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It's a winner


Edited by Frank Deford

Houghton Mifflin, $22.95

Reviewed by Dave Goldsmith

Time was when a volume titled Best Sports Writing would consist of a handful of articles about baseball by New York newspapermen plus a puff piece or two from Sport magazine.

No longer. As Roger Angell, whose installments of the continuing sagas of the Mets and Red Sox are happily anticipated by New Yorker readers several times a year, points out, sports are not what they were in his youth (he's 73), "a series of events to look forward to and then to turn over in memory . . ." They are instead "a huge, omnipresent industry, with its own economics and politics and crushing public relations." And because of their importance in American life, they require serious analysis. That, in turn, attracts first-rate writers, with whom this volume is replete. The original places of publication include Esquire, the Oxford American and GQ as well as the New York Times Magazine and the Village Voice.

First, a caveat or two. Skip First, a caveat or two. Skip the introduction by Frank Deford. It's a self-serving piece about the demise of the National, the sports daily he edited in 1990. Second, although the title says 1993, everything in the book came out in 1992.

Where to start, then, in this wonderful collection? I'd go right to either Roger Angell or Dave Barry, depending on whether you want nostalgia or humor. Angell's piece is one of his best, a look back at the heaven New York was for a boy growing up in the '30s, with the Yankees and Giants winning pennants nearly every year and the easy accessibility and cheap ticket prices of many other sports. Barry's entry is a funny and touching piece about a minor league team, the Erie Sailors, who were in existence before their major league affiliate, the Florida Marlins.

Sports Illustrated's best writers are represented by the well-known Ron Fimrite, Rick Reilly and Kenny Moore. But the real suprise is an article on Tonya Harding by E.

M. Swift, first published in January, 1992, that contains this analysis of the skater by David Webber: "Tonya's lived in the real world. That's where she gets her toughness."

Jennifer Briggs' account of the abuse she suffered (from staffers on her own newspaper as well as athletes) should be read by every young woman who enters a locker room. And, yes, Mitch Albom is here. What would an anthology be without the best of today's sportswriters?

Too bad nobody uses "Bedside" in titles anymore. It's the perfect word to describe the place to keep this excellent volume, to savor each night before dropping off to dream of one's own sports achievements. Did I ever tell you about the tryout I had with the Indians back in 1950?

Dave Goldsmith teaches literature of sport at Northern Michigan University.