WITH sports books, as with baseball, a change-up can be very effective. Two new releases - an almanac and a photo collection - break from the standard biographies and championship-season recaps to deliver something different enough to give them an edge.
The 1993 Information Please Sports Almanac, edited by Mike Meserole (Houghton Mifflin, 832 pp. $9.95), ranks as a superior sports reference. This, the fourth annual edition of this fact fest, not only includes all the relevant information one would expect, but presents it in a way that speaks to the fan.
The paperback scores points right away with a 1993 calendar that carries not only all the dates of major sports events, but gives the national holidays as well (a small but telling example of reader friendliness).
The production staff obviously wasn't content to put their mountain of facts to "bed" early. Right up front there are 11 pages of updates, the news that occurred after the first deadlines - including the pro-football standings and college-football rankings through Oct. 26.
Top sportswriters periodically chip in with written summaries on various topics, from the Olympics and non-Olympic international sports news to seasonal and major sport summaries.
There's even a chapter on trophies, helpful in sorting the Davis from the Ryder Cup, for example; a present-and-past who's who; and a section on arenas and ballparks that reports on facilities either under construction or in the advanced planning stages.
In many ways, this work breaks out of the mold to feed the curiosity and tickle the funny bone of fans. It doesn't hesitate to draw from other sources in doing so, as in a list of the 40 highest-paid athletes, taken from Forbes. Michael Jordan overtook boxer Evander Holyfield with $35.9 million annual earnings in 1992, while baseball's highest-ranking player (Bobby Bonilla) was a surprisingly low 24th on the list.
JUST as appetizing visually as the almanac is factually, are the color images found in Sports (Collins, 192 pp., $45), Neil Leifer's large-format photo album. Leifer has spent three decades shooting the big events and big stars for Sports Illustrated.
Some of his best shots are the posed variety, such as Japanese gymnast Koji Gushiken with Mount Fuji in the background (see photo). Gushiken initially objected to removing his sweats in the chill until Leifer played "a little with the truth," telling him his Chinese opponents had posed at the Great Wall in competition uniforms on an even colder day.
The author calls baseball the most difficult sport to photograph because there's so little intense action.
Leifer often gets the best seat in the house, but it is not always hazard-free. He admits, for instance, that seeing 12 other helicopters around him stole some of the enjoyment from his airborne vantage point on the New York City Marathon.