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What I Have To Say About Sports And Other Stuff

Schulian Looks Back At Superstars

Sometimes They Even Shook Your Hand
John Schulian
Bison Books (October 2011)

Looking back through the years in sports reveals much about the culture and society in which we live. It’s hard to imagine Babe Ruth getting away with his trysts in a Deadspin society. Or Wilt Chamberlin saying whatever comes into his head on Twitter.

This is why John Schulian’s recent book, Sometimes They Even Shook Your Hand, is an intriguing look back at a time when athletes behaved a whole lot differently with their fanbase. Schulian, a former Baltimore Sun reporter, already published the articles contained in the book throughout his writing career. Sometimes They Even Shook Your Hand is a compilation of articles on athletes from Walter Payton to Willie Mays; the Sugar Rays, Robinson and Leonhard; the Robinsons, Frank and Brooks and many more.

The introduction ties all of the stories together with the theme of athletes mingling with fans, a time when athletes walked among us and when athletes had different types of relationships with reporters. And though I felt this connection was a little weak and felt like a forced reason to re-publish articles into a singular place, the articles themselves were very well-written.

I agree with Schulian’s point. Athletes today do behave extremely differently than the athletes of yesteryear. However, I was unable to make the connection between this overarching theme and the topic of his articles.

The articles themselves focus on specific athletes. More often than not, Schulian writes about the athlete as it pertains to his retirement, his breaking a record or in the midst of some sort of controversy. There is always a timeliness factor, which makes sense for their publication in daily newspapers at the time. However, they do give an in-depth look into a part of that athlete’s life. The articles always reach beyond the current event taking place and dive into a deeper part of the athlete.

Schulian does display some pieces on fellow reporters he idolized, ones that took the job of sports writing and made it an art. Though Schulian does not give himself the credit he deserves for being linguistic and intoxicating with his language. Simple phrases such as, “bending every bone he couldn’t break and dreaming of knocking off a quarterback’s head and watching it roll down the field” and “the summer heat drapes everyone and everything like a thick, wet wool blanket, and sometimes you wonder if the street peddlers hawking their melons and tomatoes aren’t really bellowing prayers for cool breezes” and “now a spring breeze reminds them of their place in history. It’s the next best thing to smelling the smoke from Red Auerbach’s cigar.” And these quotes were literally captured just from opening the book at random points.

The stories themselves were mostly of events fans have heard about throughout centuries since the start of sports, but Schulian’s perspective and style does add something more to the story readers may not have seen or taken a second look at before.

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