Today, I saw that he published his list of the top 50 sports books, in an article entitled “By My Reading…” (March 15, 2015, p. 14C) Click the link here and you will see an interactive page that explains why he believes that a book belongs on the list, and what it contributes.
Cowlishaw is a veteran sports reporter in the DFW area. He also appears on the ESPN national television program “Around the Horn.” He joined the Dallas Morning News in 1989. He has been a beat writer for the Dallas Cowboys, Texas Rangers, and Dallas Stars. Today, he focuses his work on daily columns.
It was fun to look at Cowlishaw’s list of books. If I were making such a list, I would include Men at Work by George Will (Easton Press, 1990). That book explained the game day business of baseball better than anything I have ever seen. It convinced me, as well as others, that baseball is not “boys at play.”
I was amazed how many of the books I had read, and even saved. My favorites off his list were:
- Ball Four by Jim Bouton (Dell, 1971)
- Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn (Harper and Row, 1972)
- Friday Night Lights by Buzz Bissinger (De Capo Press, 2000)
- Eight Men Out by Eliot Asinof (Holt, 2000)
- Moneyball by Michael Lewis (W.W. Norton, 2004)
- Cosell by Howard Cosell (Playboy Press, 1973)
- Instant Replay by Jerry Kramer (World Press, 1968)
Cowlishaw did a good job of selecting and explaining why these books were prominent in a very concise way.
After reading it, I wanted to go out to the garage and see if I can pull out some of these. Some would be yellowed, tattered, and torn.
Of course, I would have to find them first.
We rarely get any comments on our blog posts. But, I am interested to see if you would add or subtract any sports books from his list after you look it over.
Since the Dallas Cowboys are “America’s Team,” you can understand why they have been the subject of so many books. I have read a lot of them.
The most recent, and likely, best-selling edition is called The Dallas Cowboys: The Outrageous History of the Biggest, Loudest, Most Hated, Best Loved Football Team in America by Joe Nick Patoski (New York: Little Brown, 2012). At 805 pages, it does the job.
But, I don’t think it’s the best. If you really want the history, go back to a book that concentrates on the first nine years of the team’s existence (1960-1969). And, that book is entitled Dallas Cowboys Pro or Con: A Complete History by Sam Blair (New York: Doubleday, 1970). The book is long out of print, but it is available through third-party sellers.
Before his retirement, Blair was a columnist for the Dallas Morning News. I met him through the late Merle Harmon, who broadcast games for area sports teams for many years. Blair was the paper’s first Dallas Cowboys writer, and he worked for the Dallas Morning News for 41 years (1954-1995).
Blair was a writer in a different era. In his career, there was not muckraking, blowing up heresay into facts, instant messaging, social media availability, or anything like today’s journalistic activity. Writers went to press conferences, chatted informally with players and coaches, kept off-the-record tidbits exactly that way, and did not blow up rumors into stories. It is true that they were laid-back, let the stories come to them, and were definitely not Watergate-style investigative reporters.
Perhaps even more so than Blair was Red Smith, who was an editorialist for the New York Times and New York Herald Tribune from the 1930’s through the 1980’s. I read a great collection of his columns in a book by Daniel Okrent entitled American Pastimes: The Very Best of Red Smith (New York: Library of America, 2013). Writers like Blair and Smith were just so different than you see today.
But, back to the Cowboys book by Blair. I guess that I select it for history because it is concentrated on the early years. It does not have to spread itself thin over 50 years. The context of Dallas, Texas, and especially the rivalry for ticket sales with Lamar Hunt’s Dallas Texans is so vivid in the book. Because it only covers the first nine years, you find all aspects of the team covered in a well-developed manner.
There were other books published about the team at that time that were also good. I remember reading the late Steve Perkins’ Next Year’s Champions (New York: World Publishing, 1969) . But, that book focused on a single season when the Cowboys did not advance as far as they had previously into the NFL Championship game. I remember it had a drawing of Don Meredith on the cover, wrapped around by Green Bay Packer linebacker Dave Robinson, as he through an interception into the end zone in the fourth quarter of the 1966 NFL Championship game. And, I remember how much I was stricken by the racism and bigotry in our area, even for star Cowboys players in the 1960’s, as told in Cotton Bowl Days by John Eisenberg, which was later retitled, and is now unavailable even through third party sellers.
I just think if you want to study the team’s history, why not read it historically? And, Blair’s book is the one that allows you to do that. You have to search for it, but you can find it.
With the flurry of collegiate bowl games and the onset of professional football playoffs, my attention today turns away from business to sports.
Sports has long been a popular arena for writers, including from those who cover the various events, as well as those who coach and play it. Sports has also been an increasingly popular source for business analogies – “you hit a home run,’ “that presentation was a hole-in-one,” “it was a slam-dunk in there today,” and so forth.
If you were to ask me what my all-time favorite sports book is, it would not take very long to get you an answer. My choice is Instant Replay: The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer (Doubleday, 1968). In that book, the former offensive guard for the Packers revealed in-depth and behind-the-scenes information about life with legendary coach Vince Lombardi. Of interest to Dallas Cowboys fans is the revelation that he believed he may have been offsides on the famous goal-line plunge by quarterback Bart Starr that gave the Packers a last-minute victory in the famed 1967 Ice Bowl. How we have wished that they could have been pushed back five yards!
The book was republished in 2006, and that edition is still available on Amazon.com. But, for me, I read the book as a teenager, and I remember many parts of it vividly.
One other note about this book: like many works that athletes authored, this one was “as told to,” and the target was Dick Schapp. He was one of the great sports writers and interviewers of modern times. Even the unpredictable and volatile basketball coaching legend Bobby Knight admired him. Sports fans throughout the the world miss him.
That’s my vote. What about you?
A recent book review in the Wall Street Journal highlighted a new best-seller entitled Fame: What the Classics Tell Us About Our Cult of Celebrity by Tom Payne (Picador, 2010). Critics have provided a number of favorable reviews about the book.
As we begin the new year, I wonder if you might consider an alternative to this type of book. Because the famous tell only one side of the story. For years, we have been fascinated by the way that famous people live. This includes politicians, movie stars, military leaders, athletes, upper-class societal types, among others. For many of us, these are people who live what we can only dream about. For others, they are role models. As I learned many years ago, “if you want to be rich, don’t follow the pattern of a poor person.”
But, what about unknown, non-famous people? There is a different story that revolves around them. How can we access life lessons from people who aren’t famous? While there are fewer treatises written about and by people who are not famous, they do exist. If you look hard enough, you will find them.
Here’s one that I enjoyed a few years ago. It is called Hotel Kid: A Times Square Childhood by Stephen Lewis (Paul Dry Books, 2004). The kid was rich, but not famous. Have you ever heard of him? You may know people who have invested in urban, downtown-centered condominiums, many of which are renovated from warehouses or very old office complexes. Living there is different from most of us, but not drastically so. But a hotel? What if you lived and grew up in a hotel? What do you learn? How do you cope? How do you turn out?
Or, how about Cotton Bowl Days: Growing up with Dallas and the Cowboys in the ’60’s by John Eisenberg (Zondervan, 2004)? He wasn’t an NFL star – just a kid in a Jewish family that had Sunday routines with football. It sure was different than what we do today, but his experience broadens our own perspective considerably.
No one has to be famous to have a story that others can enjoy, learn from, and put to use in certain ways. If you look hard enough, they exist. And, they can be just as valuable as any book written about someone famous.
What about you? Do you have a favorite book by or about someone who would never be included in a book such as Fame? Write back and tell me about it! Let’s share the title with others!
Bob Morris, my colleague on this blog, has written more than once about the power of “followership.” Followership is valuable. So – consider this…
I am convinced that if journalists covered any story the way that the Dallas Morning News covers the Dallas Cowboys, we’d understand, and then solve, every problem in the country in a week.
You should have seen the paper the morning after Wade Phillips was fired. You needed the physical paper – the on-line version simply did not have the over-all impact of the two page spread with the charts and graphics and analysis, all in one big overwhelming visual. Seriously, the News covers few stories with the detail and creativity that they demonstrate in their coverage of the Dallas Cowboys.
Anyway, Jason Garrett is the new (interim) coach, and we think he may have pulled off the miracle of the decade last night in beating the New York Giants yesterday. But there was this item on the Cowboys blog by Todd Archer (on the News web site) that just really rubbed me the wrong way. Jason Garrett comes in providing clear directions, with leadership that is clearly desperately needed. But leaders have to be followed. And this one guy – well, if this account is true, he’s just a jerk! Here’s the account:
Jason Garrett made it clear that players were required to wear sport coats, ties, slacks and dress shoes for road trips. After all, today’s game against the New York Giants is a business trip.
Hanging around the Jersey City Westin on Saturday night when the team arrived, I noticed Marion Barber was in a sport coat and jeans without a tie. Everybody else I saw – and it was not everybody – met Garrett’s requirement.
Is it a big deal? Not really but there is a level of disrespect being shown by not following the dress code in the first week. And it gives Garrett the chance to send a message, whether he does it publicly or not. Players will know what happens.
What makes it worse, to me, is that Barber is a team captain and he chose not to follow Garrett’s rules. What kind of message does that send to the team as a captain?
We’ll see the post-game attire. Players are required to return home in suits too. That was not the case under Wade Phillips.