2016 sports books for the holiday season: In general, they may be a bit under the radar, but don’t sleep on it

General interest, major value:

91ok8v791ml== “On The Origins of Sports: The Early History and Original Rules of Everybody’s Favorite Games,” by Gary Belsky and Neil Fine, Artisan Press, 256 pages, $19.95 (released April 19).
41dpu6nfcilThe blurb: For $20, there may be no better investment in a book that encompasses not only all the nuances and ready-known parts of what goes into a sport, but a visual display that is really unmatched by Sarah Rutherford. We know there are rules for everything. But did you know: The first rule of the Naismith “Basketball Ball” game in 1891 called for “The ball to be an ordinary Association foot ball.” Meaning, a soccer ball. Kick that around. The first UFC rules in 1993 included Rule 2: “Fight to be held in a circular pit, 20 feet in diameter (to be designed by John Milius).” Milius was a Hollywood screenwriter, and the “pit” was replaced by the octagon with a fence around it. Here, there’s also a timeline of how fantasy sports goes back to 1951 with the creation of the American Professional Baseball Association game that used dice to determine outcomes (10 years before Strat-O-Matic), and the 1963 introduction of “GOPPPL” (The Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prediction League), which started with eight people in the Oakland Raiders’ front office, including team broadcaster Bob Blum. It’s worth going back to find their 2007 project, “23 Ways To Get To First Base: The ESPN Uncyclopedia,” which is in need up dating (especially the list of every athlete who has guest-starred on “The Simpsons.”)

51vwxtgoyql== “Hound of the Sea: Wild Man, Wild Waves and Wild Wisdon,” by Garrett McNamara with Karen Karbo, Harper Wave books, 304 pages, $26.99 (released Nov. 15) The blurb: The vibe is very much like the recent Pulitzer Prize winning “Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life,” by William Finnegan, which came out in paperback last April. It’s about insecurities, fears and challenges for McNamara, once credited with surfing a record-height 100-foot wave in Portugal in 2013, which broke his own record of 78 feet two years earlier. McNamara is a touchy, feely guy and explains how he got to this crest in his life. His description as well about what a wave can feel like is enough to knock you off your moorings: “As I fall, my board shoots out from under me. The lip of the wave explodes square on my shoulders and head. The muffled sound of the surf roars. Underwater, I feel something hit me on the back of the head. At first I think I’ve hit a rock but below me is nothing but sandy bottom. The realization that I’ve kicked myself in the head with my own heels brings with it a surge of nausea.” Barrel up to that.

819utresgjl== “Freedom Found: My Life Story,” by Warren Miller, Warren Miller Company publishing, 512 pages, $29.95 (released Sept. 1). The blurb: Those who grew up watching his ski films know his legacy in that business, and when he left it behind, the monotone home-movie reel feel really wasn’t the same. Now they get to relish in his telling his own life story.

== “Baseball America’s Ultimate Draft Book: The Most Comprehensive Book Ever Published on the Baseball Draft: 1965-2016,” by Allan Simpson, Baseball America books, 768 pages, $44.95 (released Oct. 11). The blurb: Yes, it’s an expensive proposition, but also the size of a phone book (as your grandparents about that) as Simpson, the founding editor of Baseball America, goes back to a time when no one except his company covered the MLB draft (the first overall No. 1 choice is … of course, Rick Monday, out of Arizona State). It’s 50 years later and who better than to chronicle its history — hits, misses and other surprises. Continue reading

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2016 sports books for the holiday season: Larger than life (almost)

They are the eye-pleasing, coffee-table sized books. Some can even be used as a coffee table:

517dwgvxltl== “Game Worn: Baseball Treasures from the Game’s Greatest Heroes and Moments,” by Stephen Wong and Dave Grob, photography by Franceso Sapienza, Smithsonian Books, 320 pages, $34.95 (Released Oct. 25). The blurb: Already said to be in the running for the Casey Award (given by the literary baseball website, Spitball), this one separates itself from previous “cool photo” books by getting deeper into the making of the classic uniforms over the years (as one can see just from the cover). It even has a compendium section that gets into the inner-workings of memorabilia collecting, how uniforms were specifically stitched or embroidered, what materials were used over the years, even down to the specifics of concave and convex buttons. L.A.-based Gary Cypres and his Sports Museum of Los Angeles is noted in the credits for allowing photographs on some of his valuable pieces. One of the most poignant displays is page 50: A St. Louis Cardinals 1919 road jersey once worn by Branch Rickey, along with an autographed 1926 ball by the World Champion Cardinals and a copy of Rickey’s 1920s Holy Bible. Continue reading

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2016 sports books for the holiday season: Football, soccer, kickball … it’s not all the same game

Kick these suggestions around:

FOOTBALL:

51dyhwbzql== “Hollywood’s Team: Grit, Glamour and the 1950s Los Angeles Rams,” by Jim Hock with Michael Downs, Rare Bird Books, 384 pages, $24.95 (will be released Dec. 6). The blurb: Hock, the youngest of seven by the late Rams offensive lineman John Hock, takes us back to when Norm Van Brocklin, “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, Bob Waterfield, Dick “Night Train” Lane and a PR man named Pete Rozelle figured out how to make pro sports work in L.A. before the Dodgers’ arrival. Hock’s contention is they were the first modern sports franchise — which leads, of course, to moving to another city, then coming back, then finding you aren’t the big fish any longer. At least we have these memories.

== “The Yucks: Two Years in Tampa with the Losingest Team in NFL History,” by Jason Vuic, Simon & Schuster, 256 pages, $26 (released Aug. 30). The blurb: Vuic once wrote a book, “The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History,” but his lifelong love of the Bucs since their expansion birth is more of an accident waiting to happen. It starts with the franchise hiring USC’s John McKay to be its head man, and bringing along star running back Ricky Bell. What could go wrong when suited up as orange Push-ups? The team lost 26 in a row, from the launch in 1976 through the next-to-last game in ’77 — a road win over Archie Manning and the New Orleans Saints, who immediately fired their head coach, Hank Stram. McKay’s dry humor was the only reason to bother following the team at that point — no matter that in 1979, they were playing the Rams in the NFC title game.

81gtj0sy1tl== “Snake: The Legendary Life of Ken Stabler,” by Michael Freeman, Dey Street Books, 272 pages, $27.99, (Released Nov. 15). The blurb: We found our dog-eared paperback copy of “Snake,” which listed Stabler as the author (with Berry Stainback) and came out in the late ’80s with the subtitle “The On- and Off-the-Field Exploits of Football’s Wildest Renegade,” and included an illustration of a Raiders helmet filled with beer cans and a pair of female legs hanging out of it. Who wouldn’t want to be Stabler back then? Freeman, whose previous books have included a look at the life of Jim Brown, an expose called “Bloody Sunday,” and an “uncensored history” of ESPN, lands it again with the caveat that Stabler, who died in July, 2015 of colon cancer, was also very affected by CTE brain disease. The book comes out now, with his current wife’s blessing, as well as Stabler’s recent Pro Football Hall induction, all after his life ended. Continue reading

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2016 sports books for the holiday season: Top-shelf contributions from hockey

Where the quality of writing is simple and straightforward:

41ru1fy7gul== “The Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club: Official Centennial Publication: 1917-2017,” by Kevin Shea and Jason Wilson, Penquin Random House of Canada/McClelland & Stewart publishing, 384 pages, $50 (Released Oct. 18). The blurb: It’s all about the “honour, pride and and courage” that came with the creation of the Maple Leafs at the brink of WWI and documented with text by two Canadian historians. The Leafs, with 14 championships in their 100 years, may be in a Stanley Cup holding pattern having not been able to celebrate a title since 1967, the last year the league had only six teams. As the Kings fans know, the Leafs were one series away from the Cup finals when they were eliminated in the ’93 Conference championship. That’s all covered in the final chapter here called “Hope: 2015-16 and Beyond.” the final season in which the NHL was a six-team league. Still, that  49-year stretch is the longest of any NHL franchise currently. The last graph: “The Toronto Maple Leafs management has earned the patience of Leafs Nation. There is great optimism that, one day soon, promise will translate into deliverance.” Until then, they have the team’s glorious history of decades ago to hang their suspenders on. Frank Mahovlich would be proud.

51aw2vgnwl== “Captain: My Life and Career,” by Darryl Sittler with Mike Leonetti, McClelland & Steward books, 224 pages, $32 (released Oct. 25). The blurb: As much as he was the face of the Maple Leafs through the 1970s and early ’80s, the franchise’s all-time goals and points leader, a record night of six goals and four assists against Boston in 1976, a five-goal playoff game two months later, an OT goal to beat the Czechs in the first Canada Cup tournament, Sittler was a very humble player who appreciated all that happened to him. This is a reflection of all that. (As well as another interesting story about how his first coach, Red Kelly, believed so much in the mystic power of the pyramid that the night Sittler scored five goals in a playoff game, Kelly had put a pyramid under the team bench.)

51j1h91aial== “One Night Only: Conversations with the NHL’s One-Game Wonders,” by Ken Reid, ECW Press, 240 pages, $17.95 (released Oct. 11). The blurb: Brock Tredway, whose only NHL appearance was for the Kings on April 19, 1982, brought up because Jim Fox was fighting an injury, refers to himself as “Moonlight Graham,” after the one-game MLB player made famous in “Field of Dreams.” Tredway ended up in the financial world eventually and says “I would not trade my life for anything … there are so many guys who would give their eyetooth for just one little game. … even one shift.” It’s a beautiful idea carried out in a sensitive, yet investigative manner by Reid, knowing there are more than 300 people out there with just one NHL game to their resume, and he’s talking here to 40 of them — including one-time Kings Jack Stanfield (who ended up in the cable TV business) and Brandy Semchuk. The final chapter is on … wait for it … Don Cherry. Continue reading

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It’s Out of the Question: When CFP means Contradiction, Flim-Flam and Pomp

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

You’ve got this College Football Playoff thing figured out?
God bless you, and God bless this mess.
With all the efficiency of the DMV, the realization continues that no matter how impatient everyone gets waiting for their number to be called, only to then be scrutinized by someone behind a pane of glass acting as if we’re the ones trying to pull a bank heist, this process will continue to drive everyone off the road, down the embankment and experience nightmares waiting in the dark of night for a tow truck.
Oh, and your Auto Club card expired, too.
The CFP stands as another perfect example for college kids: In a world when you let grownups organize your play dates, it will always be undermined with Contradiction, Flim-Flam and Pomp.
More at this link …

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