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The biggest buzz in sports books this year was generated by Buzz Bissinger's 3 Nights in August (Houghton Mifflin, $25), in which the author got up close and personal with the St. Louis Cardinals and manager Tony La Russa.

The indefatigable John Feinstein wrote two books, one a charmer for kids, Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery (Knopf, $16.95), the other Next Man Up (Little, Brown, $25.95), another of his "a year in the life," this time looking at the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens.

But there's a quartet of lower-profile projects that should not be missed.

*Bobby Dews, bullpen coach for the Atlanta Braves, is a renaissance man, honoring the legacy of his father (baseball) and his grandfather (the written word).

His short-story collection, Legends, Demons and Dreams (Longstreet Press, $22.95), comes from the oral tradition of tall tales and yarns.

Some stories border on the gothic; many are set in a small town that resembles the one he grew up in. "I've always wanted to tell stories and had all these characters running around in my head," Dew says.

The devil gets his due.

*Melissa King's She's Got Next (Mariner paperback, $13) is a memoir, of sorts, of the author's dogged pursuit of pickup basketball games.

She has no talent to speak of, no high school or college credentials, but she loves the game and travels from playgrounds in Southern California to inner-city Chicago. Her passion comes through.

*So does Gene Wojciechowski's in Cubs Nation: 162 Games, 162 Stories, 1 Addiction (Doubleday, $22.95). This book is like those word-a-day calendars. Take your time with it.

*Give Janet Guthrie's A Life at Full Throttle (Sport Classic, $24.95) to anybody (your daughter?) who has been told they can't. She did.

For scholars of sports

*John Lombardo's A Fire to Win: The Life and Times of Woody Hayes (St. Martin's, $24.95) is earnest and full of details but not flashy. It seems Hayes was a bully from the get-go.

*In The Last Coach: A Life of Paul "Bear" Bryant (W.W. Norton, $26.95), Allen Barra gives a meticulous history of college football and how Alabama became one of the early powers. He is equally meticulous in describing Bryant's life from his first days as a high school athlete.

*In Spinning the Globe (Amistad, $24.95), Ben Green gives a nearly game-by-game history of the Harlem Globetrotters. Details, details, details. Green has done his homework, but he doesn't write like the Globetrotters dribbled or Abe Saperstein hustled. Perfect for scholars, history buffs and aspiring sportswriters.

*Get Your Own Damn Beer, I'm Watching the Game (Rodale, $14.95 paperback) in which Holly Robinson Peete (Mrs. Rodney) explains pro football to us and does a bloody good job.

Something different

*Dennis Rodman's second autobiography, I Should Be Dead by Now (Sports Publishing, $24.95), is the perfect companion to that Bad Santa DVD you were planning to give. Rodman wore a wedding gown to promote the first one. Shall we expect bespoke suits for this one, which does suffer from TMI (too much information)?

*Bat Boy: My True Life Adventures Coming of Age with the New York Yankees (Doubleday, $22.95) is a city-savvy memoir by Matthew McGough, who had the moxie to call the Yankees and ask for the job. He spent two years washing socks and uniforms and running errands, adored doing it, then outgrew it.

*The Sports Fan Voodoo Kit (Running Press, $12.95) does not take the cake as the silliest prize, in part because of the shameless shilling by "author" Turk "Voodini" Regan, who says in his bio he enjoys "looking for saloons with an ESPN feed." Regan's doll-and-flashcard package makes a good bathroom read, a step up from 10-year-old Readers Digests but not in the same class as Berke Breathed's cartoon books.

*The Krzyzewskiville Tales (Duke University Press, $21.95) is written by Aaron Dinin with a foreword by Mickie Krzyzewski. Dinin channels Chaucer as Duke's tent-dwellers rewrite The Canterbury Tales.

*Have fun with Dan Jenkins as he frolics with his cynical, woman-loving, golf-obsessed hero Bobby Joe Grooves. In Slim and None (Doubleday, $24.95), he's sensitively sarcastic.

*Coach: 25 Writers Reflect on People Who Made a Difference (Warner, $25.95) has the all-star lineup: Bissinger, John Edgar Wideman, John McPhee, John Irving, George Plimpton, Jane Leavy, Bud Collins and USA TODAY's Christine Brennan, among others. They deliver. Bissinger recalls his elementary school coach.

"I remember him tall. I remember Coach Boyers with a thick mop of black hair, though I also confess I may well be confusing him with Clete Boyer, who played a mean third base for the Yankees."

Leavy's remembrance of her friend Bob makes me wish she would hurry up and finish that Mickey Mantle book.

*Find yourself saying "Bah, humbug" to Philadelphia Eagles fans as the team free-falls? Jere Longman's If Football's a Religion, Why Don't We Have a Prayer (HarperCollins, $25.95) might have you shedding a tear for the guy with the wooden eagle in his front yard.

Picture books

An easy gift for those who have too much of everything else.

*The Football Book from Sports Illustrated ($29.95) has the complete package: stunning photos, essays and articles by SI's best writers and pages of oddities dropped in (a defense call sheet, a football's specs).

*You watched some of the best golfers play the San Lorenzo course at Hotel Quinta do Lago at Algarve, Portugal, this fall and turned green with envy. Here's help. For Golfing: On the World's Most Exceptional Courses (Abbeville Press, $29.95), Mark Rowlinson has done more than compile pretty pictures. Along with text explaining why a course is special, he diagrams the layout and provides booking information, including phone numbers and websites. This is a keeper.

*Saturday Shrines: College Football's Most Hallowed Grounds (Sporting News, $24.95) is a book of lists: the 40 best, from Alabama to Yale, traditional favorites, "dead" stadiums, with photos and lists ("Magic Moments," milestones) to go with each. For the person who has a date with the pigskin every Saturday in the fall and early winter.

The rest of us will feel left out. Foreword by ABC's Keith Jackson.

*Dark Horses and Underdogs (Warner, $34.95). This comes with a DVD narrated by sportscaster Jim Lampley. More lists, with the predictable -- 1980 USA-Soviet Union "Miracle on Ice" -- and unexpected -- USA's 1-0 win vs. England in the 1950 soccer World Cup.

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