Monday, December 5, 2016

Review of "Suicide Squeeze"

It's hard to believe it was nearly 12 years ago that several major league baseball players were called before Congress to testify about the use of steroids and none of them (Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmiero and Jose Canseco) had much to say that was helpful.  However, parents of two young men who committed suicide after abusing steroids chasing their baseball dreams did present powerful testimony.  The stories of those two young men whose lives ended far too soon are the subject of this book.  Here is my review of "Suicide Squeeze."


Title/Author:
“Suicide Squeeze: Taylor Hooton, Rob Garibaldi and the Fight Against Teenage Steroid Abuse” by William C. Kashatus

Tags:
Baseball, high school, college, youth sports, USC, performance enhancing drugs

Publish date:
January 23, 2017

Length:
256 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (Very good)

Review:
Much has been written and said about the use of steroids, or performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) in Major League Baseball.  However, the use of PEDs is not limited to the big leaguers – there are also players who have used them in high school, college and amateur baseball in order to gain a competitive advantage. The stories of two players who used them and ultimately committed suicide are the central tales of this book written by William C. Kashatus.

The two players involved are Taylor Hooton (cousin of former major league pitcher Burt Hooton) and Rob Garibaldi. Both players started using steroids in high school with the hopes of improving their performance in order to attract the attention of professional scouts or obtain college scholarships. The latter did happen for Garibaldi, as he was awarded a scholarship to the University of Southern California, one of the more prestigious college baseball programs. However, both of them ultimately committed suicide as the side effects of the drugs took effect.

The book starts out with the testimony of a parent of each player, Don Hooton and Denise Garibaldi, presented to Congress during the 2005 hearings on PED use in baseball.  That was the most powerful section of the book as both parents gave moving accounts of what their sons went through and the responsibility that major league baseball has in letting everyone know about the danger of these substances.

From there, the reader will learn much about the two young men, their dreams and what they would do in order to achieve them.  More than just success on the diamond, Kashatus also explains other reasons that young men would want to use these drugs, such as physical enhancement to be more attractive to the opposite sex.  Kashatus conducted interviews with family members and also did extensive research on the drugs. Some of those passages are very technical in nature. If the reader is not familiar with this topic, they will have to be carefully read in order to fully appreciate what the drugs to one’s body and mind.

Written with the goal of hoping to prevent additional suicides by young athletes, this book is one that should be read by anyone who is involved in youth sports in order to fully learn about the dangers of abusing these drugs. It will make the reader stop and think about PEDs and whether the risk of taking these is worth it.

I wish to thank Temple 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 (pre-order at time of review):



Saturday, December 3, 2016

Review of "Drama in the Bahamas"

We are coming up on the 35th anniversary of the last fight of Muhammad Ali.  For those of us who saw that fight, as I did in a hockey arena on closed circuit TV, we remember it as a sad occasion to see the great champion only as a shell of what he once was. This book is an excellent account not only of the fight but of the entire adventure that led up to the bout.  Here is my review of "Drama in the Bahamas."


Title/Author:
“Drama in the Bahamas: Muhammad Ali’s Last Fight” by Dave Hannigan

Tags:
Boxing, professional, history

Publish date:
August 2, 2016

Length:
216 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (Outstanding)

Review:
More often than not, the last fight in the career of a championship boxer is a sad occasion. That fighter believes he has enough left to win that fight and maybe even be on track to regain the championship or win it in another weight class. In 1981, that was the situation for Muhammad Ali.  At least publicly, he believed that despite his loss in 1980 to Larry Holmes he could become a four-time champion and would be on his way back by defeating Trevor Berbick.

That didn’t happen as Ali lost the fight, and as this well-written book by Dave Hannigan illustrates, Ali was not as focused on the fight as one would think for a person who wants to reclaim the title.  Also, the book details the many blunders that promoters made in preparation for this fight, as several times it seemed that the fight would not happen.

The book explores nearly aspect of the events that led up to the bout on December 11, 1981 and there were many obstacles. It was clear from the start that the promoters were short on money and had trouble finding a locale for the fight.  Even the one that was ultimately picked in the Bahamas was makeshift, cramped and uncomfortable for the fighters (the undercard included Thomas Hearns and Greg Page). 

While he didn’t write a lot of words describing this particular issue, one of the better illustrations of just how much of a fiasco the whole event turned into was when Hannigan wrote that there was a lack of new boxing gloves for the fighters. This shortage was severe enough that Hannigan mentioned that trainers were requested not to cut off the laces when removing the gloves from the fighter’s hands so that they may be used again.  For a major boxing event, this was one of the sadder tales.

But none were sadder than that of Ali, who was a shell of the great fighter that he was and this is the best writing in the book.  The press, TV networks and most other promoters wanted nothing to do with the bout as they did not want the public to see Ali in this condition – they wanted to remember him as the brash young man with the quick moves and devastating punches.  Also, Berbick’s rise to contender status by the time this fight took place is also well-documented by Hannigan.  Much like the publicity, Berbick wasn’t forgotten, but he certainly played second fiddle to Ali, whose loss made for a sad ending to an excellent career. This book is one that all boxing fans should add to their bookshelves.


Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying links:


https://www.amazon.com/Drama-Bahamas-Muhammad-Alis-Fight/dp/1613218982/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480779670&sr=1-1&keywords=drama+in+the+bahamas+muhammad+ali%27s+last+fight


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Review of "The Baron and The Bear"

Sometimes a book that promises to challenge a long-held belief or show another side of a historic moment can fall short of that promise.  This book about the 1966 NCAA Basketball Championship does not do that - it is a terrific book mainly on the two coaches of that historic game and will make the reader think a little differently about the two men.  Here is my review of "The Baron & The Bear."


Title/Author:
“The Baron and the Bear: Rupp’s Runts, Haskins’s Miners and the Season that Changed Basketball Forever” by David Kingsley Snell

Tags:
Basketball, college, race, Kentucky, Western Texas

Publish date:
December 1, 2016

Length:
312 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (Outstanding)

Review:
The championship game for college basketball in 1966 was a watershed moment, not only for the sport, but also for the civil rights movement of the time. Texas Western University (now the University of Texas-El Paso) faced Kentucky in that game. It was significant because Texas Western, coached by Don Haskins, started five black players while Kentucky, coached by the legendary Adolph Rupp, not only started five white players, but did not have a single black player at all. Texas Western won the game and in doing so, started a transformation in the game that still affects the sport today.

David Kingsley Snell paints a masterful picture of the two coaches in this book that not only chronicles the season for the two teams, it sets aside some of the hyperbole surrounding the game and lets readers judge for themselves how much race played a factor in the coaches’ recruitment and handling of his respective teams.

There were more similarities than differences between the coaches, a point that Snell makes clear throughout the book. While the players may have been different, the coaches both used drills repeatedly throughout practice to make their teams fundamentally sound and well-conditioned. Through interviews with surviving players from both teams, the reader will come to view both coaches as driven men who want to win all the time and will do whatever it takes during practice to make sure the players are ready come game time.  In fact, many players many that the games were the easy part of the season and that practice was the time to dread.

It isn’t often the that epilogue of a book will be the most thought-provoking section, but that is the case here.  After the game, and even to this day, the popular belief is that Rupp was a racist because he refused to recruit black players and allegedly made racist remarks to reporters and his team. Those are refuted by players, Rupp’s staff members and other members of the press as part of the epilogue in the book. Most of these charges were published in Sports Illustrated, at the time one of the most influential publications in sports and therefore were common beliefs.  Snell does a good job showing that coach Rupp may not be the vile person some thought he was. It is also noted that Rupp tried to recruit a black player (Wes Unseld) prior to the 1965-66 season but was rebuffed by many at the school as well as by the “gentleman’s agreement” in place at the time that Southeast Conference schools will not recruit black players.

In the same token, Haskins is not portrayed as a champion of civil rights but simply as a coach driven to win and to do so, he will put his best players on the floor, regardless of their race. The team gelled during the season, was brought down to earth when an inferior team defeated them and then went on an incredible run to win the championship, much like any other team has done regardless of its racial makeup.

“The Baron & The Bear” is an excellent account of not only the teams but an in-depth look at what made these two coaches tick. They will be forever linked together by this historic game and they are linked together here as well. Basketball fans will enjoy reading about the coaches and should make this one part of 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:




Monday, November 21, 2016

Review of "The Bird"

This book was one that was selected as a group read in an online baseball book club to which I belong.  While it has been around for a few years, the material in it will not grow old to those of us who remember Mark Fidrych and that summer of 1976 when he talked to the baseball, groomed the mound on his hands and knees and retired a lot of batters for the Detroit Tigers.  This is a very good biography of the man.


Title/Author:
“The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych” by Doug Wilson

Tags:
Baseball, professional, biography, Tigers

Publish date:
March 26, 2013

Length:
320 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (Outstanding)

Review:
During the 1976 season, there was one player who took the baseball world by storm.  He had a mop of curly hair under his Detroit Tigers cap, was nicknamed after a character on a children’s TV show, would talk to the baseball and smooth the dirt on the pitcher’s mound on his hands and knees.  Oh, yeah, he was a pretty good pitcher that year too, winning the American League Rookie of the Year award.

That pitcher was Mark Fidrych and his story is told in this biography by Doug Wilson. The book does and doesn’t read like many other biographies of baseball players. It does in that the format is chronological from his Little League and high school playing days, to professional success and then life after baseball.  It doesn’t follow the typical format in that there is much more on Fidrych on his life after baseball because his time in the major leagues was all too brief.

This latter part is really what stands out because it portrays Fidrych as genuine – what people saw in 1976 was not an act, but the true personality of “The Bird.”  Even when a celebrity has a certain persona on camera or on the field, but is a little different off it, that goes away when the celebrity is no longer in the spotlight.  Not Mark Fidrych. Two of the stories Wilson shares with readers bring this out and are why I believe this book captures Fidrych’s life after baseball better than most biographies.

One is when a prominent sportswriter visits Fidrych on his farm for a “where are they now” story.  Fidrych takes the writer around the farm and introduces him to every animal that is on the farm – whether it was chickens, pigs or goats, each one was introduced.  The other is when Wilson writes about Fidrych’s other occupation – hauling asphalt and other such goods on his self-owned truck to construction sites. Down-to-earth work that he enjoyed for a down-to-earth man.

Of course, the baseball player is not forgotten either and the reader will be whisked away back to 1976 when the entire country was caught up in watching Fidrych pitch. The hype was a little different at the time since there was no social media sites and the writing captures what it was like to know about Fidrych only through Monday Night Baseball and newspaper accounts. Then when Fidrych had arm troubles and current treatments and surgical procedures were not performed yet, the reader will sympathize with Fidrych as he struggles to regain the form that made him so good in that magical summer.

Written with a passion for the game, Wilson’s account of Fidrych’s life is one that any baseball fan will enjoy, especially if one remembers The Bird or was lucky enough to see Fidrych perform his magic.

Book Format Read:
Hardcover

Buying links:




Sunday, November 20, 2016

Review of "Madame Bey's: Home to Boxing Legends"

It was time to find a good boxing book as it has been awhile since I read one - and lo and behold, what comes across my list of recommendations on NetGalley but this one?  I had never heard of Madame Bey's camp, but when reading the description and all the boxers that trained there, I had to pick it up.  That turned out to be a very wise decision.  Here is my review of "Madame Bey's: Home to Boxing Legends."


Title/Author:
“Madame Bey’s: Home to Boxing Legends” by Gene Pantalone

Tags:
Boxing, professional, history, training

Publish date:
September 16, 2016

Length:
504 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (Outstanding)

Review:
The town of Chatham, New Jersey may not be well-known now, but in the early 20th century, it was home to the training camp of many championship boxers. This camp was run by a woman known as Madame Bey, an immigrant from Turkey who had previously worked in Washington with her husband for diplomatic duties and also had aspirations to be an opera singer.  Instead, life led her and her husband to Chatham and the development of a boxing camp.

The story of Madame Bey and many of the championship fighters she called “her boys” is captured in this book by Gene Pantalone. Two aspects of the story will grab the attention of the reader immediately.  One is the successful business Madame Bey runs at a time when there were very few female entrepreneurs. The second is the sheer number of legendary fighters who trained at her camp.  From Mickey Walker, the welterweight champion who was as famous for his art as well as his fists, to Max Schmeling, the German heavyweight champion, the camp became known as one where champions would train.

Pantalone weaves stories about the fighters who would train there along with Madame Bey’s story as well.  The bulk of the book is about her boys, with some of the best writing and research done on Walker (who Madame Bey called her favorite) and Gene Tunney.  The camp thrived despite competition in the area as word of mouth from the fighters was very good. 

Many don’t think of boxing as a sport that will elicit emotions of compassion, there is a passage in the book that captures that as well, and it is one of my favorite parts of the book. The camp was heavily damaged by a fire and Madame Bey did not have the funds or enough insurance to completely rebuild. However, many boxers who were training there pitched in to rebuild the complex and she was back in the training business within months.  The love for her by these fighters to do this for her was amazing.  The reader will be captivated by this and many other passages of emotion as well as fighting.

While lengthy and occasionally a slow read, the research and detail presented paint a great picture of the sport and the fighters of that era. This book is not only recommended for boxing fans, history buffs and readers who just want a story about a successful woman in business will also enjoy this one.

I wish to thank Archway 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, November 15, 2016

Review of "Playing Through"

Sadly, the golf season is nearing an end here in the Northeast and that means the clubs will have to go into storage for another winter. But just like needing to get that last round in, I had to read at least one more golf book before the clubs are put away.  This collection of essays on the recent era of the game was an excellent read.  Here is my review of "Playing Through."


Title/Author:
“Playing Through: Modern Golf’s Most Iconic Players and Moments” by Jim Moriarty

Tags:
Golf, professional, history

Publish date:
October 1, 2016

Length:
288 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Golf can be both a beautiful and cruel game at the same time. Whether it is the joy of seeing Tom Watson’s chip into the 17th hole at the US Open in 1982 or the questionable behavior of players and fans after the United States won the 1999 Ryder Cup, one cannot dispute the unique stories that are created from the sport.  Jim Moriarty captures these emotions and more in this collection of twelve essays of the sport.

Covering the time period from the early 1980’s to the present, Moriarty writes on a wide range of topics.  In addition to Watson and that historic Ryder Cup victory, he writes about the humanity of the game by describing the path taken to greatness by some of the game’s biggest names:  Phil Mickelson, John Daly, the late Payne Stewart, Juli Inkster and Tiger Woods. However, the topics that one would expect when writing about those golfers are not what he covers.  For example, the essay on Inkster concentrates on her reflections on many of the greats in women’s gold such as Kathy Whitworth and Judy Rankin. Stewart’s chapter is as much about his struggles with attention deficit disorder as much as his championships.  Woods even gets a fresh look, which is mighty difficult considering his professional and personal life has been scrutinized by many. 

All of this would not be possible without the fresh writing by Moriarty. Having written on the sport for over 30 years, he takes that experience and his observations and crafts them together to bring together a collection of essays that any golf fan or player will enjoy. Blessed with a talent for excellent storytelling, the reader will feel like he or she has personally known the players covered in the book for many years.  The book is a treat to read and is one that can be pulled off the shelf later and still be as fresh as that ball that just fell into the cup.

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:




Thursday, November 10, 2016

Review of "Almost Perfect"

What is the best way for a baseball fan who is suffering from withdrawal after the World Series to get a fix? To read a book right after the Series ends. At least that was what I did to decompress after the exciting 7 game series between the Cubs and Indians. This book is about the sixteen near perfect games in major league history. Here is my review of "Almost Perfect."


Title/Author:
“Almost Perfect: The Heartbreaking Pursuit of Pitching’s Holy Grail” by Joe Cox

Tags:
Baseball, professional, history

Publish date:
February 1, 2017

Length:
272 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (good)

Review:
Sixteen times in the history of major league baseball, a starting pitcher has been able to retire the first 26 batters he faced, only to not be credited with a perfect game. Thirteen times the 27th batter reached base safely and in the other three games that batter was also retired, but the pitcher did not complete a perfect game until his team won. Those pitchers and games are the subject of this book by Joe Cox.

The stories are varied – from the 12 perfect innings thrown by Harvey Haddix, only to lose the game in the 13th inning to Eddie Shore relieving Babe Ruth and then retiring 26 batters, each game story is told in three acts. 

One act is a brief biography of the pitcher who came very close to making history.  Another act describes the important facts surrounding the game or the atmosphere surrounding it, such as the chapter on Mike Mussina’s near-perfect game in 2001, just days before the terrorist attack on the United States. The third act is an inning-by-inning recap of the game itself.  These are quite good and show the research that Cox did in order to write about each at-bat by those hitters who were retired in order inning after inning.  Even though the reader will know that eventually that the 27th batter will get a hit, there is still good drama in each game description.

The other two acts in each chapter occasionally will feel like they stray too far away from the objective which is to build up the drama of the game only to show the heartbreak suffered by the pitcher. When the subject pertains to the history of the team more than the pitcher or the game, it feels like filler material.  As an example, in the chapter about Pedro Martinez’s game in which he retired 27 batters and lost the perfect game in the 10th inning, a significant portion of the chapter was devoted to the history of the Montreal Expos, the team for which Martinez was pitching. 

While some of this material may not have been necessary to capture the spirit of the game and what went through the pitcher’s mind, the book was still a good read. It was very interesting to read about these games and realize how many different ways that a game like this can end in a manner that will not be a happy one for a pitcher who has been so dominant. Baseball fans will want to add this one to their bookshelves.

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

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying links: