Thursday, January 23, 2020

Review of "Babe Ruth's Called Shot"

Not many events in sports will still have people talking about it many decades later, but the mythical "Called Shot" home run by Babe Ruth is one of them.  Considering it was done during a World Series by the most famous baseball player, it isn't shocking.  The only question is whether it actually happened.  This book will provide a lot of information on that event without giving away the answer to that question.  Here is a review of "Babe Ruth's Called Shot."


Title/Author:
“Babe Ruth's Called Shot: The Myth and Mystery of Baseball's Greatest Home Run” by Ed Sherman

Tags:
Baseball, professional, history, Cubs, Yankees

Publish date:
February 18, 2014

Length:
272 pages

Rating: to
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
Baseball fans of all levels of interest have at least heard of the "Called Shot", the famous home run hit by Yankee legend Babe Ruth in the 1932 World Series against the Chicago Cubs.  Depending on what one reads or who is asked about it, the responses range from "Babe absolutely did point to center field and hit the ball in the exact spot" to "That never happened."  Given the mythical proportions to which the story has grown and still is repeated more than 80 years later, the question remains of whether this actually happened or not.

Ed Sherman's book may disappoint some readers because it doesn't really provide any new information or make a strong case one way or the other.  Instead, he provides insight into the famous home run by covering every possible means.  He writes about the perspectives from fans – this is how the book starts with the viewpoint of one of the most famous fans at that game, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.  Stevens was a nine-year old boy at that game and was a big Cubs fan.  So naturally he was disappointed with the result, but awed at the moment. 

From there, others are either interviewed or Sherman did extensive research into the viewpoints of other fans.  He wrote about players from both teams that shared their observations (if they actually saw the home run) while also providing the backdrop for the home run, such as the merciless heckling Ruth was receiving from players in the Cubs dugout.  A chapter each is dedicated to Ruth and Charlie Root, the Cubs pitcher who gave up the home run.  Root's story is quite interesting to read as he was adamant that Ruth did NOT "call" that home run and is very angry when people mention it to him.  As for the chapter on Ruth, much information comes from his daughter Julia and that makes for entertaining reading as well.

There is also a chapter on what sportswriters of the time wrote about the home run, and this could make for a Hall of Fame for writers – Grantland Rice, Red Smith, Damon Runyard and Shirley Popovich are just a few of the scribes whom Sherman quotes in this chapter.  After this, the book does drag a little bit with some extraneous information that, like the rest of the book, will not provide the reader with an answer one way or the other about the home run, but is still fun to read about and debate all these decades later. Any baseball fan will enjoy picking up this book.

                                                    
Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:
https://www.amazon.com/Babe-Ruths-Called-Shot-Baseballs-ebook/dp/B00V9QVECM/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Review of "Serena Williams"

While there are many books written about Serena Williams, including an autobiography in 2009, this book is worth the time to read as it delves deeply into her life and activism off the court as well as her record-setting tennis career.  Here is my review of "Serena Williams"

Title/Author:
“Serena Williams: Tennis Champion, Sports Legend and Cultural Heroine” by Merlisa Lawrence Corbett

Tags:
Tennis, biography, professional, race, women

Publish date:
February 15, 2020

Length:
208 pages

Rating: to
3 ½ of 5 stars (good)

Review:
When an athlete becomes known when just the first name is said – for example Tiger or LeBron – it is clear that the athlete would be not only a great player but well-known outside of sports as well.  Serena Williams – hereafter referred to as "Serena" – has achieved this legendary status.  This biography by sportswriter Merlisa Lawrence Corbett tells readers how she rose to the top of the tennis world and at the same time became a voice for social, racial and gender equality.

Readers who want to learn about Serena's tennis career will have good material at their disposal, especially in the first quarter of the book and also near the end when Serena made her comeback attempt after giving birth to her daughter. These sections read like long recaps of important matches and Grand Slam events that Serena won mixed in with many observations made by other writers, her father Richard and her older sister Venus.

Throughout the book, Lawrence Corbett will remind readers frequently of the sisterly love between Serena and Venus.  This is especially noteworthy early in their respective careers as it was initially believed by many, including Richard, that Venus was the one who was going to be the tennis superstar. While Venus did end up having a very good career with multiple Grand Slam title, she was eclipsed by her younger sister, who at the time of publication has won 23 of these titles.

While the tennis makes for good reading, more of the book is dedicated to other aspects of Serena and her activism.  It is noted that her savvy use of social media has helped to have an even bigger presence than other athletes who were also addressing racial and gender issues.  Serena's successes are celebrated, such as getting all of the Grand Slam tournaments to offer equal purses for both men and women.  Even Serena's marketing success and fashion tastes (also part of the marketing) are described in the book.  These sections, while at times do repeat some talking points, nonetheless make very good parts of the book in which the reader will learn what makes Serena the international star that she is.
Lawrence Corbett does not shy away from addressing controversial topics such as the behavior of Richard, the booing of the two sisters at tournaments early in their careers and Serena's outburst at an official at the 2018 US Open finals when she was penalized a point.  These subjects are presented in a fair manner without editorializing and therefore the reader can come to his or her own conclusion. While no biography is truly complete without interviews from either the subject or those close to the person, the research and writing in this book makes it one that is worth the time to read if a reader wants to learn the complete story of Serena.   

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

Note: 3 ½ stars rating is rounded to 4 for Goodreads and NetGalley
                                                    
Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:

Monday, January 13, 2020

Review of "Ace Hudkins"

Through a contact who works for boxing publishing companies, I was provided a copy of this book from the author, who is the great niece of the book's subject.  It was a different type of sports biography, one that I enjoyed reading and am glad that I was provided a copy.  Here is my review of "Ace Hudkins"



Title/Author:
“Ace Hudkins: Boxing With the Nebraska Wildcat" by Kristine Sader

Tags:
Boxing, professional, history, biography

Publish date:
December 26, 2018 

Length:
284 pages

Rating: to
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
Ace Hudkins is a fighter who is probably unknown to all except the most avid of boxing history aficionados.  While he never became a world champion in any of the seven weight divisions he fought in during his career, he was nonetheless a very successful and popular fighter in the 1920's.  His story and career are told in this book authored by his great niece, Kristine Sader.

Between research and combing through family items, Sader presents Ace's story completely from his childhood in Nebraska (and the bond he had with his brothers) to his rise in the boxing ranks and his subsequent move to California where he had not only a good boxing career but also an active social life, hobnobbing with some of the biggest celebrities of the time such as Charles Lindberg and Rudolph Valentino, the latter whom Ace once had as a sparring partner. 

However, the most striking aspect of the book is not Ace's story as much as the format of the book.  The text throughout the book is written in short sections, especially when Sader uses newspaper or magazine stories about Ace.  There are a lot of photos, clips, and scrapbook items to help tell Ace's story, including a picture of Ace and Valentino sparring.  "Scrapbook" is a good way to describe the format of the book as it has the feel of looking at a family scrapbook while reading it. 

That makes this book on one of boxing's biggest personalities from the 1920's a fun one to read.  Boxing fans of any age will enjoy this telling of the tale of the "Nebraska Wildcat."

I wish to thank Ms. Sader for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
                             
Book Format Read:
Paperback

Buying Links:

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Review of "The Ultimate Boston Red Sox Time Machine Book"

Given the history of the Boston Red Sox, I thought this would be a jam-packed book with many colorful stories about the entire history of the franchise.  There was some, but not quite what I expected for the latter years of this team.  Here is my review of this book.

Title/Author:
“The Ultimate Boston Red Sox Time Machine Book” by Martin Gitlin

Tags:
Baseball, professional, history, Red Sox

Publish date:
February 1, 2020

Length:
208 pages

Rating:
2 ½  of 5 stars (fair) - rounded to 3 for Goodreads, NetGalley and Amazon

Review:
The Boston Red Sox have one of more colorful histories of teams in Major League Baseball. Early in their existence, they were the most dominant team in the game. Then an infamous trade that led to an alleged curse on the franchise became the main talking point for the franchise until their recent return to glory with 4 championships in 15 years.  Their history is condensed into this fairly short, quick reading book by Marty Gitlin.

The biggest surprise for me reading this book was the relatively little amount of text devoted to the recent run of success by the Red Sox. There is very good information on the first Red Sox dynasty, from the first World Series until the infamous trade of Babe Ruth to the hated New York Yankees in 1920.  While there are plenty of pages on the 2004 championship that broke the so-called “Curse of the Bambino” that haunted the franchise for 86 years, there is scant little coverage, at least in comparison, of the later successful years in 2007, 2013 and 2018.  Indeed, there was only one sentence that mentioned anything about the championship in 2007 and not a lot about either 2013 or 2018’s successful seasons.  There is more written about the collapse of the team in the final days of the 2011 season, the “chicken and beer” controversy and subsequent firing of manager Terry Francona than there was about the last three championships.

Also, the heartbreak of many seasons in which the team was oh-so-close was on full display many times.  Whether it was in 1946 when Enos Slaughter made his mad dash home when Johnny Pesky still had the ball, losing to Cincinnati in the 7th game of the 1975 World Series after the famous Carlton Fisk home run in game 6, Bill Buckner’s fateful error in game 6 of the 1986 World Series, Bucky Dent’s homer in the 1978 tie breaker vs the Yankees, or Aaron Boone’s home run to end the 2003 playoffs for Boston, a Red Sox fan will have plenty of material in which he or she can relive those painful losses. 

There is some good information on key people in Red Sox history such as Babe Ruth, longtime owner Tom Yawkey and many other players. These mini-biographies are placed in the time of team history when that person played a significant role and they made for decent reading. These snippets, as well as the description of the team, have the feeling of a book written by a big fan of the team and there wasn’t a lot of objectivity.  That isn’t necessarily bad if the target audience is “Red Sox Nation” (a good description of this term and the fan base starts the book), but much of this information is compacted in a manner that serious fans of the team will already know it all.

Not being a Red Sox fan and wanting to learn some more about the team, this book fell short of my expectations for that as I, as a serious fan of the game, did know most, but not all of, the material before reading it.  It is good for fairly new fans of either the game or the Red Sox in specific.  For that reason, the book does get a passing grade, but anyone with a more than casual knowledge of the team should look elsewhere for new information.

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:


Monday, January 6, 2020

Review of "When the Garden Was Eden"

One New Year's resolution I always make since I started writing reviews is to clear out some of the older books on my shelf and get those reviews done.  This book, written in 2011, is the first one to keeping that resolution.  It only makes sense, as the book's main subject is an event that will have its 50th anniversary later this year.  Here is my review of "When the Garden Was Eden"

Title/Author:
“When the Garden Was Eden: Clyde, the Captain, Dollar Bill and the Glory Days of the New York Knicks” by Harvey Araton

Tags:
Basketball, professional, history, Knicks, championship

Publish date:
October 18, 2011

Length:
368 pages

Rating: to
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
One of the most dramatic moments in NBA history occurred when the captain of the New York Knicks, Willis Reed, came out with his team for the start of the seventh game of the 1970 Finals. The story of that moment, and that team, has grown to legendary status and it captured in this very good book by Harvey Araton.

While the book was written just after the 40th anniversary of this even, it is still just as memorable a time for Knicks fans now, coming up on the 50th anniversary.  Even those who have only seen the grainy film of Reed making his way down the tunnel after suffering a severe injury in game 5 smile when mentioning "The Captain."  Araton doesn't limit his complimentary and almost idyllic prose to Reed.  Other Knicks players such as Walt "Clyde" Frazier, "Dollar" Bill Bradley, Dick Barnett, coach Red Holtzman and later Earl "The Pearl" Monroe are just some of the players who not only are highlighted in their contributions to the team, but also in a significant number of pages for each one. 

These mini-biographies on each man are the slowest parts of the book, as each one goes into great detail about their early lives, their youth, their thoughts on the Knicks and their post-basketball lives, especially Frazier who is a long-time broadcaster for the team.  However, once a reader gets past them, starting with Chapter 7, the history lesson for the Knicks is terrific.  Reading about not only the 1970 championship team, but also their next few years which culminated in another championship (to date, the latest one for this team) in 1973, was like taking a time trip back to Madison Square Garden in the early 1970's.  The reader will not only feel like he or she is enjoying the basketball from that era, but will also get a taste of New York City in those days – at least the more positive social aspects.

Some personal stories about "super fans" and other associated people also help capture the atmosphere and stories that make up the New York Knicks of that time, considered to be the best in the team's history.  How "celebrity row" came into being and why so many celebrities wanted to be seen at Madison Square Garden is probably the best reading in the book that isn't basketball.  And speaking of the basketball writing, that is the best aspect of the book as it almost brings the reader courtside to the action, especially that game in 1970 in which the Knicks dominated the Los Angeles Lakers to capture the championship.

Knicks fans will especially want to read this, if they have not already done so.  Even if one is not a New York fan, but instead likes to read about basketball history, this is one that will be enjoyed by that person. 
                                         
Book Format Read:
Hardcover

Buying Links:

Friday, January 3, 2020

First review of 2020 - "Baseball Gods in Scandal"

Happy New Year to all my fellow sports book readers!  One resolution I am determined to keep this year is to catch up on reviews of books provided to me by authors or publishers but for one reason or another I never got around to doing.  This review is the first book in attempting to keep that resolution as it was sent to me soon after publication in the summer of 2019.  Here is my review of "Baseball Gods in Scandal"

Title/Author:
“Baseball Gods in Scandal: Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and the Dutch Leonard Affair” by Ian Kahanowitz

Tags:
Baseball, professional, Tigers, Indians, gambling

Publish date:
July 4, 2019

Length:
388 pages

Rating: to
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
The late 1910's and 1920's was a trying time for professional baseball.  Caught up in several gambling scandals, the most famous being the Chicago White Sox throwing the 1919 World Series, the sport was well on its way to cleaning itself up thanks to the iron fist of its first commissioner, Kennesaw Mountain Landis.  However, in 1926 Landis received a letter from former pitcher Dutch Leonard about another gambling problem that season. That allegation, which involved two legendary players, is the subject of this interesting book by Ian Kahanowitz.

Late in the 1919 season, after the White Sox had already clinched the American League pennant and the Cleveland Indians were assured of finishing second, the Indians and Detroit Tigers played a mostly meaningless game.  "Mostly" is the key word here as the Tigers were in a fierce race for third place.  Finishing in the top three of the league was a big deal in those days as the top three teams received shares of the revenue generated from the World Series.  At the time, that was a significant amount of money given the player salaries.  Allegedly, the two biggest stars in that game, Ty Cobb of the Tigers and Tris Speaker of the Indians, were involved in a betting scheme to ensure the Tigers would win and finish third.  That was the subject of Leonard's letter and it set off a firestorm of controversy.

Of course, Cobb and Speaker denied having any involvement in any gambling. Their stories, as well as Leonard's and those of Landis, American League President Ban Johnson (whose feud and power struggle with Landis make for terrific reading) and Smokey Joe Wood, who also supposedly knew about this incident but had conflicting testimony, are captured in great detail by Kahanowitz.  At times, the writing is so detailed that a reader must read it carefully, almost like the transcript of a legal trial.  This review will not contain any spoilers, so one must read the book to know the outcome. 

However, reading the book is something that anyone interested in baseball during that era, or wants to learn more about the main characters mentioned above should do.  It will teach the reader a lot about this mostly forgotten but historic incident in baseball history.

I wish to thank Mr. Kahanowitz for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.   
                                          
Book Format Read:
E-book (PDF)

Buying Links:

Monday, December 30, 2019

Final review of 2019 - "Lords of the Gridiron"

2019 was a memorable year in sports, both for the games on the field and in the publishing world.  There were many excellent books I read and it is only fitting to cap off the year with one of those excellent books, this one by an author whose work I have enjoyed before.  Using a similar winning style he used for two hockey books, Matthew DiBiase has written a great book on college football coaches.  Here is my review of "Lords of the Gridiron"  


Title/Author:
“Lords of the Gridiron: College Football's Greatest Coaches” by Matthew DiBiase

Tags:
Football (American), coaching, history, biographies, memoirs

Publish date:
September 1, 2019

Length:
342 pages

Rating: to
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Sports fans, no matter which sport, always love to debate about who is the greatest – the greatest team, the greatest player, the greatest coach, and so on. Author Matthew DiBiase has contributed to the discussion in hockey with two previous books on NHL coaches and general managers.  These were both excellent books and he has written another outstanding book in the same manner, this time ranking the best college football coaches.

The formulas DiBiase used for his hockey books would not be effective for measuring the success of college football coaches, mainly because of the extensive changes the sport has undergone in its 150 year history.  Giving some credit to one of the most famous users of sports analytics, Bill James, DiBiase developed an intricate formula to account for a coach's successes and failures such as conference and national championships, bowl records and overall season records.  However, because of changes in how some of these are determined over the years (such as the national champion – pre-AP polls to AP and Coaches polls to the Bowl Championship Series to the current College Football Playoff, the current proliferation of bowl games and how the status of some of them change from 'minor' to 'major' bowl games), the formula takes some different factors as well so that coaches from all eras of the sport get a fair shot.

As for the actual rankings, like with his previous books, DiBiase starts at #1 and works his way through the top 50.  All top 50 coaches have their accomplishments listed at the top of their chapters, followed by an excellent short biography or memoir, based off not only extensive research but from interviews with players, colleagues, family members or the coaches themselves. It doesn't matter how the information was gathered or which coach is being portrayed, each chapter is full of good information and entertaining stories.

Coaches from all eras are honored as one of the top 50 and it doesn't matter when the coach did his trade, DiBiase gives each one of them about the same amount of writing and that is especially noteworthy since, of course, it would be more difficult to capture some of this information on coaches from the earlier decades of college football. The chapters on some of these coaches such as Fielding Yost and Andy Smith were just as enjoyable to read as were those about current coaches such as Nick Saban and Dabo Sweeney.  This reviewer, a Minnesota Golden Gophers fan, was especially grateful to be able to read quite a bit about Bernie Bierman and Dr. Henry Williams.

One last note about the book is that the system DiBiase uses to rank these coaches will produce surprises – most of these surprises will be that some of the most legendary names in the history of the game will rank lower than many will expect.  Whether a coach is ranked #1, #50 or somewhere in between, the author will give a through and detailed explanation why before sharing the stories about that coach and that information is very useful.

College football fans of all ages, school loyalties and level of interest will want to read this book.  While it can be used as a reference book and also is one that can be read in small doses at a time, it can also be a page turner that will be hard to put down, as was the case for this reviewer.  After reading this book and his two hockey books of equally high quality, a reader should be eagerly anticipating the next book from this author.   

I wish to thank Mr. DiBiase for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
                                                    
Book Format Read:
Paperback

Buying Links: