Monday, September 5, 2016

Review: Any Given Number (2014)

By Bill Syken

When it comes to ideas for Sports Illustrated's books, this was something of a lay-up.

Have someone pick out the greatest "uniform" number (NASCAR numbers are included as well) for every number from 0 to 99. Then go through the files to find pictures, and add a few facts about unusual circumstances for a few of the sports figures and their numbers.

Presto. Instant book.

There are no right or wrong answers here, but all of the choices seem as if they can be justified pretty well. Author Bill Syken (you have to look really hard here to find out that he did the writing) supplies plenty of facts to go along with the top candidates, and each number has a flurry of "honorable mentions."

From there, let the arguments begin. For example, let's look at No. 7. Old-timers always will think of Mickey Mantle, while younger people will lean toward John Elway. That's a pretty tough call.

The standards seem to change a little bit when it's convenient to make an argument. At certain points players get credit for being the best ever in their sport or at a position, while at other times they don't. For example, Gordie Howe probably is at worst in the top three of all-time great hockey players, but falls short on No. 9 to a baseball player named Ted Williams. Both are legends, and baseball is more popular. Williams gets the nod in the book. On the other hand, Bobby Orr is picked over Brett Favre at No. 4. As I said, it's an inexact science.

The packaging is fine, as there are plenty of good photos from the SI files. They did a good job of players who popped up in unusual numbers for one reason or another - players who took numbers for the date they were born or date they arrived in a new country or for their old neighborhood.

Basically, there's one big drawback - the price. In hard cover, it checks in at $19.95 new. There's really not much to read here; you can zip through it all pretty quickly. For that sort of money, you need more to read - and it's not coming. Maybe a paperback edition would have been the route to use.

However, the book has been out for a couple of years now. I picked up a copy at a discount store for $1.99. I've paid more for a bottle of soda pop at a baseball game, and this is well worth that.

We're all a little fascinated by the numbers that athletes wear; it almost becomes part of their identity. "Any Given Number" capitalizes on that so that it's best possible treatment of a relatively silly and fun subject.

Three stars

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