Saturday, September 22, 2012

Sweating the Small Print: Books About Sport

I'm sure you've all seen the recent studies demonstrating a link between exercise and intellect. Yep, according to excitingly named studies like "Cognition Following Acute Aerobic Exercise" (Univ. of Illinois), your brain's executive function capabilities improve measurably even after just thirty minutes of moderate exercise.

Good news: we can build bigger, better brains!
Bad news: that hamster in your kid's room pounding it out on the wheel - he's hiding a shiv under the wood shavings and he's got your credit card.

The thing about these studies is, if exercise does indeed make us smarter, why are professional athletes not curing cancer or lending Hillary a hand with the whole Middle East thing?

More importantly for our purposes, why are professional athletes not writing better books?

The following three books about sport are wonderful counterweights to the Green Bay 3-4 defensive line (combined weight 1,017 lbs) of sports writing dross.

1. It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium: Football and the Game of Life, John Ed Bradley
John Ed Bradley grew up the son of a high school football coach in Opelousas, Louisiana and played football at LSU from 1975-1979. Football was not just a game Bradley played; it was a way of life. Leaving football behind after graduating college was wrenching for him, and Bradley is extraordinarily good on what it means for an athlete to walk away from his sport.

2. The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop., Robert Coover
Where to begin? The Universal Baseball Association is an extraordinary act of imagination. John Waugh is a lonely, middle-aged accountant who devises a dice game that approximates the probabilities of baseball. All well and good. But then Waugh conjures up an entire alternate reality in which his game takes place: there is a ballpark, fully imagined players, death, sex, lies, but the only videotape is inside Waugh's head.
Will the game be saved by the arrival of promising rookie, Damon Rutherford or will Evil triumph over Good in Waugh's ex nihilo Creation? 
Waugh does indeed become a baseball God (J. Henry Waugh = JHWH. Any Bible scholars out there? Pretty nifty, right?) but his creatures overtake him.

3. Veeck - As in Wreck: The Autobiography of Bill Veeck, Bill Veeck with Ed Linn
Things you need to know: 
Bill Veeck was a major league baseball team owner from, roughly, 1940-1980.
He signed the second African-American player in baseball history and thus integrated the American League.
He lost his leg in WWII and used his wooden prothesis as an ashtray.
His one unfulfilled ambition was to "start a game with an entire team of midgets, and let them go a couple of times around the batting order, walking endlessly."

Oh, sorry, I assumed that would be all you needed to IMMEDIATELY go get a copy of this book. 

Veeck - As in Wreck is a love letter to baseball, an anti-authoritarian rant, and a history of sports marketing. Oh, and it was rumored for a time that Veeck - As in Wreck would be made into a movie with Veeck family friend and fellow Chicagoan Bill Murray as Bill Veeck. BILL MURRAY, people. Seriously. Go get the book.

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