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The Year in Sports Books

I'll avoid the usual cliche about last-minute Christmas shopping here. Here are the books that I thought were the best that I read in 2013 in the area of sports. They are good any time of the year, and not just now.

Click on the title for a complete review of the book in question from my website:

The NHL - D'Arcy Jenish - The author came up with some great source materials and has written something of a business history of the NHL. It really makes the league's past come alive.

Their Life's Work - Gary Pomerantz - It's a lovely look at the Steelers' glory days, even if that's not the word you'd use to describe the team. I dare say ever fan in Pittsburgh has one already.

Collision Low Crossers - Nicholas Dawidoff - I think it's the best pro football book I've ever read. It certainly does the best job of explaining what the game is like from the inside.

The Last Boy (2010) - Jane Leavy - I'm late to the party on this. I bought it at a used book sale, and was thoroughly impressed. I'm no Yankee fan, but this biography was thorough and surprising. Get it.

Francona - Terry Francona and Dan Shaughnessy - Hard to believe how open everyone was about Francona's time in Boston. Mostly for Red Sox fans, but it's a great look inside a baseball operation.

--- Budd Bailey

Book report: The Year's Best in Sports

I've read a few dozen sports books over the past year. Here are some of my favorites, in case you need a last-minute gift for the sports lover in the family. Click on the title to jump to a full review; this includes books I read this year:

The Good Son - Mark Kriegel - This biography of Ray Mancini is a fine update on a famous boxer who lost his title here in Buffalo (but still loves it here).

The Best American Sports Writing 2012 - Edited by Michael Wilbon - I always enjoy books in this series, and this was no exception.

Imperfect - Jim Abbott - The nicest surprise of the year, this is a great look at a remarkable person as well as a look back at his best day as a pitcher.

Bill Veeck - Paul Dickson - A worthy companion to the late Veeck's own "Veeck as in Wreck," which might be my favorite sports book ever.

Over Time - Frank Deford - One of the best writers of sports ever looks back on his great if still in progress career.

Wherever I Wind Up - R.A. Dickey  with Wayne Coffey - This is an absolutely stunning piece of work about an amazing life story. Look for it on "best of 2012" lists in any subject.

--- Budd Bailey

Reading roundup: The season's football books

Need something to do between football games at this time of year? There are plenty of books out there on the college and pro game.

Here's a roundup of some of this year's titles. For a more complete review, click on the title to go to my blog dedicated to sports books:

Promises to Keep - Floyd Little with Tom Mackie - 3 stars - The Hall of Famer talks about what he overcame to reach Canton, including poverty and some bad pro teams.

Paterno - Joe Posnanski - 4 stars - This is a full portrait of the legendary Penn State coach. The problem is that the Jerry Sandusky scandal struck whlie the author was finishing it up. It's still worth your time, but we probably need to let some months go by to get full perspective on Paterno's life.

Perfection - Bob Griese  and Dave Hyde - 4 stars - Bills' fans might not want to read about a great Dolphins' team from the 70's, since they beat up on Buffalo twice. Still, this is a very good look at the only unbeaten team in NFL history. Hyde does a nice job of adding background information to Griese's observations.

Sapp Attack - Warren Sapp with David Fisher - 3 stars - Sapp was as quick off the line of scrimmage as he was with his mouth, and he gets to spout off for more than 300 pages here. It's not particularly well organized, more like a long run-on chapter, but has some good stories and insights.

Best of Rivals - Adam Lazarus - 3 stars - The author, who did a good job reviewing the Bills-Giants Super Bowl, moves into the quarterback battle between Joe Montana and Steve Young. It's obviously rare to have two Hall of Famers at the same position, and this recounts that era nicely enough. Still, Niners' fans are the obvious target for this one.

--- Budd Bailey

Running notebook: What time is it?

One of the big subjects of conversation at the Wendelville race on Wednesday night was, oddly enough, Paul Ryan. That's right -- the Republican candidate for Vice President.

As you may have heard, Ryan first said his time for his only marathon was two hours and 50-something minutes. That's very impressive. Then Runners World did a little checking and discovered that his time was actually 4:01:25.

Ryan backed off his statement on Tuesday with this quote: "I hurt my back when I was in my mid-20s, so I had to stop running. And so obviously, my perception of races and times was off,” he said. “I thought that was an ordinary time until my brother showed me a 3-hour marathon is, you know, very -- crazy fast. I ran a 4-hour marathon."

The talk at the race Wednesday centered around one key point: Runners remember their times. They can even be boring about personal bests and first marathons, etc., but they know them cold.

My guess is that the slip-up isn't likely to be a factor in the election. I'm not sure how runners vote. Still, it's not good to be associated with jokes along the lines of "Paul Ryan told me tonight that he ran the 5K in 12:35."

Changing the subject drastically, get well wishes go out to Dick Sullivan, a fixture on the local running scene forever. Dick had some health problems recently and had to spend some time in the hospital, but he is said to be recovering nicely. Brother Ted says Dick has his eye on running the Turkey Trot.

Here's the weekend calendar, courtesy of buffalorunners.com:

* Finn McCool 4 Mile Odyssey, Cazenovia Park in Buffalo, 8 a.m. Saturday, 830-6703. Dan Horan is promising new obstacles for this year's event. Personally, an 8 a.m. start is a big obstacle for me (which is what happens when you work at night).

* Peach Festival 5K, 493 Center St. in Lewiston, 9 a.m. Saturday, 297-5831.

* Run for Life 5K, 4928 Seneca St. in West Seneca, 9 a.m. Saturday, 864-4571.

* Run with the Angels 5K, 24 Shoshone Dr. in Buffalo, 10 a.m. Saturday, 834-7120 x306. The students at Holy Angels come out and support this race, giving the field a youthful look.

* Derby Fair 5K, 7431 Erie Rd. in Derby, 10 a.m. Saturday, 947-0945.

-- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Jimmy Arias

(Born August 16, 1964) -- Western New York isn’t known as a tennis hotbed, but the area can always claim a top-notch modern player as one of its one. Jimmy Arias turned out to better than most of us dreamed.

He grew up on Grand Island, and quickly dominated local play from a young age. After training in Florida, Arias turned pro at the age of 16.

The climb up from there was a swift one. Arias probably hit his peak at the ripe old age of 19 when he was ranked sixth in the world. He also won his biggest tournament, the Italian Open, along the way, and also reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open in that year.

Arias didn’t have as much success in 1984, but still climbed to fifth in the world at one point. That’s partly due to a trip to the fourth round at Wimbledon. However, physical problems became an issue around that point, and Arias never could take that next step.

Since his playing days ended, Arias has stayed involved in tennis. He’s done some coaching as well as worked on television broadcasts in the United States and Canada.

--- Budd Bailey

Running notebook: Coming up

Coming up in Sunday's running column is the story behind the cancellation of the annual Mississippi Mudds race, held since 2000. There's a lot more to it than anyone could have guessed.

The season for four-mile runs is upon us. There aren't many of them over the course of the year, but we've got three within a couple of weeks. Two of them are back-to-back starting tonight. Here's the weekend wrap-up of races, courtesy of Buffalorunners.com:

* Tim Frank Memorial Canal Fest Run, 4 miles, 17 Broad St. in North Tonawanda, 7 p.m. tonight, 688-7839. You might recall that this race was run last year on the hottest night of the decade. Tongiht should be better. This is always a well-done race, even if it takes me a while to figure out on which side of the canal the race is staged.

* SVS 5K Summer Sizzler Walk/Run, 6441 Seneca St. in Elma, 6:30 p.m. Friday, 949-4256.

* Subaru Buffalo 4 Mile Chase, Bidwell and Elmwood in Buffalo, 7 p.m. on Friday, 881-1652. This race puts some effort into its t-shirt design, and this year's is a classic. Oh, and it's also a chance for runners at my level to lose to a much better class of athlete, since the prize money usually attracts some top international runners.

* Laurel Run 8K & 5K, Silver Creek Village Square, 8:30 a.m. Saturday, 661-4735.

* Crabapple 5K, Stiglmeier Park in Cheektowaga, 9:30 a.m. Saturday, 897-7207. And don't feed the deer in the park.

* Character Chase 5K, 150 Pleasant Ave. in Hamburg, 11 a.m. Saturday. Make sure you know in advance where the post-race party is located. I didn't last year. This is a nice little race back for its second year, even if July 1 deadline for a t-shirt seems a little early.

* Lindsay Matthews Scholarship Race, 5K, 6909 Milestrip Road in Orchard Park, 10 a.m. Sunday, 667-3786. I ran this race last year, and wasn't expecting such a big hill along the way.

* St. Mary's Church Chowder Chase 5K, 6919 Transit Road in East Amherst, 11:15 a.m. Sunday, 636-4617. I think this race is technically in Swormville, which is some cases has been spelled Swormsville. Wherever it is, let's hope things go well in the church's first try at the racing business.

-- Budd Bailey

Running notebook: A fine mess

It's been quite a week in the running business.

At first, it looked as if the planned half-marathon at Orchard Park had collapsed. Runners were rather angry, particularly those who had trained for months in preparation for a race that had been postponed nine days before the start. They had every right to be angry too.

However, a few days ago, a coalition of organizations and people got together and saved the race. So hundreds will be taking to the streets early Saturday with the goal of finishing 13.1 miles of running at the 50-year line at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

I'll have a recap of what I thought of the entire episode in my next running column a week from Saturday. Your thoughts, before and after the actual running, are welcome at [email protected].

Speaking of mix-ups, the CityBration race suffered from a couple of them over the weekend. It's a first-year event and errors are to be expected, but it doesn't make runners any happier.

Number one came the day before, as shirt and number pick-up were promised from 12 to 5 p.m. at the Central Wharf. A couple of runners went down there at 1 o'clock or so, and there was no sign of anyone connected to the race ... and no one in the area knew anything about it. I stopped down later at 4:15 p.m. or so, and the package was available then.

Then on raceday, runners were told they could use a ticket for either Cheerios or chicken wings after the race. The people in charge of those foods knew nothing about it -- and remember, runners don't often carry money with them for races. Then, the athletes found out that their tickets for beer were good ... but that the beer tent opened at noon. For a race that started at 9:30 a.m., this was a bit of a wait. So a lot of runners went home hungry and thirsty.

Rule number one in business: keep your promises.

It's a strange weekend on the calendar, as there's nothing scheduled around Buffalo outside of the Orchard Park run on Saturday or Sunday. Here's the slate, courtesy of buffalorunners.com:

* Road 2 Recovery Mental Health 5K, Delaware Park in Buffalo, 6:30 p.m. on Friday, 883-3331 x321.

* Fitness 360 JDRF Run for the Cure 5K, 2625 Delaware Ave. in Buffalo, 7 p.m. on Friday, 874-2005.

* The 50-Yard Line Finish, 13.1 miles & 5K, Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchad Park, 7 a.m. Saturday, 830-6703.

* D&F 5K Challenge, 1170 Central Ave. in Dunkirk, 9:30 a.m. Saturday, 510-0702.

-- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Jim Roberts

     (Born April 9, 1940) --  When asked to make up a list of all of the Buffalo Sabres' head coaches in history, Jimmy Roberts' name might not come up quickly. That's too bad, since Roberts had an interesting hockey history.

     The Toronto native played his first NHL game with Montreal during the 1963-64 season. He was called up to the Canadiens for good the next season, and was a regular for three full seasons on defense.

     When the St. Louis Blues had their first choice in the expansion draft in 1967, they took Roberts. Over the next four seasons, Roberts was a regular for some good Blues teams. He moved up to forward and was in double digits in goals for those four seasons.

     Roberts played under Scotty Bowman then, and the two were reunited when Roberts was traded back to Montreal. There he was three more Cups.

     When Bowman moved to Buffalo as a coach in 1979, Roberts came with him as an assistant. He was promoted to head coach during the 1981-82 season, where he went 21-16-8. That wasn't good enough at the time, so Bowman returned to the job for the end of the season. Roberts stayed in Buffalo until 1984.

     From there, he mostly worked as a coach in the minors or as an assistant in the NHL. The exception was in 1991-92, when he guided the Whalers to the playoffs. Roberts left hockey in 2002.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Ted Nolan

     (Born April 7, 1958) -- It's almost difficult to believe that Ted Nolan was only in Buffalo for two years. He still comes up in conversation, more than a decade later.

     Nolan grew up in a Native community in Western Ontario, and played hockey for Sault Ste. Marie in the Ontario Hockey Association. He was drafted by the Red Wings in the fifth round of the 1978 Entry Draft. Nolan played professionally through 1986, mostly in the minor leagues, but he did skate for Detroit and Pittsburgh in the NHL.

      From there he started his coaching career, beginning back in Sault Ste. Marie. After a sting as an assistant coach with the Hartford Whalers, Nolan was hired as the Sabres' head coach in the summer of 1995. John Muckler gave up his head coaching duties in that move and concentrated on his other job as general manager.

     The Sabres weren't too good in 1995-96, but they improved quickly in 1996-97. The Sabres were the surprise division winner that second season, and made it to the second round of the playoffs. Nolan was given the NHL's coach of the year award for his work.

     Nolan and Muckler had issues during that time, though, and both men did not return for the 1997-98 season. Nolan turned down a one-year contract offer from new general manager Darcy Regier, and the coach was out of a job. He landed a job with the Islanders nine years later and got New York into the playoffs Ñ no small task Ñ but new general manager Garth Snow dismissed him in 2008.

     Nolan worked in Rochester for a couple of years, and lately has been coaching Latvia's national team.

--- Budd Bailey 

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Tom Barrasso

   (Born March 31, 1965) -- Tom Barrasso had a very strange stay in Buffalo at the start of his professional career in hockey.

   Barrasso was drafted out of Acton-Boxborough High School (Mass.) fifth overall by the Sabres in 1983. He was considered one of the best U.S. goalie prospects in history, and immediately justified that scouting report.

   Barrasso was named the opening night starter ahead of veteran Bob Sauve. From there Barrasso went on to the greatest year by an 18-year-old goalie in NHL history. He won the Vezina Trophy and the Calder Trophy.

   The young netminder had a slow start in 1984-85 and spent five games in the minors, a slight he didn't forget for quite a while. But statistically he was almost as good in his second year as in his first.

   Barrasso stayed in Buffalo for a little more than three years, not reaching those heights again. The Sabres had another goaltending prospect coming along in Daren Puppa, who not only was good but reportedly was more popular among Sabre teammates. Buffalo traded Barrasso to Pittsburgh for Doug Bodger and Darrin Shannon.

   The netminder helped the Penguins win Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992, and was the first American goalie to win 300 games. He played for four different teams after leaving Pittsburgh. Barrasso now serves as the goaltending coach of the Carolina Hurricanes.

 --- Budd Bailey

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