The Best American Sports Writing 2014

Table of Contents

Title Page

Table of Contents

Copyright

Foreword

Introduction

PAUL SOLOTAROFF WITH RON BORGES
The Gangster in the Huddle

DAVID MERRILL
The One-Legged Wrestler Who Conquered His Sport, Then Left It Behind

CHRIS JONES
When 772 Pitches Isn't Enough

FLINDER BOYD
20 Minutes at Rucker Park

AMANDA RIPLEY
The Case Against High School Sports

PATRICK HRUBY
The Choice

TIMOTHY BURKE AND JACK DICKEY
Manti Te'o's Dead Girlfriend, the Most Heartbreaking and Inspirational Story of the College Football Season, Is a Hoax

DON VAN NATTA JR.
The Match Maker

MARY PILON
Tomato Can Blues

JAY CASPIAN KANG
The End and Don King

IAN FRAZIER
The Last Days of Stealhead Joe

JEREMY MARKOVICH
Elegy of a Race Car Driver

STEPHEN RODRICK
Serena the Great

BROOK LARMER
Li Na, China's Tennis Rebel

AMANDA HESS
You Can Only Hope to Contain Them

ELI SASLOW
“Anybody Who Thinks This Is Porn or Abuse Doesn't Know My Family”

JONATHAN MAHLER
The Coach Who Exploded

BEN McGRATH
The Art of Speed

NICK PAUMGARTEN
The Manic Mountain

BUCKY McMAHON
Heart of Sharkness

ALICE GREGORY
Mavericks

RAFFI KHATCHADOURIAN
The Chaos of the Dice

KATHY DOBIE
Raider. QB Crusher. Murderer?

CHRISTOPHER SOLOMON
The Last Man Up

CHARLES P. PIERCE
The Marathon

Contributors' Notes

Notable Sports Writing of 2013

Read More from The Best American Series®

About the Editors

Footnotes

Copyright © 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

Introduction copyright © 2014 by Christopher McDougall

 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

The Best American Series
®
is a registered trademark of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
The Best American Sports Writing
™ is a trademark of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

 

No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system without the prior written permission of the copyright owner unless such copying is expressly permitted by federal copyright law. With the exception of nonprofit transcription in Braille, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is not authorized to grant permission for further uses of copyrighted selections reprinted in this book without the permission of their owners. Permission must be obtained from the individual copyright owners identified herein. Address requests for permission to make copies of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt material to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.

 

www.hmhco.com

 

ISSN
1056-8034

ISBN
978-0-544-14700-3

 

e
ISBN
978-0-544-30197-9
v1.1014

 

“20 Minutes at Rucker Park” by Flinder Boyd. First published on
SBNation.com
, October 15, 2013. Copyright © 2013 by Flinder Boyd. Reprinted by permission of the author.

“Manti Te'o's Dead Girlfriend, the Most Heartbreaking and Inspirational Story of the College Football Season, is a Hoax” by Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey. First published in
Deadspin.com
. Copyright © 2014 by Gawker Media. Reprinted by permission of Gawker Media.

“Raider. QB Crusher. Murderer?” by Kathy Dobie. First published in
GQ
, February, 2013. Copyright © 2013 by Kathy Dobie. Reprinted by permission of Kathy Dobie.

“The Last Days of Stealhead Joe” by Ian Frazier. First published in
Outside
, September 2013. Copyright © 2013 by Ian Frazier. Reprinted by permission of the Wylie Agency, LLC.

“Mavericks” by Alice Gregory. First published in
n+1
, October 9, 2013. Copyright © 2014 by Alice Gregory. Reprinted by permission of Alice Gregory.

“You Can Only Hope to Contain Them” by Amanda Hess. First published in
ESPN: The Magazine
, July 22, 2013. Copyright © 2013 by ESPN, Inc. Reprinted by permission of ESPN.

“The Choice” by Patrick Hruby. First published on
SportsOnEarth.com
, November 14, 2013. Copyright © 2013 by
SportsOnEarth.com
. Reprinted by permission of
SportsOnEarth.com
.

“When 772 Pitches Isn't Enough” by Chris Jones. First published in
ESPN: The Magazine
, July 22, 2013. Copyright © 2013 by ESPN, Inc. Reprinted by permission of ESPN.

“The End and Don King” by Jay Caspian Kang. First published in
Grantland.com
, April 4, 2013. Copyright © 2013 ESPN Internet Ventures. Reprinted by permission of ESPN.

“The Chaos of the Dice” by Raffi Khatchadourian. First published in
The New Yorker
, May 13, 2013. Copyright © 2013 by Raffi Khatchadourian. Reprinted by permission of Raffi Khatchadourian.

“Li Na, China's Tennis Rebel” by Brook Larmer. First published in the
New York Times Magazine
, August 22, 2013. Copyright © 2013 by the
New York Times Magazine.
Reprinted by permission of Brook Larmer.

“The Coach Who Exploded” by Jonathan Mahler. First published in the
New York Times Magazine
, November 6, 2013. Copyright © 2013 by Jonathan Mahler. Reprinted by permission of Jonathan Mahler.

“Elegy of a Race Car Driver” by Jeremy Markovich. First published on
SBNation.com
, July 30, 2013. Copyright © 2013 by Jeremy Markovich. Reprinted by permission of Jeremy Markovich.

“The Art of Speed” by Ben McGrath. First published in
The New Yorker
, February 4, 2013. Copyright © 2013 by Ben McGrath. Reprinted by permission of Ben McGrath.

“Heart of Sharkness” by Bucky McMahon. First published in
GQ
, April 2, 2013. Copyright © 2013 by Condé Nast. Reprinted by permission.

“The One-Legged Wrestler Who Conquered His Sport, Then Left it Behind” by David Merrill. First published on
Deadspin.com
. Copyright © 2014 by Gawker Media. Reprinted by permission of Gawker Media.

“The Manic Mountain” by Nick Paumgarten. First published in
The New Yorker
, June 3, 2013. Copyright © 2013 by Nick Paumgarten. Reprinted by permission of Nick Paumgarten.

“The Marathon” by Charles P. Pierce. First published on
Grantland.com
, April 16, 2013. Copyright © 2013 ESPN Internet Ventures. Reprinted by permission of ESPN.

“Tomato Can Blues” by Mary Pilon. First published in the
New York Times
, September 18, 2013. Copyright © 2013 the
New York Times.
All rights reserved. Used by permission and protected by the copyright laws of the United States. The printing, copying, redistribution, or retransmission of this content without express written permission is prohibited.

“The Case Against High School Sports” by Amanda Ripley. First published in the
Atlantic
, October 2013. Copyright © 2013 by Amanda Ripley. Reprinted by permission of Amanda Ripley.

“Serena the Great” by Stephen Rodrick. First published in
Rolling Stone
, July 4–18, 2013. Copyright © Rolling Stone LLC 2013. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

“Anybody Who Thinks This Is Porn or Abuse Doesn't Know My Family” by Eli Saslow. First published in
ESPN: The Magazine
, June 10, 2013. Copyright © 2013 ESPN, Inc. Reprinted by permission of ESPN.

“The Last Man Up” by Christopher Solomon. First published in
Runner's World
, March 2013. Copyright © 2013 by Rodale Inc. Reprinted by permission of Rodale Inc. and Christopher Solomon.

“The Gangster in the Huddle” by Paul Solotaroff with Ron Borges. First published in
Rolling Stone
, August 28, 2013. Copyright © Rolling Stone LLC 2013. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

“The Match Maker” by Don Van Natta Jr. First published on
ESPN.com
, August 25, 2013. Copyright © 2013 by ESPN Internet Ventures. Reprinted by permission of ESPN.

Foreword

T
HERE ARE MANY WAYS
to measure the impact or success of a book. In these metric-driven times, the temptation is to reduce everything to data—sales figures, “starred” reviews, Facebook shares, etc. Even the fact that this is the 24th edition since the series launched in 1991 says something about its value.

Still, for this book, a collection of stories, perhaps the best measure is the stories inspired by
The Best American Sports Writing
itself. For me at least, that measure helps justify the work that goes into putting it together every year.

To be clear, I am not referring to the
writing
the book has inspired, although it is certainly true that it has done so, serving as some motivation for a generation of sportswriters. I mean instead the stories that contributors and readers have told me about the book, the personal stories about the role it has come to play in their lives.

In addition to my duties as series editor of this annual collection and as the author of the occasional book, for the past few years I have also served as editor of the longform journalism page for
SBNation.com
. As I acquire and then edit stories for the site, I have had the opportunity to talk writing and work with hundreds of writers; I find these interactions incredibly rewarding and gratifying—as much so at times as I find writing myself. At some point, most of these writers tell me what this book has meant to their career or to their development as a writer. It's something that is always nice to hear, and when I speak with the contributors to this book, they often tell me the same thing.

Given that I've been doing this since 1991, I am older than many contributors and almost all the writers I work with. I have become accustomed to hearing someone say, “I've been reading this book my whole life.” Until recently, however, that statement was usually hyperbole.

Not anymore. Earlier this year, as I discussed a story with a younger writer, he blurted out that he found working with me “surreal.” I laughed aloud and asked him why. In all seriousness, he told me that he had been reading this book his entire life. I paused, then asked him his age. When he told me, I did the math—not only was he correct, but in fact the first edition of this book predated his appearance on the planet by several years. In fact, I suspect that when he was first old enough to read this book, he was already 12 or 15 years behind. Reality, it seems, has more than caught up with flattery.

I also occasionally correspond on a variety of other matters with writers, including many
BASW
contributors. In one email exchange with a writer whom I've been happy to include in these pages more than once, he told me that the first thing anyone sees when they enter his house is his collection of
The Best American Sports Writing.
I think I responded with some quick quip—my series collection is in the basement, buried on a shelf in my terminally messy office under other books. He soon sent me another email with the subject line “What It Means.”

Attached was a photograph. I clicked it open, and sure enough, on a set of shelves that appeared custom-made, was a complete stack of
The Best American Sports Writing
, 1991 through 2013, flanked by the books of writing legends such as Frank DeFord and Jim Murray.

But it's not just what books mean to my colleagues and other writers that matters. There's also the way books can connect readers and bring people together. My only disappointment with the growing trend to read books and stories on tablets and phones is that it is no longer possible to eavesdrop on what people are reading in public places, to find kindred minds by way of a book or magazine cover.

Years ago, I once traveled the country by train, a nearly monthlong trip that took me from Boston south through New York and Washington to New Orleans, then up to St. Louis to visit family before heading southwest and up the West Coast to Los Angeles and San Francisco, where I pillaged the bookstores. I returned by way of Portland and Seattle before heading east—a marathon journey home after a more meandering start. But I had a bag full of new books, and as the Rockies gave way to the Great Plains and then the Great North Woods, I read my way back across the country.

Somewhere north of Chicago, on the fourth day since my last shower, someone tapped me on the back. Another passenger had seen what I was reading and wanted to talk. By the time we reached Boston a day and a half later, we were already friends, probably the most memorable part of an 8,000-mile journey across some 30 states.

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