Friday, September 27, 2013

Review: The Best American Sports Writing 2013

J.R. Moehringer, Editor

This space has contained reviews of the annual book, "The Best American Sports Writing," for years. It's always been very, very good reading, often receiving the relatively rare five-star rating. It's to the point where I'm hard pressed to come up with something different to say each year, other than "go buy it, you'll be glad you did."

This year ... was different.

Series editor Glenn Stout, was always opens the book with a thoughtful introduction, sets the tone right from page xi. He reminds us that sports can be a path to finding out more about a particular person or situation, although not necessarily the path. That meshes with my own experiences, particularly when it comes to the running stories I write. Runners run for a variety of different reasons, and it's often fascinating to find out the details as a clue to a bigger story about human behavior.

That led into an introduction by this year's guest editor, J.R. Moehringer, who started as a daily sportswriter but moved into different areas - drawn by the stories that sports can create but not necessarily drawn by the sports themselves.

After a handful of pages went by, I didn't need much more time to reach a conclusion. Moehringer was going to be using a much bigger net to capture stories that previous editors.

There are a couple of ways of expressing that. First, only a handful of stories are about athletes in the public eye. Most deal with people we don't know dealing with extraordinary situations; in other words, nothing about Tiger Woods here. Second, there are stories in here from sources such as Sports Illustrated and ESPN the magazine that I didn't read the first time around. I don't recall that happening often in this series, but I read them here because I had faith in the selections that they would be worth my time.

Let's add a third - the first story in the book, arguably designed to be the showcase piece of all 25 picks, is on bullfighting. While the story is very well done and full of drama, bullfighting isn't something that pops up on sports talk radio of SportsCenter very often. OK, never. It's followed by an article on bowling, and then by two athletes dying young. No, it's not your older brother's anthology.

One of the few articles on someone in the public eye could have been published in an anthology of business stories. It's the story of Curt Schilling's spiral into corporate bankruptcy with his video games company. "End Game" is fascinating reading, but baseball barely takes even a supporting role.

There is much to enjoy here. Charles Siebert's look at an undrafted free agent's attempt to stick in the NFL was very enlightening. "At the Corner of Love and Basketball" by Allison Glock held me more or less captive. A look back at a "Simpson's" episode on baseball was terrific. I also remembered stories on principled athletes and Urban Meyer from the first time I read them, and they were worth reading again here.

On the other hand, there were a couple of stories that I quit reading well before the halfway point, and a few others that didn't quite add up for me - emphasis on "for me."

And that's the charm of the series. I don't have to like all of the picks, but the selections of "The Best American Sports Writing" force me to try to read stories that I wouldn't normally cover. Moehringer's success rate wasn't quite as good as some of the other editors, at least to me, but you may have a different experience. The journey, though, is always worth taking.

Four stars

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