Labor Day Weekend Special: Late summer sports reads

Instead of my usual Monday Sports History File post, I’m offering up this collection of outstanding stories from the last week or so that dovetail with the sports book/history/culture theme of this blog. I really do appreciate the labor of these writers.

I’ll be back with another Midweek Books post on Wednesday, and it’s about a book I’ve been anticipating for a very long time.

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I Can’t Stop Reading This Book About Cricket and Colonialism, by Tim Marchman, Deadspin

beyond a boundaryAfter writing this post last fall about cricket and literature, I intended to dig more into books about a sport that’s unfamiliar to me.

I never quite got around to that, but Marchman’s ode to “Beyond a Boundary,” the cricket classic by C.L.R. James, might be all anyone needs short of reading the book to appreciate it.

“James was a cricketer and a working sportswriter, and it tells,” Marchman writes.

There are many who believe this to be among the best of all sports books, and not just cricket.

James’ book: “Beyond a Boundary”

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Alabama’s Nick Saban: The Scariest Man in College Football, by Warren St. John, GQ

Author St. John, a major Crimson Tide fan, follows around Saban during an off-season that’s no lull for perhaps the most relentless coach in America. sabanbook

A friend tells St. John that after Alabama won its third national title in four years in January, Saban was still growling:

“That damn game cost me a week of recruiting.”

That’s the first quote in the story, and it’s well worth your time, whether you’re a fan or not, to understand what drives someone like this.

Saban’s book: “How Good Do You Want to Be?”

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The Match Maker: Bobby Riggs, the Mafia and the Battle of the Sexes, by Don Van Natta Jr., ESPN

Tennis legend Bobby Riggs was a hustler, gambler and showman — on the court and off. The writer talks to an aging former Florida golf club repairman who claims to have overhead mob leaders orchestrating a fix in the 1973 match between Riggs and Billie Jean King.

courthustlerVan Natta talks to others who knew Riggs, both for his story and a video feature to accompany the story, which was highlighted last week on Outside the Lines. There are those who find the story of a fix plausible.

King is not among them. “He just ‘choked,’” she says now of Riggs, a former Wimbledon champion who died in 1995.

Riggs’ son Larry tells Van Natta his father said after the match that “this was the worst thing in the world that I’ve ever done.”

Riggs’ book: “Court Hustler.”

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The 1917 Fenway Park Gamblers Riot, by Jacob Pomrenke, The National Pastime Museum

Speaking of gamblers, this is an excerpt from a story with the same title that the author had published a year ago in McFarland’s “Base Ball: A Journey of the Early Game.” And it’s the third installment in Pomrenke’s ongoing series of gambling in baseball’s Deadball Era.

The game in question comes with the struggling home team putting up Babe Ruth to face the White Sox. In the fifth inning, with rain approaching and Chicago leading 1-0, several hundred leaped over the right field fence and onto the playing field . . . and just stood around. As Pomrenke writes: mcfarlandsbaseball

They were stalling for time. If the rain continued, the field would be deemed unplayable, and the game would have to be called. Any hometown bettors who had wagered on the Red Sox would not lose their money.

What comes after that is a turn of events that ought to get more attention, given how this foreshadowed the Black Sox scandal by two years.

By the way, Ruth’s mound opponent that day was Eddie Cicotte, one of the Black Sox.

Also by the way, Pomrenke — a venerable part of the Society of American Baseball Research — has a personal Twitter avatar with a vintage photo of Buck Weaver, another member of the Black Sox who proclaimed his innocence until his death but was never cleared by baseball.

The McFarland’s periodical: “Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game.”

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College Football’s Most Dominant Player? It’s ESPN, by James Andrew Miller, Steve Eder and Richard Sandomir, The New York Times

Last Sunday’s first installment in a three-part examination of the sports cable giant’s hold on America’s second-biggest sport sets a high bar for what’s to come over, and the Times trio delivers with exceptional insight.

This is one of the best in-depth looks at how the biggest sports media entity of all truly operates.

Part 2 of the ESPN college football series details the University of Louisville’s willingness to play at ESPN’s behest to become a powerhouse collegiate athletic program.

thoseguyshaveallthefunThe series wraps up with how ESPN plays hardball to protect its media empire, including starting ESPNU to get around antitrust concerns that it was hoarding unseen games to prevent competitors from showing them.

The publication of the series is especially timely, given how ESPN moved last week to end its collaboration with PBS for a forthcoming Frontline special on concussions in the NFL, whose Monday Night Football contract with ESPN represents the cable outlet’s biggest programming contract.

As ESPN president John Skipper told the Times:

I am the only one at ESPN who has to balance the conflict between journalism and programming.

The Nation’s Dave Zirin does great work getting ESPN journalists to talk, and some are more than infuriated by the Frontline fiasco.

Robert Lipsyte, ESPN’s new ombudsman and a former Times sports columnist, weighs in.

Like many sports fanatics, I have a love/hate relationship with ESPN, and it’s refreshing to learn more about how it really works without all the corporate, Disney-induced spin. And I write this knowing some of their best spinmeisters, whom I like and I know are just doing their jobs.

Miller’s book on ESPN, with Tom Shales: “Those Guys Have All the Fun.”

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