This holiday season’s essential sports volumes offer a feast of biography and history, ranging from the fairways of the PGA and the ice palaces of the NHL to the fields of pro football, international soccer and beyond.
ARNOLD PALMER'S LEGACY
Golf legend Arnold Palmer passed away in September. Fortunately, the ever-popular Palmer had just completed his own personal memory book, A Life Well Played, in which he affectionately recalls the people, places and things he cherished most in his eventful 87 years. Palmer had his fingers in everything, it seems, from business ventures (car dealerships, golf course design) to media (Golf Channel) to charity work and endless endorsement deals spanning golf equipment to the famous iced-tea-and-lemonade drink that bears his name. Among many other favorite topics, Palmer discusses his native Pennsylvania, his positive career-long relationship with the press, the “Arnie’s Army” that followed him on the golf course in his playing days, his heroes (Dwight Eisenhower, Bobby Jones, Byron Nelson, his dad) and his 45-year marriage to his beloved first wife, Winnie. Eminently readable and delightfully Arnie, A Life Well Played is a must for any of his many admirers.
Olympic and World Cup soccer star Carli Lloyd has absorbed some deep professional and personal wounds along the road to establishing her champion’s persona. In When Nobody Was Watching, 34-year-old Lloyd frankly lays out her life and career, from her middle-class New Jersey origins to her ascent to the international stage, while pulling no punches in assessing soccer team dynamics, her various coaches and the sometimes political nature of relationships within the sport. Paramount among Lloyd’s more serious concerns is her longtime rift with her parents, the result of disagreements over her management. “To become the soccer player I am, I had to grow up, become my own person, and make my own decisions about what to do on the field and in life,” Lloyd writes. Through it all, Lloyd has achieved global recognition and earned acclaim as the first person ever to score a hat trick (three goals) in a FIFA Women’s World Cup final. Lloyd reserves special words in her memoir for her longtime trainer and mentor, James Galanis, and her lifelong best friend and fiancé, Brian Hollins.
Hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky’s long career saw him establish astonishing statistical marks and win four Stanley Cup titles. With 99: Stories of the Game, “The Great One” gives us a wide-lens journey through hockey history. Gretzky’s number was, of course, 99 during his playing days, but the current 2016-17 season is also the 99th anniversary of the NHL. The coverage here focuses mostly on the development of the pro leagues, the founding of legendary teams and the importance of individual players (Esposito, Lemieux, Clarke, Orr, Parent, Hull, etc.). On a more personal level, he opines on the future of violence in the game and also provides sidebars on the realities of a long hockey career and the inevitability of retirement. Poignantly, Gretzky pays special homage to the original great one himself, Gordie Howe, who passed away earlier this year.
GREEN BAY GIANT
Jeff Pearlman, known for his controversial 2011 book, Sweetness, about the late football great Walter Payton, now presents Gunslinger, his biography of Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre. While Pearlman ably accounts for Favre’s supremacy on the gridiron, his assessment of the private Favre is less than flattering, depicting a good-ol’-boy prone to drinking and practical jokes, not to mention a history of painkiller abuse and infidelity. Some of the more interesting topics covered include Favre’s college victory over Alabama as signal caller for Southern Mississippi, his early pro career with the Atlanta Falcons and his later success leading the Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl victory. From there, Pearlman reports on Favre’s difficult retirement and his last seasons quarterbacking the Jets and Vikings. While Favre’s high place in football history is forever guaranteed based on the numbers, Pearlman’s account might be a somewhat troubling read for his subject’s more devoted fans.
AFTER THE GAME
Noted FOX Sports broadcaster Curt Menefee has teamed up with sportswriter Michael Arkush to produce Losing Isn’t Everything, a collection of profiles of athletes whose careers—and sometimes, later lives—were marked by challenges, disappointments and the search for the fortitude necessary to carry on. The 15 “Where are they now?” chapters focus on folks such as Red Sox pitcher Calvin Schiraldi, loser of both Games 6 and 7 of the 1986 World Series; tennis player Aaron Krickstein, whose otherwise respectable career is overshadowed by a famous five-set match he lost to a combative, aging Jimmy Connors at the 1991 U.S. Open; world-class runner Mary Decker, whose considerable achievements were marred by controversy and a devastating fall; and golfer Jean van de Velde, whose startling and unreal meltdown at the 18th hole in the final round of the 1999 British Open has pretty much become the gold standard for professional sports ineptitude. Menefee’s eloquent introduction on the nature of winning and losing sets the reader up nicely for this appreciative and refreshingly different take on the games we follow so intently and the flesh-and-blood, fallible humans who dare to compete—then must face their demons, even when their playing days are over.