12 sports books in a league of their own
Get your game on with these literary favorites.
EW has been rolling out lists of some of our favorite books of all time. So far, we’ve suggested YA books not just for kids, celebrity memoirs, heart-stopping thrillers, audiobooks, and laugh-out-loud humor books to devour in the sun. This week’s installment should have you cheering. Pulling decades back, we’ve compiled 12 sports books that will get you on your feet and bring out your inner fan.
Ball Four by Jim Bouton (1970)
This irreverent baseball diary branded Bouton as a social leper. He opened the clubhouse to the public, tarnished idols like Mickey Mantle and offended the baseball establishment. As much as the book is about baseball, it is also about people, their insecurities and the things that drive them.
Can’t Anyone Here Play This Game? by Jimmy Breslin (1962)
An acerbic, blustery account of the National League’s return to New York and the Mets’ spectacularly inept first season.
A Few Seconds of Panic by Stefan Fatsis (2008)
Journalist Fatsis goes to camp with the Denver Broncos and tries out as a placekicker. But what really kicks in this book are the players’ accounts of their lives and why they play. It ain’t for the love of the game.
Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger (1990)
A remarkable portrait of a small town in west Texas living vicariously through its high school football team’s success—and the toll it exacts on everyone.
Late Innings by Roger Angell (1982)
This collection of baseball essays—one of several turned out by the New Yorker writer—contains the best piece ever written about the sport, fascinating “One Hard Way to Make a Living.”
October 1964 by David Halberstam (1994)
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 provided legal protections for African-Americans—and that year, the St. Louis Cardinals, with African-American stars Brock, Gibson and Flood, defeated the powerful Yankees in the World Series. A baseball parable.
Open by Andre Agassi (2009)
Nothing is for free, and Agassi details the heavy price paid (forfeited childhood, limited education) to make it to the top in professional tennis. Agassi, always a survivor, has come out the other side in a better place. And it’s okay with him if his kids don’t play tennis.
Paper Lion by George Plimpton (1966)
Slender, breakable George Plimpton meets Alex Karras, a bull in a china shop. An intellectual dabbles in the most bestial of all team sports, football. The result is an engaging and cerebral account of Plimpton’s experience playing quarterback in a Detroit Lions exhibition game.
Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand (2001)
The biography of the horse that captured the imagination of Depression-era America: Seabiscuit, one of the first celebrities to sport an entourage.
A Season on the Brink by John Feinstein (1986)
In this year-long account of Bobby Knight and his Indiana University basketball team, Knight’s reputation emerges intact. Is that a good thing? You decide, but in the cesspool that is big time college athletics, at least the volatile Knight stood for something other than himself.
Semi-Tough by Dan Jenkins (1972)
Profane? Yes. Raunchy? Yes. Politically incorrect? Yes. Funny? Yes. In Jenkins’ terrific novel, The NFL most definitely did not stand for the “No Fun League.”
The Sweet Science by A.J. Liebling (1956)
This compilation of New Yorker pieces on boxing has been called the best American sports book of all time. That may be debatable, but no other boxing book has a puncher’s chance.
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