Sports books have traditionally been regarded as literature with an asterisk. Oh, every now and again critics have blown pipe smoke in the direction of a sports book, a fine example being Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer, mostly to remind us that it wasn't really a sports book. Baseball novels from Serious Writers—Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, Mark Harris, et al.—are accepted in literary circles because we know that baseball is only a vehicle enabling these writers to explore issues of much deeper significance and even metaphysical importance. Something like that, anyway. And though he returns to baseball with a disturbing regularity, and has published three collections of essays about the game, Roger Angell passes muster in the book world, too, because he still writes baseball avocationally (for the ultraserious New Yorker) rather than vocationally.
Now, there is some justification for the low esteem accorded sports books, which we shall consider a catchall classification that includes both nonfiction and fiction (the vast majority of which are baseball novels). Judged collectively, sports books have contributed to literature essentially what Twinkies have contributed to gastronomy. Classics like Harris's Bang the Drum Slowly trilogy are oases in the vast desert of boring juvenile fiction, nostalgic drivel and graceless as-told-to sports bios—or as Corlies Smith, the editorial director at Houghton Mifflin, calls them, "the Mom, apple-pie and Wheaties genre." Smith, by the way, is the man who first published both Joe Garagiola (Baseball Is a Funny Game) and Thomas Pynchon (V), whatever the significance of that might be.
Further, sports books in general haven't traditionally been big money-makers for publishers, who tend to consider them "mid-list"—books that sell modestly well with a minimum of promotional effort. The commercial success of Jim Brosnan's The Long Season, Jim Bouton's Ball Four and Jerry Kramer's and Dick Schaap's Instant Replay were grand and glorious accidents rather than the results of careful publishing strategy.
But, suddenly, something strange has happened to The New York Times best-seller list: It has become positively sweaty with sports books. And not sports books by literary heavyweights like Norman Mailer, or guaranteed chart busters like James Michener. No, these are sports books by actual sports personalities, and, lo and behold, by actual sportswriters, so long the hashslingers of the book world. The large bookstore chains have spotted the trend, too, and have reacted by giving certain sports books what is known in the industry as "power-aisle treatment."
September 20, 1987
"Over the last couple years there has been something totally inexplicable going on with sports books," says Peter Guzzardi, a senior editor at Bantam. "To some extent we know that the baby-boomers, who are definitely sports fans, are reaching the disposable-income point. They're likely to pop for a hardcover sports book, not the case a few years ago."
And pop they do. Consider:
•A Season on the Brink, a behind-the-scenes account of Indiana University's 1985-86 basketball season written by The Washington Post's John Feinstein, has become one of the publishing world's alltime success stories. Macmillan, has sold about 440,000 hardcover copies, hogging the No. 1 spot on the Times best-seller list for an almost unbelievable 14 weeks earlier this year. "Who'd Feinstein pass?" asked Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson one day. "Bill Cosby," he was informed. Thompson shook his head in disbelief.
"The sales of Brink were absolutely unbelievable, absolutely incredible," says Peter Gethers, vice president and editorial director at Villard Books, who turned down the Feinstein proposal when it was first brought to him by the writer's agent, Esther Newberg. "It's like picking up Tommy John and having him make the All-Star team. It's like picking up Terry Leach and having him go 10 and oh." Publishers are even using sports metaphors these days.
•Football, with the rare exception of an Instant Replay or George Plimpton's Paper Lion, was once considered something of an incomplete pass in the publishing world. No more. McMahon!, the lively collaboration of Chicago Bear quarterback Jim McMahon and Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Verdi, was another stunning surprise last year, selling more than 300,000 hardcover copies for Warner Books. Ditka: An Autobiography was less of a national phenomenon than McMahon!, but it still sold more than 100,000 copies for Bonus Books, a Chicago publisher.
Another quarterback bio, Snake, made the best-seller list briefly, even though Kenny Stabler has been out of the game for three years. Both of John Madden's books written with New York Times columnist Dave Anderson—Hey, Wait a Minute, I Wrote a Book! and One Knee Equals Two Feet—were runaway best-sellers for Villard. Food for thought from Gethers: "Random House's best-selling authors are probably Michener, [Robert] Ludlum and [Gore] Vidal. But John Madden is certainly at the next rung."
•Pete Rose and Kahn received a $1 million advance from Warner for Ballplayer! The Headfirst Life of Peter Edward Rose, due out in the spring of 1988. (One thing you can't fail to notice about sports book titles: There are a lot of exclamation points!) Rose and Kahn are at the top of their respective professions, but million-dollar advances are extremely rare, generally shelled out only to the Ludlums, the John Irvings and the Sidney Sheldons. "Let's face it, a lot of people think we overpaid," says Laurence J. Kirshbaum, president of Warner Books, "but I think it's the superstar of superstar books." It had better be: Warner will need to sell at least 200,000 copies in hardcover and 500,000 in paperback (the company has the rights to both) to recoup its investment.
•Against all conventional publishing logic, The Umpire Strikes Back, Strike Two and The Fall of the Roman Umpire, the collaborative efforts of erstwhile umpire Ron Luciano and writer David Fisher, have sold a collective 250,000 hardcover books and about one million in paperback for Bantam Books. Luciano is a funny man, but nobody expected that three successful books lurked beneath his chest protector.
•If readers enjoy Luciano's lighter side of baseball, then they also go for Bill James's heavy side, witness the overwhelming success of the stat wizard's annual Baseball Abstract, which has sold more than 100,000 copies a year since 1984. The Abstract has spawned a legion of owlish followers (The Elias Baseball Analyst foremost among them), thus destroying a publishing axiom that technical doesn't sell.
•Before the NFL's first kickoff, no fewer than 11 books written by or about the New York Giants were available for consumption. Whew! That's a whole offense. Add to that the six recent Mets books out there waiting to be loved and an uncountable number of treatises on the Yankees, and one must conclude that New York publishers have outdone themselves in the literary provincialism department.
•As we all know, Ernest Hemingway liked to work a bullfight or two into his prose, but the number of Serious Writers now turning their attention to sport seems to be at an alltime high. From the poet and critic Donald Hall we have Fathers Playing Catch with Sons: Essays on Sport. From the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Halberstam we have The Breaks of the Game and The Amateurs, and a baseball book in the works. From the novelist Joyce Carol Oates we have the tedious treatise On Boxing. (Unfortunately for us.) From screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President's Men, Marathon Man) we will have a book co-written with New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica about one season in New York sports. Says Stephen Rubin, vice-president and editor in chief of Bantam Books, "Through the eyes of Lupica, the seasoned pro, and Goldman, who will write from the perspective of the maniacal at-home sports fan, we're going to get a truly oddball book." For which the authors are getting a truly six-figure advance. Even critics are turning to sports, though after reading the offering by The New York Times's Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, Me And DiMaggio, one might wonder why.
•Publishers and agents are seeing more and more sports submissions. "Baseball leads the field, but nothing is overlooked," says Gethers. "Boxing, soccer, hockey, everything." To date, though, Gethers has not seen a proposal about curling. Two suggested titles if he does: Broom! and Sweep!
Success has introduced a somewhat alien element into the sports-book business—big money. For years, advances were handed out grudgingly, if at all. Brosnan received none in 1960 for The Long Season, while Bouton and his Ball Four collaborator, Leonard Shecter, got a paltry $5,000, "which we could spend any way we wanted," said Bouton. Advances have become more generous, but only lately have publishers come up with real money, as they did for Rose-Kahn and McMahon-Verdi, who got six figures for McMahon!
But with skyrocketing sales, that's not the end of the story. Madden is undoubtedly telling the truth when he says, "I didn't write the books for the money, because I had no idea what the money would be." He does now. Madden and Anderson could pocket $1 million each when all is said and done. Total hardcover and paperback royalties for McMahon! may reach $1 million. Not bad for a project that Verdi calls "a quick write and a quick read." Athletes might be used to that kind of pocket change, but sportswriters certainly are not.
As for Feinstein's financial success, well, the word unbelievable doesn't begin to do it justice. From the start, Brink was a "by" book, not a "with" book, and Bobby Knight, to his credit, never asked for a penny. "We were having lunch with Al McGuire [who wrote the foreword to Brink] one day, and he was simply incredulous that Knight wasn't getting any money," says Feinstein. "I offered Knight any kind of financing he wanted, and he always said the same thing: 'I don't want your money.' "
Since Knight is neither speaking to the author nor talking about the book (more on that later), Feinstein can't be sure if the Indiana coach came to resent Brink's surprising success. (Knight wouldn't be human if he didn't.) But from a modest advance of $17,500, considered more than reasonable for a first-time author, a sportswriter, whose biggest fashion decision of the day is what color sneakers to wear, stands to make more than $1 million. With paperback money to follow.
Now, one should keep the sports-book boom in perspective. Sports titles still constitute only a small percentage of the 50,000 or so hardcover books that are published each year. And neither Madden nor McMahon is being invited to the writers' workshop at the University of Iowa. In its August issue, Esquire magazine surveyed the wide world of books and found absolutely nothing to say about sports. At least the editors might have slipped Peter Golenbock (The Bronx Zoo, Balls), one of the few individuals on earth who has been able to make a living writing sports books, into the section where writers were shown modeling cashmere sweaters.
The part of the publishing world that knows and cares about sports books is still a small, incestuous one, encompassing only a few publishers and a handful of agents. Example: The top sports-book agent is probably Newberg, whose clients include Feinstein and Tom Boswell (How Life Imitates the World Series, Why Time Begins on Opening Day) of The Washington Post, Lupica, Dan Jenkins and Roy Blount Jr. The latter two are Newberg's heaviest hitters because they're not really sportswriters. Newberg is also the agent for Gethers, the Villard exec whose varied writings include a baseball novel (Getting Blue) and coauthorship of two volumes of Rotisserie League Baseball. After Gethers rejected the proposal for Brink, Newberg sold it to another "sports guy," Jeff Neuman, at Macmillan. After the success of Brink, the agent brought proposals for two more Feinstein books about college basketball back to Gethers, who came up with an advance in excess of $500,000. Perhaps someday Newberg will sell a sports book cowritten by Gethers and Feinstein to Neuman.
Typically, the publishers who go after sports books are sports fans themselves. "It's fun to rub shoulders with these guys," says Warner's president, who treasures a photograph of McMahon wearing a headband inscribed KIRSHBAUM.
But there's no mistaking the fact that all of the publishing world is buzzing about the success of books like Brink and McMahon! Bantam's Rubin admits that he doesn't know a sack from a sac fly, but he knows a trend when he sees one. "I was willing to take a shot on the Goldman-Lupica book at this time, in this climate," he says.
And what factors have created that favorable climate for sports books? Here are a few:
•The hardcover factor. Hardcover sales are up, in general, and sports books have simply plugged into that trend. "One theory is that with the price of everything so high, hardcover books no longer seem like a luxury," says Neuman, now a senior editor and director of sports books at Simon & Schuster. Says James D. Frost, executive editor of hardcover books at Warner, "Why isn't there more price resistance? That's what we keep asking ourselves. Sports fans are not normally thought of as upscale. But they're buying."
•The celebrity-TV factor. You don't have to watch Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous to realize that America is gaga over celebrities. And if America is gaga, that's good enough for the publishing world. So we have, to name just one example, Warner's Vanna Speaks, by that noted literary lioness Vanna White. Same for sports. Consumers didn't buy McMahon! to learn about football; they bought it because they were fascinated by his personality, which, if not created by TV, was surely transmitted by it. The idea for McMahon! came to Warner from, of all places, Burns Celebrity Service in Chicago.
The Madden books are a promotional dream come true for Villard because the author-subject is also a personality known to America through his NFL commentary and his beer commercials. The title of the first book, Hey, Wait a Minute, comes, in fact, from a line in a beer commercial. "The book fed off the TV, and the commercials fed off the book," says Gethers. "It was the perfect publishing-slash-media experience." It's a pity that publishing-slash-media experiences were not around when Bill Shakespeare took feather to paper.
Taking the celebrity angle one step further, Kahn's powerhouse agent, Jay Acton, says he sold the Rose project as "a hero book, like an Iacocca, a Yeager, a Tip O'Neill," rather than as a sports bio. Says Kirshbaum, "Rose is not just a ballplayer but a guy with tremendous depth and diversity." Really?
•The quality factor. Sports books are better written now than they used to be. No, not in every case, but significantly so. Ever since Ball Four was published in 1970, most professional sportswriters have not dared to deliver 200 pages of unmitigated puff. Anderson's sense of structure is obvious in the Madden books—"I wouldn't do anything final without Dave," says John—and Verdi's deft touch is all over McMahon! No, sportswriters do not sell the books—Chicagoans can read Verdi three times a week for 25 cents in the Tribune—but they do make the books better. Most of the time.
•The built-in promotion factor. Publishers have come to appreciate the fact that the heavy daily coverage of sports in America provides, in many cases, nonstop free advertising for a book. Looking back, Schaap realizes that Instant Replay would never have been so successful were it not for Kramer's widely publicized block that helped Bart Starr score the winning touchdown in the 1967 NFL championship game. It was an offhand remark made by Kramer a few weeks after the Super Bowl victory that provided the title for the book, which, until Green Bay won the championship, had been called The Year the Clock Ran Out. "Thank God for instant replay," Kramer said, referring to the fact that everyone in America had seen his block 50 times. The memories of sports fans are long, as Kramer discovered a few years ago when, as he prepared to cross a street in San Francisco, a guy leaned his head out of a passing car and yelled, "Great block!" Perhaps that explains why Instant Replay is still in print.
Such wonderful happenstance is never far from anyone's mind in the book business. "Let's say the Reds get in the World Series," says Acton. "Let's say that Pete pinch-hits a home run like Carlton Fisk's. That would give this book a chance to outstrip the genre."
And high-profile athletes have automatic entrèe to Johnny, Phil, Oprah and Dr. Ruth, on whose shows they will get the chance to be lovable and perhaps sell a book or two. Kirshbaum decided, as he puts it, "to play Mr. Anthony and be there with the million dollars," after he watched a Phil Donahue audience eating out of Rose's hand. Similarly, Mickey Mantle got out and pushed his 1986 bio, The Mick (written with Herb Gluck), turning it into a best-seller after a plethora of other Mantle books had died at first base, mostly because of the uncooperative Mick.
Every once in a while, though, a book comes along that turns into a megaseller without all the built-in advantages, a book that is a marvelous commercial accident. Such a book was Feinstein's A Season on the Brink.
True, it revolved around the mad antics of a bona fide American personality, Bobby Knight. But it was not—and was not billed as—Knight's life story. Knight was not the author, and the reader was not promised the coach's opinion on, say, the police force of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Further, there was little mystery about Knight—nothing, it seemed, that America didn't already know about the man, because he holds nothing back. That often hurts a book, as it has hurt books by and about Muhammad Ali, the personality of personalities. None of them sold spectacularly because Ali is an extraordinarily public man whose whole life has been played out endlessly on our television screens.
Knight wasn't making the rounds of talk shows to promote Brink, either. Though he had made good on his promise to give Feinstein complete access—that's what made the book successful—his relationship with the writer eventually (some would say inevitably) soured. Knight is upset with the profanity that is attributed to him in the book and feels that Feinstein violated their ground rules by not letting him delete some of it. Feinstein insists they had no ground rules. "He had to find a reason not to like the book," says Feinstein. "The access he gave me was complete, and so the loyalty he expected was complete. Thus, any criticism at all, to his way of thinking, was an act of disloyalty."
At any rate, when earnest heartland hoop fans showed up at a book signing, they found not their Hoosier hero but a wisecracking 30-year-old nonjock who has never tossed a folding chair, or a player, across a gymnasium floor. Few recognized his name. Though he was and is a respected chronicler in college basketball circles, Feinstein was not a writer with a cult audience—not a Kahn, nor a Jenkins nor an Angell.
Brink wasn't the stepchild of good timing, either. It detailed not Indiana's championship season, remember, but the campaign of 1985-86, which ended with a crushing first-round loss to Cleveland State in the NCAA tournament. And Brink sold best in January and February of this year, before the Hoosiers won the NCAA title. Feinstein is adding a chapter about the championship for the paperback edition.
O.K., credit the electric personality of Knight for 100,000 copies, and add 50,000 (probably an overgenerous assessment) for the publicity surrounding Knight's displeasure with the book. What is the real reason A Season on the Brink sold more hardcover copies than any other sports book in history?
For the best reason of all: Brink is an excellent book. It gives a fascinating inside look at both a man and a sport. The material is fresh because college basketball, having long been considered "uncommercial" by publishers—another way of saying that the sport has been moribund in New York City for four decades—was fertile ground for a writer. Those who consider the profanity in the book controversial must live in caves. Brink is honest, funny and even warm, particularly in its examination of the Indiana players and assistant coaches, beleaguered partners in the struggle to coexist with the perplexing genius who engineers their lives. Four of Knight's players secretly met Feinstein at a signing one day and told him how much they liked the book. "I can't tell you who they are," says Feinstein, "because Knight would definitely hold it against them." He shouldn't.
Sports books are hardly a new phenomenon—the poet Pindar was writing odes to naked Greek athletes 25 centuries ago, after all. A general history of baseball was included in Charles A. Peverelly's The Book of American Pastimes, in 1866, and the first instructional, Batting and Pitching, by John Morrill and Tim Keefe, was published in 1884. And the game had an inside chronicler long before Brosnan and Bouton—John Montgomery Ward, who in 1888 wrote a book with the painstakingly precise title of Base-Ball: How To Become a Player, with the Origin, History and Explanation of the Game. But sports books of that era were relatively rare, and the few that were written tended to run along the stargazing line of a 1928 offering by Sverre O. Broathen called Ty Cobb, the Idol of Baseball Fandom. There is simply no accounting for Ring Lardner's You Know Me Al in 1914. That hilarious collection of letters from a fictional ballplayer named Jack Keefe stands out like a Monet in a finger-painting exhibit. Of course, Lardner wasn't really a sportswriter.
The genre was moved along in 1942 with the publication of two bios of Lou Gehrig written by well-known sports-writers—Paul Gallico's Lou Gehrig, Pride of the Yankees and Frank Graham's Lou Gehrig, a Quiet Hero. Gehrig had recently died, at age 37, and neither writer could have been blind to the cinematic potential of a Gehrig story (Gallico's book became the movie starring Gary Cooper).
By the mid-'60s, though, America had become obsessed with sports, and the landscape was littered with sports bios, mostly puffery culled from newspaper files and sketchy interviews. The first offering from Schaap, whose list of 26 published works is dominated by sports books, was a quickie paperback on Mantle, a chapter of which detailed how the author followed Mantle around one day. The Mick was his usual charming self: "Hey, kid, I'm in the bathroom now!" Mantle hollered to Schaap at one point. "Wanna follow me in here?"
Though lesser-known than Ball Four and The Boys Of Summer, Brosnan's The Long Season is arguably the most significant sports book of all time. An aging reliever during the '59 season, Brosnan had mediocre stuff but marvelous powers of observation. At a time when most sports books were of the wow-wow variety, Brosnan, who wasn't really a sportswriter, analyzed the game from the inside with wit and perception.
Brosnan scribbled his notes in private each day, and few of his teammates even knew that he was writing the book. After he submitted the manuscript, the publisher, Harper & Brothers, was concerned that the amount of martini drinking described in the book, most of it by Brosnan himself, would lose the "kids audience," then considered absolutely essential for the success of a sports book. Brosnan prevailed, the martinis stayed, and the only thing drier in the book is his wit. The reputation that Brosnan earned from The Long Season and a second book, Pennant Race, in 1962, was more significant than the money, which he estimates "amounted to not more than $200,000 for both." After he retired from baseball in 1963, he was able to make most of his living as a writer, partly, it evolved, by churning out martiniless baseball bios for kids. He has also written and rewritten the same novel three times. "It's likely that I'll never get it done now," says Brosnan.
Don't despair, Broz, your books changed the literature of sports forever, spawning a new generation of more sophisticated sports books. Instant Replay, for example, grew out of a publishing exec's telling Schaap to find "the football Brosnan." And Bouton had Brosnan in mind when he began keeping a journal of the 1969 season, a document that would give baseball's establishment the willies for years.
"Brosnan's books made me feel like I was sitting on the bench listening to these guys talk," says Bouton. " 'That's what I've got to do with my book,' I told myself when I started Ball Four. I knew I had to get the quotes, listen carefully, write it down like Brosnan did. It was very helpful."
The best thing that can be said about the 17-year-old Ball Four is that today, after so many confessional books purported to be the next Ball Four, it remains a true original. Why? Because, though it made people angry, it's not an angry book. It's a funny, honest, perceptive book.
"What's happened with certain sports books since Ball Four really makes me laugh," says Bouton, laughing. "Mantle and Billy Martin never forgave me for what I said in that book, and I'm positive they're the reason I never get invited to Yankee old-timers' games. Yet, in The Mick, Mantle told more than I ever did. Tony Kubek said that Ball Four was all lies. But now we know that not only wasn't it all lies, it didn't begin to tell the whole story.
"I read The Bronx Zoo and Balls [highly successful books written by Golenbock with Sparky Lyle and Graig Nettles, respectively], which were supposed to be like my book. They weren't. They were just like all these other books. Some player with a grudge sat down with a sportswriter and a tape recorder and told everything he could remember about the season. I thought Nettles's book was exactly what my book was accused of being—an angry book written for the purpose of attacking people, with no redeeming value."
The two Jims met only once and didn't talk about their books. They do here.
Bouton: "One of the things I wanted to avoid in Ball Four—and, again, I want to emphasize how much I liked Brosnan's work in general—was the sense that Brosnan was sitting off having a martini somewhere and watching the players from a distance. There was a sense of detachment about the book."
Brosnan: "I think Ball Four had more of Shecter in it than Bouton. I was a little offended by the gleeful type of voyeurism. It was a knock at the players that didn't have a strong enough reason to be included."
HARDLY AMAZIN': Three players (Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Lenny Dykstra), two broadcasters (Tim McCarver and Ralph Kiner) and one manager (Davey Johnson) have Mets books they want you to buy. The silliest is Nails, by that grizzled veteran Dykstra, now in his third major league season. Dykstra has said that his collaborator, Newsday's Marty Noble, did most of the work, and Noble shouldn't have bothered.
From a literary standpoint, the defending champs have cast themselves in the image of the old, original Mets, who often had too many men standing on the same base. Met-glut is certainly the major reason none of the books has particularly distinguished itself in the marketplace. "Timing is always a key element," says Gethers, who published McCarver's Oh, Baby, I Love It! "I underestimated the effect of the other books."
THE SAGA OF THE OBSCURE ART HILL: Back in 1978, an unemployed advertising man with a bent for words and a passion for baseball wrote a book called Don't Let Baseball Die for a backwoods publisher in northern Michigan, Avery Color Press. The man's name was Art Hill. "I don't think more than a dozen copies ever made it into bookstores," says Hill.
One did make it, however, to SI's Robert Creamer, author of Babe, one of the best sports biographies ever written. Creamer fell in love with the book, putting Hill in the same league with the Lardners (Ring and John), Red Smith, Angell and Kahn. Other influential baseball writers provided similar raves, and Hill was asked to write a second book, for Simon & Schuster. He called it I Don't Care If I Never Come Back, "the real lyric," says Hill, "no matter what Harry Caray sings." The book provides an Angell-like outsider's look at the game from the perspective of the loving but literate fan. Despite wonderfully sharp writing and an excerpt in Esquire, I Don't Care sold fewer than 10,000 copies.
"Everybody said, 'This guy will sell like Kahn and Angell,' " says Hill ruefully, "and it didn't happen. Yes, it is disillusioning when you see the sales of some of these other books. I thought all my life that if you wrote a book and it got fantastic reviews all across the country, that it would sell a few copies. But that isn't the case."
Hill, who is in failing health, probably won't be writing any more books. But his column may be read weekly in The Stoughton (Wis.) Courier-Hub.
What sports figure would publishers like to have a book from? Julius Erving was mentioned by more than a few. He's beloved and articulate and has not revealed very much of himself to date.
What sports figure would publishers Really like a book from? Al Davis, the Raider maverick, says he has been offered an advance of more than $1 million for a book but hasn't decided whether or not he will ever write one.
Seriously, now, what sports figure would publishers kill to get a book from? Only one—DiMaggio. Forget Lehmann-Haupt's Me and DiMaggio and Kahn's disappointing Joe & Marilyn: A Memory of Love. The legendary Yankee Clipper's memoirs could command well over $1 million. "The two great unpublished publishing projects are DiMaggio's and Sinatra's authorized biographies," says Neuman. Neither is interested, says Schaap, who has had a go at both. "I've asked DiMaggio 20 times," says Schaap. "He's very polite, but he has not the slightest bit of interest."
FIFTEEN BOOKS THAT EVERYBODY SAYS SHOULD BE IN YOUR SPORTS LIBRARY: The Sweet Science by A.J. Labeling; The Long Season; Instant Replay, Ball Four, The Boys of Summer, Veeck as in Wreck by Bill Veeck and Ed Linn; Angell's The Summer Game; Babe; The Glory of Their Times by Lawrence S. Ritter; Bang the Drum Slowly (a novel); A False Spring by Pat Jordan; Eight Men Out by Eliot Asinof; About Three Bricks Shy of a Load by Blount; Jenkins's Semi-Tough (a novel); and Plimpton's Paper Lion. Many consider The Armchair Book of Baseball, edited by John Thorn, to be in this class.
TEN OTHERS THAT YOU SHOULDN'T MISS EITHER: Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game; Levels of the Game by John McPhee; Plimpton's Out of My League; Jenkins's The Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate; The Game They Played by Stanley Cohen; Big Bill Tilden by Frank Deford; The City Game by Pete Axthelm; and three novels—Haymon's Crowd by Robert Greenfield, The Celebrant by Eric Rolfe Greenberg and The Franchise by Peter Gent.
THE FOLLOWING PASSAGE COMES FROM A RECENTLY PUBLISHED BIOGRAPHY OF A GREAT HOME RUN HITTER: "I am a simple man and would gladly have lived out my life in obscurity, working hard and doing my duty. But I am also a twin. And if Fortune has taught me anything it is that I have two lives in me, two that I must live for, two that I must honor, two that I must allow to live with and against each other. Fortune places good opportunity before everyone. In making the most of this, I have had the strength of two rather than one."
As you might suspect, those are not .the musings of a Henry Aaron or a Mike Schmidt or any other American hero. It comes from Sadaharu Oh: A Zen Way of Baseball, by Sadaharu Oh and David Falkner, and it's an excellent book.
MORE THAN ONE BOUTON TOLD IT LIKE IT WAS: Another overlooked but worthwhile sports book is Home Games, an excruciatingly candid exchange of letters between Bobbie Bouton and Nancy Marshall, both divorced wives of pitchers (the Marshall is Mike, the former reliever who spent time with seven big-league teams). An example from Bobbie: "You knew that Jim hasn't given me any money since last summer and that he's contesting the settlement. Well, he filed a motion to require psychiatric examinations for me and Laurie.... As if this crap wasn't bad enough, wouldn't you know another one of my professors says, 'Bouton, are you any relation to...?' "
Take that, Jim.
So what does the future hold in store for the sports fan who reads? If there's one thing that the publishing industry knows how to do, it's to stick with a winner. And so, within the coming year we will be seeing:
•The third Madden-Anderson collaboration, this one entitled It's a Mad, Mad, Madden World, detailing the big guy's travels around the country. Will there be a fourth? "I kind of think this is it," says Madden. "I know I'd hate to make a living this way." Gethers doesn't necessarily agree: "Well, he doesn't show any signs of slowing down. I wouldn't rule it out."
•The fourth Luciano-Fisher book (as yet untitled), this one a nostalgic look at old umpires. "We're going to go back to the well one more time," is the way Guzzardi puts it.
•The 10th offering from Golenbock, who moves away from his New York emphasis to explore the history of the Red Sox in Fenway.
•The first of the Feinstein books for Villard—a close-up look at a number of teams during the 1987-88 college basketball season. It will be interesting to see if Feinstein's name alone will sell books in big numbers.
•A rash of coaching books inspired by the success of Brink, none of which will be as successful. Knight himself is planning an autobiography, to be written with Bob Hammel, a close friend and the sports editor of the Bloomington Herald-Telephone. There have been reports that the book is coming out in December, but "that would be impossible since we haven't started it yet and don't have a publisher," says Hammel.
And the eternal search for the Personality will continue unabated. Biographies of Joe Theismann, Hollywood Henderson and Richie Allen (of all people) are out or soon will be. Who will click and who won't? Who knows? Quite often it's not the truly deserving athlete whose book is successful—it's the truly wild and crazy guy.
"The one-year phenomenon," says Warner's Kirshbaum, "can sometimes do better in the book business than the steady, long-lasting guy."
Which is why a proposal for a book about a former University of Oklahoma linebacker just now cutting his teeth in the NFL is making the rounds of the publishing houses. It will have candor, it will have controversy, it will have cussing. It will have spiked hair.
A possible title?
How about Boz! Or even Boz!! This just might be a two-exclamation-point book.