At this time of year, lots of people struggle to find the perfect gift to give. I don't. When in doubt, I buy someone I love a book.
Of course, I get the right kind of book for the right kind of person. I don't buy Eat, Pray, Love in bulk on Amazon for all the Eagles fans in my life, for instance. But of all the great gifts you can give someone, a book is one of the greatest and the easiest. So if you're still shopping, here are a few sports-themed titles that you might consider (listed in alphabetical order by the authors' names).
Disclaimer: I know a few of the people who wrote these books. Some of them are even friends of mine, even if they wouldn't admit as much in public. I make no apologies for including them on this list because they produced excellent (in some cases, astonishing) work that I would endorse even if I didn't know them.
Bottom of the 33rd by Dan Barry
I'm a sucker for narrative non-fiction (as this list shows), and in particular for books that use a single significant event as the fulcrum for a broader examination of people's lives and/or American history and culture. Barry's story of the longest game in professional baseball history is one of the best.
And the Walls Came Tumbling Down by Frank Fitzpatrick
Years before I met Fitz and started working with him at the Inquirer, I read his account of the 1966 NCAA championship game between Texas Western - the first team with five black starters to win a national title - and Kentucky. And I really hated him for it because it was so good.
Seabiscuit and Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand
If you see these films (Unbroken is just hitting theaters) and don't read the books that they're based on, you're doing yourself a disservice. Hillenbrand writes like a dream, and the depth and precision of her research and reporting are astounding - especially when you consider the limitations that her unusual illness places on her. When she describes, early in Seabiscuit, how a flood in Tijuana moved a wall of horse manure through the city "like a mighty shit Godzilla," it's impossible not to smile and shake your head in wonder.
Rome 1960 and Clemente by David Maraniss
Generally, Maraniss' biography of Vince Lombardi, When Pride Still Mattered, is regarded as his best sports book. But I preferred his account of the 1960 Summer Olympics and his exploration of the social significance of Roberto Clemente's life and major-league career.
This Day in Philadelphia Sports by Brian Startare and Kevin Reavy
What a cool idea for a book. Startare and Reavy did their homework and provide an important moment in Philadelphia sports for every day of the calendar. A fun read … and a handy reference tool for a sportswriter.
The Miracle of St. Anthony by Adrian Wojnarowski
The season-inside genre of sports book is a popular one; John Feinstein's A Season on the Brink is the template. But Woj's classic, about a year in Jersey City with coach Bob Hurley and St. Anthony High School's boys basketball team, is a marvel because it goes so far beyond the games and the people. It's an analysis of the condition of urban America, of the value of sports and Catholic education, of the qualities it takes to survive and move on from the nation's meanest streets.