This blog comes from a throwdown "flamewar" from last week. What happened was one guy chose to call me dumb and I suggested he might learn more by listening rather than unfounded criticism of others who might actually be more knowledgeable than him. Obviously neither I, nor anyone is an expert on all sports so I've decided to put together some reading tips to (hopefully) raise the level of sports knowledge of those on this site.
Sports Illustrated is an excellent source of learning about sports and the athletes, coaches, and others involved. I always found Frank DeFord's articles well written, and I know I LEARNED a lot from reading his stories. DeFord is (I believe) now retired but the SI archives contains basically all articles that appeared in SI, so that is a great source of information for the sports fan.
Some of the present day writers are well informed and I recommend Andy Staples on college football, Luke Winn on college basketball and Tom Verducci on major league baseball. A couple of writers I'd recommend not reading are Rick Reilly and Alan Shipnuck. Reilly thinks he's so clever that he doesn't need to inform the reader (apparently thinking he's so clever the reader will be enthralled with his amazing wit, not seen since Nancy and Sluggo comics) while Shipnuck's golf reporting may as well be Phil Mickelson's personal fan blog.
In contrast to SI, I find ESPN magazine to be only marginally informative. It seems ESPN takes the "sound bite" approach to sport reporting, giving only bits and pieces of stories or player profiles.
Now on to books, the source of in-depth information, some books I've read and recommend for the purpose of learning more than just stats or post-game antics:
Maravich by Wayne Federman, retells the story of Pete Maravich and reveals to the reader, why Maravich was one of the best guards ever.
Willie Mays, the Life the Legend by James Hirsch, details Mays' abilities at all aspects of baseball far beyond what the statistics will ever tell.
A Good Walk Spoiled by John Feinstein, provides a look into the life of a PGA professional. Particularly interesting, the chapter about Paul Azinger's fight with cancer during the height of his career.
Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger. Forget the movie or TV show, they don't tell you the story. The book will provide an insight into the "religion" of football in the south. It tells the story of the town of Odessa Texas where the whole town worships 17 year old high school football players, basically because they had nothing else in their lives to latch onto. This book explains a lot about the obstinate homerism of the SEC fans, mainly that they have little or no pro sports to get behind so the nearest major college program like the "religion" in Odessa.
Nice Guys Finish Last by Leo Durocher and Ed Linn. A great history of the Gashouse gang (St. Louis Cards of the 1930's), the Brooklyn Dodgers and NY Giants of the 1950's. Some FN members might be surprised to hear that players from before 1990 could actually play the game quite well.
Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand. Helps the reader understand how big a deal horseracing was back in the 1930-1940's, and the (unpleasant) life of a jockey.
Season on the Brink by John Feinstein. Tells what Indiana basketball was like during the Bob Knight era.
Summer of 49 by David Halberstam, about the pennant race between the Red Sox, Indians, and Yankees in 1949. Provides good insight into some of the greatest ever including DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Bob Feller. (also recommended The Teammates by Halberstam, on the enduring friendship of the 1940's Red Sox).
As a kid I read The Story of Baseball by John Rosenburg and the Story of Football by Robert Leckie (both long out of print but newer versions by other authors still get released). Great primers on the history of both sports from the beginning until the (then) modern era. I also read the Science of Hitting by Ted Williams, the seminal instructional book on hitting (though I never managed to bat .407). If you have a son or daughter who plays baseball Williams' book should be required reading.
A couple of books I still plan to read include Eight Men Out by Eliot Asinof, about the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, and Sports in American Life by Richard O. Davies., and Harvey Penick's Little Red Book. I may read Moneyball by Michael Lewis, although I still hesitate as the use of sabermetrics is overblown.
One other source of information, not to be missed is the entire Baseball documentary by Ken Burns.
Of course anyone can look up stats on baseball-reference, football-reference.com etc. but this is just raw data. If you really want to gain knowledge about sports you need to get the full story. Therefore, feel free to add your reading/viewing recommendations in the comments section, but keep in mind this is about learning sports, not just entertainment (that's why I left out some books I read such as Mickey Mantle's 1956 My Favorite Summer).
Here's hoping fans get smarter, and sports debates get elevated beyond the present "you're an idiot" type of responses.