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Sports Books: Always a Winner
By David Pitt

Ho-ho-how about still more coffee table books for your wonderful friends? Sports fans on your list might be interested in The Gospel According to ESPN: Saints, Saviors and Sinners (Hyperion, hardcover), edited by Jay Lovinger. It's an interesting book, exploring the not-entirely-fresh premise that, for some enthusiasts, there's not a big different between sports and religion. The book looks at some saints (baseballer Mark Fidrych, for example), some fallen angels (O.J. Simpson, Pete Rose, Bobby Knight), some saviors (Babe Ruth, Tiger Woods), some prophets (Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King) some gods (Ted Williams, Secretariat); it explores the concept of saint and sinner, shows how we worship athletes the way we worship deities. The essays are balanced -- there is, for example, not a trace of malice or voyeurism in the piece on O.J. Simpson -- and, I must say, surprisingly thoughtful; George Plimpton's essay on gods of sport is particularly enlightening. Naturally, there are plenty of photographs and illustrations, too.

Novice golfers -- heck, anyone who enjoys a good eighteen holes -- might enjoy My Golden Lessons (Simon & Schuster, hardcover), written by Jack Nicklaus with Ken Bowden. With one hundred victories in his four-decade career (twenty of them were major championships), Nicklaus is an acknowledged giant in the sport. In this copiously illustrated collection of more than 130 installments of his long-running column for Golf Digest and Golf Magazine, he shows you how to choose the right ball, find the right grip, position your head for the swing, master the chip shot, and (among many other things) deal with a bumpy green. When it comes to golfing, there s your expert, your competent player, your duffer, your beginner, and there, about three levels below that, you ll find me; still, I feel like I ve learned some things. I imagine any golfer, no matter his or her skill level, will be a happy camper.

Shifting nimbly from grass to ice, let s take a peek at A Day in the Life of the Maple Leafs (HarperCollins, hardcover), with a foreword by Ron MacLean, the popular sports broadcaster. The general editor is Andrew Podnieks, author of several books about hockey, but it's the photographers who are the stars here: twelve of them, all documenting a single Leafs game (Dec. 8, 2001, at home against the New York Rangers; the Leafs won, 4-3, but that hardly matters). Culled from more than 9500 photographs -- that's an astonishing number -- the book takes us right through the day, from the mid-morning workouts to the behind-the-scenes preparations, to the game itself, right to the post-game celebrations. We see the players at home before the game, in the stadium preparing to do battle, warming up moments before the opening face-off. The book isn't just for Leafs fans; as a record of a day in a life of a hockey team, any team, as a record of several hours forever now frozen in time, it's a must-read for any fan of the sport.

Editor's Note: This is one of a series on coffee table books as holiday gifts. Find more suggestions in our Columns.
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