Sports books sometimes disappoint

Columnist Claudette Sandecki gives her take on sports writing

The only sports writer I read regularly was Jim Taylor before he retired from the Vancouver Province.

Like many sports writers, his articles are well written and enjoyable to even someone like me who never participated in any sport or adopted any team. I own two collections of Taylor’s columns – “And to Think I Got in Free”, and “I Get Paid for Doing This?”.

Despite the New Books shelves of the library sagging under non-fiction and memoirs few fit my subjects and criteria last spring.

I read before I turn out the light at bedtime, therefore I want a book not too thick (this rules out novels and politicians’ books), not too heavy (glossy photos add considerable weight; some limit my reading to fifteen minutes without bicep building exercises); and with at least touches of humour. Dollops of humour are ideal.

I tried a number of memoirs written by Hollywood notables with disappointing results. Often those with gripping lives failed for lifeless writing.

That’s when a pocket sized book titled, “Lonely End of the Rink: The Confessions of a Reluctant Goalie” showed up.

My attention was piqued not by the hockey angle, the cover illustration was of a young goalie, but by his experiences being bullied for his Coke bottle glasses and knee joints that would slip out of place at inopportune times unless he wore cumbersome braces.

The author, Grant Lawrence, grew up in Vancouver. To compensate for his braces, he became a valuable team member as a goalie. Besides his singular history, he writes with humour, sometimes as many as four rib-tickling comparisons on a single page. In other words, my kind of reading.

He spent as much time inventing the hilarious comparisons as writing the remainder of the book, that’s how much effort he put into rewarding his readers.

I was scanning the “Yorkton Review” newspaper from Saskatchewan when I read Frank Block, a sports announcer from Melville had recorded a two-hour CD of anecdotes told by NHL teammates of Metro Prystai, a player born in Yorkton. Prystai is now 85 years old.

I ordered Block’s CD to listen to the part relating Prystai’s first trip to Chicago with the Blackhawks. The team stayed in the same hotel as Al Capone’s gang.

Prystai met Capone’s brother as he and another Blackhawk practised puck handling in the hotel corridor outside Capone’s room.

My latest hockey read was Jordin Tootoo’s memoir, “All the Way”. Picking up his book I knew only that he is an Inuk from Rankin Inlet, often mentioned in sports casts, and his older brother Terence committed suicide at 21.

Well, I might have glossed over Tootoo’s memoir. The pages are padded with “s” and “f” words that add nothing to his story.

At least once on every page (though it seems oftener) he emphasizes his magnetism to puck bunnies, and he boasts of how drunk he was almost daily. Eventually his team sent him to rehab.

Reading his book, though, explained to me why national sports teams, whether hockey, football, or baseball, tolerate drunken, assaultive behaviour from their star players … so long as they’re helping the team win.

Now along comes the TV reality show, “Hockey Wives”. I caught some of one episode, enough to hear that when players gather the girl friend/wife is never the centre of attention; and 75 per cent of hockey marriages end when the player retires.

For more, read “I Was a Hockey Wife – and It Just About Killed Me: My Stint with NHL Veteran Kirk McLean” in the March 13, 2015 issue of The National Post.

Claudette Sandecki lives in Thornhill, B.C.