With people staying home during of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, and because there is a limit to how much Netflix you can watch, why not pick up one of those things that used to occupy us before live-streaming services.
It’s the ultimate form of cord-cutting — a book.
Welcome to The Seattle Times Sports department book club, which specializes in, you guessed it … sports books.
Here are the favorite sports books from our club members and why we recommend them:
Percy Allen, reporter
“Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete” by William C. Rhoden
A thought-provoking examination of how systemic racism in sports impacts Black athletes. Rhoden also provides a rich historical account of figures such as Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan.
“Days of Grace: A Memoir” by Arthur Ashe and Arnold Rampersad
This book was required reading for up-and-coming sportswriters in the 1990s. Arthur Ashe was one of the greatest humanitarians in sports who was a trailblazing tennis champion, a social activist and someone who displayed tremendous integrity and elegance during his fight against AIDS.
“The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists” by Art Thiel, Mike Gastineau and Steve Rudman
Sports fans love lists, and this book has 124 that cover virtually every athletic endeavor that occurred in Seattle. Published in 2009, I’m waiting on the sequel.
“The Golden Boys” by Cameron Stauth
An audacious, behind-the-scenes look at arguably the greatest team ever assembled, the 1992 USA Olympic men’s basketball team hat captured the gold medal at the Barcelona Summer Games.
“Golf for Dummies” by Gary McCord
One of the best gifts I ever received (thanks, Sideline Smitty) and the most-read book in my collection. I recommend because of its easy-to-follow instructions, tons of information and tips that’ll get you ready for the links.
Geoff Baker, reporter
“The Game” by Ken Dryden
The best hockey book ever written, through the eyes of a Hall of Fame goaltender who retired at his peak. What stands out beyond his reflections on NHL moments and personalities was Dryden’s insecurity while in nets, demonstrating why so many quickly fade at that position.
“You Gotta Play Hurt” by Dan Jenkins
Sure, it’s fiction, but it could be a nonfiction descriptor for what goes through the mind of any seasoned sportswriter covering big-time events. The humor is brilliant and a reminder — as if we need it now — that sports are mostly games and rarely mean life or death.
“Moneyball” by Michael Lewis
I’ve taken issue in print with this book’s interpretation of some events, but Lewis is an entertaining writer that spawned a sports statistical revolution. The book’s message about getting more from less has stood the test of time, despite overstating certain on-field contributions while understating others.
“Game of Shadows” by Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada
The most important book for understanding how performance-enhancing drugs had permeated the American sports landscape by the 1990s. The evidence and detail can get copious at times, but it’s also the antidote to online noise about how nothing was ever “proven” about some big-name athletes.
“They Call Me Assassin” by Jack Tatum with Bill Kushner
Given what’s now known about NFL head trauma, the reflections of feared 1970s Oakland Raiders free safety Jack Tatum are even more haunting than when I read this as a teenage defensive back. Not something young players want to emulate.
Paul Barrett, sports editor
“The Contender” by Robert Lipsyte
This was my favorite book while growing up, and I spent hours reading and rereading the story of amateur boxer Alfred Brooks and his life experiences at Donatelli’s Gym in 1960s Harlem.
“The Punch” by John Feinstein
An outstanding look back at a fight during a 1977 NBA game, in which the Lakers’ Kermit Washington severely injured the Rockets’ Rudy Tomjanovich with one punch. Feinstein thoroughly reports how the moment drastically altered the lives of both men.
“The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown
This should be required reading for all Seattle sports fans. Brown does a magnificent job with his account of the University of Washington men’s crew team that won a gold medal for the U.S. in the 1936 Olympics, all while providing two fascinating back stories — on the U.S. team members and on Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler.
“The Blind Side” by Michael Lewis
If you’re among the few who hasn’t seen the mediocre movie, do yourself a favor and read the book instead. Lewis not only does a masterful job telling Michael Oher’s unbelievable story, but he also deftly explains how one aspect of football strategy — the importance of having a good left tackle to protect the quarterback — had evolved.
Matt Calkins, columnist
“Born to Run” by Christoper McDougall
McDougall takes us inside the Tarahumara, a secret Mexican tribe replete with the best long-distance runners in the world. But just as gripping as the ultramarathoners is the revelation that, evolutionary speaking, running is in humans’ DNA more so than any other species.
“Play Their Hearts Out” by George Dohrmann
This blistering and often unsettling expose on AAU basketball shows how ruthless the world of youth hoops really is. Think the coaches are in it for the kids? After this book, you’ll start to wonder.
“Flashing Before My Eyes” by Dick Schaap
Schaap, in his own words, “collects people” — and this sportswriter’s autobiography is full of some of the most captivating personalities to have graced our planet. Whether he’s hearkening to his time with Muhammad Ali or Billy Crystal, Schaap provides nonstop entertainment with his distinct blend of humor and poignancy.
“The Life of Reilly” by Rick Reilly
This is the book that made me want to be a sports writer. In his prime, Reilly was the wittiest and most readable essayist in America, and this collection of Sports Illustrated columns and profiles proves it.
Bob Condotta, reporter
“When Pride Still Mattered” by David Maraniss
One of my favorite authors — his book on Roberto Clemente is also great — takes a nuanced look at Vince Lombardi and the NFL of the 1950s and 1960s, and he shatters a lot of conventional wisdom from that era.
“I Can’t Wait Until Tomorrow (cause I get better looking every day)” by Joe Namath
So it might not have been the best idea for my parents to buy me this book as a Christmas present when I was 8 or 9. And this is not groundbreaking journalism. But it is one of my favorites as an insight into one of the most fascinating sports figures of the 20th century.
“What’s Happenin’?” by Blaine Johnson
There aren’t enough books about Seattle sports teams, but here’s one that may be forgotten — a diary of the 1976-77 Sonics by Johnson, the beat writer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. I read and reread this as a kid for its unvarnished portraits of people such as coach Bill Russell and guard Slick Watts, as well as its account of life as a sports writer.
“The Breaks of the Game” by David Halberstam
Speaking of great books about Northwest basketball teams, Halberstam’s “year in the life’’ with Portland Trail Blazers in 1979-80 is a classic. This isn’t really a follow-the-team book as much as it is an extensive look at the business of pro sports through the Blazers.
“The Year the Mets Lost Last Place” by Dick Schaap and Paul Zimmerman
Here’s another book I read as a kid, and it made me think being a sportswriter was fun. The book is a diary-style review of nine days in the life of the 1969 Mets, including the night Tom Seaver lost a perfect game in the ninth inning.
Ryan Divish, reporter
“Beyond the Game” by Gary Smith
His story “Shadow of a Nation” about high school basketball on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana was the reason I became a sports writer. He didn’t write about sports, he wrote about people who happen to play sports.
“Fab Five” by Mitch Albom
Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King changed college basketball, and I was a high school kid enthralled by them. Albom’s book follows their journey through two unforgettable seasons.
“Friday Night Lights” by Buzz Bissinger
If you grew up in a small town or played sports in high school, you can find pieces of your life in this story of the Permian Panthers. And it’s a reminder that Texas high school football is just a little different.
“The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Innocence” by Jane Leavy
My dad almost named me Mickey after his favorite player. And I wore No. 7 because of him. This is his entire life. The good, the bad and what could have been.
“The Arm” by Jeff Passan
Reading baseball books in the offseason isn’t something I like to do, but this was fantastic. It encompasses everything from youth leagues to the big leagues. It’s smart and well-written.
Jayda Evans, reporter
“A Hard Road To Glory: A History of the African-American Athletes” by Arthur R. Ashe Jr.
This incredible three-volume compilation of Black people in sports stretches from 1619 to 1993 when an updated version was published. It’s a true gift from Ashe, with photos, stats and mind-blowing facts.
“Out of Left Field: How the Mariners Made Baseball Fly in Seattle” by Art Thiel
One of the first things I learned about Seattle when I moved here in 1999 is its love affair with the Mariners. Thiel cuts to the heart of the team to display the soul of the city. Not quite lovable losers like the Chicago Cubs, but an identity that shaped the region.
“Pacific Northwest Hiking: The Complete Guide to 1,000 of the Best Hikes in Washington and Oregon” by Ron C. Judd and Dan A. Nelson
My most treasured sports book is perfect for social distancing. This part of the U.S. is gorgeous, and following these guys’ footsteps shows you a lot of that beauty while getting some needed fresh air.
“Strong Women, Deep Closets: Lesbians and Homophobia in Sport” by Pat Griffin
More athletes have made the decision to come out as part of the LGTBQIA community, but the path isn’t easy. Despite being published in 1998, many of the topics covered remain obstacles for lesbians in sport.
“Sounders FC: Authentic Masterpiece” by Mike Gastineau
I’m toting around this book to learn more about my newest beat. And it provides insight to Seattle sports. It’s wild how everything really came together for the MLS Sounders to exist.
Larry Stone, columnist
“Ball Four” by Jim Bouton
This book was a revelation for 13-year-old me — a window into the baseball world that showed ballplayers weren’t the wholesome idols we had been led to believe. Beyond the titillating anecdotes, it’s one of the funniest books you’ll ever read.
“The Boys of Summer” by Roger Kahn
This is sports writing as literature, as the author goes back to revisit the Brooklyn Dodgers players he covered as a young journalist in New York. The result is a poignant, unforgettable memoir that is told with wit and warmth.
“Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy” by Jane Leavy
I haven’t hidden the fact that Koufax is my sports idol, so when this book came out, I was insanely excited. I devoured it and discovered that it did the impossible — not only fulfilled my unfair expectations, but surpassed them.
“Open” by Andre Agassi with J.R. Moehringer
The title says it all — Agassi opens up his soul to tell his life story, warts and all. And what a story it is. Agassi in many ways was a tortured soul, and he doesn’t leave any neurosis unturned. The result is a fascinating look at an athlete who came out the other side as a contented champion.
“Edgar” by Larry Stone
Pay for my early retirement on a beach in Hawaii. Help my kids’ inheritances. I will autograph it for you.
Mike Vorel, reporter
“Ghosts of Manila: The Fateful Blood Feud Between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier” by Mark Kram
There’s a scene in this book where, after the fight is over, Joe Frazier is limping around helplessly, demanding someone turn on a light. The lights in the room are on, but he cannot see. This great champion is reduced to rubble. I could never shake that image. This is a book about pride, greatness and the price of that pursuit.
“A Season on the Brink” by John Feinstein
John Feinstein was granted unprecedented access throughout a season during the height of Bob Knight’s powers at Indiana. He chronicled the mania and obsession that fueled Knight’s nearly unparalleled success.
“Fever Pitch” by Nick Hornby
This is the most true, funny and painfully devastating book about what it means to be a fan — what it means to invest time, money and years of your life into something that so rarely loves you back.
“The Cost of These Dreams: Sports Stories and Other Serious Business” by Wright Thompson
Wright Thompson is the finest narrative sportswriter working today. He crawls so deep inside a subject’s soul that it’s nearly impossible to fathom how he got there. From Michael Jordan to Tiger Woods, Thompson delivers images of these athletes that we’ve never seen before.
“This Bloody Mary is the Last Thing I Own: A Journey to the End of Boxing” by Jonathan Rendall
The best sports stories are usually boxing stories. And more often than not, they center on the sport’s most mythical, iconic champions. This is not that book. This book explores the sport’s dirty, unflattering edges, where has-beens and hangers-on struggle to remain in the ring.
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