The Sports Illustrated columnist succeeds in his editing debut, picking mostly winners in the 12th annual collection of top sportswriting.
Reilly begins shakily with an “invalid” story by Bill Plaschke: Sarah Morris, cerebral palsy sufferer, baseball fan, and creator/editor/writer of Dodger Place, has a Web site with one monthly visitor and types her reports with a head pointer strapped around her temple. Plaschke minimizes the pity and makes the simple point that sports makes life better. From there, Reilly goes on to two excellent, contrasting profiles. First to Germany to visit Max Schmeling, the boxer who beat the great Joe Louis in 1936. Frank Deford talks with the 97-year-old widower, who admits he brownnosed Hitler but also maintained Jewish friends and saved two boys, risking his own life, during Kristallnacht in 1938. Then to Cuba for Eugene Robinson’s portrait of the “Cuban Ali,” Teofilo Stevenson, the three-time Olympic Gold Medal winner who passed up the big bucks to stay loyal to Castro and Communist Cuba. Juliet Macur’s depiction of a 19-year-old anorexic track star is hold-your-breath-and-hope-she-lives dramatic. Gene Wojciechowski’s requiem for basketball coach Al McGuire is sweet and sad. The funniest story comes from Scott Osler; in “Name It,” he uses athlete’s names as nouns or verbs. A man’s boss gives him a royal Aikman (concussive headache); the employee wants to Spree (choke) him, but finding another job would be difficult because the paperboy Knoblauchs (throws away) the morning edition. Reilly could have Soriano-ed (led off with power) this story, but he decides to Bucky Dent it (have an unlikely star appear later). Finally, Dan Neil’s fun night at Crash-O-Rama near Orlando should get demolition derby big-time hours somewhere on cable.
Twenty-eight stories, no duds in the bunch and a few to reread after a dog and a beer.