Thursday, December 13, 2018

Review of "Power Ball"

The best way to cure the winter blues with no baseball is to read baseball books!  At least that works for me.  Here is the review of the latest baseball book I have read - or more accurately, listened to since this was an audio book - "Power Ball"




Title/Author:
Power Ball: Anatomy of a Modern Baseball Game” written and narrated by Rob Neyer

Tags:
Baseball, professional, statistics, politics, Astros, Athletics

Publish date:
October 9, 2018

Length:
320 pages

Rating: 
4 ½ of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
It isn’t often an author can take an idea in which other books have been published and produce a fresh product, but baseball author and analyst Rob Neyer does just that with his book “Power Ball”.  The idea that isn’t new is to write a book in the setting of one baseball game – indeed, he acknowledges that this is the case – as the setting is a game in September 2017 between the eventual World Series champions, the Houston Astros, and the last place Oakland Athletics.  What IS new is the method in which Neyer breaks down the game and his analysis on many of the pitchers and players who participated in that game.

This isn’t just a game recap in which each at-bat, play and pitching change is analyzed by the numbers, both traditional and modern.  While there is much of that, more of the book talks about just about any type of statistical analysis used today.  Whether one likes to hear about launch angle, velocity, Statcast (which measures all movement on the field) or whether the shift is effective and “modern” (hint – it isn’t new), the reader will find very interesting reading material on these and similar subjects.

Other issues that affect baseball, such as the pace of play and number of pitching changes, are also discussed and suggestions on how these can be addressed are suggested.  One manner to address the pace of play issue that I liked, as it is something I have felt is the biggest problem, is when pitchers and batters are delaying the game by stepping off the pitching rubber or out of the batter’s box.  Addressing this “farting around” (what Neyer calls it) may not shave a lot of minutes off the time of a game, but it would at least keep the game moving along.

There are also some political and social issues addressed, interspersed throughout the book.  At times these make sense and are worth talking about, such as the lack of “US born” African American players, but others such as climate change don’t seem to add anything to the discussion of the game or the teams playing.  While the issue of the lack of openly gay players in baseball might be worth discussing, it was one of the issues that seemed to be placed in the book just to promote a certain viewpoint instead of being part of the game being discussed.

That aside, the baseball talk about the numbers and the game itself , won by the Athletics in the ninth inning, was terrific.  I loved hearing the win probability change after each half inning, which was how each chapter ended.  A baseball fan, especially of the modern game, will truly enjoy this book. If one wants to read the book just for the baseball and leave out the other matters, it is still recommended, just skip over those parts.

Book Format Read:
Audio book

Buying Links:



 

Monday, December 10, 2018

Review of "Roy Sievers"

It is not uncommon for me at the end of the year to find books that were sent to me awhile ago but never were read or reviewed.  So, with apologies to the publisher hoping that they agree with me that it's better to write a late review than to not review a book at all, here is my review of "Roy Sievers"


 
Title/Author:
Roy Sievers: ‘The Sweetest Right Handed Swing’ in 1950’s Baseball” by Paul Scimonelli

Tags:
Baseball, professional, biography, Senators, Browns,             White Sox, Phillies

Publish date:
November 30, 2017

Length:
220 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (good)

Review:
Unless a person is an avid fan of baseball in the 1950’s, chances are he or she has not heard about Roy Sievers.  He enjoyed a productive hitting career playing mostly on losing teams, most notably the St. Louis Browns and Washington Senators.  It was for the latter team where author Paul Scimonelli became a fan of Sievers and was the inspiration for this biography.

Drawing off memories, numerous interviews of former teammates and even with Sievers himself, the reader will learn much about Sievers’ career, both the highs and the lows.  While Sievers never led the American League in major offensive categories, he was often compared to some of the other stars of that era such as Mickey Mantle and Eddie Matthews.  Of course, playing for second division teams didn’t help him gain attention from most fans, but his offensive prowess was well-respected throughout the game. The interviews with other players and people involved in the game illustrated this.

It should also be noted that Sievers had injuries that threatened his career, most notably a severe shoulder injury that impaired his ability to throw from third base (his natural position) or the outfield.  By overcoming these setbacks to become one of the most respected players in the game says much about the character of Sievers as well as his ability.

The book an easy, fast paced read that at times jumps around from topic to topic but is a very good source of information for the state of the sport in the 1950’s. Aside from Sievers, no topic is explained in great detail, but does explain the point well enough that a reader who wants to learn more will have his or her interest piqued.  Recommended for fans of baseball in that decade.

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

Book Format Read:
Paperback

Buying Links:
www.mcfarlandpub.com – 800-253-2187


 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Review of "How 'Bout Them Cowboys?"

The Dallas Cowboys are one of those sports franchises that even non-fans of the sport know about. So, any book about them would be of interest to many people. This one, written by Gary Myers, covers a lot of the history of the team but mostly revolves around owner Jerry Jones.  Here is my review of "How 'Bout Them Cowboys?"


Title/Author:
How ‘Bout Them Cowboys? Inside the Stars and Legends of America’s Team” by Gary Myers
Tags:
Football (American), Professional, Cowboys, history
Publish date:
October 9, 2018
Length:
288 pages
Rating: 
3 ½  of 5 stars (good)
Review:
Love them or hate them, anyone who knows anything about professional football knows about the Dallas Cowboys and their colorful, successful history. This is especially true since Jerry Jones purchased the team in 1988 and immediately fired the only coach the team had to that point, Tom Landry. This book by Gary Myers takes the reader inside world of Jones at various times through his ownership of the team.
The reader will learn much about what makes the owner tick. There is an extensive section about what really happened to the “friendship” between Jones and head coach Jimmy Johnson. Myers explains why Jones fired Landry and yet made the legendary coach one of the first inductees into the Cowboys’ Hall of Fame. The extent of Jones’ reach into the football operations of the team after Johnson left is illustrated in a section about what happened in the draft war room of the team when Jones’ son Stephen and the rest of the Cowboys staff did NOT want to draft quarterback Johnny Manziel when Jerry was absolutely certain that the Cowboys would take the talented but troubled quarterback from Texas A&M. 
This is not to say that the book is only about Jerry Jones, although at times the book does read like it should be a biography of the owner. There are some passages that are about other times and people important to the history of the franchise. There is a very touching chapter on life after football for five star players for Dallas from the 1970’s and 1980’s – Tony Dorsett, Ron Springs, Robert Newhouse, Dennis Thurman and Everson Walls. The story of their friendships and health issues was powerful reading and it was my favorite section of the book.
However, the placement of this chapter and other sections that didn’t center on Jerry Jones seemed puzzling – it was like the book was supposed to be all about Jones, then it was realized that there had to be material on other aspects of the history of the franchise, so they were stuck in wherever they might fit.  This gave the book a disjointed feel, which was a shame because the material and stories, whether on Jones or others, was excellent and informative. There was even some humor in the book.  This line about how Bill Parcells became interested in coaching the Cowboys was very funny – “Parcells and Jones have different recollections of who played matchmaker, although they agree it was not Yente from ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ “
As a football fan who falls into the “hate them” category mentioned at the beginning of this review, I still found the information in the book excellent, but as a great read, it fell a little short. While this book would certainly be of interest to Cowboys fans, anyone who is interested in Jerry Jones of the history of the Dallas Cowboys would also enjoy this.
I wish to thank Grand Central Publishing for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)
Buying Links:


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Review of "Hockey Fight in Canada"

Sports fans have many different ways to channel their inner "nerd."  Some will do so by playing fantasy games. Others will pour over advanced statistics in their favorite sports.  For me, my inner sports nerd is exposed by reading books on the business side of sports. It is that reason that I was intrigued by this book on the recent massive contract paid by Rogers Communications for the Canadian broadcast rights to the NHL. It was a great book for this release.  Here is my review of "Hockey Fight in Canada"



Title/Author:
Hockey Fight in Canada: The Big Media Faceoff over the NHL” by David Shoalts
Tags:
Ice Hockey, professional, business, broadcasting
Publish date:
September 29, 2018
Length:
224 pages
Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Review:
“Hockey Night In Canada” has been a Saturday night tradition in the country for over 60 years.  The government-run Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) had the broadcasting rights for decades, but in 2014 Rogers Communications paid 5.2 billion dollars to gain the exclusive broadcast rights for NHL hockey games for the entire nation, including “Hockey Night in Canada.”  How this deal did not go exactly as planned for Rogers, as well as the wheeling and dealing behind the scenes by all parties involved are told in this excellent book by veteran Toronto sportswriter David Shoalts.
There were many reasons given by the author as to why the CBC lost the rights to “Hockey Night”, but the biggest seemed to be complacency. Since the program has been such a staple in the country and was aired on the one broadcasting network that covered the entire nation, it was figured that they would simply be awarded the next contract.  Like all other television networks, CBC was losing viewers as more people looked to cutting the proverbial cord and view programs on other platforms. Rogers was experiencing similar issues, especially with a drop in cable subscriptions, but was confident they could satisfy the wants of the NHL to expand viewership of its product on other digital platforms. This eventually became a winning strategy as Rogers beat out not only CBC but the other major Canadian broadcaster, Bell Canada.
When Rogers won the contract, it controlled all aspects of hockey broadcasts in Canada, with many games broadcast on its SportsNet regional networks. However, in a deal reached with the CBC, the latter was allowed to continue to broadcast “Hockey Night in Canada” but Rogers called all the shots – they collected all the revenue from advertising as well as forcing CBC into other concessions.
These concessions included a major change in the on-air talent. Popular (at least with viewers) long-time host of “Hockey Night”, Ron McLean, was replaced with George Stroumboulopoulos.  While he was considered more “hip” and the set for “Hockey Night” had been modernized by Rogers, Stroumboulopoulos never seemed comfortable in his new role.  McLean had not disappeared, however, as he still teamed up with Don Cherry on the very popular “Coach’s Corner” segment.  However, even that was affected by Rogers as they cut the amount of air time for the very popular coach and, like with any other topic, Cherry wasn’t afraid to air his opinion of the situation.

Complaints about “Coach’s Corner” was just one of a myriad of issues Rogers had with its contract. The information about all the other problems and issues that affected the ratings and telecasts was compelling and made the book a very lively read about a topic that normally would not be considered exciting reading material.  In a very short summarization of the first two years of the contract, Rogers’ ratings over all its services for hockey would depend on two factors – the success of the seven Canadian teams in the league (in 2016, none of the seven teams would qualify for the playoffs and the ratings tanked) and more specifically, the success of the Toronto Maple Leafs. To illustrate the power the Maple Leafs have on the broadcasting fortunes in Canada. The 2016 draft in which the Maple Leafs selected Auston Matthews drew higher ratings than any series in the playoffs that year, including the Stanley Cup Finals. 
Information like this is why any reader who enjoys reading about sports business or broadcasting will thoroughly enjoy this book. It is a fascinating look at the cutthroat nature of negotiating for broadcasting rights for live sports, which are still in high demand today.
I wish to thank Douglas and McIntyre for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Book Format Read:
E-book (PDF)
Buying Links:

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Review of "Tooth and Nail"

Having not read a book on boxing for awhile, I saw this one about a female fight doctor. Since that is one aspect of the sport that is rarely mentioned, I thought I would give it a try - turned out to be a pretty interesting book.  Here is my review of "Tooth and Nail"



Title/Author:

Tooth and Nail: The Making of a Female Fight Doctor” by Linda Dahl

Tags:

Boxing, memoir, medicine

Publish date:

July 24, 2018

Length:

304 pages

Rating: 

3 ½  of 5 stars (good)

Review:

Linda Dahl, an ear, nose and throat physician practicing on New York’s Upper East Side, was not happy with how her life was going. She couldn’t connect with her patients, she had gone through a divorce and felt intimidated around me. So, looking for some other outlet, she applied with the New York State boxing commission to be a fight doctor. Her stories of being one of the few females in a male-dominated sport are told in this memoir.

While her marriage didn’t last, it did have one significant event that changed her life.  She watched a match between Shane Mosely and Oscar de La Hoya at the urging of her then-husband, who was a huge boxing fan.  Dahl then saw how boxing became a way to connect with others after being inspired by Mosely’s courage and survival instincts in the match.  Having felt out of place throughout her medical career, she decided to take a chance by applying to become a fight doctor.

The mood of book changes frequently, as Dahl expresses not only her highs for her times in the ring and her encounters with famous boxers, but also her lows and frequent times of self-doubt.  Her stories about her encounters with Mike Tyson and Vladimir Klitschko were the best, and her job performance in the ring was always considered top notch by fighters, trainers and commissioners alike.  Moments in the ring and in the presence were the best parts of the book.

However, that isn’t the case as Dahl’s self-doubts about her ability, her communication skills, especially around me, and even her sexuality cast a pall on the book that at times made it feel like too much of a self-pity party. While these parts of her personality were needed to tell her complete story, it felt like this was too much of her life. One way she overcame this was by channeling her “inner Dom” after talking with a female patient at the New York practice. I won’t deny, I was thinking that this might lead the book down a very different path, but it did not do so.  Instead, what that lead to was Dahl wearing more revealing clothing to fights at which she worked.  That was interesting and did have the desired results for her – she became more assertive, especially around men.

Overall, this is a very interesting memoir that boxing fans will enjoy.  It is more than just a book on the sport, though, as readers who are inspired by women who overcome odds to be successful in male-dominate professions will also want to read this book.


Book Format Read:

E-book (Nook)

Buying Links:

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Review of "Pitino"

Basketball played as big a role in my holiday weekend as football did.  I went to an NBA game on Black Friday (my favorite pro team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, defeated the Brooklyn Nets) and also read this book in which Rick Pitino gave his side of the story behind the scandals that plagued him at Louisville.  It was a very quick read as I finished it in one day.  Here is my review of the book.


Title/Author:
Pitino: My Story” by Rick Pitino with Seth Kaufman
Tags:
Basketball, college, professional, memoir, Kentucky, Louisville, Providence, Knicks, Celtics, coaching
Publish date:
September 4, 2018
Length:
280 pages
Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)
Review:
When Rick Pitino was fired as the coach of the Louisville Cardinals in 2017, it was considered to be just the beginning of the exposure of a major scandal involving shoe companies and college basketball. Add this problem to Pitino’s earlier scandal involving one of his staff members allegedly hiring prostitutes to engage in sex with potential recruits and it is easy to dismiss Pitino as a scandal-ridden coach despite his excellent record and national titles at both Kentucky and Louisville.  Pitino tells his side of the story and more about his coaching career in this captivating memoir.
While the book starts off about with discussion of his firing, it follows Pitino’s coaching career from an assistant coach with the NBA’s New York Knicks and continuing through head coaching jobs in college in Providence, Kentucky and Louisville with stops in New York (again) and Boston to coach those professional teams.  With the Celtics, he was also the general manager, a move he regretted as he believed he couldn’t have done both jobs properly.
No matter the stop, Pitino shares his coaching stories with reverence for players and staff at each one.  It seems like he had regrets any time he left a job for another one, with the possible exception of the Celtics.  His success, however, in every place (except, of course, Boston), is well known as well.  Pitino seems to be most proud of what he accomplished at Providence, where he took a program with very little success to the Final Four in 1987 out of the powerful Big East conference. He also talks about a player whom he made work to earn his way to the starting lineup, Billy Donovan. Donovan not only became a star on that Providence team but coached the University of Florida to consecutive national titles.
Of course, Pitino talks about the scandals and also gives the reader a good explanation of how shoe company money has infiltrated basketball.  This is true not only at the college level, but also in the grassroots/amateur level as money is paid to coaches, teams and schools for player to exclusively wear their brand of shoes and gear. Pitino admits to taking this money at Louisville, but in the context that all schools do this to some degree and that the money eventually DOES help the schools.  While plausible, this explanation can leave the reader asking just what he is trying to say about this issue.  Pitino also spends much time questioning the investigation process done by the Department of Justice, often repeating a phrase that an investigator used by calling himself and the Louisville athletic director “collateral damage.”
One other aspect of this investigation and his subsequent firing from Louisville that is interesting is his claims of a partisan board of directors at Louisville did not dismiss him fairly.  While he implicates the governor of Kentucky in this because he made the appointments for this board, the partisanship is not Democrat versus Republican, but instead the University of Kentucky versus Louisville University. Because Pitino claims that the board was loaded with either graduates or partisans toward Kentucky, he didn’t stand a chance because of the fierce rivalry between the two schools.  While it makes for great reading and one can be swayed by the persuasiveness of the writing, it does have an air of unbelievability.
The other major scandal that affected Pitino was one that was the topic of a book in which a woman claimed a staff member on Pitino’s staff was luring recruits by offering sex by prostitutes, some of whom were underage. On this topic, his beliefs about what really happened seem to contradict.  On the one hand, he questioned the woman’s allegations, could not possibly believe his employee could engage in such illegal behavior and provided many other people who said that this activity never took place at the dormitory where these parties allegedly took place. Then, later in the book, he took responsibility for hiring this employee and that if this did happen, he has to take some of the responsibility.  This took me by surprise because if it did happen, and he provides plenty of information that would seem to make the whole story a fabrication, why would he take a fall for this?
Because this book presents only Pitino’s side of the story, the context has to be taken into account as unbalanced.  It is refreshing to hear this side as there has been plenty written about the accusations and investigation.  In the end, this book will probably not sway the reader one way or the other if his or her mind has already been made up.  But if a reader wants to read this side of the story or just learn more about Pitino’s coaching career, then this is a good book to pick up as it is a quick and mostly entertaining read.
I wish to thank Diversion Books for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)
Buying Links:


Review of "Quarterback"

Here's hoping that everyone who celebrated this weekend had a Happy Thanksgiving and since football is associated with the holiday, what better book to read on the day and the day after than one on quarterbacks, the position considered to be the most important in the game?  Here is my review of John Feinstein's new book on the position. 


Title/Author:
Quarterback: Inside the Most Important Position in the National Football League” by John Feinstein
Tags:
Football (American), biography, professional
Publish date:
November 13, 2018
Length:
368 pages
Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)
Review:
No position or player in any sport is considered as responsible for his team’s success or failure as the quarterback for a National Football League (NFL) team. His every move and every action taken by a team regarding its quarterbacks is scrutinized, analyzed and debated in the media.  These men, especially those who are the starting quarterbacks for each team, are heard in numerous interviews and press conferences every day. The lives lived by NFL quarterbacks, from stars to journeymen, are chronicled in this book by award-winning sportswriter John Feinstein.
Five quarterbacks – four currently playing and one retired quarterback who currently works in the front office of the Washington Redskins – are profiled and each of them has a different story.  Alex Smith entered the league as the #1 pick in the draft by the San Francisco 49ers and has had both great moments and low points.  He is currently starting for the Washington Redskins after enjoying his best seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs.  He was signed by Doug Williams, the former Redskins quarterback who became the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl, leading Washington to victory in Super Bowl XXII.  Williams is included in the book not so much because of his current job with Washington, but to illustrate what it was like during his playing career to be a black quarterback.  At that time, many black quarterbacks were considered to not possess every skill needed to excel at the position.
The other three quarterbacks all have other interesting stories of their own. Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has been primarily a back-up but because of the “Fitzpatrick jinx” that seems to affect the starter for every team that signs Fitzpatrick, he gets his chances to start and he performs well enough that he has enjoyed a sixteen year career in the NFL – not bad for a kid from Harvard.  Joe Flacco tasted early success when he led the Baltimore Ravens to victory in Super Bowl XLVII and while he and the Ravens haven’t been able to match that season, they have been perennial playoff contenders and his story, more than any other, illustrates how the quarterback will get an inordinate amount of credit when the team does well and blame when the team doesn’t perform well.  The last quarterback featured in the book, Andrew Luck, has had injury problems that has forced him to miss most of the last two seasons and his story is as much one of perseverance in order to get back into the game as well as that illustrated by Smith and Flacco of the ups and downs of actually playing the game.
There is plenty of discussion about the position as a whole in the league as well, with names from Aaron Rodgers to Johnny Manziel to Colin Kaepernick getting mentioned. The insight provided to the reader in the locker room, on the field, in the draft “war room” and the front office when it comes to the quarterback position is excellent, which is typical for a book by Feinstein. He also isn’t afraid to share his opinions on topics such as Kaepernick’s protests, the response by politicians and the plight of black quarterbacks yesterday and today. This may turn some readers off, but it does reflect the opinion of the author and is relevant to the subject of the book, so it doesn’t detract from the main topic.  The book is not a quick read as it will require concentration to absorb all the information presented.  This is a different style than other books by this author that I have read but this too is fine given this topic and the message presented.
Fans of Feinstein and the NFL will enjoy this book on quarterbacks who have had various amounts of success and stardom in their careers.  It is recommended for these readers.
I wish to thank Doubleday 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/quarterback-john-feinstein/1129054861?ean=9780385545068#/