We live in a golden age of sports books in Indianapolis. Historians, journalists and even writers have brought “Naptown” athletics to life on the site over and over again for the past decade. The diversity of voices in these books varies both demographically and thematically – these ten books, while by no means an exhaustive list, represent that diversity when it comes to bringing to light the city’s famous sports heritage.
Jeremy Beer, Oscar Charleston: The Life and Legend of the Greatest Forgotten Baseball Player (2019)
Few players in the history of baseball are mentioned as reverently as the great Oscar Charleston (1896-1954) of the Negro League, who grew up on the West Side of Indianapolis. Historians describe it as the power of Babe Ruth, the speed of Lou Brock and the gauntlet of Willie Mays. Charleston was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976, more than 20 years after his death. Given the limited records available from his early life, Beer does a remarkable job that fully reflects Charleston’s life, guiding him from his tough Indianapolis upbringing during his 40-year baseball career. Charleston played for both the Indianapolis ABCs of the Negro Leagues and Pittsburgh Crawfords, and eventually manager of the Pittsburgh Clubs of the 1930s en route to its status in the eyes of many baseball scholars as one of the greatest sports of all time.
Brenda Robertson Stewart and Wanda Lou Willis (Editors), Chaos on the brickyard (2010)
Hopefully this collection is the start of something new – a subgenre of Indianapolis-based sports fiction. Each of its 15 mysteries takes place during the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Many of Indiana’s best mystery writers, including Marianne Halbert, Diana Catt, and editor Brenda Robertson Stewart, have contributed to the collection. For readers more interested in racing than genre fiction, the collection also contains a wealth of information about the history of the event.
Bill Polian, The Game Plan: The Art of Building a Successful Soccer Team (2014)
General Manager Bill Polian was the architect of the Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts team that brought the city its first (and so far only) Super Bowl. Previously, he showcased his GM skills by engineering the four-time AFC champion Buffalo Bills of the early 1990s. Polian’s The Game Plan, written with veteran sports journalist Vic Carucci, is both a reminder of a football life and a guide to Polian’s keen drawing and free-agent instincts. Polian gives readers a glimpse of how soccer managers get their jobs done while battling salary caps that often tear large teams apart before they can reach their full potential. He emphasizes how a championship squad needs superstars like Manning and Reggie Wayne, as well as the glue and role-players who can turn a good team into a great one.
Philip Hoose, Attucks !: Oscar Robertson and the Basketball Team That Awakened a City (2018)
“The Big O” is arguably the greatest athlete to come from “Naptown”. Philip Hoose records an important early chapter in his career when Robertson played on the 1955 Crispus Attucks High School basketball team, which won the Indiana State Basketball Championship. Hoose contextualizes the story of Crispus Attucks, an all-black secondary school that opened on the west side of the city in the 1920s, within the broader history of segregation in the state. Under the leadership of head coach Ray Crowe, Crispus Attucks had only been allowed to compete in the state tournament since 1948 before becoming the first Indianapolis team – and the first all-black team in Indiana history – to win the championship within a decade. Crowe, Robertson, and the Crispus Attucks Tigers became a source of community pride for the city’s African American population, proving that conventional wisdom about how “urban” teams froze under pressure during the state tournament was just dog whistles that the Time reflect prejudices.
Josh Bleill, Step by Step: A Young Marine’s Story of Courage, Hope and a New Life in the NFL (2011)
Josh Bleill of Greenfield, Indiana, decided after September 11th that it was time to serve his country. Bleill joined the Marines and ended up in Iraq, where he was seriously wounded and lost both legs in the 2006 battle for Fallujah. After years of rehabilitation, Bleill found a new mission – serving as community spokesman for the Indianapolis Colts and liaison with veterans of the area’s armed forces. One step at a time, Bleill describes an inspiring and unlikely journey into the NFL.
David Woods, Underdawgs: How Brad Stevens and the Butler Bulldogs Marched to the Sidelines of the National College Basketball Championship (2010)
Think of David Woods’ Underdawgs as the polar opposite of John Feinstein’s legendary IU-focused season on the sidelines. Reading Season on the Brink allows you to empathize with the players who faced Bobby Knight’s manipulation and marvel at how the group came together despite them. If you’re reading Underdawgs, you’ll want to run through a wall for Brad Stevens. Woods’ book describes how youthful, humble, and thoroughly pleasant Stevens got the medium-sized Butler within an inch of winning the NCAA tournament by instilling a John Wooden-like team mentality that he called the “Butler Way” and which Introspective learning of lessons focused on strong interpersonal relationships. Plus, unlike Knight, Stevens is actually a Hoosier.
Mark Montieth, Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Professional Basketball to Indianapolis (2017)
Indianapolis Star reporter Mark Montieth’s report on the Pre-NBA Pacers is both an excellent report on the revival of professional play in Hoosier State and a great prism to learn more about the beloved, renegade American Basketball Association. It covers more than the action on the hardwood, but more than the reborn is one of the professional sports store’s best case studies in print. Montieth gives an invaluable account of how a group of dedicated business people turned a $ 6,000 investment into a permanent Indy institution.
Tamika Catchings, Catch a Star: Shine Through Adversity to Become a Champion (2016)
Tamika Catchings is one of the greatest players in WNBA history. Over her fifteen-year career at the Indiana Fever, the 6’1 forward won the WNBA’s MVP award, received 10 bids for the league’s all-star game, and brought the fever her first WNBA championship in 2012 Hall of Fame and currently acts as General Manager of Fever. Your Catch a Star is one of the most inspiring basketball memoirs you will ever read, a story of perseverance through struggling with hearing loss, the pressures of championship-level basketball, and the difficulties athletes face getting back into shape after serious injuries come. Catch a Star belongs in every budding hoopster’s library.
Tony Dungy, The One Year Unusual Daily Challenge (2011)
Legendary Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy has written several books about his spiritual and personal journey, using examples from his coaching career with the Colts and life outside of professional football. The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge is the most unique among them as it is essentially a companion to everyday practice. Over the course of a calendar year, readers can achieve their personal goals by devising a series of challenges, meditations, and mental exercises that will lead them to a more fulfilling spiritual and social life.
Sigur E. Whitaker, Tony Hulman: The Man Who Saved Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2014)