985 season (it was published during – of course – the greatest season of all time); in the second he analyzes a typical game, pitch-by-pitch (something he now does on Mets broadcasts on SNY).
Buffalo News staff reading selections