Backtracking 2013: The best of Sports History Files

On Monday, I wrote about the marvelous longform sportswriting that continues to proliferate on the Web, despite some crabbiness to the contrary.

Today I’m linking to posts I wrote in the past year about sports history, one of the foundations of this blog and something that will become a stronger focus here in the coming months. Over the weekend I’ll link to plenty more sports history writing by others whose work was among the best I read in 2013.

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Baseball

talesdeadballera“Legends of the Dead Ball Era” was an exhibit of baseball cards at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that was on display over the summer, as boyhood souvenirs were transformed from mere collectibles (and very valuable ones) to vital historical components of a vanished time. In February, the book “Tales from the Deadball Era” continues telling the story of a game eventually modernized by commercialism, scandal and a springy new ball.

• The Philadelphia A’s are long gone, but thanks to the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame, the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society lives on.

Basketball

• I loved, loved, loved the American Basketball Association, and was inspired to write “When the ball was red, white and blue” in February after University of Michigan professor and basketball historian Yago Colas roused up an old post of his about the ABA’s colorful, if forgotten, legacy, and especially, as he saw it, “its resistance to narrative.”

Football

The continuing anguish over concussions and other crippling injuries in football was encapsulated this fall with the PBS Frontline special “League of Denial” and the publication of a book with the same title. But despite the tragic stories of diminished memories and suicides of NFL players, the sport continues to draw young men into its fold.

Even, as I wrote in February, some of the sons of wealthy suburbia, who attend elite universities and know the risks, can’t stay away from it. From “The eternal lure and brutal eloquence of football:” league-of-denial

In all the fulminating over violence, concussions, brain damage, suicides, lawsuits, bloodlust, carnage and bounty-hunting, what’s missing is an acknowledgement of an aspect of human nature that draws young men to the game, including my hometown standout, and always will.

• In October, after “League of Denial” did its thing in making the NFL look really bad, I followed up with “A century of ‘reforming’ football.’ “ I’m as troubled as anyone by how the league has dodged accountability here.

But as Nate Jackson reveals in his recent NFL memoir, “Slow Getting Up,” there will always be men like him “who want to hit the ground hard and get up shaking myself off because I think I’m dead. That’s the feeling I want.”

Proudly unsentimental about the beatings he dished out — and accepted — was Deacon Jones of the Los Angeles Rams, who died in June.

Miscellany

The history of the Negro Leagues was just one part of a special remembrance sof segregated sports in America in August to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

In “The backroads of Jim Crow sports” I highlight efforts as the preservation of the history of the Negro minor leagues and an oral history project in Mobile, where the feats of African-American athletes were well-known before Henry Aaron and Willie Mays reached the majors.

Soccer

• Phil Woosnam never wavered in his belief that soccer would emerge from its long obscurity on these shores. The former commissioner of the North American Soccer League was someone I got to know covering soccer in Atlanta in the 1990s, after he returned to the town where he won the first NASL title as coach of the Chiefs. As I wrote upon his death in July:

Whether it was the World Cup coming in 1994, the rise of women’s soccer and the arrival of MLS, he always believed the sport had a better future than the naysayers ever imagined.

soccer-in-a-football-world-the-story-of-americas-forgotten-game-david-wangerin• Dave Wangerin was a dutiful historian of that obscure American soccer history, even after he emigrated to the U.K. His book, “Soccer in a Football World,” is the definitive work on the subject, and he was given space in the British soccer fanzine When Saturday Comes to expand on what had been a topic of mocking incredulity in his adopted land.

When he died in May, the magazine launched a writing competition in his honor. He left this world concerned about the preservation of American soccer history, something he worked hard to flesh out.

• Allegations of doping in Germany’s national soccer team — including the World Cup winners in 1954 — were reported by the Süddeutsche Zeiting in August, rocking a sport that hasn’t been dogged much by charges of performance-enhancing drugs. It’s not likely that the German sporting public will get worked up over this, given the passage of time and Der Mannschaft’s accomplishment in helping lift the spirits of a nation that had destroyed much of Europe.

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