Archive for July, 2010

This Summer of Sports

July 25, 2010

This Summer of Sports (& Some Sports Reading Recs)

In one single day at the end of June, Nicolas Mahut and John Isner played day 2 of their record-busting, 8-hour 5th set at Wimbledon, team USA just barely climbed out of the group stage by beating Algeria in extra time, and Jerry Seinfeld joined Keith Hernandez and Gary Cohen in the Mets broadcast booth for 5 innings to help call the game and reminisce (the Seinfeld episode with Keith was, of course, retold in detail) . If you had to make a case for sports (as the sports editor Dave Zirin recently did, as recounted here), June 23rd provided some amazing material, though for some it was merely another day in  a summer that gave us sports moments in spades.

And it continued well beyond Spain’s victory against Holland.  The Baseball All-Star Game soon arrived and the passing of George Steinbrenner inspired even more nostalgia than should be allowed the average baseball fan (no one does nostalgia better than a baseball fan; of course Steinbrenner’s death elicited a whole range of emotions, many of which cannot be characterized as “nostalgic”).  And now Thierry Henry is playing for the Red Bulls? And took the Path train to get to the stadium?

Maybe not everyone is experiencing their own Summer of Sports, but every notable event these past couple of months seems bookended or made more vivid because of a game or match that accompanied it, that played in the background and provided at least a bit of a distraction (and when things like the Flotilla “Incident” off the coast of Israel occur, or Andrew Breitbart helps propel one of the most disturbing 21st century, new media/fake journalism fiascos, distractions are saviors – of course, many surely wish they could have their 10 minutes-1 hour back that they spent watching Lebron making his very important announcement).  

And since there is still lots of summer left, and some choice reading to get to do, here are a few favorites if you’re looking for something sporty to pick up:

  • Lapham’s Quarterly, Summer 2010 – Sports & Games. You should buy this immediately. In this Summer’s issue, Lapham’s amassed an amazing array of sports writing – mostly excerpts from various books, and the range can only be aptly described by noting some of the authors: George Plimpton, Chuck Palahniuk, Ovid (yes, Ovid), Philip Roth, Vladimir Nabokov, Andre Agassi.  Along with the few dozen pieces, there are also wonderful timelines detailing the seminal events in the evolution of sports & games, including 1525, England:  “Darts is believed to have begun as archery practice for soldiers under Henry VIII,” and 1280, Mongolia: “Princess Khutulun decides to marry the first man who can beat her in wrestling; she defeats all of her suitors.”  Among the many memorable exerpts,  is the one about Stephon Marbury, pre-Georgia Tech, pre-volatile NBA career, when he was still a preening high school player for Lincoln High School in Coney Island. And it is not just about Marbury – Darcy Frey, the author, spent a lot of time with several of the Lincoln hopefuls,  and his book –The Last Shot — spans all the big subjects  of such a potentially combustible situation.  It is hard to write about this issue of Lapham’s Quarterly without wanting to retell every memorable moment of it, and basically transcribing it, so please just make sure to buy it, you will want to keep it forever, both as a reference for sports moments and as a guide for a good book to read, since this issue is like the best listing of sports writing  you haven’t considered reading.  And it has lots of pretty pictures.

 

  • Summer of ’49, by David Halberstam. It should be enough that a Mets fan is recommending a book about the Yankees.  But if you need more – even if that era in baseball, on its own, is not compelling enough to pick this up — it is full of post-war New York and American history, including the advent of television (which saloons quickly embraced to show sports – mostly because they feared that with the changing workforce from blue collar to white, workers would no longer stop off for a drink or two on the way home from work), agents (Yogi Berra was the first to hire one), and some jaw-dropping revelations (at least for this reader) like the fact that the Red Sox passed on Willie Mays because he was black (or as they said, “not the Red Sox type”). Can you imagine a decade of Willie Mays and Ted Williams on the same team? David Halberstam gives you everything you ever wanted to know about Joe Dimaggio and everyone else, including the sports writers and broadcasters, the owners, the players, the fans. 

 

  • Pafko At The Wall, by Don Delillo. Halberstam’s book captured an era, and this one captures one of the most memorable moments in baseball history, the famous “Shot Heard Round The World.” And everyone is in this one too – Jackie Gleason, Frank Sinatra, Toots Shor and even J. Edgar Hoover, who were all on hand at the Polo Grounds to watch Bobby Thompson’s famous homerun for the Giants to beat the Dodgers and win the pennant. Pafko At The Wall, which now serves as the prologue for Delillo’s Underworld (though originally published as a folio in the October 1992 edition of Harper’s), also just happens to be unbelievably good and well-written, easily one of the best things I’ve ever read. Trust me you don’t have to care an ounce about baseball to love it.

 

  • The Bad Guys Won, by Jeff Pearlman. The writing isn’t stellar, but it doesn’t need to be. Any book about the 1986 Mets pretty much writes itself. The full title of the book sums it up: The Bad Guys Won! A Season of Brawling, Boozing, Bimbo-chasing, and Championship Baseball with Straw, Doc, Mookie, Nails, The Kid, and the Rest of the 1986 Mets, the Rowdiest Team Ever to Put on a New York Uniform–and Maybe the Best. And it’s short – good beach read.

 

  • My Favorite Year, edited by Nick Hornby (A collection of soccer/football writing).  Recently The Guardian ran an article asking whether, or why, American sports writing is better than the English kind. Well, there is one area in which the English excel – writing about losing. Except for the first essay in this collection, in which famous British writers were asked to write about their favorite soccer/football year, almost all  of the essays are about learning to live with losing teams (And the first one  is actually by an Irishman anyway – Roddy’s Doyle’s piece about Ireland’s 1990 World Cup experience).  One essay that will resonate with a Mets fan, or that of another team that perennially disappoints, discusses the phenomenon of expectations — it’s ok to be the supporter of a terrible team, but that moment when they actually provide you a glimmer of hope, when you allow yourself the slightest bit of expectation, that’s when they can break your heart.