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Serious sports biography

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Pulitzer Wannabe, May 4, 2009.

  1. Is it just me, or is this a genre that has blown up the last 10 years or so?

    To wit:

    Maraniss' "When Pride Still Mattered" and "Clemente"
    Pearlman's Bonds and Clemens books
    Kreigel's "Namath" and "Pistol"

    I'm sure there have been others, including Selena Roberts' A-Rod book out this week.

    Seems like it used to be most sports bios were hagiography. For all the talk about how sports writing's golden era has come and gone, it seems that these serious treatments were never done in the past.
  2. clutchcargo

    clutchcargo Active Member

    Back 30 years and more ago, writers/authors buddied up to their subjects (Dick Schaap comes to mind), sometimes playing cards or drinking beers, whatever. Stuff that is verboten today. Some were really good writers, but very few true reporters in the bunch. They wrote with flair but with deference. Sure, they could have written with much of the same scrutiny writers/authors do today because God knows they had the access, but they chose not to risk burning any bridges.
  3. finishthehat

    finishthehat Active Member

    I guess you should add Richard Ben Cramer's DiMaggio bio, although my high hopes for it weren't fulfilled. But it was a serious bio, by all accounts.
  4. Jane Leavy's Koufax.
    David Wolf's "Foul" on Connie Hawkins.
  5. Smasher_Sloan

    Smasher_Sloan Active Member

    Robert Creamer's "The Babe Comes To Life" was published in the '70s, I believe. It attempted to separate a lot of fact from myth.
  6. Steak Snabler

    Steak Snabler Well-Known Member

    The Walter Johnson bio (Baseball's Big Train) that came out a 10-12 years back (by Richard Thomas) was excellent as well.

    And I can't believe no one has yet mentioned "Nails," by Lenny Dykstra with Marty Noble.
  7. Rudy Petross

    Rudy Petross Member

    Golf bios seem to litter the shelves in droves. I have seen the usual suspects, Nicklaus, Tiger, Palmer, Hogan, Nelson, but there are others that seem to make it despite the fact they are still in the prime of their career or have the Q rating of a high school gym teacher. The bio of Esteban Toledo comes to mind. I should write a golf bio on either John Rollins, Jeff Gove or one of the Sutherland brothers ( I don't think it matters which one).
  8. Orange Hat Bobcat

    Orange Hat Bobcat Active Member

    I have not happened upon a more well-researched sports biography during recent years than "Bowerman and the Men of Oregon," the retrospective of Oregon coach Bill Bowerman by Kenny Moore. Granted, Moore ran for Bowerman for four years and maintained a friendship with Bowerman until the old coach died about 10 years ago. But Moore provided a balanced look at Bowerman ... from the early days of his grandparents ... to his own school days and career in the military ... to, uh, dropping hot keys on runners' thighs in sweltering saunas ... to the history of Nike. Even for folks who don't care about distance running, this one is worth a read.

    Another personal favorite remains "Ty Cobb," by Charles Alexander. Now, I am a little biased because Alexander worked as a history professor at Ohio University while I studied there and I did read as many of his books as possible ("Our Game" and "Breaking the Slump" are also good reads), though they are far more steeped in the history than in the storytelling. Also, I would like to think Alexander did play some role in the sports biography boom; his biography of Cobb, his first sports book, was published in the early 1980s, back when there weren't nearly as many sports books on the shelves.
  9. Orange Hat - Can you explain the difference between history and story telling? The SABR types revere the Alexander bio of Cobb. Is it pretty dry compared to, say, a Pearlman or Kriegel work?
  10. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    What would you say "Clemente" or "Luckiest Man" is? Are those "dry"?

    I'd definitely say both of those qualify as "steeped in the history," because the research is extensive, original and groundbreaking. Doesn't mean you can't tell a good story, but it does mean that you're not embellishing the history to tell a better story (such as Eliot Asinof did in "Eight Men Out").
  11. I was thinking he meant more like ignoring narrative arcs and such. Maraniss' stories, meticulously researched as they are, still have arcs and themes, although I read an interview with him where he had come to terms with the fact that every man is a jumble of contradictions. Which I imagine can make biography very difficult when you're trying to pin someone down.

    Wondering if Alexander ignores narrative in favor of a straight run through of history?
  12. Orange Hat Bobcat

    Orange Hat Bobcat Active Member

    You beat me back to the thread, Pulitzer.

    I love Charles Alexander (again, I have a particular bias). His lectures were among the best of my four years of higher education. His books are informative and thorough. But as journalism, yes, they do lack in terms of arc and style. Now, because of that, Alexander does not compromise anything. He does not fabricate. When you read his histories and biographies, you can rest (read) assured that what is on the page is what happened years ago. But it does differ from say, Maraniss or David Halberstam or John McPhee, among others.
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