Anyone who read Leigh Montville's 2004 book, Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero, probably assumed there wasn't anything left to say about the greatest hitter who ever lived. Ben Bradlee Jr. disagreed, to the tune of nearly 800 pages—and he was right.
Although Bradlee, in The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams, lacks the elegance of Montville's prose, he makes up for it with staggering reporting—the 14-page Appendix II, which lists the more than 600 people he interviewed over 11 years, is longer than nine of the 34 chapters. He tracked down everyone from Williams's two surviving wives to the man who serviced his satellite dish. And it is in those off-the-field moments that The Kid proves most insightful. We know Williams weighed his bats obsessively, but Bradlee lets David Pressman tell us about the letter he wrote to the Splendid Splinter in 1948 as a 14-year-old Red Sox fan, suggesting that Williams bake his bats to get rid of water weight. We know Williams was cryonically preserved in 2002, but Bradlee gives us a minute-by-minute description of the procedure, including a recap of the conversation while Williams's head was being sliced off. ("At one point, going slow, the surgeon remarked that he wished he had an electric knife.")
By the end you're impressed Bradlee was able to fit it all into 774 pages.
Review Of the Year*
"It's a children's book, right? RT @RCJameson: @GronkNation @WesWelker I envision this being written in crayon."
Tweet of Broncos WR Wes Welker on Growing Up Gronk, by the family of ex--Patriots teammate Rob Gronkowski
So You Want to Be an NFL Player?
"[W]omen have emerged from the fog, pulled toward us by our oversized pituitaries and our caveman libidos, vibrating the floorboards like a Dr. Dre bass line."
"People often asked me how bad it hurt to get hit by those huge dudes. The truth is that it doesn't hurt at all. The switch is on. I can't feel a thing. My body is a machine and my emotions are dead."
From Slow Getting Up by Nate Jackson
SI Presents: Stories 2013
The Sports Gene by David Epstein
Tigers vs. Jayhawks: From the Civil War to the Battle for No. 1 by Mark Godich
Peter Read Miller on Sports Photography 50 Portraits by Gregory Heisler
Swimsuit: 50 Years of Beautiful
To the Mat
Rooted in exaggeration and fabrication, pro wrestling doesn't naturally lend itself to straight history. But in The Squared Circle, David Shoemaker pins it down nonetheless, tracing the industry's evolution from carny sideshow to globally televised behemoth. Given its cast of characters (Gorgeous George, Lou Albano), pro wrestling has plenty of color, but Shoemaker doesn't shy away from its darker themes.
Black and White
Call it the year's boldest subtitle: The Season in Black College Football That Transformed the Sport and Changed the Course of Civil Rights. But by tracing the fortunes of Florida A&M and Grambling, Samuel G. Freedman's Breaking the Line succeeds in making a compelling argument that the 1967 season was indeed that significant. It's an instructive book, which is not to say it's not entertaining too. It is.
GUILLERMO HERNANDEZ MARTINEZ FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (SI BOOKS)