Give the gift of sports books for Christmas

Sports fans are, by nature, inquisitive souls.
They want to know more about their teams, about their players, whether it’s from the present, past or future.
I always hear that it difficult to find Christmas present ideas for sports fans. So I’ve reviewed some of the sports books I’ve read over the past year, hoping that it gives readers some ideas for gifts for their favorite sports fan.
Most can be found through Amazon, Barnes and Noble or other book vendors.

“Burleigh Grimes, Baseball’s Last Legal Spitballer,” by Joe Niese. (McFarland and Company)
This book is my favorite of the year for several reasons. I got to know Burleigh late in his life. Though age had done its damage, it never lessened the intensity that burned in him. Burleigh was a rough-edged, straight-talking baseball legend.
The book does a thorough job of following the many stops Burleigh made through his career in baseball. His career traversed the country, starting in school ball in Clear Lake in 1908. He worked as a player, manager, and scout. It wasn’t until 1971 that Grimes retired to his home area.
The book is written by baseball historian Jon Niese of Chippewa Falls. A comprehensive telling of Grimes’ Hall of Fame career has long been needed. Niese gives us the consummate story of his life.

“Closing The Gap,” by Willie Davis, with Jim Martyka and Andrea Erickson Davis. (Triumph Books)
Willie Davis was not just a superbly gifted football player. The former Green Bay Packer Hall of Famer is also blessed with incredible business acumen that has led him to be a nationally respected leader.
Davis embodied everything that made Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers one of the greatest football teams to ever take the field. Work ethic, passion, intelligence, persistence, they were all attributes that led Davis to become of the greatest defensive ends in NFL history.
Those same attributes made Davis a giant in the business world, first in liquor distribution then the national radio market. The book shows why Davis was able to transfer those traits to the business world.
For long-time Packer fans, Davis gives incredible detail into the personalities on the team and what life was like for a black man in Wisconsin in the 1960s.

“I Did It My Way,” by Bud Grant and Jim Bruton. (Triumph Books)
Grant, the NFL Hall of Fame coach of the Minnesota Vikings, has ties to our area. In the 1940s and 1950s, he moonlighted as a hired arm for baseball teams like the Deer Park Deer and the Osceola Braves. There isn’t any mention of that in his book, only because there is so much other information that will be of interest to local readers.
Grant’s life-long involvement in sports will draw in readers because nearly all of it happens in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Grant grew up in Superior and played football and basketball for the University of Minnesota. He was a uniquely gifted athlete, playing pro football and basketball. He played in the NBA for the Minneapolis Lakers, the predecessor of the Los Angeles Lakers. Grant was a first round draft choice of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles in 1950. He led the Eagles with 56 receptions for 997 yards in 1952. Grant then jumped leagues, starting the next chapter of his career in the Canadian Football League. After several years as a standout player, he became a head coach, winning four CFL championships. That success led the Minnesota Vikings to hire him and his stoic, hard-edged coaching style took the Vikings to four Super Bowls.
The book is a great read, with incredible detail. The book isn’t just about Grant’s successes, it’s about what made him a success. His knowledge of sports, including hunting and fishing, is boundless.

“Orr, My Story,” by Bobby Orr. (Penguin Random House Publishing)
Bobby Orr is unquestioned as the best defenseman to ever lace up a pair of hockey skates. Orr revolutionized hockey. His swift rushes up ice changed the game. It was the stepping stone to defensemen taking a much larger role in the offensive end of the rink.
The book is a rather old-fashioned, refreshing recollection of his career. Orr is not a braggart, far from it. The self-critical side of him that pushed him to be such a splendid hockey player also shows in his writing. He gives an honest, complete recollection of his life and his hockey career, heaping praise on his family and teammates while deflecting it from himself. For hockey fans who always longed to know more about the greatest defenseman ever, you will never have a better chance to do so.

“Packers Pride, Green Bay Greats Share Their Favorite Memories,” by LeRoy Butler. (Triumph Books)
Green Bay Packer fans, this book is a treat. This book has more than 80 stories, mostly by Packer players and executives of the present and past, as they recount their favorite moments in the Green and Gold. It has the stars of this era like Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre, Donald Driver, B.J. Raji and Charles Woodson. There are also tales from the stars of the Lombardi era like Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Willie Davis, Paul Hornung and Max McGee. If you want to get wrapped up in Packers stories stretching from the 1940s to today, this will give you hours of enjoyment.

“North of Highway 8,” by Dan Woll. (Romeii LLC)
This is the second book from the former St. Croix Central School District administrator, following his novel “Death on Cache Lake.”
Woll’s “Highway 8” puts him in a comfortable situation, telling the stories about his many adventures as only he can. Woll is a cyclist, an adventurer and a tale teller. He often seems to end up in unique, sometimes poignant, sometimes colorful, situations. Some of his stories will make you laugh while others will make you wonder at the detail he finds in people’s character.

“100 Things Brewers Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die,” by Tom Haudricourt. (Triumph Books)
Haudricourt has covered the Milwaukee Brewers since 1985 for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and there is nobody more qualified to write about the Brew Crew and the team’s colorful history.
Haudricourt presents a broad cross section of the Brewers’ history in this compilation. It ranges from Bernie Brewer to Bud Selig, from the Sausage Races to Harvey’s Wallbangers. All the greats are here, Robin Yount, Hank Aaron, Paul Molitor, Bob Uecker and Ryan Braun.

“Dodgeville: Capturing Hearts” by Rick Birk (
Birk’s book tells the charming tale of the 1964 Dodgeville boys basketball state championship team and how those small town team captured the state title against immense odds.

“Why Not Wisconsin” by Matt LePay (Triumph Books).
LePay is the voice of Wisconsin Badger sports, primarily football and basketball. In his 25 years he’s seen Barry Alvarez and Dick Bennett and made the transitions to Bret Bielema and Bo Ryan. LePay’s book gives an eyewitness view of ups and downs of the Badgers’ signature programs and the rise to national prominence of both of them. LePay has studied the history of both programs to put the successes into context. He also goes into detail about the Badgers’ biggest rivalries and the greatest moments he’s seen in both programs.

My friend, Bob D’Angelo, is a sports copy editor at the Tampa Tribune in Florida. He is also one of the best I know at reviewing sports books. Here are some of the recent releases that he recommends:
“Clouds Over the Goalpost,” by Lew Freedman, which is about the NFL in 1963;
“Color Blind,” by Tom Dunkel, talks about an integrated baseball team in North Dakota during the 1930s that included Satchel Paige;
“The 34-Ton Bat,” by Steve Rushin, which is an offbeat book about things around the game of baseball, like concessions, promotions, bats, balls, uniforms. Fascinating stuff;
“Driven,” by Donald Driver. Packers former WR tells his candid and sometimes disturbing story about growing up poor in Houston and his later success in the NFL;
“Their Life’s Story,” by Gary Pomerantz, which is about the 1970s Steelers — then and now;
“The Cracker Jack Collection,” by Tom and Ellen Zappala. Talks about the 1914-15 Cracker Jack releases.
“Breaking the Line,” by Samuel Freedman, traces the FAMU and Grambling colleges during the turbulent 1967 season.

For more of Bob’s reviews, check his blog: