cover image Sports Guy

Sports Guy

Charles P. Pierce. Da Capo Press, $16.95 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-306-81005-3

A self-described ""rummager and scuffler"" among sportswriters, Charles Pierce displays his drive to illuminate the nooks and crannies of the American sporting life in this collection of 30 essays. ""My own personal America,"" he writes, ""comes with six seconds left, and the home team--anybody's home team--with the ball and trailing by a point or a goal."" Pierce admits to having little regard for the celebrity profiles he has included, because, for him, they pale alongside the tales in which context plays as vital a role as does the subject. He's right: essays on Tiger Woods and Shaquille O'Neal fall flat alongside the moving soliloquies and hearth-and-home portraits making up the rest of the book (his tale of the corkball leagues of St. Louis is particularly endearing). He avoids the two demons currently plaguing sports dialogue: sentimentality and the indictment of athletes as the sole agents of sedition in sport. Attending a game during Tiger Stadium's final season, Pierce notes that he has no attachment to aging concrete, despite hailing from Boston, ""where ballparks... find themselves afflicted with talismanic characteristics, as though they were concrete Kennedys."" Ten years after the Seoul Olympics, he wonders aloud how Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson's steroid use made him a villain, while Mark McGwire's made him a hero. One wonders, in fact, why these fluff pieces were included at all, since they tend to work at cross purposes with Pierce's thesis: ""Big games are not about trophies and banners.... [M]emories are at stake, entire lifetimes of them."" Pierce's finely detailed pieces should resonate with any sports fan who has watched in desperate agony as his team succumbs to inadequacy, and who knows the passionate optimism that springs when the season starts anew. (Jan.)