Summer sports reads

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

It's the middle of July, and I'd like to let you in on a little industry trade secret – there is nothing going on in sports. Other than Chris Berman making the home run derby unwatchable, of course.

ESPN has all but admitted this. There is so little going on it's given up amusing segments such as "Cold Hard Facts: Will the Yankees make the playoffs?" and has begun a contest to steal the motto of Green Bay, Wis.

(How does Breaux Bridge, La., sleep at night without thinking Disney is going to one day claim it isn't the Crawfish Capital of the World?)

So hopefully this is the time of year to take a vacation. I'm lucky enough to be doing just that so I can be rested when I head to the Olympics in August. I'm sure the Chinese government will appreciate this.

Even if you can't get any time off this summer, you could spend less time trying to get the latest on A-Rod and Madonna and find something else to do.

Call me old school, but summer is for reading a book. I'm a Gutenberg guy, shoot me. The rest of the year can be for text messages, instant messages and useless messages. Try some old media for a change.

Coincidentally, I've got some sports books to recommend. You should read one. Or three. Or all five. Or do anything but find out why the heck Green Bay might not be Titletown anymore.

"Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich" by Mark Kriegel

Kriegel wrote the genius biography of Joe Namath and returned to tackle Pistol Pete Maravich, the flashy and haunted basketball star best known for his otherworldly offensive game and highlights that still excite on YouTube.

Trained by a suffocating father – who would coach him at LSU – Maravich was a basketball marvel who wound up falling apart due to alcohol, family strife and the impossible pressure to achieve hoops perfection. Kriegel is brilliant in his ability to weave an entire life together and honestly portray a sports hero. This is an exceptional book.

"War As They Knew It: Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, and America in a Time of Unrest"
by Michael Rosenberg

Since publishers actually believe some of you take my advice to heart, they send me books before they even are published. This look at the 10 years Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler coached against each other at Ohio State and Michigan is not out until September, but I'd be remiss not to encourage preordering it.

The depth of Rosenberg's reporting is stunning, and his eye for pertinent details without getting bogged down in minutiae brings this book to life. He covers not just the 10 games that made this rivalry legendary and not just the iconic personalities of Hayes and Schembechler but also the turbulent times of the late 1960s and early 1970s in which they operated. (Think Woody Hayes and long-haired campus radicals.)

You don't have to be a fan of these teams to find this marvelously entertaining. It's an effort so brilliant even Buckeyes and Wolverines will agree it's the best book they've read in years.

"Meat Market: Inside the Smash-Mouth World of College Football Recruiting"
by Bruce Feldman

Feldman spent a seemingly all-access year with the coaches and recruiters at the University of Mississippi and put together one of the most enlightening efforts about the sport in years. The staff – including wild man head coach Ed Orgeron – was fired after last season, but the book still is a must-read for college football fans.

It shows the recruiting game in an insightful, humorous, interesting and memorable way. It's not an exposé as much as an honest look at the challenges of actually trying to recruit a class that might win a game in the brutal SEC.

"The Franchise: LeBron James and the Remaking of the Cleveland Cavaliers"
by Terry Pluto and Brian Windhorst

As a reporter for the Akron Beacon Journal, Windhorst covered almost every high school game LeBron James played before following him as a Cavs beat writer. Pluto has been a gifted columnist in Northeast Ohio for decades. They are the perfect team to present the best work on LeBron – on and off the court – to date.

James is a fascinating case study, not simply because of his franchise-saving abilities but also due to his early superstar status. The chapters on the pursuit by agents and the decision on which nine-figure shoe contract to accept are particularly strong. New York basketball fans can read it and dream.

"You Gotta Play Hurt" by Dan Jenkins

This book is 15 years old (you can get it used for 81 cents), but Dan Jenkins is the best sportswriter of my lifetime and his fictional take of being a sports columnist for a national magazine is as hysterical as ever. The main character, Jim Tom Pinch, has three ex-wives, two potential girlfriends, ever-looming deadlines and all this scotch that needs to get drunk when he's not exposing major sports events for what they really are. Jenkins makes all of this far more interesting than I can.

Last year I recommended his 1970 college football book "Saturday's America," and I'll keep hyping his books in hopes he one day drinks with me at the U.S. Open. (Then I'll recommend two of them.)

In the meantime, I defy you not to laugh while reading this one. It's the perfect light and amusing distraction for the beach, the plane or just a moment when the television might be shut off. Because, you know, nothing worth watching is happening.

Dan Wetzel is the co-author of Glory Road, the story of coach Don Haskins and the history-making 1966 Texas Western Miners.

What to Read Next