Thursday, February 22, 2018

Review of "The Chosen Game"

Every now and then, a book that I thought would be tedious to read turns out to be a pleasant surprise. This book on the history of Jewish basketball players, coaches and owners was one of those books. It was full of very interesting information, especially on small professional basketball leagues that existed long before the NBA.  Here is my review of "The Chosen Game."


Title/Author:
The Chosen Game: A Jewish Basketball History” by Charley Rosen
Tags:
Basketball, professional, college, history
Publish date:
November 1, 2017
Length:
224 pages
Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)
Review:
When one thinks of great Jewish people in professional basketball, the first two names that come to mind are Dolph Schayes and Red Auerbach.  However, there is a rich history of Jewish influence in professional and college basketball going back to the very early days of the game.  This history is captured in this well-researched book by veteran basketball author Charley Rosen.

Rosen writes about much more than just the influence of Jews in the NBA. Their participation began in earnest when the game became popular in the New York City playgrounds and streets in the 1920’s where there was already a large Jewish population. However, a player in upstate New York, Paul Steinberg, became the first known Jewish professional player in one of the many leagues that were popping up in the northeastern United States. From there, there was another Jew from New York City, Nat Holman, whom some consider to be the greatest basketball player to come from the Big Apple – high praise when one considers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is also a New York City native.

Stories about these leagues, teams and players such as Holman, the “Busy Izzies” and the Philadelphia SPHAS (South Philadelphia Hebrew Association) make for fascinating reading, especially for readers who want to learn more about basketball history. There is also good information on the great teams at City College of New York (CCNY) when they won both the NCAA and NIT championships in the early 1950’s and also about the point shaving scandals that plagued college basketball at that time.

There is also content about Jewish history in the NBA – however, most of the information on the modern game comes in “afterthoughts” at the end of each chapter from Jews who played important roles in the modern game such as David Platt (former coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers), Neal Walk and Jordan Farmer.  Of course, Schayes, Auerbach and Red Holtzman are also prominently mentioned in the book, but they are no more important than Abe Saperstein, Paul Birch or Sid Goldberg,  If you are not familiar with those names, you will be after reading the book.

Packed with a lot of information in less than 200 pages of text, this book makes a good addition to the library of readers who are basketball historians or those who wish to learn more about the role of Jews in the “American” game.

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:
https://www.amazon.com/Chosen-Game-Jewish-Basketball-History-ebook/dp/B075M9LRYF/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr


Sunday, February 18, 2018

Review of "Diamonds from the Dugout"

When I received this request for a review from the author, I was a bit surprised.  I knew about Mark Newman's work for MLB.com but I didn't know that he had written a book about stories told by players about memorable hits.  After reading this, I would say that not only were the hits memorable but so is this book.  Here is my review of "Diamonds from the Dugout."





Title/Author:

Diamonds from the Dugout: 115 Baseball Legends Remember Their Greatest Hits” by Mark Newman
Tags:
Baseball, professional, essays

Publish date:
November 1, 2017

Length:
256 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review: 
The premise of this book comes from a simple question asked by the author to major league players – What hit meant the most to you and why?  This question was first asked by Mark Newman to Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson and from there, the author was taken on a long and interesting journey of stories that are wonderfully written and fun to read.

Some of the answers are predictable and many are surprising.  A few players said their most memorable hits were ones that either came in a crucial moment such as a postseason game - Mark Texiera and Robin Yount are two such players.  Others, such as Wade Boggs, chose a milestone hit.  Several others said it was their first hit in major leagues as it proved that they belong there, not in the minors.  Finally there were surprise answers as well.  This will be the closest to a spoiler for this book – an example of a surprise answer was Mike Piazza’s as it was not the home run in New York’s first game after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. 

There are a few other stories sprinkled in that are not about MLB players, such as the one about the most memorable hit for the author’s son, a story by former commissioner Bud Selig and one by comedian Arsenio Hall about the first time he was able to take his son to a World Series game.  All of them are entertaining and will make a reader either recall some of these moments fondly or will find out more about these players.

While most of the stories are fairly short – about one to two pages – there is a chapter completely devoted to Pete Rose.  The author states that he believes the all-time hits leader deserves his own chapter with this explanation: “It Pete Rose wants to talk about hitting, then you just start typing as fast as you can and let him keep talking in a stream of consciousness, and you give him a chapter all to himself.” 

Writing like this is why this book should be on the bookshelf of every baseball fan, no matter the age, favorite player or team or what era of the game the reader follows.  They are all covered in the book and these stories are wonderful recollections of special moments for these players. 

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

Book Format Read:
Hardcover

Buying Links:

Monday, February 12, 2018

Review of "New York Rangers By the Numbers"

The New York Rangers are one of the Original Six teams of the National Hockey League, they have a passionate and loyal fan base and they have a very colorful history. This history is told in a little different manner in this excellent hockey reference book that lists every Rangers player in franchise history by the number.  Here is my review of "New York Rangers By the Number."


Title/Author:
New York Rangers By the Numbers: A Complete Team History of the Broadway Blueshirts by Uniform Number” by Mark Roseman and Howie Karpin
Tags:
Ice Hockey, Professional, history, Rangers
Publish date:
January 23, 2018
Length:
498 pages
Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (Outstanding)
Review:
There are many different ways an author can write about the history of a particular sports team. One way is by recapping seasons the team was playing, maybe concentrating on the years the team won a championship or at least came close.  Another is by highlighting the greatest players ever to wear that team’s uniform.  Another possibility is to highlight what the team means to its city.

However, a veteran of covering New York sports decided to try a different manner of writing about the history of the New York Rangers.  Mark Rosenman, with assistance from Howie Karpin, decide to tell the history of the franchise with numbers.  Not statistical numbers, but by listing every player whoever wore a Rangers sweater by the number on that sweater. From Eddie Giacomin wearing #1 to Wayne Gretzky’s #99, the history of the franchise is told through these players.

It doesn’t matter if the player played several seasons for the Rangers or only one game, he will be listed in the book. There isn’t a story or some narrative about every player, as there was little material still around for some of the earlier seasons.  Nonetheless, Rosenman was able to at least list those players and record how many games he played for the team. 

However, for many of the players, there are interesting stories about their time in New York and the career they had. Most of the short biographies will only talk about the player’s time with the Rangers, even if he had success in his career with other teams.  There are exceptions to this, such as the passage on Tim Horton, whose best years were with the Toronto Maple Leafs. His story included some of his success with the Leafs but the bulk of his story is about the Rangers. 

This is best read and used as a reference book, which is how the rating in this review is based. If one wants to learn more about Mark Messier’s time with the Rangers, simply turn to the chapter on #11.  How about the players who were responsible for the team retiring #9 not once but twice?  Both Adam Graves and Andy Bathgate get wonderful write-ups here. How about just a listing of all players who wore #17? They are all listed, from Dean Prentice to Spence Tatchell.  Just about anything Rangers-related that can be told through the number on a jersey will be found in this book. Rangers fans must make this volume part of their library and fans of other teams who want to learn more about Blueshirt history will also enjoy reviewing this – except maybe Islanders fans.

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

Book Format Read:
Paperback

Buying Links:
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/new-york-rangers-by-the-numbers-mark-rosenman/1125792473?ean=9781683581772


Saturday, February 10, 2018

Review of "Alou: My Baseball Journey"

Felipe Alou may be remembered best as the manager of the 1994 Montreal Expos, the best baseball team that never got to play in the World Series.  However, there is so much more to the man and now he tells his complete story.  Here is my review of his memoir to be released on April 1, "Alou: My Baseball Journey"







Title/Author:
Alou: My Baseball Journey” by Felipe Alou with Peter Kerasotis

Tags:
Baseball, professional, Giants, Braves Expos, memoir

Publish date:
April 1, 2018

Length:
336 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: 
Usually a man who became a major league baseball player and manager will share that he always dreamed of making it to the majors. Not so for Felipe Alou. The man who became the first player from the Dominican Republic to play in the major leagues, to play in the World Series and to manage in the major leagues, originally was going to be a doctor. Then through a strange turn of events in the 1955 Pan American games, a young Alou found himself on the baseball team, where he caught the eye of scouts.  The rest is history – and told by Alou in this memoir of his life both in his homeland and in the United States.

Alou was often portrayed as a gentleman during his playing days with the San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves and even more so during his managerial career, mostly with the Montreal Expos but also his last two years back in San Francisco. The stories he shares are told in that manner with one notable exception: his recollections of the racism he faced while being a pioneer for Latin American ballplayers.

While there are many stories about the racism directed at black players in the early days of integration in baseball, the plight of the Latin American player is not as well known. However, it is was just as humiliating and degrading and reading about someone experiencing this firsthand, as Alou did, is very powerful.  He talks about Latin players going through this even worse than black players, as the latter players were able to stick together and retreat to friendly neighborhoods.  When they were doing this, the black players, according to Alou, would exclude their Latin American teammates, making them feel even more isolated.

When approached by Sport magazine in 1963 to talk about these experiences, Alou had also been fined by commissioner Ford Frick for playing in an exhibition series in his homeland. Incensed by this and wanted to tell everyone about the racism Latin players faced, he wrote an article for the magazine’s November edition, which is shared verbatim in the book and certainly the most powerful passage in the entire volume.

This isn’t to say that the book is all about this topic  Indeed, Alou spends a great deal of time talking about his two brothers who also played in the major leagues, Matty and Jesus. The three brothers made history when they appeared in a game together in all three outfield positions and also were the three batters who came to bat in one inning – both firsts for the major leagues. Alou speaks with some pride about his accomplishments on the field with the Giants and Braves, but downplays it much of the time.

Then he talks about his experience with the Montreal Expos as both a coach and later the manager of the team, becoming the first man from the Dominican Republic to manage in the major leagues. Here Alou looks back fondly at his time in Montreal as it is very clear that he has a special place in his heart for the city and it broke when the Expos left.  He blames the ownership for this. He also looks back warmly at the Expos team that is still talked about today, the 1994 team with so many young stars whose season of glory was cut short by a strike that wiped out the season and the World Series that year. I do wish there was more in the book about that team, but at least Alou shared some great memories of that group.

Finally, Alou shares much about his homeland, not just his family life but also about the political strife of the Dominican Republic in the 1960’s. While interesting, this section took a little bit away from the rest of the book for me as it seemed to be more a statement about his political beliefs in his homeland than simply background information. This fits with his writing in the rest of the book where he shared his opinions of what he felt strongly about (including his belief that the National League should adopt the designated hitter) but I believe it could have been shortened.

Nonetheless, this was a very good book that fans of the Giants, Expos and baseball in general will enjoy. If a reader is interested in the history of Latin American players in the game, Alou’s experiences will certainly be of interest to that person. 

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

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Review of "Out of the Shadows"

In honor of Black History Month, a baseball book group to which I belong decided to let members choose a book about the role of African Americans in the sport.  Having found this selection as an audio book at the same time this was announced, I decided to listen right away and found this collection of essays an excellent source of information of the topic.  Here is my review of "Out of the Shadows"



Title/Author:
Out of the Shadows: African American Baseball from the Cuban Giants to Jackie Robinson” by William Kirwin (editor), narrated by Mirron Willis

Tags:
Baseball, race, Negro Leagues, Dodgers, audio book, essays

Publish date:
November 1, 2005

Length:
226 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
Usually a collection of short stories or essays of any topic will contain some good and some not-so-good selections.  Mainly because of the topics, this collection of essays on African American baseball from the late 19th century to the integration of the major leagues in the mid-20th century is one that all readers interested in the topic should read.

Editor William Kirwin has selected a diverse selection of essays, covering topics from Cap Anson leading the way to segregate the game in the late 1880’s to discussions of female Negro League team owner Effa Manley.  The influence of writer Sol White is discussed and of course, the roles of Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey to integrate baseball.


If readers have read other books on the subjects, they will not learn any new information here.  But for those who wish to learn about topics in which the readers do not know about this collection is a very good start.  For example, I had never heard of the Cuban Giants before picking up this book.  After hearing the essay on that team, I now wish to learn more about these trail blazers of black baseball teams.

Some of the essays are meant for entertainment, but most of them are information and scholarly in nature.  This may not be best for everyone, but these essays come highly recommended as an excellent source of information on the roles of African Americans in the game during this time frame.


Book Format Read:
Audio book

Buying Links:

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Review of "Off Speed"

Thanks to including audio books on my reading/listening list, I accomplished a rare feat - finishing three books in three days.  This last of the three was a decent collection of stories set against the backdrop of a perfect game.  It is probably better to read this one in the hardcover or on an e-reader than to listen to the book, despite having an excellent narrator. Here is my review of "Off Speed"

Title/Author:
Off Speed: Pitching, Baseball and the Art of Deception” by Terry McDermott, narrated by Joe Barrett
Tags:
Baseball, professional, Mariners, memoir, audiobook
Publish date:
May 16, 2017
Length:
224 pages
Rating: 
3 of 5 stars (okay)
Review:
Pitching has changed much over the history of the game of baseball.  From tossing the ball slowly so that the batter can easily hit it to pitchers who can throw the ball over 100 miles per hour and make it curve in violent changes of direction, pitching has evolved.  The balls that change direction usually travel slower than the fastball and hence are called “off speed” pitches. This book by Terry McDermott and narrated by Joe Barret takes a look at these off speed pitches.

Some of the pitches are widely used today, such as a slider or a change-up, and some are no longer used for various reasons, such as a screwball.  Whether or not they are used, McDermott writes about nine different off speed pitches, one for each inning of the game that is used for the background of the story.  That game happens to be the perfect game thrown by Seattle Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez in the 2012 season. 

McDermott also talks about his Mariners fandom, his lack of ability to play the game and some other baseball stories that are entertaining (my favorite was attempting to dry a wet baseball field) and intertwined throughout the book.  While these stories were mostly good, I found them a distraction to the theme of the book, namely learning about the off speed pitches and the progress of Hernandez’s masterpiece.  This may read better in a hardcopy or e-book format, but as an audiobook, I found the skipping between stories and information distracting. 

One good part of the audiobook was the narration of Joe Barrett. The stories as he read them came across as interruptions, although this was much like listening to a baseball game on the radio.  His voice made him sound like he was a baseball broadcaster.

Overall, this book is a decent one for baseball fans who want to learn a little more about off speed pitches or just want to hear some good baseball tales.  If this took one of these themes or the other, I believe it would have the possibility to be a great book.  Structured as is, it is okay and worth the time needed to listen or read.

Book Format Read:
Audio book

Buying Links:



Friday, February 2, 2018

Review of "The Baby Bombers"

With a little less than two weeks before the magic words all baseball fans love to hear - "pitchers and catchers report" - I decided to read this book on the 2017 New York Yankees and their current crop of young and exciting players.  Even though I am not a Yankee fan, especially since they defeated my favorite team in that year's Wild Card game, I nonetheless felt this was a very entertaining read.  Here is my review of "The Baby Bombers"




Title/Author:
The Baby Bombers” by Bryan Hoch

Tags:
Baseball, professional, Yankees

Publish date:
March 6, 2018

Length:
264 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
The 2017 New York Yankees were one of the pleasant surprises of the baseball season.  Expected to finish out of the postseason because of their reliance on young players, the team not only gained a Wild Card spot, they pushed the eventual World Series champion Houston Astros to 7 games in the American League Championship Series.  This book by veteran reporter Bryan Hoch provides insight into the team’s unexpected return to postseason glory.

The best way to describe the trajectory of the Yankees in 2016 and 2017 was that they were a team in transition, and Hoch guides the reader from the “Core Four” team of Jeter, Pettite, Posada and Rivera to the new stars of the team. The reader will learn about the performances of catcher Gary Sanchez, outfielder Aaron Judge, pitcher Luis Severino and first baseman Greg Bird as they led the team to 91 wins in that season.


Even more than just recaps of their seasons, the reader will learn more about each of these men on a personal level as well.  There are some funny moments that are captured such as when Judge spent a week at the home of teammate Brett Gardner and ate the Easter candy of Gardner’s young sons.  Anecdotes such as these were nice short diversions from the story of the on-field exploits of the Yankees.  Because of their youth, they were often called the “Baby Bombers”, hence the title of the book.


While at times the book read like it came from the Yankee public relations department because it seemed like no player on the team could do anything wrong, it was a very engaging and entertaining read that every Yankee fan will want to pick up to learn more about the team’s new star players.  Even fans of other teams will enjoy this book as it provides great insight into some of the game’s newest bright lights.


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:
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-baby-bombers-bryan-hoch/1127582540?ean=9781635764185#/