cover image The Best American Sports Writing 1996

The Best American Sports Writing 1996

John Feinstein. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $12.95 (355pp) ISBN 978-0-395-70071-6

In his introduction, Feinstein (A Good Walk Spoiled) disparages sports columnists who appear at a big event and then start peppering the beat reporters with basic questions. His choices, then, are based primarily on good reporting. In terms of follow-up, Michael Bamberger's ""Living with a Lie"" ranks among the year's best. When a reporter did a story on TV announcer Ben Wright's apparent prejudice against lesbians in golf, CBS backed its celebrity and attacked the reporter. But Bamberger didn't let it rest, and his reporting turned up much the same conclusions. David Davis's ""The 13th Round"" indicts the horrors of boxing through a touching, devastating account of heavyweight Jerry Quarry, who at 49 suffers pugilistica dementia (60% of boxers do). Tom Verducci captures the fast-lane drug route of former Mets teammates Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden in ""The High Price of Hard Living,"" while in ""Polite, Feminine, Can Bench Press Dennis Carter,"" Karen Karbo describes the first all-female crew in the 148-year history of the America's Cup and suggests they might find an edge not with biceps but with egoless cooperation. Many of the writers make clear how the promise of big-bucks TV endorsements for mostly undereducated athletes has vulgarized many sports. Roger Angell in ""The Game's the Thing"" puts it this way: ""Baseball feels like the rest of America: it feels like television."" Feinstein says he refused to be bound by a quota system for his selections and not every sport gets equal coverage. Nonetheless, if there's any flaw in this wonderful, gutsy collection, it's that 14 of the 26 selections come from only four of the 300 publications purportedly reviewed. (Nov.)