Books make good Christmas gifts

Published 11:00 am Friday, December 9, 2022


Contributing columnist

When I was a kid, I occasionally got sports books for Christmas. One of the early ones that I remember was a hardcover about baseball superstar Willie Mays. And when I got much older, I even asked my mother for a special book for Christmas and got it. The title of that 1990 book was Loose Balls: Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association by Terry Pluto. That was over 30 years ago, and that 450-page volume was pure entertainment.

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And I still enjoy reading sports and other nonfiction works. How about you? With Christmas approaching, are you searching for a nice holiday gift for a sports fan who loves to read? I have prepared a list of possible sports books for you to consider.

The Grandest Stage: A History of the World Series by Tyler Kepner (Doubleday, $30) is a vivid portrait of baseball at its finest and most intense, filled with humor, lore, analysis, and fascinating behind-the-scenes stories from 117 years of the Fall Classic. The World Series is the most enduring showcase in American team sports. It’s the place where legends are made, where celebration and devastation can hinge on a fly ball off a foul pole or a grounder beneath a first baseman’s glove. The 310-page hardcover digs deep for essential tales dating back to the beginning in 1903, adding insights from Hall of Famers like Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt, Jim Palmer, Dennis Eckersley and many others who have thrived – and failed – when it mattered most. The author has covered every World Series game in the last two decades for The New York Times.

The Book of Joe: Trying Not to Suck at Baseball &  Life by Joe Maddon and Tom Verducci (Twelve, $30) is a memoir of a fascinating baseball journey, an insider’s look at a changing game, and a guidebook on leadership and life. No one sees baseball like Maddon, a three-time MLB Manager of the Year. Raised in the “shot and beer” town of Hazleton, Penn., and forged by 15 years in the minors, Maddon over 19 seasons in Tampa Bay, Chicago, and Anaheim became one of the most successful, most colorful, and most quoted managers in Major League Baseball.

He is a workplace culture expert, having engineered two of the most stunning turnarounds in the past quarter century: taking the Rays from the worst record in baseball one year to the World Series the next, and leading the Cubs to their first World Series title in 108 years.

House of Champions: The Story of Kentucky Basketball’s Home Courts by Kevin Cook (University Press of Kentucky, $26.95) reveals the rich history and colorful details of the buildings that have hosted UK basketball. The 350-page paperback combines archival research and numerous interviews with players and coaches who participated in these gyms. A number of fascinating backstories are uncovered, including the excitement of Alumni Gym’s opening night in 1925, the problematic acquisition of Black community land for the building of Memorial Coliseum, and the painstaking inscription of nearly 10,000 names of Kentucky’s World War II and Korean War heroes to be displayed along the Coliseum’s pedestrian ramps. The account concludes with a compelling overview of the development of Rupp Arena: its inner workings, the prominent figures involved, and how the initial conversation to build it began over a slice of Jerry’s pie in 1968. The author has degrees in engineering and U.S. history.

The Leadership Secrets of Nick Saban: How Alabama’s Coach Became The Greatest Ever by John Talty (Matt Holt Books, $25) highlights the keys to Saban’s winning strategy and offers readers a blueprint for paving their own paths to success using the coach’s leadership lessons.

The 245-page hardcover covers Saban’s journey to college football’s mountaintop and reveals some of the magic behind what keeps him atop it through original interviews and never-before-heard anecdotes. The author is the senior sports editor and SEC Insider for Alabama Media Group.

The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson by Jeff Pearlman (Mariner Books, $29.99) is a captivating biography about a former superstar of both the NFL and Major League Baseball. Drawing on over 700 original interviews with people from Jackson’s professional and personal life and access to a trove of transcripts from long-lost interviews with Jackson in the bowels of the Auburn University library, the 484-page hardcover captures as never before the elusive truth about the Heisman Trophy winner. The bestselling author of nine previous books is a former Sports Illustrated senior writer and columnist.

Together: The Amazing Story of Carolina Basketball’s 2021-2022 Season by Adam Lucas, Steve Kirschner and Matt Bowers (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Department of Athletics, $37.50) takes North Carolina fans through one of the most dramatic years in program history. In words and photos full of behind-the-scenes moments, the 160-page hardcover reveals how the first-year coach Hubert Davis, who had made history as the program’s first Black head coach in April 2021, and his Tar Heels went through the ups and downs of the conference season before the team’s amazing run through March Madness.

Barkley: A Biography by Timothy Bella (Hanover Square Press, $29.99) is a comprehensive biography of former college basketball and NBA star Charles Barkley, who is one of the most interesting and outspoken athletes in the past 50 years. Passionate, candid, iconoclastic, and gifted both on and off the court, the former superstar has made a lasting impact on not only the world of basketball but pop culture at large. Raised by his mother and grandmother in Leeds, Alabama, Barkley struggled in his early years to fit in until he found a sense of community and purpose in basketball. And he has become a bold agitator for social change, unafraid to grapple, often brashly, with even the thorniest of cultural issues facing our nation today.

Kentucky Hustler by Terry Hatton and Jeremy Rice (Paisley Mountain Press, $19.95) is an adventurous memoir written by the son of former UK basketball standout Vernon Hatton. The younger Hatton discusses his life as a notorious ticket scalper, among other things, who grew up in a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints family not far from the UK campus. Told in three acts, the paperback is a first-person memoir of basketball, self-reliance in the streets, religious perseverance, and outliving your father’s expectations while never forgetting to love and laugh with your family.

And don’t forget my new and sixth book titled, Forever Crazy About the Cats: An Improbable Journey of a Kentucky Sportswriter Overcoming Adversity. Yes, a shameless plug by yours truly. The 408-page hardcover is an entertaining book about UK basketball as well as football.

The new volume, with a retail price of $25.95, is also part memoir about my long, adventurous career of covering the Wildcats, while overcoming personal adversity — a devastating hearing loss since birth. In addition to my personal struggles in dealing with my severe hearing impairment, the new book features many fascinating stories and interviews about the Wildcats, including Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall, Dan Issel, Cawood Ledford, Tubby Smith, John Calipari, Paul “Bear” Bryant, Ray Correll, Blanton Collier, Fran Curci, Jerry Claiborne, Vic Adams, Mark Stoops, Maci Morris, Oscar Tshiebwe (and his high school coach Rick Mancino), among others, such as baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente.

Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime sports columnist in Kentucky, is the author of six books about UK basketball, including newly-released “Forever Crazy About the Cats: An Improbable Journey of a Kentucky Sportswriter Overcoming Adversity.” He is also the editor and founder of Magazine, and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via email at