Friday, January 22, 2021

Review of "Mat Memories"

This book is one of the few in which the subject had more success in a career outside of sports instead of his time in them.  This memoir is written by a man who was a key figure in the world of professional wrestling for many years doing many different jobs but yet is probably best known for his work in country music.  Wrestling is his first love, however, as evidenced by the title of this book, "Mat Memories"

Title/Author:

"Mat Memories: My Wild Life in Pro Wrestling, Country Music and with the Mets" by John "Alexander" Arezzi and Greg Oliver

Tags:

Wrestling, Baseball, professional, memoir, management, Mets

Publish date:

April 6, 2021

Length:

264 pages

Rating:

4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:

John Arezzi has led a very interesting and varied life.  He has held jobs in three very different entertainment industries – baseball, country music and professional wrestling.  He has also had three different names he used at various times in these professions.  His story is told in this very entertainment memoir written with Greg Oliver, a respected author on professional wrestling. 

Arezzi grew up with two loves: professional wrestling and the New York Mets. As a teenager, he started a fan club for his favorite wrestler, "Classy" Freddie Blassie and even wrote a regular newsletter about the heel. While he remained a wrestling fan, the pull of getting a chance to work in the Mets organization was too strong and in 1981, he worked for one of the Mets' minor league teams.  However, the wrestling bug had bitten him too much and he ended up going back to that business.  He even appeared in the ring as John Anthony.  In a book filled with entertaining stories, that one is probably the funniest and most entertaining of them all as he flubbed some of his parts but somehow was able to finish two matches. 

After that, he hung up the tights for good and settled in for various jobs in the industry.  Whether it was hosting a radio show, writing newsletters and articles, managing wrestlers – you name it, Arezzi was involved. His most notable accomplishment was organizing the first wrestling conventions in which fans could meet their favorite wrestlers and purchase pictures and autographs.  His time in wrestling was filled with conflict as well as success and Arezzi pulls no punches when he describes the difficult times as well as the good times.

In an unusual switch, when he had reached the end of his rope in the wrestling business, he took a job selling advertising time for a country music radio station.  From here, he started a successful stint in that music genre in which he was responsible for the discovery and start of three women who went on to successful country music careers:  Patty Loveless, Sarah Darling and Kelsea Ballerini.  Through this, he went by the name of John Alexander, mainly to have a more "conventional" name upon advice from another woman in the business, Suzanne Alexander. While it was hard for him to give up the wrestling, it is clear from his writing that he was very grateful for the success and relative calm that country music gave him compared to wrestling.

Whether his story is about wrestling, music or baseball, Arezzi drops a lot of names and doesn't hold back anything.  The stories are plentiful and entertaining. The worst that can be said about the book is that at times, the details in some of the wrestling accounts get bogged down that it is difficult to follow and has so many names that a casual fan may not understand the full picture.  What keeps them going is Arezzi's enthusiasm and honesty about everything, making for a good read that anyone who follows wrestling or country music will enjoy.

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:

https://ecwpress.com/products/mat-memories

https://www.amazon.com/Mat-Memories-Wrestling-Country-Music/dp/1770415645/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Review of "Two Sides of Glory"

 The baseball postseason of 1986 is considered to be one of the best of all time, with both league championship series and the World Series having epic games and all three with unforgettable moments.  While the New York Mets may have won the World Series, their opponents in that epic seven game series, the Boston Red Sox, are considered a great team in their own right and Erik Sherman writes their stories in this terrific book.  Here is my review of "Two Sides of Glory"


Title/Author:

“Two Sides of Glory: The 1986 Boston Red Sox in Their Own Words” by Erik Sherman

Tags:

Baseball, professional, Red Sox, History

Publish date:

April 1, 2020

Length:

288 pages

Rating:

5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:

It isn’t often that the losing team in the World Series is fondly remembered for decades. Even though the Boston Red Sox have won four World Series titles since then, their 1986 team is considered to be one of their best despite losing to the New York Mets in an epic seven game World Series.  Author Erik Sherman, who published a book on that Mets team in 2016, now turns his attention to their vanquished foes, the Red Sox.  His interviews with thirteen of that team’s players reveals how much that season means to them all these years later.

Each chapter covers an interview with the players, starting with Bill Buckner.  After his error in the tenth inning of Game Six allowed the winning run to score for New York, keeping the series alive for a Game Seven that the Mets eventually won, Buckner was subjected to criticism, ridicule and even death threats to him and his family.  His interview was moving, at times heartening and at times melancholy as well. It was clear that the reaction he got to that fateful moment has bothered him for many years. The statement he made to Sherman about being “forgiven” by fans after the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 was telling as Buckner said that made him angry – realizing that was what some people now thought.

As good as that interview was, each one thereafter was just as good and revealed much about each man as Sherman asked excellent questions that could not be answered with the same statements and clich├ęs that you hear in postgame or press conference interviews.  Usually when an author puts himself in the book when it is not a memoir, I find it self-serving, but that is not the case here as Sherman’s questions needed to be stated and his banter with the subject enhanced the stories they told.

Those stories were quite revealing, no matter who was doing the talking and many of them would run against the personality one would immediately think of when mentioning that player’s name.  The two players who exhibited this trait the most were Roger Clemens and Jim Rice.  Both of them had reputations for angry personalities, but both of them were as nice as possible to not only Sherman, but to their Red Sox teammates as well, which was bore out in the interviews with others.  Clemens talks about the allegations of his use of performance enhancing drugs, Rice about his relationship with the media.  Other player interviews revealed other touching stories, such as Dwight Evans losing two sons to brain cancer, Marty Barrett getting choked up when speaking about his former teammates and nearly everyone who had something to share about two teammates who passed away before Sherman began the interviews, Don Baylor and Dave Henderson.  It should also be noted that after being interviewed for the book, two additional 1986 Red Sox players passed – Buckner and Tom Seaver.

One other quality that makes this book a page-turner is that the players are genuine with Sherman.  None of them seem to be phony or trying to sound like someone they aren’t, even if that didn’t match their persona when playing.  This has already been mentioned for Rice and Clemens, but the one interview that struck me as the best one in the entire collection - and they were all excellent - was the one with Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd.  He not only shares his thoughts on the 1986 team and World Series (he is still upset that he was passed over to start Game Seven and instead Bruce Hurst was given the ball), but he also tells of his reverence for the Negro Leagues, why he believes that Jackie Robinson may not have been the best thing to happen to Black ballplayers and his thoughts on why the number of Black players has dropped so much in recent years.  Through all those, he still had the outspoken and larger-than-life personality that he had while pitching for the 1986 Red Sox.

Whether or not a reader is a Red Sox fan, a Mets fan, or a neutral observer for that epic showdown, this book is one that every reader who has any interest in the sport should read.  Sherman became a best-selling author with his book on the 1986 Mets and this one should become another one.

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

Book Format Read:

E-book (Kindle)                                                                                                                               

Buying Links:

https://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/nebraska/9781496219329/

https://www.amazon.com/Two-Sides-Glory-Boston-Their-ebook/dp/B08MPSQ6S5/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1610821374&sr=8-1

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Review of "Sparring with Smokin' Joe"

 Always a sucker for a good book on boxing in the 1970's and 1980's, I was very happy to obtain an advance copy of this book on Joe Frazier.  While the subtitle says it is about his rivalry with Muhammad Ali, there is just as much written about Joe's son Marvis as well as Joe and it was an enjoyable read.  Here is my review of "Sparring with Smokin' Joe"

Title/Author:

"Sparring with Smokin' Joe: Joe Frazier's Epic Battles and Rivalry With Ali" by Glenn Lewis

Tags:

Boxing, professional, history

Publish date:

February 10, 2021

Length:

256 pages

Rating:

4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:

Considered by many to be the best individual rivalry in all of sports, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fought three legendary heavyweight boxing matches in the 1970's.  Frazier won the first two in 1971's "Fight of the Century" when Ali first attempted to regain the heavyweight crown he had lost after refusing military service during the Vietnam War.  Ali then won the next two, a dispute decision in 1974, then again in 1975 in the "Thrilla in Manila".  This rivalry has been well documented, especially those accounts that concentrate on Ali.  This book, written by Glenn Lewis, an author who spent much time with Frazier in 1980, is an attempt to share the story from the Frazier point of view.

This book is not a biography, as it does not describe Frazier's entire life and boxing career, nor can it really be considered even a book strictly about Joe Frazier as there is a lot of material about his son Marvis, who at the time was an up and coming amateur boxer.  Having been denied a shot at boxing in the 1980 Olympics because of the boycott of those Games by the United States, Marvis was trying to decide between turning pro or going to college.  The stories shared by Marvis about his father and Marvis' short professional career, which ended with a first-round loss to Mike Tyson, are excellent. These also give the reader a glimpse into a side of Joe Frazier that many may not know when he became Marvis' manager and, according to many including the author, was not Joe's best work.   

While Marvis' stories do make up a bigger share of the book than expected, this doesn't mean the reader will be shortchanged on the stories that make up the subtitle of the book.  Even if the chapter or section is not primarily about Joe Frazier's fights or rivalry with Ali, one does not have to look too far until someone mentions something about Joe either fighting Ali in the past or making a comeback to fight Ali - remember, this is set in 1980 when Ali fought Larry Holmes and Frazier was mulling a comeback, which he later did with a loss and a draw in his final fights.  Whether Joe Frazier was training Marvis, performing with his band as he was a talented musician, or just talking to Lewis, Ali was never far from his mind. This is clearly evident when Joe speaks about the taunting by Ali, especially when it turned racial such as calling Frazier a gorilla, as Frazier is very angry about it and is still hurt by it years later.  His memories of the fights are not quite as upsetting, even his two losses, as those stories make very good reading as well, whether they are from Frazier, another source or the author.

While the book is not a complete account of the most famous rivalry in boxing history, it does give a reader an excellent view of both Fraziers at that moment and is one that any fan of boxing in that era will want to read.

I wish to thank Rowman and Littlefield 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/Sparring-Smokin-Joe-Fraziers-Battles-ebook/dp/B08KPN5TND/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1610648151&sr=1-1

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/sparring-with-smokin-joe-glenn-lewis/1137368388?ean=9781538136799


Sunday, January 10, 2021

Review of "The Q Factor"

Thanks to a couple of reading challenges and also with my sports attention on football with the start of the NFL playoffs, I picked up this book that had been sitting in my TBR since its publication in September.  It was worth the wait, especially with three of the quarterbacks playing a prominent role in the book playing for their teams in the playoffs this weekend.  Here is my review of "The Q Factor"

Title/Author:

“The Q Factor: The Elusive Search for the Next Great NFL Quarterback” by Brian Billick and James Dale

Tags:

Football (American), professional, coaching, management

Publish date:

September 29, 2020

Length:

272 pages

Rating:

5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:

The position of quarterback has always been the most important in professional football, but has become even more so in today’s game with the increase of scoring and with a quarterback’s mobility becoming more important in evaluation.  Former NFL head coach Brian Billick, considered to be one of the more knowledgeable coaches for offense, provides an in-depth look at how college quarterbacks have been evaluated and offers his take on what works, what doesn’t and what should be measured or considered when a team wants to draft a quarterback.

The book stars by focusing on the 2018 draft in which five quarterbacks were selected in the first round: Baker Mayfield by the Cleveland Browns, San Darnold by the New York Jets, Josh Allen by the Buffalo Bills, Josh Rosen by the Arizona Cardinals and Lamar Jackson by the Baltimore Ravens.  Billick offers both the good and the bad in his description of reports from teams on each one of these quarterbacks and follows them throughout the book through the 2019 season.  As is the case with any other group of young quarterbacks taken in a single year, there were those who became stars (Jackson), those who are believed to not be quite there but are improving with some warning signs (Allen, Mayfield), those for whom there are still many question marks after two years (Darnold) and some who just were not good enough to hold a job (Rosen).  It should be noted that any and all of these statuses may change soon as this was determined before the 2020 season commenced in which both Allen and Mayfield took steps forward. 

This start was a tough read unless one is a football junkie with advanced knowledge of how to read scouting reports, playbooks and other such material.  However, once one gets past this chapter, the book is filled with terrific observations that go just beyond what a scout will observe or loads of advanced statistics that read alone will not only seem complicated, but will not give a true picture of how a quarterback will perform. 

Billick’s belief that data alone, especially one particular statistic such as pass completion rate, will not sufficiently determine the ultimate success or failure of a quarterback is a key part of his observation and is one that he repeats frequently in the book.  Another frequently mentioned word is “extrapolation.” Observing a young college quarterback for just one or two seasons, no matter what a scout or coach is looking at, cannot accurately predict how he will do in that area over a long period of time without proper extrapolation.    

When Billick talks about extrapolation and his wish that it could be used, as well as more quantifiable data on characteristics a good quarterback needs such as leadership, intelligence (his opinion on the current use of the Wonderlic test is quite pointed to say the least) and the ability to make quick decisions, it makes for great reading as he explains in detail why these traits are important. He does so in a careful manner so that more casual fans of the game will be able to understand the concept, but yet he also states this in a way that football nerds will enjoy as well. Billick’s experience as a long-time football coach and analyst comes through in this and other passage when he explains why he believes that there is more needed in order to fully analyze a quarterback properly.

Even with all this, another key point he makes is that in the end, this is still basically an endeavor that has a 50/50 split in determining which ones will pan out as expected and which ones will become a bust. A good example of this is the classic comparison of Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning in the 1998 NFL draft.  However, what Billick did instead of that one was to take the scouting consensus on Leaf, who was considered a can’t-miss project, and compare him to a different college quarterback who didn’t measure up to Leaf in every single category and was taken in a later round. That quarterback – Drew Brees. That is a fresh take on a common topic that many football fans hear about regularly and it is also a reason, among others, why this book comes recommended for any fan of NFL football.  

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

Book Format Read:

E-book (Kindle)                                                                                                                             

Buying Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Factor-Elusive-Search-Great-Quarterback/dp/1538749920/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-q-factor-brian-billick/1137181900?ean=9781538749937

 


Thursday, January 7, 2021

Review of "America's Game in the Wild Card Era"

While all sports have undergone major changes in the last 25 years, none have had quite the overhaul in so many area like baseball has.  This book covers all of them and has good information on all the teams in that era as well.  Here is my review of "America's Game in the Wild Card Era"

Title/Author:

“America's Game in the Wild Card Era: From Strike to Pandemic" by Bryan Soderholm-Difatte

Tags:

Baseball, professional, history

Publish date:

April 21, 2021

Length:

224 pages

Rating:

4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:

In the last 25 years, Major League Baseball has undergone many changes, both on the field and in the front office.  This book by Bryan Soderholm-Difatte is a good summary of many of the changes and how they affected the game and all 30 franchises.

The book will not have memorable storylines, does not follow a true chronological order of the state of the game, nor will it offer a lot of insight into why some of the changes took place.  What it does do is offer a look at the major issues and events in baseball during that time frame in a thorough manner.  It also does something that many other baseball books about a specific year or timeframe don't do – this book has good information on all 30 teams in the game, not just the best ones. 

So yes, the reader who wants to read about of three major championship droughts that ended in this era (Red Sox in 2004, White Sox in 2005, Cubs in 2016) will be able to do so, but that reader will also read about the Colorado Rockies rise to the postseason in only their third year, the Florida Marlins winning the World Series in their fifth year and the Arizona Diamonbacks doing the same in their fourth season of existence. The New York Mets get plenty of text for their collapses in 2007 and 2008 plus their pennant in 2015, but so do the Minnesota Twins for their run of division titles in the 2000's and their resurrection in 2019 when they set the major league record for home runs in a season.  This balance of coverage for all teams was the most refreshing aspect of this book. 

As mentioned earlier, no one topic is covered in great detail – readers who want to get a lot of information on major events like the 1994-95 strike, the use of performance enhancing drugs or the cheating scandal by the Houston Astros will get some information on them but will have to go elsewhere for a deep dive.  However, the book accomplishes its goal to provide the reader information on every team and every important topic in the game since that strike, including information on how the players and owners eventually came together to be able to play a 60-game schedule in 2020 through a pandemic.  It's a good quick read for a baseball fan to gain a little bit of additional insight into the recent history of the game.

I wish to thank Rowman and Littlefield Publishers for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Format Read:

E-book (PDF)

Buying Links:

America's Game in the Wild-Card Era: From Strike to Pandemic: Soderholm-Difatte, Bryan: 9781538145937: Amazon.com: Books


Saturday, January 2, 2021

Review of "Havin' a Ball" - first review of 2021

Happy New Year to everyone and thank you for visiting my blog.  Starting off another year of reviewing some great books with one on longtime basketball coach Richie Abudato.  While he may not be a household name or have his name engraved on the Larry O'Brien trophy, he certain has some great stories to tell from his lengthy coaching career.  Here is my review of "Havin' a Ball."  

Title/Author:

“Havin’ a Ball: My Improbable Basketball Journey” by Richie Adubato with Peter Kerasotis

Tags:

Basketball, professional, memoir, coaching, Piston, Mavericks, Magic, Liberty, Mystics

Publish date:

October 1, 2020

Length:

216 pages

Rating:

4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:

Richie Adubato is what one could call a basketball lifer. Between playing, coaching and broadcasting, he has been involved in the game in some manner for over six decades and shows no sign of stopping.  Currently doing color commentary for the Orlando Magic, Adubato had a very interesting career as a coach. He didn’t have the success of a Hall of Fame coach like Pat Riley or Phil Jackson, but he did become a well-known and beloved figure in professional basketball.  As a result, he has plenty of stories to share as he does in this very entertaining memoir.

A self-proclaimed “Jersey Boy”, Adubato began his coaching career in the junior and senior high schools of New Jersey, primarily in the Paterson area. He gained not only a good coaching reputation but also was known for his toughness both on and off the court, mainly due to the neighborhoods of the schools in which he worked.  He also coached at Division III Upsala College when he got his first break into professional basketball.  It came when a fellow Jersey Boy, Dick Vitale, called Adubato to be one of his assistant coaches of the Detroit Pistons.

From there, Adubato got the itch to stay in the professional game and he turned it into a lengthy career.  When Vitale was fired in the middle of his second season, Adubato became the interim head coach.  After the Pistons gig, Adubato made several stops as both an assistant and as a head coach for the Dallas Mavericks and the Orlando Magic.  He had success at both places, guiding the franchises to playoff appearances but also had down seasons that led to his dismissal at both places as well – such is the life of a NBA coach.  However, he didn’t let that stop him as he became the head coach of the New York Liberty in the early years of the WNBA, leading that team to at least the Eastern Conference finals in four consecutive seasons.  He also coached in Russia (one of the most entertaining stories in the book took place there) and came back to the WNBA, coaching the Washington Mystics in his last coaching job before going into broadcasting.

With all of this experience and travel, one would expect the book to contain plenty of stories and name-dropping.  It certainly delivers on that promise as Abudato shares so many stories of not only his coaching career, but also a few stories about meeting other celebrities such as Frank Sinatra.  There isn’t a lot of personal information in the book as he doesn’t talk about his family very much.  The most amount of text used for a personal or family story was when he married his second wife Carol and they were able to brag that they got married in Italy – Italy, Texas that is. 

The book doesn’t have a really good flow, although Abudato tells his stories in chronological order, which is helpful.  The writing is pretty good and is clearly in conversational style as he sometimes just goes immediately from discussing one coaching job ending to another starting and a reader may not remember which season this refers to unless he or she is paying close attention.  But those are minor annoyances because reading this book is just so much fun. The stories will often make you laugh, but a few are more somber, such as the story of one of the players he coached in Dallas, Roy Tarpley.  Those stories and situations are just as easy to read, however, and it shows how much coaching and basketball are in Abudato’s blood.

Any basketball fan who has heard about Abudato, either through his coaching or his broadcasting, will want to read this book. It has the feel of a chat on the porch while sitting on a swinging bench and enjoying one’s favorite beverage while the coach shares another tale from his coaching life.

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

Book Format Read:

E-book (PDF)                                                                                                                                   

Buying Links:

https://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/nebraska/9781496212825/

https://www.amazon.com/Havin-Ball-Improbable-Basketball-Journey/dp/1496212827/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Review of "Nicklas Lidstrom" - final review of 2020

Rather than stating some obvious observations about 2020, I will just start this post with the thought that it was yet another year with some great sports books published. This blog will end 2020 with a review of a 2019 book that was okay, but considering the subject is one of the greatest hockey players in NHL history, it was a bit disappointing.  Here is my review of "Nicklas Lidstrom." 



 
Title/Author:

“Nicklas Lidstrom: The Pursuit of Perfection" by Nicklas Lidstrom with Gunnar Nordstrom and Bob Duff

Tags:

Ice Hockey, professional, memoir, Red Wings, championship

Publish date:

October 1, 2019

Length:

288 pages

Rating:

3 of 5 stars (okay)

Review:

Nicklas Lidstrom is universally considered one of the greatest hockey players to lace up the skates.  Over a 20-year career with the Detroit Red Wings, his accomplishments include contributing to four Stanley Cup championships, seven Norris Trophies (awarded to the best defenseman in the NHL), 12 all-star selections and gold medals representing his native Sweden in the Olympics and World Championships.  With such an outstanding resume, one would think that a book about him would strive to be as good.  While this memoir/biography co-written with Gunnar Nordstrom and Bob Duff is engrossing at times, overall, it doesn't match his play on the ice.

The bulk of the book is a chronological study of his Red Wings career, with some text about his play in Sweden where the Red Wings couldn't believe their luck to find a defenseman with his skill set being under the radar of most scouts. This is mainly because at that time in the 1990's, there was still a misconception that European players couldn't excel in North America. Even though there were stars from Europe previous such Borje Salming (who is mentioned in the book), that mindset allowed Detroit scouts to draft Lidstrom in a lower round that really didn't reflect his greatness.

Because the book concentrates heavily into his Red Wings career, the reader will only gain minimal information on other aspects of Lidstrom's other experience and also his personal life.  The most that is covered is the last 10% of the book when his family headed back to Sweden after he retired from the Red Wings.  Even that isn't described in great detail – at least nothing close to his time in Detroit.

There is a LOT of praise for Lidstrom throughout the book and numerous quotes from many different people in the NHL.  Not only Detroit teammates, but coaches, general managers, fans – just about anyone who saw him play and would be willing to speak to the authors were quoted.  While there is no question he was worthy of praise, it was almost too much.  He was often called "perfect" as in the perfect player, the perfect person, and such.  About the only person who refuted this reputation was Lidstrom himself, who would often remember imperfections he would exhibit.  The best example of this was his memory of the last shot of game 7 in the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals that a Pittsburgh Penguins defender blocked and thereby denied the Red Wings a second straight championship.

Overall, this book is fine to read if one is a big fan of the Red Wings or Lidstrom.  However, if a reader wants to learn more about him outside of the Red Wings, there won't be a lot of material.  Decent book for a quick read. 

Book Format Read:

E-book (PDF)

Buying Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Nicklas-Lidstrom-Fantastic-Gunnar-Nordstrom-ebook/dp/B07BB2Y4L5/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=