This estimable series that started in 1991 presents the best sports articles featured in American publications in the selected year. Over the last couple of years, the anthology has seen a small but palpable shift toward online outlets, while for much of its early history well-known publications such as
Sports Illustrated dominated the selections. Interestingly, the 2014 version contains not a single piece from
Sports Illustrated. Has the torch passed?
Although this collection may not be as strong and interesting as some of the ones in the past, several stand out, both for the singular topic that they cover and for the quality of the writing. Koshien is a twice-yearly high school baseball tournament in Japan. Koshien’s single-elimination format amps up the pressure geometrically, and the short duration of the tournament means that a team’s best pitcher has to pitch on short rest. Daisuke Matsuzaka became a legend when he made 767 pitches in six games in 1998. So did Yu Darvish, now a major league player. In a lengthy and evocative piece, Chris Jones examines what Koshien means to a pitcher in Japan through the story of Tomohiro Anraku, one of the best pitchers for his age in the world. The previous year, Anraku had pitched outstandingly in all the games leading up to the championship game, but in the final he faltered badly, clearly exhausted. Jones’s piece, that sets up the context quite vividly, shows how the meaning of success varies across cultures.
Jay Caspian Kang profiles the desperate attempt of boxing promoter Don King to stage a comeback. While seemingly caught up in King’s vortex of self-rationalization on the surface, the article shows how, deep down, the author doesn’t fully buy King’s portrayal of himself as a victim. Li Na, the Chinese tennis player, is not only a great and accomplished athlete, but in Brook Larmer’s telling, is a pretty funny person with a charming and interesting worldview.
Not all of the twenty-five selections are compelling. Some, like Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey’s flippant take on former Notre Dame footballer Manti Teo’s fake girlfriend, are too superficial and written clearly for those with very short attention spans. Others, like Patrick Hruby’s description of a high-schooler’s choice of sport, lack the depth to be praiseworthy. The good ones, though, continue to make this anthology series a must-read for the sports fan.