Wry essays on sport and its enthusiasts by an agile writer (Road Swing, 1998) who’s likely to discern the human-interest story behind the statistics.
Rushin, a four-time finalist for the National Magazine Award, has traveled worldwide for the “Air and Space” column in Sports Illustrated, where these 24 essays and shorter pieces originally appeared. Along the way, he’s developed an appealing style that combines deadpan humor with a focus on offbeat events (lucrative darts championships, an amputee golf championship, competitive eating) or unusual settings (the Topps baseball-card company offices, Germany’s most dangerous racetrack). Some pieces give prominence to Rushin’s personal misadventures; the title essay, for example, describes his “June golf tour of Scandinavia,” which brought him near the Arctic Circle, a region where one can “banana-slice a ball so badly that it not only travels backward but also travels back in time.” Elsewhere, he takes a broader, historical view: a piece rife with period details and hilarious pseudo-nostalgia examines the bizarre circumstances that made the 1962 Mets the worst ball team ever. Similarly, the 60-page “How We Got Here” explains how TV and personalities like Roone Arledge transformed spectator sports from a regional, blue-collar phenomenon into the “axis on which the world turns”; Rushin is observant, but arguably pulls his punches here. “Tour de France” offers a pungent snapshot of European soccer, as embittered English rowdies clash with colorful French, Italian, and Brazilian fans. “High Rollers” covers roller-coaster cultists who ride for days on end, a breed of enthusiasm also seen among the amateur racers on Germany’s “Green Hell,” the Nurburgring track deemed too dangerous for Formula One. “Planet Nagano” argues that the 1998 Winter Olympics was well served by Japan’s constant blending of normality with the perverse. At his best, Rushin is reminiscent of such other tart commentators on American leisure as Carl Hiaasen and Padgett Powell; his skillfulness enables him to wring entertainment even out of such chestnuts as the epic Yankees–Red Sox fan rivalry.
Engaging, entertaining, and more laid-back than many sports books.