Well-read for the road

"Most of us learn to write by the second grade, then move on to bigger things."
-- Bobby Knight
"Most of us stop throwing chairs and calling ourselves Bobby by the second grade, too ..."
-- Steve Rushin
Five years ago, Rushin, a writer for Sports Illustrated, toured America's sports shrines in an attempt to rekindle his youthful love of sports. The trip turned into a book, "Road Swing: One Fan's Journey into the Soul of American Sports." (Doubleday, 1998).
The book was published in 1998, but I just got around to reading it this past year. I mention this because I figure at least someone has resolved to read more books this year and Sports Illustrated doesn't count as a book. (As a side note, I'm pretty sure ESPN The Magazine doesn't even count as reading.)
Of the 30 or so sports books I read last year, here are my top five:
1. "Road Swing"
2. "Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life," by Richard Ben Cramer -- the unauthorized biography of Joe DiMaggio shows us the difference between the private lives of pro athletes 50 years ago and the private lives of present athletes is ... basically nothing.
3. "The Best American Sports Writing 2000," edited by Dick Schaap -- Everything you need to know about Louisiana cockfighting, Mexican bass fishing, high-stakes action bowling and the Canadian curling circuit. Schaap, one of the patriarchs of sports journalism, passed away in December.
4. "Jim Murray: The Autobiography" -- Considered one of the two best sportswriters in history (Red Smith is the other), Murray basically wrote his autobiography about everyone else.
5. "It's Only a Game," by Terry Bradshaw -- Absolutely no redeeming value save that it's funny.
Who gets nod: Rushin gets the nod because he's one of my three favorite columnists, along with Terry Pluto of the Akron Beacon Journal and the late Chicago news columnist Mike Royko. Royko rarely wrote about sports but he could have written about squirrel hibernation patterns and it would have been brilliant.
Rushin keeps a nice pace and visits a nice mix of the famous (Cooperstown, Cleveland) and the inane (Hyden, Ky. -- hometown of Tim Couch -- and Jim Thorpe, Pa. -- Thorpe's burial site).
Some of "Road Swing" 's quotes are worth memorizing so you can insert them -- out of context -- into everyday conversation...
Sports fan: "What baseball really needs is a better collective bargaining agreement."
Joe: "Well, it's like Steve Rushin says, 'It looked as if God had barfed Alpha Bits on Austin.' "
Sports fan: "Huh?"
The book has too much unnecessary profanity (possibly the most redundant phrase in history) and the humor is lowbrow at times, but the good stuff easily outweighs the bad.
Since I'm more likely to read non-sports books -- I might be the only sportswriter to read "The Brothers Karamazov" in his free time last year -- my list is less than comprehensive. Anyone is welcome to e-mail me his or her list.
Protecting the English language: As a final note, I would like to thank everyone who wrote or called to point out a grammatical mistake I made in my last column. I incorrectly wrote that the Browns lousy receivers should have WENT in the third round, when they actually should have GONE in the third round.
The rule, of course, is that the verb "gone" must always be preceded by an auxiliary verb (has, have, is, am, are, etc.), while "went" never takes an auxiliary verb.
I hereby apologize to those readers who noticed, the readers who didn't notice, the people who skip my columns because they think I'm an idiot, E.B. White, William Strunk and William Safire.
I guess I should have went to more grammar classes.
XJoe Scalzo is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at scalzo@vindy.com.

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