This was fun! I’m allergic to most sports, reading this purely to fill in a gap because I could end up on Jeopardy!, and I need to know about Babe Ruth and Wilt Chamberlin and so forth. But even I have been known to enjoy a “sports movie” like Field of Dreams or Brian’s Song; in these films the sport in question is winnowed down to the most thrilling and intense, most life-altering moments, and packaged up for even an ignoramus like me to be able to appreciate. And that’s just what this book is: the ultimate highlights reel, a few pages each on 47 of what the author considers the most memorable moments in sport, the ones that made not only the crowd but the announcers go wild – the ones that left those usually glib and loquacious commentators gibbering in amazement. Even I, who avoid most Game as if it were a plague-ridden rat, have some of these voices echoing in my mind – though I admit the “Dodgers win the pennant!!!!” moment is familiar to me from M*A*S*H.
I planned on picking this up now and then, skimming, trying to glean the important information for hopeful future recall as needed. (“Alex: who is David Cone?” Other than the one baseball player I’ve ever actually met, that is, which I completely forgot about until I read about the serendipity of his pitching a perfect game on the day partly honoring Don Larsen, who pitched a no-hitter in the 1956 World Series.) (I know, I’m scaring myself too.)
Out of the things I don’t much care for, I did already know that I prefer baseball to football, and football to basketball; it was nice to have the occasional sop of gymnastics or horse-racing (one tidbit there) or Olympics track: I actually watched Carl Lewis run. (On TV, at least.) In baseball, the book was Yankee-centric … which, yes, could well be because the Yankees had more “heywow” moments than all the other teams there are. (I wouldn’t know.)
And after all: Babe Ruth (who may or may not have pointed). Lou Gehrig. I – even I! – know these names. (Is it me or is it wild how very much Gary Cooper really did look like Lou Gehrig?) There was even a part of an entry devoted to a baseball player I actually met (I worked for David Cone’s father-in-law),
The photographs packing this book are wonderful. There are some absolutely iconic moments, like Ali standing over Sonny Liston, taunting him. There are glimpses of moments that aren’t often seen, like a still from an amateur film of Babe Ruth pointing (or not). And there are lots and lots of action shots, which appeal to me on several levels – the amateur photographer’s admiration of the ability to get the money shot; the art student’s appreciation of capturing a moment of sheer emotion or extreme physical exertion, the facial expressions and
One thing I took away from this book was kind of sad, actually. Here are these amazing feats by men and women (and horses), and (as far as I know) there’s not a hint about any of them before, say, the 90’s (80’s?) that there was anything remotely suspicious about any of them. No one could discover that Gehrig was using performance-enhancing drugs; he was a great player, and a great personality, and the image of him as a sportsman will (I hope) never be tainted as so many more recent “heroes” have been tainted. They might well have been using “pep pills” or tranquilizers or cocaine or who knows what … but if they did I don’t think it was nearly so widespread as it seems to be today, and the honorable players who refused to participate in such cheating still stood a chance at competing. Today it seems like the only way the records are going to be broken or the fans are going to be kept interested is if the players are pumped full of as many illegal substances as they can hold, whatever the cost. Athletes didn’t have to provide blood samples before games or meets or matches or races. It really was a simpler time, the decades surrounding most of the highlights in this book: it never crossed anyone’s mind that the feats described here were anything but sheer human (and equine) achievement. Even if there were any drugs, from alcohol to more exotic things, involved in any of these moments, we probably will never know. I hope.