Sunday, April 22, 2018

Review of "Why Baseball Matters"

The title of this book grabbed my attention right away - OF COURSE baseball matters!  Does anyone really need to explain why?  But this book does a great job of doing just that. Every person who is interested in the game and its future should read this one.



Title/Author:
Why Baseball Matters” by Susan Jacoby

Tags:
Baseball, Mets, history, society, politics

Publish date:
March 20, 2018

Length:
224 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
The state of baseball today is either excellent, since revenues in the sport are at an all-time high, or on life support, since many feel the games are too long and it is losing its appeal to young people. Both arguments have their merits and this book by best-selling author Susan Jacoby offers several explanations for the latter beliefs.

The basic premise of the book is that Jacoby, a woman who fell in love with the game as a child in Chicago going to White Sox games with her father, believes the sport has to realize that thanks to digital advances, the attention span of fans is shorter than ever. Baseball has to find ways to attract younger fans who have grown up in this age.  She both criticizes and praises the game in the attempts to do so.

This sounds contradictory, but a reader will realize how Jacoby does this.  First she explains how “baseball is a game in which one must wait, pay attention, and wait again for startling, defining moments of action.” Thus, the distractions that younger fans have in today’s digital world (beautifully explained by a young female fan) will mean that the “defining” moments will have to be powerful to keep the attention of these fans.

This doesn’t mean she necessarily agrees with baseball’s response.  Indeed, she is critical of the attempts by Commissioner Rob Manfred to speed up the game and believes that is misguided as the length of the games is not the true source of the lack of younger, female and African-American fans.  She also pointed to readers of the New York Times who wrote to the newspaper who believed that baseball’s woes could be addressed not by speeding up the game but instead to make it more like football. Needless to say, she wasn’t totally on board with this idea either.

She also believes that the game doesn’t make much effort to attract fans of color and female fans.  Since the game doesn’t have the same transition from generation to generation as it did in the middle of the 20th century, she shows that other sports, especially football, are gaining these fans and baseball needs to step up its efforts to appeal to these fans.
This makes it sound like the book is negative and critical of the game, but that is not the case. Jacoby shares many wonderful stories about the game and her adopted team, the New York Mets. She sounds off about the designated hitter (hates it), baseball movies (doesn’t like “Field of Dreams” or Robert Redford cast as Roy Hobbs in “The Natural”) and why fans love the game the way they do (“…we love it precisely because it is not like life.”) Her stories, along with her suggestions for making the game better for all fans, are compelling reading that every person interested in the game of baseball will enjoy. 

A quick and easy read that will make the reader think, “Why Baseball Matters” is the type of book that not only makes a critical examination of the game, it offers wonderful opportunities to not only attract new fans, but also illustrate why fans of the game love it the way they do with a passion not easily seen in other sports.

I wish to thank Yale 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:


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Blog Tour - Wheelchairs, Perjury and the London Marathon

I had received a request to be part of a blog tour to promote this book.  While I usually don't participate in these, the story of this man's struggle to have race organizers allow wheelchair athletes to participate in a marathon piqued my interest.  Here is my review and the dates of the blog tour of "Wheelchairs, Perjury and the London Marathon"



Title/Author:
Wheelchairs, Perjury and the London Marathon” by Tim Marshall

Tags:
Wheelchair sports, history, running, politics

Publish date:
March 8, 2018

Length:
184 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
The story of how Tim Marshall was able to secure participation rights for wheelchair athletes in the London Marathon is told in this first-hand account that is a quick and informative read about the struggles that these athletes faced in order to be able to complete in world class events.

With the assistance of many people, including journalists, athletes and Parliament, Marshall kept on pushing to achieve this dream. His tenacity paid off as in 1983, the race was open to all, including wheelchair participants. The story of the journey to get there is what makes this book worth the time to read.  If one is looking to find out a lot of information about the event or running itself, that won’t be found here.    

Instead, the reader will be treated to a story of failure, of ignorance and bigotry and finally of achievement.  The obstacles Marshall faced in not only his own country but also in the United States.  The stories about the lack of consideration by organizers of the New York City Marathon for wheelchair athletes is startling, even for the standards of the 1980’s.  Particularly telling was Marshall’s account of organizers including climbing curbs and short flights of stairs on the original route – taken as a slap in the face to these athletes.

He didn’t fare much better back in England, but as I mentioned earlier, this is a story of perseverance and tenacity.  Marshall would not give up the fight and his achievement here outshines any victory on the road.  If a reader wants to pick up an inspiring story about an athlete, this is one that should be added.

I wish to thank Clink Street Publishing for providing a copy of the book via Authoright in exchange for an honest review.

Book Format Read:
E-book (EPUB)

Buying Links:


 About the Author:


Tim Marshall was Diplomatic Editor and foreign correspondent for Sky News. With thirty years of experience in news, he left journalism to concentrate on writing and analysis.

Marshall is from Leeds. He didn’t study journalism, but started to work in newsroom nightshifts. Marshall worked as a IRN correspondent in Paris for three years, collaborating with BBC radio. After that he joined Sky News, reporting from Europe, US, and Asia. He became Middle East Correspondent based in Jerusalem. In the 1990s he was a field reporter, transmitting from Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia. More recently, he covered the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria.

Besides Sky News, he wrote for other national newspapers including the Guardian, the Times, the Daily Telegraph, and the Sunday Times.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Review of "The Average Joe's Super Sports Almanac"

Every now and then, it is a treat to review a book that is simply filled with interesting stories and facts instead of a serious tome about a particular person, team or sport. This is one of those books.  It frequently made me smile or laugh so it was very entertaining and a quick read as well.  Here is my review of "The Average Joe's Super Sports Almanac"



Title/Author:
The Average Joe’s Super Sports Almanac” by Steve Riach

Tags:
Sports, history, trivia, humor

Publish date:
April 3, 2018

Length:
224 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (Very good)

Review:
At times, it is refreshing to read a book that is simply filled with interesting stories and facts.  Instead of delving into a particular athlete, team or sport with minute detail, “The Average Joe’s Super Sports Almanac” takes short stories, little-known facts and other tidbits of information on a variety of sports and melds them together into a fun, quick easy read.

Steve Riach uses his many years of covering a variety of sports to collect many entertaining facts and stories on various sports – mostly the main four team sports in North America and some Olympic stories as well.  The subjects vary widely – from examples of excellent sportsmanship (the Olympics are the source of many of these anecdotes) to funny quotes to unusual facts.

To illustrate the variety of topics, here are three facts that the reader will learn while reading this book. First, one of the most memorable golf meltdowns occurred on April 14, 1996 when Greg Norman lost a big lead in the final round of the Masters.  Coincidently, April 14 is also when two other tragedies occurred: the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.  Second, the athletes with the most Instagram followers is LeBron James with over 26 million followers.  Other athletes with large followings on social media are Stephan Curry, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Ronda Rousey and Dwayne Wade. Third, the only member of any sports Hall of Fame born on a train was Rod Carew.

These types of unusual facts, along with some humorous quotes (who can forget Latrell Sprewell rejecting a $29 million contract from the Timberwolves because “I’ve got my family to feed”?) and stories of the origins of several sports make the book a fun one to not only read in short bursts but also one that can be used to settle bets or instigate a debate.  This latter idea will most likely happen after the readers learns the author’s choices for the greatest teams in the four major sports (I agreed with three of his four choices).

Any sports fan, no matter how big a fan he or she is, will enjoy this book that is a quick and easy read that can be finished easily in one sitting or enjoyed in short bursts, depending on the preference of the reader. Because so many sports are covered in this volume, no matter which sport readers prefers, they are sure to find something interesting about their favorite game.

I wish to thank Harvest House Publishers 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/Average-Joes-Super-Sports-Almanac/dp/073697248X/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr

Monday, April 9, 2018

Review of "The Presidents and the Pastime"

When a book far exceeds my expectations, I find it harder to write a review because I want to share so much of the book that just a short review won't do the book justice. This is one of those books.  There is so much good information and it shares so many wonderful stories that to tell them all would almost be re-writing the entire book.  It is with that in mind that I share a few thoughts about the upcoming book, "The Presidents and the Pastime." 


Title/Author:
The Presidents and the Pastime: The History of Baseball and the White House” by Curt Smith

Tags:
Baseball, professional, history, politics

Publish date:
June 1, 2018

Length:
496 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Two of the most American of institutions are the Presidency and the game of baseball. They have been intertwined together for over a century – from Abraham Lincoln playing “town ball” to Barack Obama writing “Go Sox!” in the visitor book at the Baseball Hall of Fame, there are many stories of what the game has meant to Presidents. They are captured in this wonderful book by Curt Smith, a former speechwriter for George H.W. Bush.

Every story that has been passed down through the generations is shared here. The book may disprove a myth such as William Howard Taft inventing the seventh inning stretch, which did not happen. It may explain in more detail about well-known events as Commissioner Landis did offer to suspend baseball before Franklin Roosevelt wrote the “Green Light Letter”. Or, the reader may learn a new fact like this: Calvin Coolidge was not the baseball person in his family as that was his wife Grace who was the scorekeeper at the University of Vermont and kept a perfect scorecard at each game she and her husband attended.  Even bigger surprises may be found in the book, such as learning that Donald Trump was actually a good ballplayer.

One other interesting fact is that the first President to attend a baseball game at any level was Andrew Johnson.  Also in the nineteenth century, Benjamin Harrison became the first President to attend a professional baseball game.  Once the calendar turns to the 20th century, Smith covers each president from Theodore Roosevelt to Donald Trump by describing not only that man’s connection to baseball, but also a little bit about each man’s term in office and the accomplishments.

The book stays politically neutral with two notable exceptions. One is that Smith has much respect for his former boss as he looked fondly back at George H.W.Bush.  The best baseball story for him is a “summit” he called in 1991 with Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio to honor the 50th anniversary of their achievements of 1941 – Williams hitting .406 and DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak.  Why this was called a “summit” is that after the speeches in the Rose Garden, the President and his two guests flew to Toronto in Air Force One to meet Canadian Prime Minister before that year’s All-Star game.

The one area where there is really no neutrality is that Smith felt that when Washington D.C. lost its major league team (twice) Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon did not do enough to stop the teams from leaving.  They were the men in the White House when the first team left after the 1960 season for Minnesota and the second team, an expansion team awarded to Washington to ease the pain, left after the 1971 season.

This is just a very small sample of the many stories connecting baseball and the presidency.  Even Presidents whose reputation for sport lies elsewhere, such at Theodore Roosevelt and Gerald Ford in football, the reader will lean how each president has a baseball connection.  This book is rich with so many stories, it is one that is very hard to put down.  Baseball fans, history buffs and political junkies will all love this book.

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:


http://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/university-of-nebraska-press/9780803288096/


Sunday, April 8, 2018

Review of "Showtime"

Having not reviewed an audiobook for awhile, I picked one out written by an author that I am growing to enjoy tremendously. Jeff Pearlman is one of the best for detailed research and interviews and this shows in the quality of his work. This book about the 1980's Los Angeles Lakers is a great example.  Here is my review of "Showtime"



Title/Author:
Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Dynasty of the 1980’s” by Jeff Pearlman, narrated by Malcom Hilgartner

Tags:
Basketball, professional, history, Lakers, championship, audiobook

Publish date:
October 7, 2014

Length:
496 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
The Los Angeles Lakers played in the National Basketball Association (NBA) finals eight of the ten years of the decade of the 1980’s, winning five titles.  Easily the best team of that decade, their story of dominance is captured in this excellent book by bestselling author Jeff Pearlman.

The time frame covered by the book is from the first championship season in 1979-80 through the 1991 NBA Finals when an aging and slower version of the “Showtime” team lost to the Chicago Bulls and their transcendent star Micheal Jordan.  Between those two bookend seasons, the reader will be taken on an entertaining ride – some of it expected, some of it surprising but all of it easy to read and enjoy.

The story starts with the coash who is often forgotten when one thinks of these Laker’s teams – Jack McKinney.  He lead the team to the 1980 championship with the game’s all time leading scorer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and a rookie point guard from Michigan State, Earvin “Magic” Johnson.  From there, these two players were the foundation for the Laker dynasty, with other various players and coaches.

The saga of the head coaching position for the Lakers during this time makes for interesting reading.  McKinney was involved in a horrific bicycle accident which led to assistant coach Paul Westhead getting promoted while McKinney recuperated. He and Johnson had a rocky relationship.  That lead to Westhead’s dismissal and the hiring of Pat Riley.  Riley’s contribution to Showtime and his leadership is explained in fascinating detail – everything from his relationship with the players (great at first, deteriorated to awful by 1990), his wardrobe and his ego.  Even Riley’s successor, Mike Dunleavy, had his story told in great detail.

The two men who owned the team during this time, Jack Kent Cooke and Dr. Jerry Buss, have very different and interesting personalities. While Cooke treated everyone associated with the team badly, Buss not only changed this environment, he led a playboy lifestyle and even constructed a lounge in the team’s arena, the Forum, that was a haven for partying, drugs and sex.  It was stated that players, both Lakers and visiting players, hurriedly showered and changed after games so they could quickly get up to the lounge for the after game parties.

Nearly every player who donned a Laker jersey has his story told and the public images associated with the team’s stars are confirmed for most.  Magic Johnson’s bubbly personality was not an act – he is continuously portrayed as such throughout the book.  The same goes for Abdul-Jabbar’s aloofness and sulking (he is probably the most criticized player in the book), A.C. Green’s spirituality (confirmed by his remaining a virgin until he married, despite the high libidos of his teammates and the owner), and Mark Landsburger’s “stupidity”.

These are just a few examples of how Pearlman exposes everything about each player, whether good, bad, controversial or embarrassing.  He is a master of letting the reader find out as much as possible about these athletes and this book is no different. The narration by Malcom Hilgartner is just as good as the writing.  For those who have heard interviews by these players over the years, the listener will be surprised at how much he sounds like them, especially Magic Johnson.

Pearlman is a master of deep research and interviews to provide the reader with the most information possible on the book’s subject and this book is one great example. Fans of the Lakers and professional basketball will certainly want to read this book.

Book Format Read:
Audiobook

Buying Links:


https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/showtime-jeff-pearlman/1115700015?ean=9781592408870#/

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Review of "Insight Pitch"

The second of the two opening weekend baseball reviews is one on a great memoir of a nondescript pitcher from the 1970's.  Even if you have never heard of Skip Lockwood, you will certainly want to read his book full of interesting and funny stories about his time in baseball.  Here is my review of "Insight Pitch"


Title/Author:
“Insight Pitch: My Life as a Major League Closer” by Skip Lockwood

Tags:
Baseball, professional, memoir, humor, Brewers, Athletics, Mets

Publish date:
March 6, 2018

Length:
248 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Claude “Skip” Lockwood was a major league pitcher who was on six different teams over a 12 year career. He wasn’t a star player on any of them, never won any awards or all-star appearances or had an extraordinary game that will be seen forever on videos. However, what he did collect during his career was many humorous and interesting stories.  He shares them in this very entertaining and fast paced memoir, “Insight Pitch.”

Lockwood was originally signed by the Kansas City Athletics as a 17 year old “bonus baby” infielder and it is this signing where he shares one of his many humorous stories. When the A’s sent a team executive named Pat Friday to the Lockwood residence to sign Skip, the negotiations went fine with Skip and his father, but when the moment came for the final decision to sign, Dad left the room, leaving Skip and Friday alone.  Skip took a pen and made two changes to the contract.  One was to correct the name on the contract to his given name, “Claude Edward Lockwood, Jr.”  Then came this gem: “Then I said ‘There’s just one more thing right here,’ pointing to the space where the number $35,000 had been written. I put an oversized ‘1’ in front of it.”

Then Friday calls owner Charlie Finley, who asks Skip why he should pay him that kind of money – the answer was “Because I’ll make you a winner.”  The phone is given back to Friday, Finley agrees to the new amount and Lockwood becomes a bonus baby. This story was one the best of many great ones in the book, mainly because of the guts it took for a 17 year old kid to do that in the days of the reserve clause and no major league draft.

Lockwood shares the same type of stories through his transformation from an infelider to a pitcher in the minors, then from a struggling starting pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers to a more successful relief pitcher for the New York Mets. The best of these was the prank that Mets clubhouse manager Herbie Norman played on Lockwood on his first day as a Met.

Immediately upon arrival at Shea Stadium, Norman hurries Lockwood out to the bullpen, as he keeps saying how the team needs Skip to be ready to pitch right away. Norman leads him to the bullpen, where Lockwood greets each man personally and tells them how he is excited to be on the team. Problem was that this was the VISITING bullpen and each man he spoke to was a member of the Montreal Expos.

These are just two of the many examples of the captivating and funny stories that Lockwood shares and makes the book one that any baseball fan will enjoy, whether or not he or she has ever heard of Lockwood without having to look up his statistics on Baseball Reference.  This page-turner is one of the best sports memoirs I have read.

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

Book Format Read:
Hardcover

Buying Links:





Review of "The Cloudbuster Nine"

Opening weekend of the 2018 baseball season means that there are also plenty of new baseball books available.  To paraphrase a famous quote from Ernie Banks, there are so many good books now, let's review two!  The first review is this book about a little-known team from the WWII time frame, yet this team had a very famous player.  Here is my review of "The Cloudbuster Nine."



Title/Author:

The Cloudbuster Nine: The Untold Story of Ted Williams and the Baseball Team that Helped Win WWII” by Anne Keene



Tags:

Baseball, history, war time



Publish date:

April 6, 2018



Length:

304 pages



Rating: 

5 of 5 stars (outstanding)



Review:

While the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals were the opponents in the 1943 World Series, neither of them are considered to be the best baseball team that took the field that year. That honor was bestowed to a team composed of Navy pilots who were in training before being sent overseas for combat.  This team was based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and was dubbed the “Cloudbuster Nine.”  This wonderful book by Anne Keene tells the story about this little known team and some of the men on the team.



The author’s father was a nine year old batboy for this team and when she discovered pictures and articles about the team in her father’s belonging, she set out to tell the story of this team. The book starts with a story from the highlight of that year for the Cloudbuster Nine – an exhibition game at Yankee Stadium in which the opponents were a team composed of the best players from the Yankees and the Cleveland Indians. This team was called the “Yanklands” and their star was their manager, Babe Ruth.



However, the Cloudbusters had some star power of their own.  There were several major league players on the team – players who were going to be soon off to war, but still had the chance to play some baseball on the team before being shipped overseas.  Their biggest star was Ted Williams, and two others on the team are very familiar to many fans – Johnny Pesky and Johnny Sain. The book shares some wonderful stories about all three of them as well as other players on the Cloudbusters.  These stories concentrate on their time on this team and in the training program more than their major league careers.  That makes the book a wonderful look into life as a military member at that time.



The book is not limited to baseball. Indeed, the book dedicates many pages to the training facility, the curriculum the students endure in order to be trained pilots and some of the other graduates of the program.  These include future Presidents George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford, John Glenn and Paul “Bear” Bryant. The makeover of a portion of the University of North Carolina campus into a Naval training facility makes for very interesting reading as does the story of Tom Hamilton, the brains behind the curriculum.  He wanted to include competitive sports, especially football and baseball, as part of the training.  The reasoning for this was that to keep in shape for these sports, a trainee would be fit for his duties as a pilot and some of the skills needed to succeed in these games would be useful should the pilot be shot down and he needed to have good survival skills in either the ocean or in enemy territory.



No matter how much this review talks about the book, it can’t do justice to the quality of the stories and material.  This book should be read by anyone who enjoys reading about baseball, military stories, World War II history – or even just good stories. It is truly a wonderful piece of work that began with someone wanting to tell the stories her father stored inside himself for many years.


I wish to thank Ms. Keene for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.



Book Format Read:

E-book (PDF)



Buying Links: