Best Sports Books of All Time (No, Not Sportsbooks)

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The Gaming Today team isn’t all about watching sports. Turns out, the writers for the site also enjoy a book here and there.

If you’re interested in reading about sports, we’ve collected our list of the best sports books of all time. And no, we don’t mean sportsbooks, the apps that take bets. We mean sports books: novels and nonfiction works about the sports we love. Enjoy!

If I Never Get Back by Darryl Brock

Dan Holmes

Who invented the ballpark frank? I bet you didn’t know it was a time traveler. That’s what you’d learn from Brock’s 1990 debut novel, “If I Never Get Back,” a science fiction-meets-baseball tour de force. What Brock’s accomplished is one of the best sports books of the last 30 years, and a joy for even those who don’t have an interest in early baseball history.

Protagonist Sam Fowler, resting at a crucial juncture in his life, steps off a train and magically finds himself in 19th-century middle America. Soon, he’s ensconced in the world of the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first professional “base ball” team. While the wool uniforms, sports betting in the grandstands, and post-Civil War life of the tale are riveting, the real gem of this book is the reflective journey Fowler takes as he faces mid-life and ponders his (inevitable?) return to the 20th century. Is Sam stuck in the 1800s, destined to be the man known for introducing hot dogs to the National Pastime, or can he make it back?

Purchase: “If I Never Get Back”

The Game by Ken Dryden

Kris Johnson

I grew up as an obsessed hockey-playing kid near the US-Canadian border, an hour’s drive from my doorstep to the old Montreal Forum in the 1970s and ‘80s. This book made its mark on me as a result. But check any online list about the best sports books, and “The Game” will invariably be on it. 

Ken Dryden won six Stanley Cups and five Vezina Trophy awards as the NHL’s best goaltender of his era with the Montreal Canadiens before retiring at the age of 31. A Toronto native, Dryden would later go on to be a member of the Canadian parliament.

“The Game” chronicles a period in Dryden’s life nearing that early retirement — when the Canadiens were still at the top of their game — but it does so much more. The author’s introspection (and his ability to articulate it) helped humanize him to me as a young kid. It still does today as a middle-aged man. 

“Nothing is as good as it used to be, and it never was,” Dryden writes in “The Game.” “The ‘golden age of sports,’ the golden age of anything, is the age of everyone’s childhood.” 

Purchase: “The Game”

Scorecasting by Tobias Moskowitz & L. Jon Wertheim

Chris Gerlacher 

New sports bettors who want to up their betting game need to know how to create a betting system. They need to know how to weigh factors that don’t have to do with the players or coaches. 

Moskowitz and Wertheim unpack the impacts of referees, challenge the efficacy of baseball players reaching a .300 batting average, and explain the math behind the best and worst game decisions.  

Scorecasting Book

The authors challenge conventional wisdom about sports, which has crucial betting implications for bettors. In a study of baseball players with .299 batting averages, the authors found that “no player hitting .299 has ever drawn a base on balls in his final plate appearance of the season.” These players “swing wildly” at pitches to try to reach that crucial – but somewhat arbitrary – .300 batting average. 

“Scorecasting” is filled with robust challenges to conventional wisdom about sports, players, and the fans themselves. It’s a must-buy for sports fans and sports bettors alike. 

Purchase: “Scorecasting”

In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle, by Madeleine Blais

Cheryl Coward

Set in a bustling Western Massachusetts college town, “In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle,” is a poignant yet sometimes hilarious account of a down-and-out high school girls’ basketball team. Like the fictional Bad News Bears, the team includes a mix of personalities that somehow overcome a series of setbacks on the way to a championship game.

After getting walloped in the last contest of their previous season, the Amherst Hurricanes regrouped under a dynamic coach. Ron Moyer helped the youngsters handle personality clashes, teammates who nearly quit during the season, a stalker, and resource inequalities between girls and boys prep sports teams.

While the Hurricanes consists of “nice” girls from a small town, they have the grit to power through the season, attract sell-out crowds, and win the 1993 state championship demolishing Haverhill, the team who won the previous season, 74-36.

The team produced All-American Jamila Wideman, daughter of renowned author John Edgar Wideman. She went on to star at Stanford and played in the WNBA.

“In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle” is a valuable contribution to the history of women’s sports. Blais, a Pulitzer-prize-winning writer, packages the story in an easy-to-read, engaging narrative.

Purchase: “In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle

Dead Solid Perfect by Dan Jenkins

Travis Pulver

I know what many sports fans must be thinking — a book about golf? Boring!!!! How can that be one of the best sports books of all time? Read “Dead Solid Perfect” by Dan Jenkins and you will never look at golf the same again. Jenkins portrayal of an underachieving golfer living the dream on the PGA Tour is something every sports fan can relate to. But with how he mixes in life lessons along the way, you do not need to be a sports fan to enjoy it.

If you have ever wanted a book to make you laugh out loud and cry all at the same time — this is the book for you. If a book has never made you lol or cry, then you have to read “Dead Solid Perfect” (anything by Dan Jenkins is a great read).

Purchase: “Dead Solid Perfect”

The Body Scout by Lincoln Michel

Cole Rush

“The Body Scout” takes place in a near-ish imagined future with a baseball league populated by cybernetically-enhanced players. Kobo Zunz works as a scout for one of the league’s teams, and his adopted brother JJ is an enhanced player. When JJ collapses on home plate and disappears, Kobo starts digging to find out what happened. 

To be fully transparent, I didn’t give “The Body Scout” all that high of a review when I first read it. I’m not the biggest baseball fan. But looking back, its melding of science fiction with a real sport is just cool, and that alone makes it worth the read. If you’re already a baseball fan, consider that an added bonus.

Purchase: “The Body Scout”

The Smart Money by Michael Konik

Chris Gerlacher 

Professional sports betting is surrounded by a mystique that attracts many sports fans. The idea of beating professional bookies at their own game and becoming fabulously wealthy in the process is irresistible. 

Michael Konik was among a syndicate of professional sports bettors in the 1990s. He placed bets at Vegas sportsbooks at the direction of “Big Daddy” Rick Matthews, who decided which bets to place and in what amounts. 

However, Konik had to manage the perceptions of Vegas hosts, clerks, and bosses. Being identified as a sharp bettor is the end of his accounts. Konik also shares his struggles with offshore accounts, which were far less likely to pay his winnings than any Vegas sportsbook. 

Readers who want to know what the life of a professional sports bettor is really like – and discover a handful of betting secrets – will enjoy Konik’s memoir. This book won’t make amateur bettors into pros, but it will show how hard it is to reach that mythologized professional level.

Purchase: “The Smart Money”

North Dallas Forty by Peter Gent

Travis Pulver

Does the off-field shenanigans and drama that often surrounds some of our favorite NFL stars entertain you? Do you think that reality TV producers are missing out by not following around some of the game’s biggest stars? Have you ever thought that Cinemax could do a better version of “Hard Knocks” than HBO? If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, you need to read “North Dallas Forty.”

Based on the author’s time in the NFL playing for the Dallas Cowboys (1964-68), it is a laugh-out-loud tale of life as a professional football player — all the good, bad, and everything in between. Once you pick it up, you’ll find it hard to put down and you will laugh more times than you can count.

Purchase: “North Dallas Forty”

About the Author
Cole Rush

Cole Rush

Writer and Contributor
Cole Rush is a contributor to Gaming Today. Cole is a Chicago-based writer in the gambling, media, and entertainment space. His work has been showcased in various gaming industry magazines and online columns.

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