The Olympics are over, Spring Training is in full swing and March Madness is coming up. It’s always a good time for sports books.
An older book to try if you are a fan of running or history is The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb. Until May of 1954, no one had run a sub-4-minute mile. There were three milers in the world, Roger Bannister of Great Britain, John Landy of Australia, and Wes Santee of the United States, who were trying to be the first. While this book tells primarily of the attempts of these men to race a mile with a record time, what stayed with me was realizing how difficult life still was in England as a result of WWII, even though the war had been over for a decade. The title of the book comes from a later race between Bannister and Landy, after each had broken four minutes earlier that summer. They met for the first time that year at the Empire Games in August of 1954. (This race can be seen on YouTube.)
From a classic race to a classic sports writer: John Feinstein has a new book out, Where Nobody Knows Your Name. In this book Feinstein highlights Triple A baseball. Players, managers and unpires are evaluated while working in this transition league. Are they looking to break into the majors? Are they rehabbing to get back to the majors? Have they been cut from the major leagues and are on their way out of sports?
Staying with baseball is another title worth a look. One of this year’s Michigan Notable Books is The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych. That hair, the grooming of the mound, the talking to the ball… Doug Wilson brings back the excitement that Fidrych brought to baseball in his brief career. From the epilogue of the book: “He was the most charismatic player we had during my time with the Tigers,” said Ernie Harwell, whose time with the Tigers spanned almost fifty years.
A final new sport book to consider is The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown. The 1936 Olympics most commonly bring to mind Jesse Owens, but rowing was another competition where the Germans were supposed to defeat all comers. The “boys” in the title came not from New England and the schools with a strong rowing tradition, but from the Pacific Northwest — the University of Washington. These farmers, fishermen and lumber workers had to first take on the best in the US and then the best in the world to pursue a gold medal. Reviewers have compared this book to those of Laura Hillenbrand.
Even though the weather is cold, travel with these books to someplace warm and enjoy the pursuit of excellence.