“The Last Great Game: Duke vs. Kentucky and the 2.1 Seconds that Changed Basketball”, by Gene Wojciechowski, was released in January. It is the last book – until the next one – in a weird tradition of sports books claiming to be about the Last Something.
Wojciechowski is a gifted writer, no question. Yes, in a literal sense, the 1992 Duke-Kentucky NCAA East Regional final did change basketball, because Duke advanced and Kentucky did not. A Kentucky victory also would have changed basketball. And your lawn changes when the grass grows.
Until you realize that writers and publishers rely on this gimmick over and over. No doubt they think it makes the book sound important, and that it evokes nostalgia. And maybe it did both of those things, before it became a cliché.
A partial list of baseball books:
“The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood”, by Jane Leavy, 2011.
Shed a tear for innocence lost. Is this a sports bio or a how-to on ‘parenting’?
“The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron”, by Howard Bryant, 2011.
Aaron must have been next to last, because in 2007 David Maraniss wrote, “Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero.”
“Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball”, Bill Madden, 2010.
Huh? Not John Henry?
“The Last Baseball Town: How Campbell, California achieved the unprecedented, and still unduplicated, in American youth baseball”, Chuck Hildebrand, 2009.
The last 17-word title, we hope.
“The Last Icon: Tom Seaver and His Times”, Steven Travers, 2011.
Where is Dick Young when we need him?
“I Live for This: Baseball’s Last True Believer”, Bill Plaschke and Tommy Lasorda, 2009.
Right. And his estranged son died of cancer.
“56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports”, Kostya Kennedy, 2011.
.400 seems kind of magical, too. Not to mention 32, worn by Magic. How about all the Magic numbers in Orlando?
Beyond baseball we have:
“Four Kings: Leonard, Hagler, Hearns, Duran and the Last Great Era of Boxing”, George Kimball, 2008.
How great was it with the heavyweight title passed around by Larry Holmes, Tim Witherspoon, Pinklon Thomas, Greg Page, Tony Tubbs, Michael Spinks, Trevor Berbick, Mike Tyson, Tony Tucker and Bonecrusher Smith? Yes, there was a heavyweight champion named Pinklon.
“The Last Coach: A Life of Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant”, Allen Barra, 2006.
Forget Joe Paterno, Eddie Robinson and Bobby Bowden – who had more career wins. Not to mention all the coaches who really were last – in their conferences and the hearts of their fans.
“The Last Champion: The Life of Fred Perry”, Jon Henderson, 2010.
Did he design shoes?