I’m still fairly new to reading ESPN’s Bill Simmons (and despite his relentless Boston boosterism, I get a kick out of his columns). One reason is that he has some interests beyond the ballfield, quite rare for folks who make a living in sports punditry, and contained within his columns, you’ll sometimes find gems like the list of “best sports pieces ever written” that he dropped into his “Mailbag” this week.
The list is really terrific, and, as much because I want to remember it as I do share it with you, I decided to try to find links to some of these pieces online (or at least to the books that contain them).
Simmons put the list together after a fan asked him whether his recent footnote-adorned column on Manny Ramirez was in tribute to David Foster Wallace. Simmons said no, but that it was a meaningful coincidence. The reader mentioned Wallace’s famous “Federer as Religious Experience” as an exemplary piece of sports writing. Simmons agreed, but said that it is in fact superseded by Wallace’s “Tennis Player Michael Joyce’s Professional Artistry as a Paradigm for Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness,” (from A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again) which Simmons calls “one of the single best sports pieces ever written.” He then shares his list of the rest of the best (with the first seven joining “Joyce” as the best ever):
- “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” (about Ted Williams) by John Updike
- “Gone for Good” (about Steve Blass) by Roger Angell (appears in Five Seasons and Once More around the Park)
- “What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?” by Richard Ben Cramer (also in book form)
- “Lawdy, Lawdy, He’s Great” (about the “Thrilla in Manila”) by Mark Kram
- “The Silent Season of a Hero (about Joe DiMaggio) by Gay Talese (appears in The Gay Talese Reader)
- “Ego” (about Muhammad Ali) by Norman Mailer (appears in The Best American Sports Writing of the Century)
- “Pure Heart” by William Nack (appears in My Turf: Horses, Boxers, Blood Money, And The Sporting Life, Secretariat: The Making of a Champion, and The Greatest Horse Stories Ever Told: Thirty Unforgettable Horse Tales.
- “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved” by Hunter S. Thompson (appears in The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time)
- “Medora Goes to a Game” by George Plimpton (appears in George Plimpton on Sports)
- “Agincourt and After” by Roger Angell appears in Five Seasons)
- “Distance” (about Bob Gibson) by Roger Angell (appears in Once More around the Park and Game Time: A Baseball Companion
- “Magic Act” (about Magic Johnson) by Charles P. Pierce (appears in Sports Guy: In Search of Corkball, Warroad Hockey, Hooters Golf, Tiger Woods, and the Big, Big Game)
- “Holy Ground” by Wright Thompson
- “Centre Court” (about Wimbledon) by John McPhee (appears in Pieces of the Frame)
- “Raised By Women To Conquer Men” (about Jimmy Connors) by Frank Deford
- “The Loser” (about Floyd Patterson) by Gay Talese (appears in The Gay Talese Reader)
- “A Voice Crying In The Wilderness” by Tony Kornheiser (about Rick Barry)
- Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made by David Halberstam (excerpt)
- “The Mourning Anchor” (about Bryant Gumbel) by Rick Reilly
- “Ali and His Entourage” and “As Time Runs Out” (about Jim Valvano) by Garry Smith (both appear in Beyond the Game)
So, literary sports fans, do you have any you want to add to this list? Share in the comments below.