NONFICTION

THE BEST AMERICAN SPORTS WRITING 1995 edited by Dan Jenkins and Glenn Stout (Houghton Mifflin: $24.95; 257 pp.). Sports are fascinating but not very important. Hence, sportswriting tends to be colorful but not very deep. (This makes editor Dan Jenkins' snide put-down of intellectuals who dare to imagine they could write on sports "with a depth and insight no mere sportswriter could possibly comprehend" more than a little ironic.) Hence, sportswriters have to devote most of their talent to persuading us that the game we're reading about is somehow excitingly different from the last game and the next. Naturally, they would like to do more, much more, and "The Best American Sports Writing 1995" celebrates 28 occasions in 1994 when they did, in publications ranging from the International Herald Tribune to these very Times, from Sports Afield to GQ.

Co-editor Glenn Stout has written a fine profile of the late Mabray "Doc" Kountze, who chronicled Boston's black athletes in an era when nobody else did and played an unsung but important role in integrating major league baseball. "Most of the good stories," Stout learned from Kountze, "haven't been told yet."

My picks: Dave Kindred on Ted Williams and the joy of hitting. Novelist James Ellroy's gonzo sportscaster's take on the O.J. Simpson trial. Gary Smith on world-record milers. Tom Junod on the zen of being Joe Montana at career's end. Skip Hollandsworth on the first black football star at his once-segregated high school. Peter Andrews on golf's bloodthirsty roots in Scotland. Mark Kram on Buddy Ryan. Joan Ryan on the "cold wars" of figure skating. Robert F. Jones on fishing for the record book. Finally, Steve Rushin's long Sports Illustrated piece on how Roone Arledge and TV and obscene gobs of money have persuaded many Americans that sports are, in fact, more important than anything else.

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