Unless you're CC Sabathia, one of the connected few who own a bowl game or someone lucky enough to have gotten on Michael Vick's final-hours-of-freedom gravy train, chances are good that money is tight this holiday season. And by tight I mean non-existent.
Yet people want presents from you.
It's time to get back to the basics in America and nothing is more old school than a book. Yeah, it isn't flashy, but has value, longevity, personal thought and no hidden costs. Even new books go for under $20. Older ones can be had for under $5.
Americans are buying fewer books than they used to. We're buying fewer of almost everything, but the book drought is particularly troublesome. And not just on a strictly selfish level, as someone who writes books.
Books can provide a depth of knowledge and entertainment that no other medium can provide. I write sports columns on the internet so I know all about immediacy and disposability. But getting unplugged with a book can be so much better.
So here's my holiday list of sports books that would make good gifts. Some are new, some are old. All I found terrific. If these don't do it, here's my summer reading suggestions (still timely) are here.
The book opens with the unofficial end of the colorful dynasty of the 1990s Cowboys – Michael Irvin slashing a teammate's neck for possibly getting a haircut before him. It gets even better from there.
Pearlman wrote the book about the lunatic 1986 Mets but no team in recent memory cried out for a tell-all story like the '90s Cowboys. He interviewed scores of people who came through the organization and paints a vivid picture of the wins and losses, characters and controversies from that era. It's even better than a "season inside" book because time loosens lips.
You didn't have to be a Cowboys fan to be fascinated by the team then and you don't have to be one now to enjoy all the behind-the-scenes stories.
The Hurricanes: One High School Team's Homecoming After Katrina
By Jere Longman
The follow-a-high-school-team genre is almost always a winner; from Friday Night Lights going forward. Prep sports are where the stories are so raw, real and can be told with great depth. You get a sense of time and place and find yourself rooting for people you'd normally never care about.
The key is having some kind of real drama involved, an understanding that the season's success isn't just about games but about people. Jere Longman found the ideal place, a consolidated school in a politically, racially and socially divided county trying to come together after Hurricane Katrina wiped everything out.
The story is an absolute winner. Longman takes you into this one-of-a-kind moment and tells the stories with sharp reporting and a sympathetic eye. Katrina remains one of the seminal moments of this decade and this is one of the previously untold stories: the simple yet profound return to normalcy of a group of kids trying to show everyone that their poor, rural, devastated community still exists.
The Courting of Marcus Dupree
By Willie Morris
This book was published 25 years ago and details the senior season of Marcus Dupree, who in 1981 was the finest high school football player in America. He hailed from Philadelphia, Miss., which the summer Dupree was born was made famous by the murder of three civil rights workers.
Morris was one of the nation's most famous writers at the time, a Mississippi native of almost incomparable ability who was drawn to the juxtaposition of a town once known for its horrific racism now worshipping a black teenager because he could carry a ball.
The book is like none other, both in a good and weird way. The reporting style, observations and prose are simply incredible. You've never read anything like it. At the same time, Morris was so powerful then that it appears no editor could contain him – there are strange four-page tangents about him taking his dog for a walk and things like that.
In the end, it is powerful like few other sports books and opens a window into a time and a town that is so different from now. When I first read it about a decade ago the book stuck with me. This fall my father and I both reread it and then flew to Mississippi to attend a Philly High football game. We cruised around town looking for all the old landmarks described in the book – the hotel Morris stayed at, Marcus' house, Independence Quarters, etc.
We were like a couple of literary pilgrims chasing ghosts from a quarter-century-old book and loving every second of it. That's the best recommendation I can give it.
27 Men Out: Baseball's Perfect Games
By Michael Coffey
Coffey took his son to a Yankees game in 1999 and watched David Cone throw a perfect game. Inspired by the feat, he wrote a book about the 14 men (at the time) who had thrown one in the modern era of the game. It was a great concept that enjoyed great execution.
Coffey manages to avoid getting bogged down in game details and instead is able to show not only who these guys were, but also how the history of the game can be told threw them.
Talk about low expectations, this is a wrestling autobiography that seemed impossibly long – 592 pages. I know Bret "The Hitman" Hart had an ego, but nearly 600 pages worth of it?
It turns out the book is both fast moving, revealing, honest, unflappable and one of the more surprising reads in recent memory. The WWE had nothing to do with this and it shows. The book spares no one's feelings, from Hart's own family to fellow wrestlers to the way the business works. It's both a fascinating look at pro wrestling as a business and an emotional story of personal growth.
I know, go figure. I don't even watch pro wrestling and never would've thought I'd be recommending it, but if you have any interest at all in the hey-day of the "sport," here it is.