Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Review of "Ballplayer"

While I cannot say that I am huge fan of Chipper Jones, nor of the Atlanta Braves, I had heard a lot of good things about this book so I was eager to obtain a copy.  When I saw it offered on NetGalley, I scooped it up right away - and it was worth the time to read.  Here is my review of "Ballplayer."



Title/Author:

“Ballplayer” by Chipper Jones and Carroll Rogers-Walton

Tags:

Baseball, memoir, professional, Braves

Publish date:

April 4, 2017

Length:

324 pages

Rating: 

4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:

The story of Larry “Chipper” Jones sounds like one that many fictional stories are woven from: a country boy who with the guidance from his parents becomes a big-time star in a big city. While it may sound like something that would be written as fiction, it is very much a true story as Jones reflects on his life in this memoir co-written with Carroll Rogers-Walton.

While Jones does speak about his inspiration and guidance from his parents as a young man, I felt the book was a little different than most sport memoirs in that there is not a lot of space about the athlete’s personal life.  There is one chapter and part of another in which Jones speaks about his failed marriage and the infidelity that led to that ending.  Much like what he did while a player, he spoke about it in detail once, then let everyone make their judgments and moved on.


How the book does this is that aside from that, Jones mostly talks about baseball, baseball, and more baseball.  From his high school and minor league days, to his time with the Braves teams that won 14 consecutive division titles, five National League pennants and one World Series, this book covers nearly everything a fan would want to know about life in the major leagues.  Jones is full of praise for the three Hall of Fame pitchers who led the Braves – Tom Glavine, Gregg Maddux and John Smoltz. 


For hardcore fans, Jones also talks deep into baseball analysis.  Not statistics, but things that happen on the field, such as learning to switch hit, learning different positions on the field (he was a shortstop, third baseman and outfielder, plus he also pitched in high school) and pitch-by-pitch analysis of memorable at bats for Jones. One I particularly enjoyed was one against Roger Clemens when the latter was a member of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Fans of Jones or the Atlanta Braves, the only major league team for which he played, will particularly enjoy this book.  Even those who enjoy reading memoirs of baseball players but may not be a fan of either will still want to add this to their libraries.


I wish to thank Penguin Group Dutton for providing an advance review copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Book Format Read:

E-book (Kindle)

 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Review of "Urban Shocker"

Admittedly, I never heard of Urban Shocker before I saw this book offered for review by University of Nebraska Press.  I was curious to learn more than just his Wikipedia entry, so I requested the book and I am so glad I did.  This was a great read in which I learned much about the man.  Here is my review of "Urban Shocker."


Title/Author:
“Urban Shocker: Silent Hero of Baseball’s Golden Age” by Steve Steinberg

Tags:
Baseball, biography, Browns, Yankees

Publish date:
April 1, 2017

Length:
352 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
One of the lesser-known members of the famous 1927 New York Yankees was a pitcher who was on his second tour of duty with the Yankees. Urban Shocker was one of the pitchers for the team after several outstanding seasons for the St. Louis Browns.  His career and life is captured in this terrific biography by Steve Steinberg.

The book covers much more than Shocker’s life before the game, his career highlights and game-by-game accounts (there is very little of the latter).  The reader will learn much about Shocker’s mindset when pitching.  This is evident by his use of a spitball or “wet ball”, allowed when he began his career and one of the pitchers who was allowed to keep using it after it was banned from the game in 1920.  Another passage in which the reader gets into Shocker’s mind is when he threw this pitch as a rookie to two star Yankee teammates in an intra-squad game.  He was gutsy and did what he wanted.

This was also true throughout his career.  He was bitter about being traded to the St. Louis Browns, especially because he was considered a troublemaker because of who he befriended on the team. He always wanted the ball against the Yankees to show how wrong they were to trade him.  However, when the Yankees reacquired him, he was very excited to be playing for the same manager who he thought wanted to get rid of him, Miller Huggins.  The book does a great job of illustrating this relationship between the two men.

Shocker also wanted to keep his health problems as secret as possible, in which he succeeded as it was a surprise to many when he died months after retiring as a pitcher.  He had cardiac issues and it would case him many issues on the field late in his career, including sudden collapse. It was the main reason he had to retire, but he was a fighter to the end.

This biography provides a lot of information on Shocker, a pitcher whose contributions to the Yankees are often overlooked. The book even mentions Bill James’ proclamation that Shocker was one of the best pitchers of the era.  Written in a manner that gives readers a clear picture of Urban Shocker, both the man and the baseball player, it is a book that all baseball fans should add to their libraries.

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:




Saturday, March 11, 2017

Review of "Baseball Beyond Our Borders"

With the World Baseball Classic now in full swing, it was the perfect time to read this book - one of several that will be reviewed in the coming weeks as in the past week, I hit the jackpot with baseball books - I have received seven books from authors and/or publishers in the last two weeks, so it is time for some serious baseball reading.  This is the first one to be reviews, "Baseball Beyond Our Borders."



Title/Author:
“Baseball Beyond Our Borders: An International Pastime” edited by George Gmelch and Daniel A. Nathan

Tags:
Baseball, international, essays

Publish date:
March 1, 2017

Length:
528 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Baseball has become the “national pastime” for more than just the United States as the globalization of the game has grown exponentially in the last few decades. This is illustrated in this collection of essays about the game in 19 nations and two territories (Puerto Rico and Tasmania) across the globe.

The essays are terrific sources of information on how baseball has become part of the culture in many of these nations.  In many cases, the origins of the game in these areas took place in the nineteenth century, just like the United States. There were even documented women’s teams in nations such as Canada.  How the politics in a country affected the game was a very interesting topic, especially in some Latin American nations like Nicaragua and Cuba.

Readers will also learn more about international baseball topics of which they already may be familiar.  The essays on Far Eastern nations such as Japan and Taiwan are examples of that.  While some may be aware about Japan’s tradition of bowing at games and Taiwan’s dominance of the Little League World Series in the 1970’s and 1980’s, these topics, along with others, are discussed in further detail. 

The book then finishes with discussions about nations who have now have thriving baseball cultures that more recently discovered the game, such as Australia and Israel. The last essay was the best one, a discussion on the World Baseball Classic and what it means to the international game. 

Most collections of short fictional stories or non-fiction essays have a few duds in the mix, but that was not the case with this book.  Every essay contained interesting information on the baseball played in the nation discussed, information that is most likely new to most readers. Some of the essays are quick and easy reads, some of them have to be digested slowly in order to be fully understood.  But no matter how they are written, they are ones that should be read by readers who are interested in baseball as it is ingrained into the culture of nations around the world.

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

Book Format Read:
Paperback

Buying links:



Monday, March 6, 2017

Review of "Black Ice"

Whenever I ride the train to attend a game, I try to find a book about the sport that I am going to see.  This past weekend I went to a hockey game in Newark, New Jersey and was looking for a hockey book. When combing through my library of e-books, I found this one that I picked up a few years ago, but just never got around to reading it.  Now that I have, I can't decide whether I should have done so a lot earlier or whether it was good to wait until now.  Either way, it was one of the better books I have read in quite awhile.  Here is my review of an account of the little-known Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes.


Title/Author:
“Black Ice: The Lost History of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes” by George and Daril Fosty

Tags:
Ice hockey, race, history

Publish date:
November 1, 2004

Length:
264 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
While the NHL is celebrating its 100th season this year, it was not the first organized hockey league – that honor goes to the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes.  Organized in 1895 in Nova Scotia, this league is finally given its proper recognition in this outstanding work by George and Daril Fosty. 

With help from the leadership of the Baptist Church, a transplant from Trinidad named Henry Sylvester Williams was the mastermind of the league as the first games were played in 1895 and with the popularity of ice hockey in Canada, the league became popular for both players and spectators.  Not only was the sport itself a means for blacks to earn a little but it also was a business opportunity for blacks in a time and place when those opportunities were few and far between.

The quality of play was very good and through extensive research, the Fosty brothers reveal that two important staples of the game were invented in the Colored Hockey League, but because of either oversight or a lack of proper credit, it has not been well known.  The act of a goalie dropping to the ice to cover the puck was started by goaltender Henry “Little Braces” Franklyn in 1898.  There were also players who through their sheer power began shooting the puck with extra force, the forefather of today’s slap shot.

Reading about this, the teams and what they went through in order to play the game (which included games against teams of white players as well as other colored teams in the league) and the struggle of black Canadians for civil rights made for a riveting read that was read in one sitting by this reviewer.

Whether a reader is a hockey historian, interested in civil rights history, or just wants to read a compelling book about a chapter in sports history that seems to have been ignored until now, this well-written and richly detailed book will satisfy that desire.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying links:

https://www.amazon.com/Black-Ice-History-Maritimes-1895-1925-ebook/dp/B0039PU9S6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1488853422&sr=8-1&keywords=black+ice+maritimes


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Review of "The Impossible Dream"

For Red Sox fans, just mention the year "1967" and it will bring a smile to their faces.  Even if they are not old enough to have seen the team that year, all Red Sox fans can tell you about the "Impossible Dream" season.  A book has been written about that season and it is a very good mix of recaps and insight from key members of the team.  Here is my review of "The Impossible Dream"


Title/Author:
“The Impossible Dream 1967 Boston Red Sox: Birth of Red Sox Nation” by Herb Crehan

Tags:
Baseball, professional, Red Sox, championship, history

Publish date:
November 15, 2016

Length:
300 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
“Red Sox Nation” is a term that has recently come into wide-spread use when one talks about the legion of Boston Red Sox fans. While it has grown in recent years thanks to the team’s three World Series titles, the idea of a “Red Sox Nation” really began in 1967, when the team made an improbable one year turnaround from ninth place to an American League pennant. 

That magical season for the Red Sox and their fans is captured in this book by long time Red Sox Magazine writer Herb Crehan. Drawing from his experience with the team, Crehan relives that “Impossible Dream” season through interviews with 14 key members of the team. Some will be familiar names to all baseball fans, such as Carl Yastremski and Dick Williams. Others not as familiar except to Red Sox fans such as Joe Foy and Russ Gibson. Each player interviewed has his own chapter, in which there is plenty of recaps of key games and moments of the 1967 season.

The writing is of the style that shows mostly knowledge but also a touch of bias toward the Red Sox.  That is to be expected from an author who has covered the franchise for a long time and would have some bias toward the team.  There is some sadness on the chapter about Tony Conigliaro, a lot of excitement in the chapter on Jim Lonberg as that one covers the final two games of the season in which the Red Sox had to defeat the Minnesota Twins in order to win the pennant.  The best chapter was the last one, however, when Crehan brought the reader into the mind of manager Dick Williams and the highs and lows of the memorable seven game World Series won by the St. Louis Cardinals.

Red Sox fans in particular will love this book as it recaptures the joy they felt during that summer or in the case of younger Red Sox fans, they can learn about that team that they have heard about for nearly 50 years.  Even if one is not a Red Sox fan, it is a good addition to the library of any baseball fan.

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/Impossible-Dream-1967-Red-Sox-ebook/dp/B01MQJLJN8/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1488731865&sr=1-3&keywords=impossible+dream

Friday, March 3, 2017

Review of "Chalked Up"

Gymnastics is one sport that I only watch during the Olympics, but the recent news about a gymnastics coach made me want to read a book on the sport.  Remembering that I had bought a book written by a former champion a few years ago on the bargain shelf, I finally opened it up and it opened my eyes to the life that these young women live in order to be gymnasts.  Here is my review of "Chalked Up"


Title/Author:
“Chalked Up: Inside Elite Gymnastics’ Merciless Coaching, Overzealous Parents, Eating Disorders and Elusive Olympic Dreams” by Jennifer Sey

Tags:
Gymnastics, Olympics, women’s sports

Publish date:
October 23, 2009

Length:
320 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
Jennifer Sey was the 1986 U.S. Women’s Gymnastics champion and the road that she took that eventually led her to this championship was filled with drama, heartbreak, injury and eventually triumph.  Everything that she and her family went through to get to that pinnacle is chronicled in her memoir “Chalked Up.”  It is an honest look at the life of elite gymnastics, a sport in which many participants retire from the sport before obtaining a high school diploma.

Sey covers a lot of topics in the book as the title implies. While this was a book that I found as a bargain book a few years ago, I was intrigued to finally read this when the actions of a gymnastics coach toward his gymnasts made recent news.  The book read as I expected considering the nature of the topics and the fact that it was a memoir by an athlete that has long retired from her sport.

The Parkettes are an elite gymnastics team that trains in Allentown, Pennsylvania. That is a two hour commute from the Sey’s home in New Jersey, but between Sey’s obsession to be the best gymnast and her mother’s willingness to do anything to help her daughter obtain that dream,  that didn’t stop them from getting Jennifer a spot on this team.  It is there that her experiences with debilitating injuries, abusive coaches and eating disorders begin. She talks about the way coaches demean the gymnasts while the owner constantly reminds them of how “fat” they are.

How Sey continues to thrive in this environment is something she explains through the emotions she felt and her constant fear of failure. More than her competitive drive or her skills, I was taken aback by how freely she was able to write about her emotions, especially her fears.  This passage from a practice session on the balance beam while a Parkette was one of the most powerful expressions of this fear: “ The fear never abates.  It is constant, relieved only in the instant I have landed on my feet.  It surges again and again and again. Agitation and fright is my perpetual state of existence. But I ignore it as I climb back up onto the beam and begin rocking.”

This book received much scrutiny when it was published, including pushback from some of Sey’s Parkettes teammates.  While I read these reviews and comments, I felt the book was simply an honest assessment by her of her life as a gymnast, both the good and the bad.  It wasn’t the best written or most powerful memoir I read, but it was a revealing look at the world of gymnastics that paints a different picture than that shown every four years during the Olympics telecasts, which is usually the only time many sports fans watch the sport.  It is a book that is recommended for any reader who wants to learn more about the world these young girls live in in order to entertain the television viewers around the world.  

Book Format Read:
E-book (Nook)

Buying links:


http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/chalked+up?_requestid=1164230


Monday, February 27, 2017

Review of "The 10 Commandments of Baseball"

Many times baseball fans will try to connect real life experiences with the game in some manner, whether or not they ever played the game.  That is what this book does by looking at the advice written out by a winning manager with both the Yankees and Red Sox.  Here is my review of "The 10 Commandments of Baseball."



Title/Author:

“The 10 Commandments of Baseball” by J.D. Thorne


Tags:

Baseball, professional, short stories


Publish date:

August 25, 2010


Length:

186 pages


Rating: 

3 ½  of 5 stars (good)


Review:

The title and subject of this book was inspired by advertisement in an Iowa restaurant that listed the “10 Commandments of Baseball.” After reading them, the author set out to not only research the man who created them, former major league manager Joe McCarthy, but also to write about how each one of them affected him in both baseball and in real life.


The book is divided into a chapter about each commandment after a brief history of both the game and the career of McCarthy. This gave the book good organization and the reader is able to see the connection between the stories and the particular commandment illustrated in the chapter. The examples of major league games and players who either did or did not follow the commandment were the best parts of the book as it shows why the commandment plays an important part of the game.



While it is a quick and easy book to read, at times it felt more like a memoir than an informative book. I wasn’t sure if it was meant to be a memoir, but even if it wasn’t it at least was a good way to see how one person made the connection between baseball and life during the telling of his personal experiences, something most fans of the game will tend to do.



I would recommend this book for anyone looking for a quick and informative read on how baseball and its rituals can be a part of anyone’s life, whether or not he or she played the game. 


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


Book Format Read:

Paperback


Buying links:



http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/10-commandments-of-baseball-j-d-thorne/1103813552;jsessionid=E12AEEFAFB0938E3A6121D7BBA499E3A.prodny_store02-atgap10?ean=9780981934204&st=AFF&2sid=Goodreads,%20Inc_2227948_NA&sourceId=AFFGoodreads,%20IncM000004