There is something about a great sports story that transcends audiences. Perhaps it’s because we are seemingly hardwired to root for an underdog, or fight to overcome the adversity in our own lives. Whatever the reason, inspiring sports stories — and inspiring sports biographies, in particular — are some of the most successfully sold books on the market. These fifty sports biographies, all of which are ranked by Amazon as the highest rated and bestselling of their kind, represent the very best that sports has to offer. From baseball to horse racing, the books on this list are a showcase of true stories that are bound to move and inspire readers of all ages, backgrounds, and athletic ability.
In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color line in major league baseball when he was recruited by Branch Rickey to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Originally published in 1972 (the year Robinson died), this book is a full account of Robinson’s commitment to achieving justice for himself and others like him. His years as UCLA’s first four-letter athlete, his draft and subsequent court-martial during WWII, and experiences in the Negro Leagues and with the Dodgers are all in here. Robinson also offers inspiring anecdotes about sports figures he most admired, like Rickey and teammate Pee Wee Reese.
Undoubtedly one of the best baseball players in history, Ted Williams was the last man to hit .400 in a season. He was also insecure, a flawed husband and father, a raging hothead, and aggressive towards the press. But Bradlee’s ambitious biography accounts for both the heroics and the darker side of a man Bradlee admits in the first pages to be his hero. Bradlee spent over ten years investigating the details of Williams’s 83 years, and even includes some disturbing tidbits about Williams’s death in 2002, such as when his head was severed and cryogenically frozen after his death.
Michael Lewis’s bestseller is a biography of the 2002 and 2003 Oakland Athletics team and management staff. With a much smaller team budget than that of other teams, manager Billy Beane used a series of numbers and statistics to build a winning team. Among his recruits were an overweight college athlete, previously ignored triple A players, a tired catcher-turned-first baseman, and a number of older athletes discarded by bigger teams. Lewis’s account of these fascinating characters is considered one of the best books ever written about baseball, and inspired the film starring Brad Pitt as Beane.
Sportswriter Robert Creamer’s extensive biography of Babe Ruth follows baseball’s most famous figure from his early childhood to his abrupt end. Originally published in 1974, a time when many of Ruth’s contemporaries were still living, Creamer’s book is a fascinating look into both baseball and life in the early twentieth century. The hardcore baseball fan will appreciate the stats and vivid descriptions of some of Ruth’s most important games, while the casual baseball fan will get caught up in the Bambino’s celebrity and sometimes surprising character
Richard Ben Cramer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, brings to life one of the twentieth century’s biggest American heroes. Joe DiMaggio was an immigrant kid who achieved the American Dream, a New York Yankee who helped to usher the team into its current dynasty, and the sometime husband of the beautiful Marilyn Monroe. Upon its initial publication, however, Cramer’s book stirred up plenty of controversy. This is perhaps because Cramer does not hesitate to include the darker moments in DiMaggio’s life: his troubled marriage to Marilyn Monroe, his self-inflicted isolation, and living up to the impossible expectations set for him by America.
More than twenty-five years after Pete Rose’s banishment from baseball for gambling, the question of whether or not he belongs in the Hall of Fame is still as controversial as ever. Kostya Kennedy, an editor at Sports Illustrated, examines Rose’s life, from his early childhood to the baseball career in which he hit more base hits than any other player in history. Throughout the biography, Kennedy compares Rose’s talents — and mistakes — to others who have been found worthy of Cooperstown.