Updated on 03.12.09

Sports Illustrated’s Fifty Years of Great Writing – Free!

Trent Hamm

I love reading essays. There are few things better than kicking back with a small piece of great writing that can both educate and entertain you, yet you’re finished in just one sitting.

For many, many years, Sports Illustrated was the home of the best in sports essays. For many years, I was a faithful subscriber, and when an issue would arrive in the mailbox, I’d quickly turn to the long article (usually the last one in the issue) and get absorbed into a great story that, at the same time, usually taught me lessons about humanity as well. (Nowadays, I usually read essays online and check out the annual Best American Sports Writing paperback).

A few years ago, a family member gave me a copy of Sports Illustrated’s Fifty Years of Great Writing. Simply put, it was a collection of some of the best essays ever published in Sports Illustrated.

Needless to say, I devoured it. Multiple times, actually.

Recently, I came across this volume while cleaning and found myself engrossed in these essays once again. I read several, then decided to do a bit of research into something I read in one of them. I fired up Google, did a search, and discovered something interesting: the essay’s text was available for free online!

So I spent some time locating all of the essays included in the book and saving them for future reference on my computer. Then, I realized that there are a lot of Simple Dollar readers who might enjoy the same thing.

Thus, here are the fifty two essays included in Sports Illustrated’s Fifty Years of Great Writing, free for your own enjoyment. You might be surprised at some of the literary heavy hitters here – Steinbeck, Faulkner, DeLillo. Many of these are among the very best sportswriting I’ve ever read. I hope you get as much enjoyment out of these as I have.

The Players
The Boxer and the Blonde by Frank Deford
Yogi by Roy Blount Jr.
The Last Angry Men by Rick Telander
The Year, The Moment and Johnny Podres by Robert Creamer
Gifts That God Didn’t Give by John Papanek
All the Rage by Richard Hoffer
The Ring Leader by Frank Deford

Main Events
“Lawdy, Lawdy, He’s Great” by Mark Kram
There’s Never Been An Open Like It by Dan Jenkins
The Day Bobby Hit the Home Run by Roger Kahn
A Pay Night for Old Archie by Budd Schulberg

Sweet Spots
Finally, We Were Left Alone, Just Me And My Bike by Thomas McGuane
A Personalized History Of Scottish Golf Or You’ll Not Do That Here, Laddie by Dan Jenkins
The Univesrity of Eighth Avenue and Part II by A. J. Liebling
Sons of the Wind by Kenny Moore
Road Swing by Steve Rushin

Wild Kingdom
Mirror of My Mood by Bil Gilbert
Snakes Alive! by Jeff MacGregor
Pure Heart by William Nack
Grim Reapers of the Land’s Bounty by Jim Harrison
We Are Destroying Our National Parks by Wallace Stegner

Supporting Players
“There Ain’t No Others Like Me” by Mark Kram
Master of the Joyful Illusion by William Barry Furlong
The Coach and His Champion by Alexander Wolff
“I Managed Good, But Boy Did They Play Bad” by Gilbert Rogin
Baseball’s Babbling Brook by Huston Horn

Playing for Laughs
Hype (Absolutely, Positively the Greatest Article Ever Written!) by Bruce Newman
‘Ring Tossed by Steve Rushin
We All Had a Ball by Roy Blount Jr.
The Curious Case of Sidd Finch by George Plimpton
Lake Wobegon Games by Garrison Keillor
Worst Baseball Team Ever by Jimmy Breslin
On the Winter Tour by Herbert Warren Wind

Personal Fouls
The Case Against Brian Spencer by Pete Dexter
Total Loss Weekend by Don DeLillo
This Is the Game of the Name by Franz Lidz
Crime and Punishment by Gary Smith
Broken Promise by S.L. Price
O Unlucky Man by William Nack

Music to the Ear
King of the Sports Page by Rick Reilly
Then My Arm Glassed Up by John Steinbeck
Heavyweight Championship Of The Word by Jeff MacGregor
Would You Let This Man Interview You? by Myron Cope
The Big Wind in Chicago by Ron Fimrite
Kentucky: May: Saturday by William Faulkner

Examined Lives
Farewell, Teddy Ballgame by Leigh Montville
The Ripples From Little Lake Nellie by Gary Smith
The Best Years of His Life by John Ed Bradley
He’s Burning to Be a Success by John Underwood
Laughing on the Outside by John Schulian
The Best There Ever Was by Frank Deford

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  1. John Todd says:

    “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch” convinced me to subscribe to SI. This is a great cache of reading material. Thanks so much for pointing it out.

  2. RJ says:

    This has to be one of my favorite posts of all time. Thank you very much.

    The Best American Sports Writing series is released is one date I mark on my calendar each year.

  3. a writer says:

    Just think, though: you’ve deprived the writers of income, the people who work at SI of income, and the used-bookstore workers/owners of the income of buying that book.

    Just saying.

  4. Karen M says:

    I, too, love essays. I think it is a greatly under appreciated art form. Thank you for putting all these here for us.

  5. Clare says:

    Thank you for this tip! I’m a high-school English teacher with many athletes in my senior classes. We try to read a short work of nonfiction at the end of every week, but I have to search hard to find writing that not only engages them, but also has literary merit. I’m hopeful I’ll find some good stuff here.

  6. Fantastic Trent, thanks for sharing… this page is going straight to my favorites list so I can access once at a time 50 times…

  7. guinness416 says:

    Thanks for the links. I find some of their feature writing a bit syrupy and earnest at times, but this list probably cuts out those ones.

  8. Doug says:

    Trent, have you read this week’s Sports Illustrated? The feature article is about the harsh personal finance lessons learned by professional athletes!

  9. Lisa I says:

    Thank you for sharing these. I also love to read essays and I will enjoy working my way through these!

  10. Jason says:

    I remember reading “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch” as a kid and debating with my father whether or not it was an April Fool’s joke (the date of the SI issue was April 1, 1985).

    I plan on sending the link to my father for him to enjoy. I am hoping it brings back some fond memories just like it did for me.

    Great post, Trent. It’s like a walk down memory lane.

  11. Tom says:

    Sweet! Thanks, Trent. Just read the Garrison Keillor story on the Lake Wobegon boys vs.the Babe. Let me tell you, over a plate of homemade spaghetti and a couple colds ones, I felt like I was at the park. To echo those above, thanks for the link.

  12. mycyberfriend says:

    I would like to respond to Comment #3 above: “Just think, though: you’ve deprived the writers of income, the people who work at SI of income, and the used-bookstore workers/owners of the income of buying that book. Just saying.”

    Having worked for a magazine I can say that I have never heard of an writer receiving royalties for an article they write. They usually get paid a set amount upon acceptance of the article or when the article is first printed.

    Secondly, it was the people at SI who made the articles available for free (on a page with paid advertising), so the more people who view that page, the more money they make.

    Third, every time you buy a used book, you are depriving both the author and the publisher of income. You can’t have it both ways.

    Just saying.

  13. michael bash says:

    Does anybody know the John Updike article on Ted Williams? No idea when it appeared. Thanks.

  14. michael bash says:

    That’s Michael Bash at /mbash1944@yahoo.com/

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