Namath, Hornung, Unitas, Auerbach, Starr, Palmer, Gehrig. These legendary sports names have been imprinted on the American mind just as deeply as Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Kennedy. And this fall, sports publishers have produced a plethora of quality sports biographies sure to make an impact on the marketplace.
"Biographies are kind of like reality television," says Nancy Rothschild, director, marketing/publicity, at Taylor Trade Publishing. "They provide real-life snippets about larger-than-life people. Americans love nothing more than the inside scoop, even if, especially if, it's just speculation."
"Regardless of the sport," says Tom McCarthy, senior editor at the Lyons Press, "an athlete's talent, his or her effortlessness and grace in performing, attracts attention and curiosity. Maybe envy. It's the cult of celebrity."
"In today's society with all of the political upheaval," says Peter L. Bannon, president, Sports Publishing, "where you can't tell who to believe, sports and the people who play them can provide a clear, simple, understandable picture. That simple clarity is something we all crave today."
"Biography is a popular form for sports books," says Bob Bender, senior editor at Simon & Schuster, "because sports focuses so heavily on outstanding athletes: record breakers, Hall of Famers, the people who surpass everyone's expectations and are talked about for decades."
Perhaps one of the most charismatic football players of the last half-century was Joe Namath of the New York Jets. In Namath—which has been compared favorably with the twin icons of sports biography, DiMaggio by Richard Ben Cramer and Sandy Koufax by Jane Leavy—author Mark Kriegel looks at the boy from Beaver Falls, Pa., who became Broadway Joe and led the Jets to the biggest upset in pro football history. "Namath interested me as the subject for a biography because he was more than just an extraordinarily talented quarterback," says Rick Kot, executive editor at Viking. "For millions of baby boomers, he was a genuine icon, the epitome of cool. He was really the first sports star to transcend the category and become an all-round celebrity, a celebrity whose power was such that he became an effective advertising spokesman for everything from pantyhose to Ovaltine. And I suspect that the story of his rise and fall will have particular resonance for middle-aged men." Kriegel has been promoting since August, and a 20-city TV satellite and radio tour are on the schedule. Currently, there are more than 85,000 copies in print.
Paul Hornung, another playboy of the gridiron, will make a big splash this October with the publication of his autobiography, Golden Boy. "Hornung is outspoken, for one thing," says Bob Bender of S&S. "He tells candid stories about the Packers of his era. He is honest about his suspension for gambling, acknowledging that he was guilty—but far from alone in gambling on games. He also addresses the recent controversy over his remarks about Notre Dame football. Hornung is a larger-than-life figure, and his book reflects that: lots of great football stories, but also plenty of stories about women, gambling, broadcasting and more." S&S is planning a major media blitz with national publicity, including print, radio, TV and a seven-city tour. The initial printing will be 75,000 copies.
While Namath and Hornung may have gotten the headlines, the girls and the glory, Bart Starr did nothing but deliver championship after championship for the Green Bay Packers. "Our Green Bay Packers books have been big winners," says Rothschild of Taylor. "The Glory of Titletown and Nitschke continue to have solid sales, especially around the holidays, even though they are a few years old. We scoured the marketplace for what hadn't been done and to our surprise the only thing on Starr was his own autobiography, now 15 years old and out of print. We found the right cheesehead and went for it." Bart Starr: When Leadership Mattered by David Claerbaut will have an extensive Wisconsin signing tour in October, including media appearances in Green Bay and Milwaukee.
There doesn't seem to be much doubt that the greatest quarterback of all time was the late Johnny Unitas of the Baltimore Colts. Triumph tells the whole story in Unitas: America's Quarterback by Lou Sahadi. "Johnny Unitas is still such a big name in sports history that every fan knows who he is, but they don't know the details about his life," says Triumph's president/publisher Mitch Rogatz. "This was simply a book that we had to do." Triumph plans a 25,000-copy first printing.
What do you get when you combine perennial bestselling author John Feinstein and basketball legend Red Auerbach? Little, Brown is hoping for a megaseller when they publish Let Me Tell You a Story: A Lifetime in the Game this October. "John Feinstein told me about a small, private, weekly lunch with Red Auerbach that he'd been attending for years," says Michael Pietsch, publisher of Little, Brown, "and occasionally would relay a story that emerged at one of the lunches. When he told me that Red had agreed to let him write a book about him, based on the stories he'd told at lunch over the years, I was ecstatic—here was the most revered figure in basketball, and one of the great raconteurs of all time, teaming up with the greatest sportswriter of our time. It was, as they say on the court, a natural. It's a biography in the form of stories—some of them pretty salty. Red doesn't hold back when he thinks a particular figure in the sports world is not all he's made out to be." Little, Brown plans national television appearances and a television and radio satellite tour for Feinstein. The first printing is an impressive 200,000 copies.
One of the great tragedies of the war on terrorism was the death in Afghanistan by friendly fire of Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinal safety. There has already been one Tillman biography this year, Fields of Honor by Jonathan Rand, which was published in mass market paperback by Chamberlain Bros. last May. It will be joined by I've Got Things to Do with My Life: Pat Tillman and the Making of an American Hero by Mike Towle. "Like other publishers," says Rogatz of Triumph, "we saw that there was a great story to tell in Pat Tillman's life. But that doesn't mean we were going to do a Pat Tillman book just to do one. It had to be a good book. When we were sent Towle's manuscript, we were immediately excited and decided it was the right book for us—respectful, detailed, researched and well written." Triumph plans a 15,000-copy hardcover first printing.
One of the great heroes of not only American sports but of America itself is Jackie Robinson. Everyone knows how he broke baseball's apartheid in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, but few realize what he went through the previous year as a member of the Montreal Royals of the International League. In Blackout: The Untold Story of Jackie Robinson's First Spring Training (Univ. of Nebraska, Sept.) author Chris Lamb tells what Robinson faced in 1946 in segregated Florida—six weeks that would become a critical juncture for the national pastime and for an American society on the threshold of a civil rights revolution.
Another football legend getting the full biography treatment is George "Papa Bear" Halas, the founder and longtime head coach of the Chicago Bears. "We published Papa Bear," says Mark Weinstein, editor at McGraw-Hill Trade, "because there has never been an exhaustive, meticulously researched biography of Halas—arguably the most important figure in the history of American professional sports." McGraw-Hill plans a national radio, television and print media campaign, as well as a concentrated publicity effort, including author appearances, in the Chicago area.
Is there a more frightening—or more opinionated—defensive end in football than Tampa Bay's Simeon Rice? Now he'll tell you his side of the story in Rush to Judgment: The Simeon Rice Story, which will be published by the Lyons Press in November. "This is not just another sports hagiography," says his editor, Tom McCarthy. "Simeon provides a crisp glimpse into the life of an athlete. He writes about race and education and relationships. He was a teammate of Pat Tillman, and Simeon's comments on Tillman were a source of controversy. Look at Simeon's career and you soon come to realize that playing on Sunday is the easy part of playing pro football." Lyons plans a 30,000-copy first printing backed up by an extensive national media tour.
Of course, next to Terrell Owens, Simeon Rice seems like Marcel Marceau. Owens tells his story in Catch This: Going Deep with the NFL's Sharpest Weapon, written with Stephen Singular. "Terrell speaks candidly regarding his extremely publicized fight with San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci," says Jack Sallay, publishing coordinator for Simon & Schuster, "and also reveals the truth behind the NFL's attempt to deny him free agency in 2004, his trade to the Baltimore Ravens and his ultimate happy landing with the Philadelphia Eagles. It's a no-holds-barred account that will get lots of ink." S&S will give this title a national media blitz. The initial printing will be 40,000 copies.
Who is the most popular golfer of all time? The name Arnold Palmer would top most lists. "We are thrilled to publish Arnold Palmer," says Leslie Stoker, president/publisher of Stewart, Tabori & Chang, "because he's such a beloved athlete—and person—and he has led an amazing life." Stoker points out that this is Palmer's first illustrated autobiographical book, with 100 photos from Arnie's archives. But the real hook is that the book also features 14 removable facsimile collectibles, including one of Arnie's scorecards from the U.S. Open, a shot booklet, his Dial-a-Problem—Arnie's tips for various golfing problems. ST&C plans heavy placement in national and regional golf publications, plus radio giveaways.
Sports Publishing of Champaign, Ill., has given a different twist to its new Beyond the Book series. "While other publishers have packaged DVDs with books before," said Kevin King, v-p of sales/marketing, "we believe this to be the first series of books with exclusive-content DVDs that enhance the reading experience. We script it, we shoot it, we edit it; this isn't a repackaging of content." SP launched this series with John Starks: My Life by John Starks with Dan Markowitz, Like a Rose: A Thoughtful Celebration of Football by Rick Telander, Clyde the Glide by Clyde Drexler with Kerry Eggers, Tributes II: Remembering More of the World's Greatest Professional Wrestlers by Dave Meltzer, Bobby Bowden's Tales from the Seminole Sideline by Bobby Bowden with Steve Ellis (Sept.) and Dick Enberg: Oh My! 50 Years of Rubbing Shoulders with Greatness by Dick Enberg with Jim Perry (Nov.). Major promotion is planned for each title and Peter L. Bannon adds, "I'd say our level of celebrity authors, the amount of media exposure we are able to generate for our books and the number of signings and personal appearances by our authors rivals—and often exceeds—that of publishers much bigger than us."
Greenwood Books is also getting into the biography business. With its new Baseball's Greatest Hitters series, the publisher will profile the best 12 hitters of all time as selected by Greenwood's editorial board. "While great care was taken to conscientiously select players based on their career achievements," says Rob Kirkpatrick, senior editor of Greenwood, "the title/premise of the series is purposefully contentious, as we hope to inspire further discussion in the delightful baseball tradition of debating who the best hitters in history were." First up are Lou Gehrig by William C. Kashatus and Ted Williams by Bruce Markusen. Greenwood plans an initial 10,000-copy first printing on each title and plans to back it up with ads in major library media.
One man familiar to book buyers is Phil Jackson, the former coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, who has been writing books for more than two decades. His latest, appropriately called The Last Season, is being published by Scott Moyers, senior editor at the Penguin Press. "Phil Jackson is arguably the greatest NBA coach of our time," says Moyers, "and certainly for my money the most interesting and one with a bestselling track record, offering his quite candid take on one of the most pressurized and dramatic seasons a pro team in any sport has had to endure. We expect some of its contents to make news, but the quality of the writing is so high, the pleasure of the read so intense and the book's insights into the NBA's in some ways troubled culture so arresting that we're focused far beyond the usual sphere of 'sports book' publishing." The Penguin Press plans major media appearances with Jackson.
Aron Ralston captured the headlines when he was involved in a climbing accident and was forced to amputate part of his right arm to save his life. The whole fascinating story will be told in Between a Rock and a Hard Place. "Aron Ralston's book is one of the most extraordinary stories of the human spirit," says Karen Mender, v-p/deputy publisher of Atria. "He not only has an amazing story to tell, but we also found he had an amazing ability to write beautifully. When we acquired, we felt it had the potential to become one of the bestselling books of all time in the genre, especially because he is such an incredibly impressive writer, speaker and motivator." Atria plans a media onslaught that will be highlighted by appearances on such national shows as Today and Dateline NBC. The initial printing will be 250,000 copies.
Like Ichiro, Yao Ming has heightened the level of play since he arrived from China several years ago. Miramax is taking advantage with Yao: A Life in Two Worlds, written with Ric Bucher. "I thought Yao would speak to a broad audience beyond the sports market," says Jonathan Burnham, president/editor-in-chief of Miramax Books. "It's the story of a cultural and political journey as well as a sports narrative. Yao is unique because it gives us Yao's own perspective on a remarkable life and career, moving from China to Houston, and from relative obscurity to international stardom." National media are already lined up including Today and David Letterman. The first printing will be 85,000 copies.
Perhaps the most unusual "biography" this season is Wrigley Field: The Unauthorized Biography by Stuart Shea being published by Brassey's. "This ballpark is a shrine for the game," says Kevin Cuddihy, assistant editor at Brassey's, "an experience like no other, and deserves a detailed, objective history." Brassey's, according to Cuddihy, plans to "blanket the Chicago area" with promotion and publicity.
The Spirit of Seabiscuit
Seabiscuit changed the equation. Today, horse books are part of the mainstream of the sports publishing industry, much more popular than other categories like hockey or even basketball.
"Before Seabiscuit, very few racing history books were successful," says Steven D. Price, consulting editor for equestrian books at Lyons Press. "Seabiscuit's popularity came in no small part from the story of a horse and jockey that didn't figure beating the odds. That's one of the sport's enduring dreams, which most of the other racing books also reflect."
Says Bruce H. Franklin, publish of Westholme, "It also helped that in two succeeding years, we had Seabiscuit-like horses—Funny Cide and Smarty Jones—vying for the Triple Crown, keeping the magic alive—and making Seabiscuit's story even more real."
"Horse-racing is a sport deeply steeped in history and tradition," says Mark Weinstein of McGraw-Hill. "Clearly the success of Seabiscuit—both the book and the film—have renewed interest in the sport. The truth of the matter is that, because the rich history of horse racing hasn't been mined to the depths that perhaps our other sports have, there are still a ton of untold stories left to tell."
Although the American Horse Council says there are some seven million horses in the U.S. and $112 billion is spent throughout the horse industry, it is still tricky identifying who the horse-book buying public is.
"Teenage girls are a giant market for horse books," opines Franklin.
"The general perception of horse owners is one of privilege and affluency," says Gerilyn Parfitt, marketing manager at the Eclipse Press. "In reality, while there is certainly an elite faction, the 'horse crowd' is actually a very diverse group. United in their pursuit of a passion or a profession, individuals' differences in age, education and income become secondary. Throughout the process of publishing and marketing our titles, we focus on what the niche group has in common—be it involvement with a certain breed or discipline, interest in racehorse partnerships or concern with horse health care and management issues."
Horse racing also tells us a lot about our country's history. One fascinating November title is Wink: The Incredible Life and Epic Journey of Jimmy Winkfield by Ed Hotaling. Winkfield, recently elected to the National Racing Hall of Fame, was an African-American jockey who dominated the sport, winning two Kentucky Derbys by 1902. "The world has largely forgotten that in the late 1800s," says Weinstein of McGraw-Hill, "black jockeys dominated the world of horse racing. But Jimmy Winkfield was the last black jockey to win the sport's top prize, the Kentucky Derby, which he did twice in back-to-back years. Forced out of American horse racing by racism and hard times, Winkfield became the three-time Russian national champion and won races all over Europe at a time when the purses there were many times bigger than the largest American purses. Wink is unique in that it's one of the great forgotten stories of sports in the 20th century. It also offers an unusual glimpse into world history through the eyes of a black jockey encountering racism at every turn. We feel that these two elements combined to make for one of the most compelling reads in recent years." McGraw-Hill is planning a national print and radio campaign.
Another compelling historical story is Man O' War by Page Cooper and Roger L. Treat, which was originally published in 1950. "Man O' War was the Babe Ruth of horse racing," says Franklin of Westholme. "For such a well-known horse, there are surprisingly few books about him. And the one I published is an absolute classic—its writing style is superb, the story line is exciting, and it has a lot of hard facts in the appendixes in the back, such as all of his race results in detail. Of all the horse books I've read and seen, this is the closest to the feeling you get when reading Laura Hillenbrand's masterpiece."
Other titles tracking the great history of the sport include Women of the Year: Ten Fillies Who Achieved Horse Racing's Highest Honor by Blood-Horse Magazine, The Agua Caliente Story: Remembering Mexico's Legendary Racetrack by David Jimenez Beltran and Legends of the Turf: A Century of Great Thoroughbred Breeders (Vol. 2) by Edward L. Bowen, all published by the Eclipse Press. The Home Run Horse: Inside America's Billion-Dollar Racehorse Industry and the High-Stakes Dreams That Fuel It by Glenye Cain is being published by Daily Racing Form Press.
Although the colorful history of horse racing is always highlighted, perhaps the bread- and-butter titles that make equestrian publishing work are instructional. Eclipse this fall has two instructional titles on its list: Care & Management of Horses: A Practical Guide for the Horse Owner by Heather Smith Thomas and Happy Trails: Your Complete Guide to Fun and Safe Trail Riding by Les Sellnow. "Each of these authors is an established journalist and experienced horse person," says Eclipse's Parfitt, "and each leverages this combination to comprehensively address the subject of their book in a straightforward, commonsense way." Eclipse plans to promote each title through a variety of both horse and outdoor life/camping magazines and also through the national and state parks offering the facilities to enjoy this recreational pastime.
"Horse books have traditionally been backlist mainstays," says Lyons's Price, "thanks to new generations of equestrians. Although fads and fashions in riding and training change, sound training advice and such other information as veterinary care endure. Riders want to improve their horses and themselves, and such books are the equivalent of operator's manuals. Plus, every year another crop of horse-crazy kids comes along, and relatives are always looking for suitable birthday and holiday presents." Lyons will have three titles this fall to take advantage of this trend: Horse Conformation: Structure, Soundness and Performance by Equine Research, The Complete Trail Horse by Dan Aadland and Backyard Horsekeeping: The Only Guide You'll Ever Need by Joan Fry.
Other instructional titles for the season include Schooling and Riding the Sport Horse: A Modern American Hunter/Jumper System by Paul D. Cronin (Univ. of Virginia, Nov.), Ten Golden Rules of Horse Training: Universal Laws for all Training Levels and Riding Styles by Bruce Nock (Half Halt Press) and Clinton Anderson's Downunder Horsemanship: Establishing Respect and Control for English and Western Riders by Clinton Anderson with Ami Hendrickson and Ride Right with Daniel Stewart: Balance Your Frame and Frame of Mind with an Unmounted Workout and Sports Psychology System by Daniel Stewart, both out from Trafalgar Square.
College Football—America's Saturday Afternoon Delight
The controversy continues over what is America's favorite spectator sport—baseball or pro football—but there is no debate about what is America's favorite sport on autumn Saturday afternoons—it's college football, hands down. And this season that popularity is evidenced by some superb titles.
"The success of The Junction Boys a few years back," Kate Thompson, acquisitions editor, of the Wisconsin Historical Society Press, "helped blaze the trail for deeply researched and eloquently written books about college football. Readers right now are responding strongly to books that take them back to the days when college football was about friendship, teamwork, hard practice—and perhaps even answering a calling higher than football."
"College football has become the Saturday afternoon pastime for millions," insists Rothschild of Taylor. "Not only is stadium attendance up, but so are TV ratings and merchandise sales. Teams are better, rivalries are pushed by schools and media, and individual and team awards are more highly publicized and pressured than ever."
"College football has been hugely popular for a long time now," says Marc Resnick of St. Martin's, "and the fall is the best time to publish books on this subject. One possibility for why we're seeing so many books on college football now is that media saturation of the NFL leaves very little left for football fans to discover. College football hasn't quite reached that point. There are still plenty of terrific untold stories out there and publishers are taking advantage."
"The stories may have been there all along," says Ron Martirano, associate editor for Chamberlain Bros., "but I think now we're all starting to recognize the strength of the market for them, especially in its ability to get beyond the regional appeal that sometimes limits books focused solely on professional sports."
With the war in Iraq still raging, it's interesting to look back in our history and see how college football has influenced and molded men who went to war for their country. In fact, this season there are two titles that deal with college football players who eventually ended up fighting in World War II. Third Down and a War to Go: The All-American 1942 Wisconsin Badgers by Terry Frei is a moving story of men on the gridiron and on the battlefield. "Among the many 'greatest generation' titles published recently," says Wisconsin's Thompson, "Third Down is a memorial to this generation of men who are passing from the scene. As the son of one of the '42 Badgers—Jerry Frei, a decorated P-38 pilot who went on to a long coaching and NFL scouting career—Terry Frei, author of Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming, was driven to tell this story without mythologizing the players. You can sense that motivation on every page." Wisconsin plans author signings across the state and will have 15 60-second spots to air on local ESPN radio.
The All Americans by Lars Anderson is the story of the players who played in the Army-Navy game of 1941 and then went to war. "This book is simply unlike any WWII or college football story I've ever read," says St. Martin's Resnick. "It's amazing this story hasn't been told. It's that rare tale that follows a group of young men from the athletic fields into the drama of war. Whether it's storming Omaha Beach or being on a sinking ship in the Pacific, these young men learned quite a bit through their experience as students and football players, but nothing fully prepared them for the realities of war." St. Martin's plans a major sports radio campaign, sports cable media, print ads and review coverage and will have a first printing of 30,000 copies.
Whether we like to admit it or not, the business of college football is, indeed, big business. In Every Week a Season: A Journey Inside Big-Time College Football, Brian Curtis takes a look inside the major league college football programs of LSU, Georgia, Florida State, Tennessee, Arizona State, Wisconsin, Boston College, Colorado State and Maryland. "[T]his book... functions as a survey course in college football," says Mark Tavani, editor at the Random House Publishing Group for this Ballantine title. "I was also drawn to the project because of the potential for regional attention. In nine separate American cities, this book will have regional appeal—on campus and off." Expect national media and a nine-city publicity tour. The initial printing will be 28,000 copies.
What would autumn Saturdays be without the bitter rivalries? There are several titles exploring hatred rivalries, starting off with The 100-Yard War: Inside the 100-Year-Old Michigan-Ohio State Football Rivalry by Greg Emmanuel. "They have devoted regional followings," says Stephen S. Power, senior editor at Wiley, "but they also have roughly a million alumni between them scattered across the country and connected through strong alumni networks, making the book more than just a regional buy. This book is the only one on the rivalry, one of the oldest and most storied in college football." The author will be doing several signings in Michigan and Ohio, including in Columbus the day of the big game this year on November 20. Wiley is also planning an intense print campaign.
The 1971 matchup between Nebraska and Oklahoma is now considered one of the classics. Michael Corcoran has captured the drama of that Thanksgiving Day national telecast in The Game of the Century: Nebraska vs. Oklahoma in College Football's Ultimate Battle."It was a nearly perfect match," recalls Tara Parsons, associate editor at Simon & Schuster, "with all kinds of college football greats pitted against one another in two powerhouse teams, a single penalty and one of the most famous plays in college football history. It's also one of the few games where people still talk about the loser as being one of the great teams of all time." S&S is planning local and national media for this title.
Natural Enemies: Major College Football's Oldest, Fiercest Rivalry—Michigan vs. Notre Dame by John Kryk examines the intense rivalry between the Wolverines and the Fighting Irish. "You won't find more rabid or dedicated football fans than Ann Arbor and South Bend," says Taylor's Rothschild. "Kryk has uncovered some great inside stories about this ongoing grudge match, his writing is superb and the photographs and memorabilia he uncovered to include in the interior are especially worthwhile." Look for regional publicity for this title.
Other titles that will highlight rivalries include Crown's The Only Game That Matters by Bernard Corbett and Paul Simpson, an in-depth look at the living history that is the Harvard-Yale rivalry from the perspective of the 2002 season, and Westholme's Bowl Games: College Football's Greatest Tradition by Robert M. Ours (Oct.).
Team "biographies" are also in vogue this season with four titles. Is there a more exciting—or controversial—team than the Miami Hurricanes? In 'Cane Mutiny: How the Miami Hurricanes Overturned the Football Establishment, Bruce Feldman show how Miami went from laughingstock to a college football legend and along the way produced the likes of Ray Lewis, Vinny Testaverde, Warren Sapp, Jim Kelly and Jeremy Shockey. "The history of UM football is rich with players, personalities, and controversies," says Ron Martirano of Chamberlain Bros., "and it's ultimately a success story. This is a program that went from near death to dynasty, and when you look at the professional talent that has come through in between, there's clearly something going on there worth discussing." Other team biographies include Six Seasons Remembered: The National Championship Years of Tennessee Football by Haywood Harris and Gus Manning (Univ. of Tennessee), which commemorates the six national championship Volunteers teams of 1938, 1940, 1950, 1951, 1967 and 1998. Arcadia focuses on two stalwarts with Dartmouth College Football: Green Fields of Autumn by David Shribman and Jack DeGange and Auburn Football by Elizabeth Schafer.