This season’s big sports books shine a bright light on the personalities behind the games.
As we go to press on this issue, the world’s biggest sporting event—the World Cup—is in full swing down in Brazil, and while this spring saw a number of excellent books about soccer come to market, this fall publishers are looking more at America’s traditional sports sweet spots: football, baseball, basketball, and, increasingly, hockey.
In fact, two of our picks for the season’s top sports books are in hockey, and though both are about famous players, they couldn’t be more different. Coming in October from Putnam is Gordie Howe’s memoir, Mr. Hockey: My Story. Howe shares highlights from his decades on the ice, from breaking record after record to what it was like to play alongside his sons, and also sheds light on his personal life, which, as it turns out, could not be more different from the rampaging presence Howe was when he had his skates on. Another famous player is revisited in John Branch’s Boy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard, but Boogaard’s story is in stark contrast to Howe’s: it’s a frightening downward spiral of injury, addiction, and mental illness that ended in Boogaard’s fatal drug overdose at age 28. The book’s roots are in a three-part 2011 New York Times investigation into Boogaard’s life and death that was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing. (Branch won the feature writing Pulitzer in 2014 for his investigation into a deadly avalanche.)
Tragedy is a prominent theme in several other sports titles this fall, though redemption is also on hand. In Crashing, former NBA star Jayson Williams opens up about his troubled history, particularly the rocky time he had after a broken leg ended his career in 1999. He’s served time in prison for crimes related to a shooting death and for drunk driving. In the book he also discusses his rebound from the abyss. In Ray Lucas’s memoir, Under Pressure: How Playing Football Almost Cost Me Everything and Why I’d Do it All Again, the former pro quarterback writes about how he became hooked on painkillers after a career-ending neck injury, and the grim path that followed nearly ended in his death; his book is the story of not only his decline but also his redemption and the physical and mental health issues faced by professional athletes after they retire.
Football gets tackled intellectually in Mark Edmundson’s Why Football Matters: My Education in the Game, a thoughtful reflection on the sport and its place in culture. The football coach and recent Hall of Fame inductee Bill Parcells shares his life story, including his 50 years in the game and what it’s like to win the Super Bowl, in Parcells: A Football Life. Veteran sports journalist Michael Weinreb, meanwhile, takes a long view of college football in Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games, a cultural history of the sport that charts its evolution from quaint Ivy League beginnings to the bajillion-dollar business it is today.
A crucial era of baseball (and American) history gets a fresh examination from Roger Kahn in Rickey & Robinson: The True, Untold Story of the Integration of Baseball, and the publisher is promising fresh, controversial revelations about what really happened when America’s pastime crossed the color line.
John McEnroe returns with his second memoir, But Seriously, a follow-up to his bestselling You Can’t Be Serious. It fills in what’s happened in the 10 years since. And if you’re into sports for sports’ sake, regardless of the type of ball (or puck) used to play it, longtime TV commentator Al Michaels shares behind-the-scenes drama from his 40-plus years in the booth in You Can’t Make This Up: Miracles, Memories, and the Perfect Marriage of Sports and Television.
PW’s Top 10: Sports
Boy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard. John Branch. Norton, Sept. 24
But Seriously. John McEnroe. Little, Brown, Oct. 28
Crashing: A Memoir. Jayson Williams. St. Martin’s, Oct. 7
Mr. Hockey: My Story. Gordie Howe. Putnam, Oct. 14
Parcells: A Football Life. Bill Parcells. Crown Archetype, Sept. 30
Rickey & Robinson: The True, Untold Story of the Integration of Baseball. Roger Kahn. Rodale, Sept. 16
Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games. Michael Weinreb. Scribner, Aug. 19
Under Pressure: How Playing Football Almost Cost Me Everything and Why I’d Do It All Again. Ray Lucas. Triumph, Sept. 1
Why Football Matters: My Education in the Game. Mark Edmundson. Penguin Press, Sept. 4
You Can’t Make This Up: Miracles, Memories, and the Perfect Marriage of Sports and Television. Al Michaels and L. Jon Wertheim. Morrow, Nov. 18
Scribe: My Life in Sports by Bob Ryan (Oct. 7, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-1-62040-506-2). An entertaining memoir from the popular sportswriter.
Reckless: The Life and Times of Luis Ocaña by Alasdair Fotheringham (Oct. 28, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-1-4088-4602-5). The first biography of cycling legend Ocaña.
The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks by Bruce Feldman (Nov. 4, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-0-553-41845-3). Bruce Feldman gets the inside story on Heisman-winner Johnny Manziel, and unravels the mysteries of what goes into making a star athlete.
Parcells: A Football Life by Bill Parcells and Nunyo Demasio (Sept. 30, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-0-385-34635-1). A Hall of Famer and Super Bowl winning coach, Parcells offers insight into his personal life and his 50 years in football.
Michael Jordan: Bull on Parade by Wilfred Santiago (Oct. 20, hardcover, $24.99, ISBN 978-1-60699-711-6). From the creator of the acclaimed 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente comes a graphic biography of the one and only Michael Jordan.
(dist. by Perseus)
Puckstruck: Distracted, Delighted and Distressed by Canada’s Hockey Obsession by Stephen Smith (Nov. 11, hardcover, $28.95, ISBN 978-1-77164-048-0). With hockey growing in popularity in the U.S., here’s a humorous take on hockey and its important place in culture north of the border.
Bleeding Orange: Fifty Years of Blind Referees, Screaming Fans, Beasts of the East, and Syracuse Basketball by Jim Boeheim and Jack McCallum (Nov. 4, hardcover, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-06-231664-6). Syracuse coach Boeheim reflects on his life, his teachers, and the game he loves.
My Conference Can Beat Your Conference: Why the SEC Still Rules College Football by Paul Finebaum and Gene Wojciechowski (Aug. 5, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-06-229741-9) takes readers inside the fanaticism that surrounds the Southeastern Conference, from the teams to the communities they play in.
Life is Not an Accident: A Memoir of Reinvention by Jay Williams (Jan. 6, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-06-232789-7) is the memoir of former NBA player Williams, before and after his career was cut short by a motorcycle accident.
Head of Zeus
(dist. by IPG)
Premier League: A History in 10 Matches by Jim White (Nov. 1, paper, $12.95, ISBN 978-1-78185-432-7). A condensed introduction to the English Premier League through the lens of 10 pivotal matches.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
The Best American Sports Writing 2014, edited by Christopher McDougall, series editor Glenn Stout (Oct. 7, paper, $14.95, ISBN 978-0-544-14700-3). The reliably excellent annual compendium of the best sports writing in the country.
Johns Hopkins Univ.
Arthur Ashe: Tennis and Justice in the Civil Rights Era by Eric Allen Hall (Aug. 28, hardcover, $34.95, ISBN 978-1-4214-1394-5). The first scholarly biography of tennis legend Arthur Ashe examines how he overcame racial and class barriers while rising to the top of his sport and also contributing to the civil rights movement.
Library of America
(dist. by Penguin)
Football: Great Writing About the National Sport: A Special Publication of the Library of America, edited by John Schulian (Aug. 14, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-1-59853-307-1) showcases football writing in all shapes and sizes from the giants of the field, including works by Roy Blount Jr., George Plimpton, Jimmy Breslin, and more.
But Seriously by John McEnroe (Oct. 28, hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-0-316-32489-2) is the author’s second memoir, focusing on his post-tennis life and how the champion athlete has recreated himself.
You Can’t Make This Up: Miracles, Memories, and the Perfect Marriage of Sports and Television by Al Michaels and L. Jon Wertheim (Nov. 18, hardcover, $28.99, ISBN 978-0-06-231496-3). Longtime broadcaster Al Michaels talks about his family and career, and offers a one-of-a-kind perspective on the big sports moments of our generation.
Boy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard by John Branch (Oct. 13, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0-393-23939-3). Branch’s in-depth account of NHL star Boogaard’s life and fatal drug overdose doubles as an investigation of the culture of machismo and brutality that permeate many sports.
Club Soccer 101: The Essential Guide to the Stars, Stats, and Stories of 101 of the Greatest Teams in the World by Luke Dempsey (Sept. 8, paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-0-393-34930-6) is a primer on the world’s top soccer clubs, for those who have recently been bit by the soccer bug.
Coming Out to Play by Robbie Rogers and Eric Marcus (Nov. 25, paper, $17, ISBN 978-0-14-312661-4). Pro soccer player Rogers felt he had to quit professional sports before coming out of the closet. Here, he tells his story.
Why Football Matters: My Education in the Game by Mark Edmundson (Sept. 4, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-1-59420-575-0). How much of a sport is actually about the sport itself? Edmundson looks at his own relationship with football to reflect on the way the sport ripples through society.
Mr. Hockey: My Story by Gordie Howe (Oct. 14, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-399-17291-5). A memoir from hockey great Howe provides insight to the player’s mentality both on and off the ice.
Rickey & Robinson: The True, Untold Story of the Integration of Baseball by Roger Kahn (Sept. 16, hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-1-62336-297-3) rewrites the history of how Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson brought integration to baseball in this deeply reported history.
Rowman & Littlefield
(dist. by NBN)
Baseball’s Greatest Comeback: The Miracle Braves of 1914 by J. Brian Ross (Aug. 1, hardcover, $38, 978-1-4422-3606-6) offers the inside story of how the 1914 Braves pulled off the biggest season turnaround in baseball history.
Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games by Michael Weinreb (Aug. 19, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-1-4516-2781-7). A cultural history that examines the turning points, personalities, and high drama of college football as it has evolved into a multibillion-dollar business.
(Dist. by Perseus)
Facing Michael Jordan: Players Recall the Greatest Basketball Player Who Ever Lived, edited by Kent McDill (Oct. 7, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-1-61321-709-2). Ever wonder what it might be like to play against Michael Jordan? Here’s as close as you’re likely to get.
Crashing: A Memoir by Jayson Williams (Oct. 7, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-1-250-05712-9). Former NBA star Jayson Williams tells all in this dramatic memoir that follows the athlete from the pros to prison.
Johnny Manziel’s Glory Run by Jim Dent (Sept. 30, hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-1-250-05713-6). From bestselling author Jim Dent comes the story of Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel, aka “Johnny Football.”
Striking Gridiron: A Town’s Pride and a Team’s Shot at Glory During the Biggest Strike in American History by Greg Nichols (Sept. 16, hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-1-250-03985-9). During the longest strike in American labor history, in 1959, a national record-setting high school football team inspired a struggling steel town and captured the country’s imagination.
(dist. by National Book Network )
Save by Roy: Patrick Roy and the Return of the Colorado Avalanche by Terry Frei and Adrian Dater (Jan. 8, paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-63076-000-7). Sportswriters Frei and Dater revisit legendary goaltender Patrick Roy’s first season as coach of the Colorado Avalanche.
(dist. by IPG)
Under Pressure: How Playing Football Almost Cost Me Everything and Why I’d Do It All Again by Ray Lucas and David Seigerman, foreword by Bill Parcells (Sept. 1, hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-1-60078-960-1). Former pro quarterback Lucas tells the story of the darkness (and eventual redemption) that followed a career-ending injury.
Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South by Andrew Maraniss (Dec. 1, hardcover, $35, ISBN 978-0-8265-2023-4). This biography of Perry Wallace, the first African-American basketball player in the SEC, provides a different look at the civil rights conflicts of the tumultuous 1960s.