The best sports books about more than sports

Carl Deuker Author Of Golden Arm
By Carl Deuker

Who am I?

For 20 years, I tried to write politically relevant, “important” novels. I teach. One day I told my students that to succeed as a writer, they needed to write about things they knew and loved. Honesty was the key. That night, I resumed work on a novel set in Prague involving Cold War intrigue, capitalism, communism, and some other "isms" I’ve forgotten. I wrote a paragraph and then stopped. My advice was good. Write about things you know and love. So why not follow it myself? What section of the newspaper did I read first? The sports page. Did I live and die with my favorite sports teams? Yes. I put my hopeless Prague novel aside and started On the Devil’s Court. For better or worse, a sportswriter is who I am.


I wrote...

Golden Arm

By Carl Deuker,

Book cover of Golden Arm

What is my book about?

High school baseball pitcher Laz Weathers has a golden arm. He just needs a major league scout to see it. But when you live in a trailer home and go to a struggling school with a lousy athletic program, how do you do that? Laz’s big break comes when the local high school baseball powerhouse gives him the opportunity to escape his dead-end by moving in with one of their families and thus becoming eligible to join their high-profile team. Great coaching. Scouts at every game. State title is a distinct possibility.

But escape also means leaving home, family, friends, obligations. Is the shiny future worth it if you have to close the door to your past?

The books I picked & why

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The Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams

By Darcy Frey,

Book cover of The Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams

Why this book?

Frey follows four Coney Island high school basketball stars (including Stephon Marbury) as they attempt to navigate through the gangs, drugs, and violence of the housing projects in order to wrap their hands around the Holy Grail--a D-1 basketball scholarship. Pressure--athletic and academic--is constant. NCAA coaches size them up the way judges examine livestock at a 4-H show. What’s your scoring average? Rebounds? Assists? GPA? SAT score? What can you do for me? Lurking in the background are more fundamental questions: How can neighborhoods like this be healed? How can these young men be healed? The book is twenty years old and reads as if it were written yesterday.


The Miracle of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball's Most Improbable Dynasty

By Adrian Wojnarowski,

Book cover of The Miracle of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball's Most Improbable Dynasty

Why this book?

Jersey City hoops this time, but Wojnarowski’s book details the dedication of Bob Hurley (father of Duke star and NBA player Bobby Hurley) who is the head coach at a small Catholic school in Jersey City. Under his leadership, this tiny school wins championship after championship. For Hurley, the championships are a sidebar. His focus is on the players as human beings. He knows them--where they came from, where they are, where they could be headed--good and bad. Tough love at its best. A remarkable book about a remarkable man. The flip side of The Last Shot.


The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It

By Lawrence S. Ritter,

Book cover of The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It

Why this book?

I love baseball, but I get tired of the overblown Baseball is poetry or Baseball is America tugs at the heart. Hey, people, it’s a game. Ritter’s book weaves together interviews with players to bring to life the early days of baseball. Fans were tough; travel was hard; pay was low; expectations were high, off-season jobs were mandatory, but these men loved to pitch and hit and catch, and they loved the camaraderie, so it was worth it. Mostly. Cast of characters? Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Fred Snodgrass, Chief Bender, and on it goes. Hearing these greats from the past describe the game they played in their own words is thrilling, and Ritter’s narrative flows like water. Love baseball? Love history? Love the sound of those old-timers' names? Don’t miss this one.


Bang the Drum Slowly

By Mark Harris,

Book cover of Bang the Drum Slowly

Why this book?

Okay, two books--but they’re really one. The Southpaw is about Henry Wiggen the baseball player finding his way in the major leagues.  A sports book by and large.  And then the fastball to the heart--Bang the Drum Slowly. The vagaries and tragedies of life intrude on the pristine baseball field, and Wiggen and the rest have to deal with reality:  boys grow into men; men sicken, men die. These books inspired me when I decided to become a writer of sports novels. They showed me that not only could I write a sports book about more than sports, but also that I needed to write a sports book about more than sports. Why bother otherwise? 


24: Life Stories and Lessons from the Say Hey Kid

By Willie Mays, John Shea,

Book cover of 24: Life Stories and Lessons from the Say Hey Kid

Why this book?

When I was a boy, I’d get up early, go outside to retrieve the SF Chronicle, and look at the headline of the sports page. If the Giants had lost, I’d put the rubber band back around the newspaper and leave it on the lawn to rot. If they’d won, I’d bring it in and devour the recap and the box score.

This old-fashioned, hero-worship book works because Willie Mays is an old-fashioned hero. Great baseball player, great teammate, great showman, fascinating life. Birmingham to New York to San Francisco. Joy in playing the game at every stop. A wonderful pick-me-up of a book with great photos, great stories, and the greatest player of all time smack dab in the middle of it all. Say Hey!


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