Sometimes, a book comes along that hits the reader’s sweet spot – a book that you enjoy from beginning to end, and are a little sorry that it has ended. For me, at least, Gods at Play by Tom Callahan was such a book ... Admittedly, some of the names and stories might qualify as ancient history to those who are still waiting to have their first adult beverage in an establishment. But I think everything holds up well enough to still be current and enjoyable today ... Callahan really did have quite a ride in the business, as Gods at Play shows. Not everyone will love it like I did, but most will enjoy it thoroughly.
You’re almost guaranteed to learn something new about many sports legends ... [Callahan] has been intimately involved in the sports world since the 1960s and has plenty of tales to tell and wisdom to dispense ... That’s the kind of brutally honest, cold-blooded storytelling Mr. Callahan isn’t afraid to dish out, whether the subject is his own wife or a deified athlete. To him, no one is truly a god, and this book is as much about his uncanny ability to gain access and build trust than the athletes themselves.
Mr. Callahan offers up memorable moments and great-athlete portraits as he looks back on a life of sportswriting ... An episodic memoir, Gods at Play”has no long narrative arc. It does provide a few life lessons—but mostly of the kind that sportswriters have, such as it is good to overcome adversity and very good for ballplayers to answer reporters’ questions in the locker room. And yet this volume—written by one of the 'knights of the keyboard' (as Ted Williams called sports reporters) and not by one of the sports hawkers on the tube—may be one of the last of its kind, given how endangered our daily newspapers are today. It has a beguiling charm, reminding us of the portraiture that was a recurrent feature in the work of the great keyboard-knights of the past: Axthelm, Murphy, Smith, Povich ... The deeper one reads into Gods at Play, the more one sees how much the world of sportswriters resembles the one that political writers occupy: seeing the world up close, knowing the boldface names, assuming that the rest of the country knows them too.
The stories range from telling long-held secrets to Callahan’s recollections of time spent with these athletes. Some are quite touching ... The writer --- who, as most do, sojourns from one opportunity to the next based on more freedom, more money, better perks, etc. --- has the ability here to humanize these people in a way that can’t be done in newsprint, given the limited space ... All of these stories are insightful, as can only be told by a sportswriter who has earned a reputation as one of the best in his field ... as marvelous as these pieces are, there are times when the reader might tire of his habit of humble bragging and name-dropping ... The book’s title is also a little misleading, or at least curious: While there’s no arguing that the men and women included are 'gods,' I didn’t find all that much playfulness here. Sure, there’s always a little kibitzing when you’re dealing with Ali, but most of the chapters depict a fair degree of melancholy. As well as they did in their craft, there was something in their personal life that seemed to get in the way of enjoying the accomplishment (often in the form of poor health).
A heavily credentialed and well-traveled sportswriter spins yarns about the old ballgames ... Fans of the author will recognize the meandering yet readable storytelling style and some of the same characters from The Bases Were Loaded (And So Was I) ... A young Callahan commiserated with an elder Red Smith; at their best, these pieces recall that legend of the press box’s outside-the-lines approach, if not exactly his unassuming mien on the page. Certainly, this part-memoir, part-profile compilation reflects a time before social media, when athletes needed sportswriters. The underside of close, personal access is that writers who ingratiate themselves with sources sometimes cut deals about what makes it into print, which could raise questions about motive and veracity. The narrative spell is also periodically broken when Callahan includes long, sometimes-tinny quotes from athletes. Still, just as the best sportswriters put a topcoat on memory, allowing us to appreciate the plays and players more than when we first saw them, the author’s skill at showing public figures in private moments is evident, and he spares readers the usual arguments about who was the greatest to lace up a pair of sneakers. Particularly intriguing are Callahan’s portraits of Bill Walsh and Tiger Woods ... Sports fans will find a smooth and pleasant ride on this trip back in time.
Sportswriter Callahan recalls the most memorable moments from his career with grace and humanity in this resonant memoir ... Rather than focus on individual games, Callahan homes in on anecdotes that reveal the inner lives of the men and women who played them ... Callahan’s seamless mixture of tales from his own career and wisdom gleaned from the athletes he covered makes for a strong offering all-around. The book works as both a paean to sportswriting’s glory days and a lyrical reminder that athletes have rich lives away from the stadium lights.