Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Review: The Year's Best Sports Writing 2023

Edited by Richard Deitsch

My personal streak of reading every different copy of "The Year's Best Sports Writing" takes a very small personal turn with the 2023 issue. Richard Deitsch is the editor of the new version. I knew Rich slightly when he was more or less just out of school in the Buffalo area, as our paths crossed a few times. 

He's obviously done quite well for himself. Deitsch's career is mostly noted for a 20-year stay at Sports Illustrated, where he did some coverage of the media as well as working on college sports, Olympics and tennis. Now he's doing media stories out of Toronto for The Athletic

In the introduction, Rich raises the basic problems of being an editor of a publication like this. The first is the "Am I worthy?" question, considering the talented list of people who have preceded him in this annual position. Then there's the chore of picking out the articles that belong in the anthology. Chore is a carefully chosen word in this case, because there is a great deal of fine material out there and picking one story over another is agonizing. 

But Deitsch does what all of would do in this situation. He received some help from several esteemed contributors. From there Deitsch tried to narrow down the candidates for publication. He writes that he asked questions like "Which pieces stayed with me days after I let them go?" and "Which pieces demanded I read them again and again?"

Any insecurities about the picks should be gone at this point. It's another worthwhile collection, for the upteenth straight year. (It depends on how you count.)

If there's a theme here, it's that sometimes the line between sports and the rest of the world sometimes is blurred. For example, baseball only touches on "She Made Us Happy." It simply a way to introduce the subject of the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas. The same could be said about Michael Rosenberg's story about of a school shooting in Michigan. The sports connection might be even more blurred as sportswriter Jonathan Tiarks describes his eventual losing battle with cancer, leaving a son behind in the process. You probably can argue whether the stories belong here, but they will stay with you. 

There are other stories that if you read them in the original form, you'd know they'd probably appear here. The great Wright Thompson checks in with the tale of the Ukrainian national soccer team, men trying to find a little sanity through a game while the rest of their lives have turned to chaos because of the war there. David Remnick's tribute to Roger Angell hits all the right notes. Some good investigate work on such subjects as Deshaun Watson and the killing of Auburn's iconic trees on its campus take a bow here too.

Then there are the surprising topics that draw the reader in just by the subject. Stone skipping? The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders? Cornhole? Port-A-Potty?

Not surprisingly, Deitsch ends with a tribute to Grant Wahl, the former Sports Illustrated writer who died while covering the World Cup. Wahl was incredibly liked and respected, based on the outpouring of stories upon his passing. He was said to have been very proud of his piece on the migrant workers of Qatar - again, another story that only touches on sports but shows an excellent mixture of fine reporting and fine writing. 

I may not have gotten through every single story here in its entirety, but few books bat 1.000 in that sense. "The Year's Best Sports Writing 2023" is a worthy addition to the series.

Four stars

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