Thursday, May 25, 2017

Review of "The Perfect Game"

While most books I read are very good, as any avid reader knows, every now and again there will be a book that didn't live up to expectations.  This was one of those books.  I remembered watching this game and was amazed at how well Villanova played in winning one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history. When I saw there was a book about that game, I was hoping it would be as good as the game was.  Unfortunately, for me this book didn't come close.  Here is my review of "The Perfect Game."


Title/Author:
“The Perfect Game: How Villanova’s Shocking 1985 Upset of Mighty Georgetown Changed the Landscape of College Hoops Forever” by Frank Fitzpatrick
Tags:
Basketball, college, history, upsets
Publish date:
January 22, 2013
Length:
320 pages
Rating: 
2 ½  of 5 stars (fair)
Review:
It is considered one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history during a year when the sport was undergoing significant changes. 1985 was the year that the NCAA basketball tournament was expanded to 64 games and had the regional brackets that are familiar to even non-basketball fans. Several conferences experimented with a shot clock, which was to become a permanent rule the next year – it was not used during this tourney, which was important to this game.

Which game is this? It was the thrilling 66-64 win by the Villanova Wildcats over the Georgetown Hoyas in the finals of the 1985 NCAA basketball tournament.  This book by veteran Philadelphia writer Frank Fitzpatrick claims to show the reader how this one game changed the sport.  But that is misleading for several reasons and as a result I was disappointed with this book.

The first disappointment for me is that there was very little mention of the game itself, save for some short references, until page 231 when Chapter 13 was about the game day experience for the players and the historical contest.  That is a long time to wait for the main subject of the book.  The information before that chapter is also not all about the season and tournament games that led up to their mighty clash.  While there is some good basketball writing, especially in the previous chapter when the previous tourney games for the Wildcats and Hoyas are discussed, there is much more about the racial overtones of the Hoyas.

While one cannot ignore the role that race played in the sport at that time, especially centered around Georgetown, I felt that there was far too much of the book that dealt with that subject and that the author tried to force the topic to be the reason for something when there could be other factors. The author felt that race played a role in how many Americans would root for a team in this game, and that many felt Villanova was the “good” team and Georgetown was the “bad” team due to race.  While that may have had some role, it is indisputable that many sports fans love to cheer for an underdog. Because Georgetown was such a prohibitive favorite, it is very possible that many simply wanted to cheer for the underdog – a possibility not discussed in the book.

The other aspect that I felt was misleading was that this game alone “changed the landscape of college hoops forever.”  While the game was to undergo major changes that I mentioned earlier, they were going to happen regardless of the outcome of this game. It could be historic because it was the last game without the shot clock and Villanova took advantage of this, but that was already approved to add a shot clock in all NCAA games for the following season.  Teams didn’t change to mimic the Wildcats to copy their success.  While the championship game was held in a regular sized college arena (Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky), it wasn’t the last one to be held in a non-dome setting as that would not take effect until 1997, as mentioned in the book.

Those are just a few examples of how this book was a letdown for me after the title grabbed my attention.  The stories on the two schools are not even complete – for Villanova, Ed Pickney’s book on the team gives a more complete picture, while there are several books on this era of Georgetown basketball and the two main men for the Hoyas that year, Patrick Ewing and coach John Thompson.  If a reader wants to read on these two schools or this game, those are better options.

Book Format Read:
Hardcover
Buying Links:


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Review of "A Deadly Game"

It isn't too often that I have the chance to review fictional stories with a sports theme, but that was the case with this book. It took a little different twist in that the baseball theme was less about the game on the field and more about fantasy baseball - a game that is intriguing and has a world all its own.  Here is my review of a thriller about fantasy baseball, "A Deadly Game."


Title/Author:
“A Deadly Game” by Gary M. Lepper
Tags:
Baseball, fiction, fantasy, murder, mystery
Publish date:
December 6, 2016
Length:
299 pages
Rating: 
4 ½  of 5 stars (excellent)
Review:
When six Major League baseball players in various cities are injured and two of them died as a result of their injuries, it felt like more than just coincidence.  It raised the curiosity of former police detective David Kenmuir and what he finds while investigating these cases is the storyline for this very entertaining novel by Gary M. Lepper.

Set in the 1980’s, when computers were still primitive but useful for vast amounts of information and statistics, Kenmuir discovers the world of fantasy baseball and how one can get easily caught up in the high stakes at which some fantasy leagues operate.  While he was a baseball fan, Kenmuir did not play fantasy baseball.  However, with the help of a computer nerd, he learns not only about the game, but also starts to understand how the star players each became victims of an organized crime operation.

Baseball fans will enjoy the references to the games and also to baseball card collecting as well as the fantasy game. There are settings in major league ballparks, such as the Oakland Coliseum, in which Kenmuir and a Don from organized crime watch ball games. The story did start a little slow as it was not apparent how the injuries were connected, but once the concept of fantasy baseball was fully ingrained into the story, it took off from there. 

The characters were well-developed, and Kenmuir develops into a troubled hero with his experiences in the Vietnam war and the loss of a partner while on the police force playing a key role in the book. The antagonists are well developed as well, and the usual stereotyped behavior of the leaders of organized crime are not obvious in this novel, a welcome relief.   

This is a novel that will be enjoyed by fans of book on baseball, mysteries or organized crime. It was a very good read that only bogged down once, but once one gets past that portion of the book, it is one that will be hard to put down.

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

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)
Buying Links:


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review of "Mad Dog: The Maurice Vachon Story"

I mention this in the book review, but when I saw this book was available for review, I jumped on the chance because I saw Mad Dog Vachon perform at many wrestling events when I was growing up in Minnesota, both live and on television. I enjoyed watching his antics in the ring, and I enjoyed this book.  Here is my review of "Mad Dog."


Title/Author:
“Mad Dog: The Maurice Vachon Story” by Bertrand Hebert and Patric Laprade
Tags:
Wrestling, professional, biography
Publish date:
September 5, 2017
Length:
320 pages
Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)
Review:
Growing up in the Twin Cities, I would watch wrestling every weekend on television and would occasionally attend wrestling cards in the old Minneapolis Auditorium. One of the big stars in the business at the time was Mad Dog Vachon.  So when I saw a biography of the man was available for review, I jumped at the chance to do so. 

Starting with his childhood in Quebec in which he was considered a trouble-maker, the book follows Maurice’s venture into wrestling, from his amateur performance that earned him a trip to the Olympics to his somewhat nomadic life as a professional wrestler to his life afterward. There are many interesting stories along the way about Vachon’s professional and personal life. At times it seemed amazing that with all the travel and all the issues in his personal life that he became such a star in wrestling. 

But it was Vachon’s work ethic and willingness to help other wrestlers to succeed that helped make him the successful heel (villain) that he became. He put on a great show for the fans, while remembering that it was them who were the most important people in the business. The reader will get a glimpse into what Maurice was like through his interactions with wrestlers, promoters and his brother Paul, who under the name “Butcher” became Maurice’s partner in the ring and later in the business.

What made this book a good read was the research and writing about the inner workings of the professional wrestling circuit.  There are many more smaller organizations than the big ones with which many people are familiar.  Much like real estate, one’s location can determine the success of a wrestler.  This was certainly the case for Mad Dog as his career took off when Vern Gagne brought him to Minneapolis. Reading about his matches in the Twin Cities brought back a lot of memories and made the book a fun one to read.  

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

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)
Buying Links:
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/mad-dog-bertrand-hebert/


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Review of "The Pitch That Killed"

This book is one that has been on my radar for several years, but I just never thought about picking it up.  Then in an online baseball book club to which I belong, it was selected as the book for this month.  Decided to read it on the train to and from a baseball game and my only complaint is that I waited so long to read it.  Here is my review of "The Pitch That Killed."


Title/Author:
“The Pitch That Killed: Carl Mays, Ray Chapman and the Pennant Race of 1920” by Mike Sowell
Tags:
Baseball, professional, history, Yankees, Indians, tragedy
Publish date:
September 1, 1989
Length:
330 pages
Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Review:
Most baseball fans know about Ray Chapman being the only player to die because of an on-the-field incident when he was beaned by Carl Mays. These same fans may also know that he was very popular, not just with the fans of the Cleveland Indians but also is teammates. Then they may also be aware that Mays was not very popular, even before this tragedy, with the players, teammates and opponents alike. 

Just these topics would make a good book, but author Mike Sowell takes these and crafts an even better book by giving readers a complete picture of not only Mays and Chapman and that fateful day of August 16, 1920, but by including so many other key baseball men such as Tris Speaker (the Indians manager), Babe Ruth and Miller Huggins, the reader gets the complete picture of the men involved and the lead-up to that fateful pitch.

Mays was known as a trouble maker before arriving to the Yankees from his days with the Boston Red Sox.  It didn’t affect his pitching as he had success with both teams and was a key member of the Yankees staff as they were involved in a three team pennant race with the Indians and the Chicago White Sox.  His pitching was affected, however by a new rule that was enacted to disallow trick pitches.  Mays’ underhanded delivery was deemed to be this, but he still threw in that manner that was effective and hard for a batter to pick up, as would be horribly on display during an at bat by Ray Chapman.

Chapman, on the other hand, was a young player on the rise with the Indians.  A gifted shortstop, he was becoming a better player and gaining the confidence of his teammates.  Newly married and expecting his first child, the young man seemed to have the world in his hands when he stepped up to the plate during a game against the Yankees. A pitch from Mays was coming in high and tight on Chapman, who never saw it coming.  It hit him in the left temple and he was knocked to the ground bleeding and unconscious.  He was able to make if off the field with help from his teammates, but died the next day in the hospital.

Just this alone would make a good book, but Sowell turns it into fascinating reading by including many details on both Mays and Chapman, such as when Mays told his wife in 1918 that he may have needed to do something “out of the ordinary” to get his name in the papers, or that Chapman may have retired after the 1920 season after promising his father-in-law to consider giving up the game to run their successful family business. Sowell also weaves the tight American League pennant race into the story along with other people that makes story of Chapman’s death even more completing.  Little items such as Speaker getting involved in the decision on where to bury Chapman, a New York writer who tried to implicate Mays in throwing games during the 1921 World Series and the talk of players boycotting any game in which Mays was the pitcher.

All of this and more makes this book one that every baseball fan and historian must read. Even though I had known about this book for many years, I never picked it up until it was selected as a book of the month in an online baseball book club.  My only problem with that is that now I am kicking myself for waiting so long to read it. 

Book Format Read:
Paperback

Buying Links:




Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review of "Eyes Within the Diamond"

If you have ever picked up a book expecting it to be written in a certain style or on a specific topic, but it turned out to not be that way, you will adjust your expectations for what to get out of the book.  That was the case for me as when I started "Eyes Within the Diamond", I expected a collection of essays.  While there were essays there was so much more to this book.  Here is my review of "Eyes Within the Diamond."


Title/Author:
“Eyes Within the Diamond: Inside the Game, Outside the Box” by Stacey Marc Goldman
Tags:
Baseball, professional, lists, statistics, race
Publish date:
November 19, 2016
Length:
270 pages
Rating: 
3 ½ of 5 stars (good)
Review:
This book doesn’t really fit neatly into a common baseball book category.  While there is advanced statistical analysis of many great players, it isn’t a sabermetrics book in the same manner as Bill James. There are essays about many of the players listed, but it isn’t the type of book to curl up on your favorite piece of furniture and read for hours.  There are many lists of the greatest player in many different categories and positions.

This was problematic for me at first, as I was confused as to why the author would start creating lists of the greatest players with no explanation of how he graded these players. But as I kept on looking at lists and reading essays on the Negro Leagues, the book got better. There are also essays on players from every era and an interesting comparison of the two Canadian franchises in Major League Baseball history, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Montreal Expos.

What really settled my mind, however, was at the end of the book when Goldman gave the formula for how he graded both hitters and pitchers and that helped explain his rankings and comparisons. The comparisons were of great players – to settle the argument of who was better between the two.  Many different parings were compared, such as Barry Bonds vs. Ty Cobb and of course Joe DiMaggio vs. Ted Williams.

Goldman also tackles a tough subject – the institutional racism of the game before integration and much of the writing and listings give much credit to the Negro Leagues. He believes Josh Gibson is the greatest baseball player ever and he makes a compelling argument.  Other stars from the Negro Leagues such as Cool Papa Bell and Satchel Paige also are prominent in the book.

This book is best read in small doses or used as a reference book to look for the best players at certain positons. It’s also a great reference to settle a bet or argument about the best players.  Many books with lists are useful for that purpose and this one follows in that mold.

I wish to thank Summer Game Books for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)
Buying Links:
https://www.amazon.com/Eyes-Within-Diamond-Inside-Outside-ebook/dp/B01N971KM4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1494466065&sr=8-1&keywords=eyes+within+the+diamond


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Review of "A Renegade Championship Summer"

Living in the Hudson Valley region of New York, I was thrilled to find this book available on Kindle.  While I only saw a couple games during this 1999 championship season, it was still very exciting to have a championship team in the local area.  Here is my review of "A Renegade Championship Summer."




Title/Author:
“A Renegade Championship Summer: A Broadcaster’s View of a Magical Minor League Baseball Season” by Rick Schultz

Tags:
Baseball, minor leagues, championship

Publish date:
August 12, 2016

Length:
227 pages

Rating: 
3 ½ of 5 stars (good)

Review:
The Hudson Valley Renegades won that first New York Penn League championship in 1999 and this book by broadcaster Risk Schultz, who called the team's games that year, shares not only the highlights but some interesting stories about the players as well.

What I like about books like this is that the reader gets inside life in the minor leagues. The book has plenty of bus trip stories, reflections from players and manager Edwin Rodriguez and even other employees such as the clubhouse manager. Of note - Josh Hamilton, the #1 draft pick that year who went on to become an MVP in the major leagues, played briefly for the Renegades that season and was there to celebrate the championship with his Hudson Valley teammates.

Overall this is a decent read about a team that will be long remembered for bringing a championship to the area. Fans of minor league baseball will enjoy this one.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)


Buying Links:

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Review of "Lefty O'Doul"

Admittedly, I knew very little about Lefty O'Doul until I received this book from the publisher. After reading it, not only did I learn a lot, but I now understand how much of a role he played in the baseball relationship between Japan and the United States. I won't give too much away - I will simply say to read this book.  Here is my review of "Lefty O'Doul."



Title/Author:
“Lefty O’Doul: Baseball’s Forgotten Ambassador” by Dennis Snelling

Tags:
Baseball, biography, Yankees, Giants, minor leagues

Publish date:
May 1, 2017

Length:
392 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Francis “Lefty” O’Doul can be considered a rarity in baseball – while he was an outstanding major league player, retiring with the fourth-highest career batting average in history, it was his work in the minor leagues and in Japan where he truly made a difference in the game.  The story of his life in and out of baseball is told in this biography by Dennis Snelling.

O’Doul was raised in the Butchertown section of San Francisco, a tough neighborhood which got its name from the proliferation of butchers and slaughterhouses in the area. O’Doul was destined to follow his father into that business until he was encouraged to use his athletic gifts by his teacher Rose Stolz. It was uncommon for women to be coaching sports at that time in the early 20th century, but she was his coach and O’Doul gave her credit for teaching him the game and mentoring him early in his athletic career.

His career started with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League , which at (PCL)the time was considered close to the equal of the Major Leagues and the highest level of baseball played west of the Mississippi.  O’Doul was playing the outfield and pitching, eventually gaining a spot on the New York Yankees, but not succeeding in either position. He set a record during that brief time that still has not been broken – he gave up 13 runs in one inning, the most allowed by a single pitcher in one inning.  He was convinced to give up pitching during another stint with the Seals, and this time it proved to be better when he played for the New York Giants, becoming a prolific hitter including a season in which he hit .398 in 1929.

However, despite this success, where O’Doul left his mark in the game was with his coaching and managing, which he did for a few decades for the Seals and San Diego in the PCL. One of his prize pupils was Joe DiMaggio, who gives O’Doul much credit for his success.  They stayed friends long after both of their careers were over.

The book’s format has each chapter start with an excerpt describing O’Doul’s biggest accomplishment, and that was the 1949 series of exhibition games between a team of Major League all-stars and Japanese teams played in Japan. This exhibition was notable for several reasons – the countries still had some bitter feelings so soon after World War II, the American players were treated like royalty by the Japanese fans, and General Douglas MacArthur even attended games.  O’Doul worked tirelessly to promote the game in Japan, having made several trips there and was in attendance when Masanori Murakami became the first Japanese player to play in the Major Leagues in 1964.

Given the variances in topics in which to write about O’Doul, I felt that Mr. Snelling did a very good job of piecing all of these aspects of the career of O’Doul and wrote a book that is not only easy to follow with all of these pieces, but is also informative enough that the reader will finish it believing that he or she knows a lot about O’Doul. That was the case for me as I had not known much about the man’s career and certainly not that he was a true ambassador for the game in Japan.  After reading this book, I believe that Lefty O’Doul’s story is one that anyone interested in the game’s history, whether in the United States or in Japan, is one that should be read.   

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


Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying links: