This estimable anthology, now in its twentieth year, continues to showcase American sports journalism at its vaunted best. The current edition is edited by Peter Gammons, erstwhile ESPN talent but long known to sports aficionados as a brilliant writer for The Boston Globe. In recent years, this collection has seen a distinct shift toward online publications, but the 2010 version sees contributions from the big names of print – the likes of The New Yorker, Sports Illustrated and The New York Times.
In “The No-Stats All-Star,” Michael Lewis offers a penetrating portrait of Shane Battier, the Memphis Grizzlies forward in the NBA, whose statistical performance often falls under the radar but whose myriad unnoticed contributions often determine the results. Very often, the quiet and erudite (he graduated from Duke) Battier draws the defensive assignment of guarding the opponent’s best player – Kobe Bryant one day and LeBron James the next. Amidst all the glory generated by the offensive player, Lewis spotlights the one or two key defensive plays by Battier that stand out. Lewis, known for his “fly-on-the-wall” pieces on stalwarts such as Eli Manning, brings to the table a singular way of viewing a player’s contributions, even when the stats sheet doesn’t underscore it.
In an otherwise nondescript college softball game, Mallory Holtman of Central Washington University did something that made grown men weep. When an opposing player, Sara Tucholsky hit a home run (the player’s career first), she hurt her foot badly rounding first base. Baseball rules insist that the home run hitter round all bases for the run to count. More importantly, the player would be ruled out if any of her teammates helped her to her feet. Into this quandary stepped Mallory. She asked a teammate to help her carry Sara around the bases in an unprecedented act of sportsmanship that elicited a half-facetious marriage proposal from a seventy-four year old man, a nationwide awareness of the human side of sports, and a You Tube-spiraled appreciation of this young woman’s remarkable and spontaneous act. In the anthology’s lead-off piece, “The Way It Should Be,” Thomas Lake captures the moment in pitch perfect prose and, more importantly, places the incident in the context of its impact.
While there are some marginal pieces (Pat Jordan’s lightweight “Chasing Jose” comes to mind), the twenty-six articles in the book offer a deeply personal look at sports in America. This is an anthology that serious sports fans cherish, and the current volume does not disappoint. It showcases the many faces of sports with a keen eye for detail and carefully crafted prose.