Friday, July 20, 2018

Review of "12: The Inside Story of Tom Brady's Fight for Redemption"

As this is the season when new football books are usually released, it isn't tough to find books on interesting football topics. This one piqued my interest about Tom Brady's comeback after his suspension in 2016, capped off by the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. While the subject matter was excellent, the book itself was just so-so for me.  Here is my review of "12: The Inside Story of Tom Brady's Fight for Redemption"



Title/Author:

12: The Inside Story of Tom Brady’s Fight for Redemption ” by Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge

Tags:

Football (American), professional, Patriots, biography, politics

Publish date:

July 31, 2018

Length:

320 pages

Rating: 

3 of 5 stars (okay)

Review:

Tom Brady has been the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots since the middle of the 2001 season. Since that point, he has led the team to eight Super Bowls, winning five of them and is now considered by many to be the greatest quarterback of all time. He and his team have also encountered their share of controversy. One of these episodes, widely known as “Deflategate”, had a profound effect on Brady, the Patriots and the commissioner’s office of the NFL. This controversy is chronicled in this book by investigative journalists Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge.

The book’s premise is that Brady had to not only endure the shame of being suspended for four games at the start of the 2016 season, he was given this suspension with flawed evidence of violating a rule that allegedly is not enforced regularly. Brady was accused of having Patriots’ equipment personnel deflate footballs below the minimum standard set by the league during the 2015 AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. The account of the whole affair – the game, the skullduggery behind the scenes, the investigation by the league and the hearing with lawyers from both the league and the player – is covered in full detail.

However, this fine writing is marred by the blatant bias the authors have for Brady’s case and the vitriol written about the league’s staff and Commissioner Roger Goodell. While Goodell may not be popular with football fans, the unmasked contempt the authors have for his handling of this case is clear.  This made the book feel like more of a long editorial piece than an account of the case.

The book also tells brief biographies of Brady, Patriots head coach Bill Belichek and owner Robert Kroft. Also in the book is a recap of Brady’s career as the Patriots quarterback, with recaps of some of his more memorable games such as the “Tuck Rule” game, his first Super Bowl win against the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI and of course, the game in which his redemption came, Super Bowl LI against the Atlanta Falcons.  The recap of this game was the best football passage in the book, but even here, it was choppy as the description of the game was broken up by numerous sidebar stories about other Patriots players such as James White and Julian Edelman.

Overall, this book covers the main topic, Tom Brady, quite well. But the lack of objectivity plus the jumping from topic to topic made this a less-than-enjoyable read.  It does get a favorable rating for the material covered and it is one that Brady and Patriots fans will enjoy, if for no other reason to recap the incredible comeback the team made in Super Bowl LI. If the reader is not a Brady or Patriots fan, then pass on this one.

I wish to thank Little, Brown and Company for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Format Read:

E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/12-casey-sherman/1128330828?ean=9780316416382#/

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Review of "The Age of Ruth and Landis"

This book, written by two economics professors, discusses the business and economic side of the game during the 1920's. I especially enjoy books on the business of baseball, so it was a great read for a train ride to a baseball game. Here is my review of "The Age of Ruth and Landis."


Title/Author:
The Age of Ruth and Landis: The Economics of Baseball during the Roaring Twenties” by David George Surdam and Michael J. Haupert

Tags:
Baseball, professional, business, management

Publish date:
June 1, 2018

Length:
420 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
When the decade of the 1920’s started, baseball was in turmoil. The game’s championship event had just endured a scandal in which the World Series was thrown by the Chicago White Sox due to gambling. The game had been considered secondary to many other sports such as boxing and college football. Gambling was a big problem, not only because of the 1919 World Series, but also had players such as Hal Chase involved in gambling as well.

However, that decade was a smashing success for the overall business health of the sport and that success is discussed in this book by economic professors David George Surdam and Michael J. Haupert. The two main people responsible for this are mentioned in the title.  Babe Ruth, who was sold from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees as the decade began, became a larger-than-life figure as he not only was a star player, he became the game’s ambassador and crowds followed him wherever he went.

The other man in the title, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, became the first commissioner of the game and took immediate action on the White Sox players who conspired with gamblers to throw the World Series. He set out on a mission to rid the game of gambling and other negative influences.  He did this with an iron fist and also was one of the many officials who kept the game free of black players.  That was the large stain on his otherwise worthy contributions to the economic state of the game.

While the authors are economists, there is certainly more than just business talk in the book. Every aspect of the game in the 1920’s is covered – the style of play on the field (thanks to Ruth, the home run became popular), competitive balance, player salaries, ticket prices and so much more.  Of course the business aspects are covered in more detail, but there is something about everything in the game at that time.

This is not the first book that I have read about baseball in earlier times in which I had this thought, but it especially struck me that so many issues that the game has today were present at that time as well. Think the designated hitter has only been in vogue since 1973?  It was proposed during that decade.  Labor strife?  That was present during that time as well.  Revenue concerns? Yup, there were plenty in the 1920’s.  Something that I thought was very interesting, and it is true today, that even the best paid players were considered by some to be “underpaid” when considering the revenue that the player brings in.  When the authors made this point about Babe Ruth, I thought of modern players like Aaron Judge and Mike Trout who are extremely popular and handsomely paid, but their salaries are only a small portion of the revenues they bring to the sport.

The last interesting aspect of this book I will mention are the tables of various figures such as attendance, ticket prices and even the books of the New York Yankees in the decade.  While this was only one team, those painted a decent picture of the overall health of the sport and the other tables were very informative.  I normally don’t bother referring to them while reading the book, but I did that frequently with this book.  

Readers who like books on the economics or business of baseball will enjoy this book very much. It isn’t too dry for those who usually shy away from the business side of the sport, so it is one that those readers might enjoy as well.  Highly recommended.

I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Format Read:
Hardcover

Buying Links:


https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-age-of-ruth-and-landis-david-george-surdam-phd/1127290941?ean=9780803296824

Friday, July 13, 2018

Review of "The Breakaway"

At times during the summer, especially when it gets very hot outside, I like to "cool off" with a book on a winter sport such as skating or hockey.  During a recent heat wave, I did so with this book on the Wirtz family ownership of the Chicago Blackhawks.  It made for very good reading.  Here is my review of "The Breakaway."





Title/Author:

The Breakaway: The Inside Story of the Wirtz Family Business and the Chicago Blackhawks” by Bryan Smith

Tags:

Ice hockey, professional, Blackhawks, management

Publish date:

October 1, 2018

Length:

216 pages

Rating: 

4 ½ of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:

It seems hard to believe now, but not long before the Chicago Blackhawks put together an impressive run of three Stanley Cup championships in six years, the franchise was dreadful both on and off the ice. In 2007, the team missed the playoffs for the ninth time in ten seasons and also lost thirty million dollars that season. It was also the year that second generation owner Bill Wirtz died and when his son Rocky (short for Rockwell, his middle name) had a ceremony before the opening game of the 2007-08 season, Bill was booed loudly by the fans in attendance.

Given that backdrop, it is easy to see that Rocky turned the franchise around very quickly and that is the basis of this excellent book by Bryan Smith, a senior writer for Chicago and Men’s Health magazines. Not only are Bill and Rocky portrayed in the book, but the man who started the Wirtz enterprise, Arthur, is covered as well.  The reader will learn much about the Wirtz men, their business acumen and their management of one of the “Original Six” NHL franchises. 

While a very fair and balanced account, this book does not paint a pretty picture of the Wirtz family.  Their idiosyncrasies and refusal to change long-held traditions are explored in depth and how some of them led to the dire straits the Blackhawks found themselves in. One of the most famous examples of this was the long-standing Wirtz policy of refusing to televise home Blackhawk games, fearing it would keep fans away from the arena.  When Rocky ended the long-standing policy in his first year of running the team, the cheers were as loud as any that came when the team won the Stanley Cup.

This is not to say everything written and said about Arthur and Bill Wirtz was negative.  Indeed, Arthur oversaw a team that had superstars such as Bobby Hull, Pierre Pilote and Stan Mikita. Their Stanley Cup championship in 1961 was thought to be the first of several for the team, but their misfortunes came soon thereafter. When Bobby Hull left the Blackhawks to sign with the Winnipeg Jets of the new World Hockey Association in 1972, it was the low point for Arthur’s tenure. Bill Wirtz took over upon Arthur’s death in 1983 and because of his fierce loyalty to his father, he refused to change much. This led to the decline of the franchise and also led to some very negative press. 

Rocky’s tenure was marked not only by the rapid rise of the franchise, but also some interesting family dynamics with his siblings. The story of his brother Peter is very interesting reading as is some of the smaller changes made as well as the bigger ones.  One very interesting tale is when Rocky moved into Arthur’s old office after Bill refused to use it or remove anything from it, treating it like a shrine. Rocky decided that it was time for the office to be changed and utilized, a symbol of his plans for the Blackhawks.

This is an excellent book for readers who are Blackhawks fans, who enjoy reading about sports management or who want to learn more about the Wirtz family.

I wish to thank Northwestern University Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Format Read:

E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:


Sunday, July 8, 2018

Review of "In the Name of the Father"

There are many interesting football titles that will be released this fall, so I will be reading more about that sport in the next few weeks.  First up for the new football reads is this one on the Manning family. It certainly sheds a different light on the family but still tells about the accomplishments of  the family QBs in a very informative style.  Here is my review of "In the Name of the Father."


Title/Author:
In the Name of the Father: Family, Football and the Manning Dynasty” by Mark Ribowsky
Tags:
Football (American), biography, family, Saints, Colts, Broncos, Giants,  
Publish date:
August 7, 2018
Length:
400 pages
Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)
Review:
Football fans, both college and professional, know about the Manning family.  Father Archie and sons Peyton and Eli all became All-Pro quarterbacks in the NFL and the two sons have each won two Super Bowls. Even their older brother, Cooper, was a football star (although he was a wide receiver) in high school before being diagnosed with spinal stenosis during his freshman year in college.  Their family lineage and royalty in football is told in this very good book by noted biographer Mark Ribowsky.
The story is not all golden as more than just a write-up about the football players and lives on and off the field, the book tells of a culture that was slow to change and how the family members were reflections of that culture from the Deep South. Archie, while becoming a legend at Ole Miss, also was one who reflected the difficulty of the Southern culture to become integrated.  There is never any blatant racism portrayed by any of the Mannings or their spouses but it is clear in Ribowsky’s writing that some of the changes taking place were being accepted slower by them than they were in the rest of the country. 
There are some other dark moments covered in the book, such as the lawsuit filed by a female trainer at the University of Tennessee against Peyton Manning. While the story wasn’t big news at the time, it took new life as Peyton continually denied anything inappropriate took place and he held a long-time grudge against the woman about the case. This is an example of how the author was able to shed new light about the family and its dynamics as well as new information about this particular incident.
Of course, there is plenty of football talk as well.  The careers of all three Manning quarterbacks are illustrated with great detail.  Archie’s woes on bad teams in New Orleans, Houston and Minnesota will make a reader feel his pain.  The joys exhibited by Peyton and Eli are felt as well, especially in Eli’s case when he led the Giants to an upset of the undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.  The college careers of all three Mannings are covered just as well, especially Archie as he was considered a king of college football and set many individual records at Ole Miss. These have since been broken by others, but the Manning name is still revered on that campus.
Complete in its research and content, engaging in its writing and informative for readers, this book is one that is recommended for all football fans, whether or not they are fans of any of the Mannings or their teams.
I wish to thank W.W. Norton and Liveright for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Book Format Read:
E-book (PDF)
Buying Links:


Thursday, July 5, 2018

Review of "Upon Further Review"

While I am day late, I hope all Americans reading this enjoyed Independence Day.  Sports have been a part of American culture for nearly its entire life and like with other aspects of life, "what-if's" are a part of the sports landscape.  This book takes a look at a few of these possible "what-if's"  Here is my review of "Upon Further Review"


Title/Author:
Upon Further Review: The Greatest What-Ifs of Sports History” by various authors, edited by Mike Pesca
Tags:
Baseball, Football (American) basketball, ice hockey, boxing, horse racing, Olympics, fiction, humor
Publish date:
May 15, 2018
Length:
308 pages
Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)
Review:
Not just in sports, but in many aspects of life, “what if” is a question often asked when wondering if something could have happened differently.  For 31 sports occurrences, this question is answered by many authors in an entertaining book edited by Mike Pesca, who also wrote one of the stories.
Many different sports are addressed in the book, from baseball to horse racing to an obscure Olympic event, the tug of war.  Most the stories make for great reading. The reader will see that there is really no specific theme to the collection of stories – some are meant to be factual and the conclusions are based on research of the key people in the occurrence.  Some read like pure fiction and really should be treated as such.  Some can be downright funny, such as the last story about game 7 of the 2016 World Series and comparing it to many sports movies.
One quibble I have with the book is the cover. On the cover there are four classic sports moments. They are Bill Buckner’s error in the 1986 World Series, “The Catch” by the late Dwight Clark, a photo from Super Bowl XXXIV when Kevin Dyson fell just short of the end zone on the last play (although the photo is not from that play) and Charles Barkley holding the NBA championship trophy with the Phoenix Suns.  The last one is fictional – and the only one in which there is a story to go with the photo. Why would the other three photos be used if stories were not in the book to go with them?
As with any collection, there are some great stories (the aforementioned 2016 World Series, Sweetwater Clifton and the early days of the NBA and Muhammad Ali receiving his draft deferment) and a few clunkers (Bucky Dent not hitting the famous homer in 1978) but there are many more of the former than the latter. Between the variety of sports, the variety of styles to tell the story, and even the variety from fact to pure fiction, this book should have something for everyone who enjoys reading about sports.
I wish to thank Twelve Books for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)
Buying Links:
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/upon-further-review-mike-pesca/1127061684;

Friday, June 29, 2018

Review of "Ball Hawks"

The early days of the NBA are very interesting. The style of play was very different as were the locations of some teams.  They weren't all in large cities - some were in smaller towns.  The story of one of those small town teams, the Waterloo Hawks, is told in this excellent book.  Here is my review of "Ball Hawks"




Title/Author:
Ball Hawks: The Arrival and Departure of the NBA in Iowa” by Tim Harwood

Tags:
Basketball, professional, history

Publish date:
October 1, 2018

Length:
234 pages
 
Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Fans of professional basketball are used to watching and following teams from larger cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.  Some smaller but still significant cities like Salt Lake City and Portland also host teams.  But in the early days of the league, there were teams in much smaller towns like Anderson, Indiana; Sheboygan, Wisconsin; and Waterloo, Iowa. The team from the last city on that list is the subject of this excellent book by Tim Harwood.

The Waterloo Hawks were formed in 1948 when the National Basketball League (NBL) was looking for a new city in which to place a team and northeastern Iowa was a site considered because of the success of the minor league baseball team affiliated with the Chicago White Sox.  The Hawks had some success on the court in the NBL and also were a moderately successful attraction at the gate as well.  Before the 1949-50 season, the NBL and the Basketball Association of America (BAA) agreed upon a merger of the two leagues instead of competing for players and fans.  The new league was called the National Basketball Association (NBA) and formed one 18-team league that included Waterloo.

That 1949-50 season makes for some very interesting reading.  Not only does Harwood recap the season with some good game recaps, but he also shares stories about some of the players and other personnel of the team such as Leo Kubiak, Paul “Pinkie” George and Harry Boykoff, who was considered Waterloo’s best player. One very interesting fact was that even though the Hawks finished with a losing season and missed the playoffs, they won the last game on the last shot in the last second of that season.

It turned out to be the only season in the NBA for Waterloo and three other clubs from smaller cities, including the aforementioned Anderson and Sheboygan.  Despite the solid support from fans and businesses in Waterloo and Sheboygan, and the latter’s record of success on the court from previous leagues, the NBA decided to not allow those four teams to participate in the league for the 1950-51 season, bowing to political pressure from the bigger cities.  Reading about this struggle by the team to play another season, along with many other stories of the business side of the game during the early days of professional basketball was the best aspect of the book.  Harwood did excellent and thorough research and the writing style was very easy to read. 


If a reader wants to learn more about the early days of professional basketball and get to know the only team that has represented the state of Iowa in any of the four major professional sports leagues, then this book is one that must be read. It is a very enjoyable and quick read

I wish to thank University of Iowa Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:

Friday, June 22, 2018

Review of "Searching for Terry Punchout"

It isn't often I can find a fictional hockey story aside from romances, so this short debut novel by Tyler Hellard was enticing to me.  It is one I recommend for everyone who likes hockey books, fictional or not, as it is a great quick read.  Here is my review of "Searching for Terry Punchout".




Title/Author:
Searching for Terry Punchout” by Tyler Hellard

Tags:
Ice hockey, fiction

Publish date:
October 15, 2018

Length:
160 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
When a story contains hockey, one last chance for redemption, a trip back home and some touching family moments, it is a story that is worth reading.  All of these and more are contained in Tyler Hellard’s excellent debut novel.

Adam Macallister returns from Calgary to his small home town in Nova Scotia to write a story for Sports Illustrated about the player who holds the NHL record for most penalty minutes in a career, nicknamed Terry Punchout.  His real name is Terry Macallister – Adam’s father. Between the time his career ended and the unplanned reunion with his estranged son, Terry has returned to his hometown and lived at the local rink where he works driving the Zamboni and on general maintenance of the rink.

On the trip back, Adam interviews his father and has many memories dredged up, both good and bad.  The reader will easily connect with Adam, not only for family matters but also when he reunites with his high school friends, a girl for whom he pined and now has a son, and his brief attempt at playing hockey again.  Terry is also a complex character and the reader will get into the mind of a hockey player who used to be considered an enforcer, even if fictional.

The story moves along nicely without going to fast or dragging along, making the reading very easy. Adam shares some interesting philosophical tidbits of life as well as comic lines.  One example of the funny side of the book is when Adam describes the phrase “out west”: “Out west is the very specific term people on the east coast apply to everything between Toronto and Japan.”  For an example of his philosophical views, try this one: “…I had to work out my own world view. What I came up with was this: everything in life is pass or fail.”


The story has a very interesting conclusion as well that will leave the reader satisfied and yet with questions at the same time.  It is a story that is recommended for readers who enjoy hockey fiction, stories of family and of memories.  It was certainly one of the best hockey fiction books I have read.

I wish to thank Invisible Publishing for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:
https://www.amazon.com/Searching-Terry-Punchout-Tyler-Hellard-ebook/dp/B07CH4KHTK/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=