Thursday, December 24, 2015

Review: The Best American Sports Writing 2015 (2015)

Edited by Wright Thompson

The Best American Sports Writing series began in 1991, and it made an immediate impression with me - and not just because my name was mentioned in one of the included stories for a couple of paragraphs. It was instantly judged to be a worthy successor to similar anthologies in the field. You might be able to find some of them in the dusty parts of the library.

Here we are, 25 years later, and the series is still moving along nicely. Glenn Stout has proved to be a more than capable guardian for the idea, passing along the guest editor's job to some of the top names in the business. In 2015, he handed the reins over to Wright Thompson, the fine writer for ESPN.

Thompson has picked out the final choices of articles that appear in "The Best American Sports Writing 2015." I've read every single entry in the series. Not only have I noticed how the sports journalism business has changed over the years, but I've realized the guest editor's job must be a pretty subjective one. That's because the reader's opinion of a particular year's offerings can vary with how in tune he or she might be with the editor.

I'm not going to argue here that any of the choices here feature less than top-notch work. But some of the stories in the second half of the 2015 edition have a rather liberal definition of sports, and that made them a little less compelling than the others for me. There's a family history of Kansas City, which is more geneology than sports. As I'm fond of saying, one of the few things less interesting than your fantasy sports team is your family tree. It is tough to describe what the story of people going few thousand feet into a cave is, but it's not mainstream sports. The author of an article on elephant-hunting in Africa certainly did an admirable job, but it's a tough sell for me.

So that's the good news, but there's plenty of stuff here. A story on football great Y.A. Tittle leads the book off. It was memorable the first time I read it, and sure enough those are the type of stories you want to read again. I missed the Haverford Hoops story in Sports Illustrated, and I'm glad I caught it here. Profiles of Dean Smith, Jerry Jones and Chad Curtis are all fascinating in their own ways.

I'm also proud to say that the only newspaper contribution of the bunch - talk about changing times! - came from my newspaper. Tim Graham's look at ex-Bills linebacker Darryl Talley and his concussion-related issues of retirement ranks with the best stories anywhere in 2015. Stories about head injuries have been a part of the books in this series for the past few years. In Buffalo, this one really brought the problem home for Bills fans.

I've been reviewing books in this series for several years, and they have been very popular - they rank near the top in number of hits on this blog. The review again comes down to the fact that there's always something good here - how good depending on the individual reader's point of view. In this case's, Thompson's batting average wasn't perfect for me ... but there's a good chance that the book will be even a better fit for you. So pick it up, and see how it goes.

Four stars

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