Saturday, November 30, 2013

Free books! Giveaway of baseball trivia books

In the spirit of Black Friday weekend, I am going to make it easy to shop for a gift for the baseball fan in your life.  Black Mesa Publishing has generously allowed me to offer a 4 pack of baseball trivia books to one lucky reader of this blog.   The books are all in the series of "The Ultimate Test of True Fandom and are the following titles:

- Baltimore Orioles IQ
- Cleveland Indians IQ
- Cincinnati Reds IQ













Also a trivia book on all of Major League Baseball, MLB IQ





In order to enter the contest, simply leave a comment with your email address on either this post, the review of "Baltimore Orioles IQ" that was posted November 25 or on the interview with the author of these books, Tucker Elliot, posted November 30.  The winner will be randomly drawn on December 7.  The winner will be given contact information to the publisher and the books can be obtained as either e-books or paperback format.

Good luck to everyone and keep reading.

Lance

Interview with Tucker Elliot

I recently had the pleasure to interview Tucker Elliot, author of several baseball trivia books and also a book on military families, "The Day Before 9/11".     He also has another book in the works that combines a military theme and baseball, which he details below in one of the answers.



What inspired you to write “Baltimore Orioles IQ”?
I’ve had a lifelong fascination with baseball stats, history and memorabilia – but when I was a kid, my parents were very careful about who was “acceptable” as my heroes if you will, because they didn’t want me being influenced by athletes who lacked morals. Cal Ripken and Dale Murphy were at the top of my mom’s list of players she felt were good role models, so of course I was a diehard fan of both those guys – and naturally when I signed a contract to write in this series my first choices were Atlanta and Baltimore. As things turned out I agreed to write several books but I didn’t get to choose how they were queued or the Orioles would have been written 2-3 years ago.

You have written similar books on several teams.  Will you write about all 30 major league teams?
That’s a goal for the series for sure. I am currently working on other teams – the Twins, for example, as well as the Pirates – but due to other projects I’m involved with there will be a pretty good lag between future IQ books.

Describe your research for the book, including anything you wish to share about his family or friends whom you may have contacted during this process.
I always start by reading memoirs and biographies on the great players from whichever team I’m researching. I won’t always read them cover-to-cover, but I’ll take down notes about specific moments that should be in the book. I usually contact the team and ask for old media guides, as they are great resources. The last two things I always include in the research is a comprehensive look at the franchise record book and recaps for any and all postseason trips.

In the book, you address topics that can be considered controversial, such as the inclusion of players accused of taking performance enhancing drugs.  Why did you choose to include them?
I don’t mind taking shots at Barry Bonds or other players from the PED era – and in fact I’m firmly in the camp that believes Roger Maris and Hank Aaron are the rightful season and career home run champions. I took as many shots as I could at Bonds in writing my last book on the Braves and had a good time contrasting him with Dale Murphy (who wrote the foreword to the book) – and you can see that in this Orioles book as well when I refer to what Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds did as “not naturally occurring events.” That being said … yes, Rafael Palmeiro, Miguel Tejada and Brady Anderson are in this book and they are three names from Orioles history that get brought up in this discussion – and statistically, there aren’t many other ways to explain what Anderson did, though to my knowledge he’s never admitted nor been proven to have used PEDs. As for Palmeiro, he denied it before Congress, tested positive for steroids a few weeks later, explained it by saying he didn’t do it on purpose, and then denied it again, and he denies it to this day. Ultimately I chose to include them in the book because what they did on the field is an important part of franchise history. Should there be an asterisk next to their names in the record book? Well, others can debate that – but you can’t pretend that what they did isn’t relevant. It’s a wholly separate question from asking if what they did is tainted.

Please tell our readers a little bit about yourself – if you are a baseball/sports fan, why you became an author, and anything else you wish to share.
My family is from Georgia but I grew up in the middle of Nowhere, FL. Around the time I was 8 or 9 we got a stoplight. Seriously. Most days we spent fishing and playing sports. My parents were worried about my education so at night when I was listening to the Braves on the radio my mom would have me write “game reports” and she’d check my spelling and everything. In high school I wrote an essay on baseball and my teacher told me I had to rewrite it on a more serious topic. So I wrote an essay about the World Series and my teacher gave up. Anyway, I knew from an early age that writing was something I wanted to pursue. I’m a diehard Braves fan. I’m right handed, and bitter. I’d gladly be a fat thirty or forty-something reliever (Terry Forster maybe?) who gets to play half of forever just because he’s a southpaw. I’ve lived all over the world – North America, Asia and Europe – and have been influenced tremendously by foreign cultures. I’m a diehard fan of European soccer (Bayern Munich and Chelsea) but I’ve been to a cricket match in Indonesia before, too.

Do you have any projects or books that you are currently writing? Is there anything you wish to add, about the book or anything else?

A few years ago I wrote an essay that was essentially a memoir on being a teacher and coach and entered it in the Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. I did well enough that I actually got a book contract out of it. I began writing a lot about education issues and also sports. Writing about baseball has been especially good for me because as my writing career has progressed my new projects have taken on much more serious issues – 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how all of it has impacted military kids living overseas with their soldier parents. I wrote a rather dark book titled The Day Before 9/11 that’s a true story about these topics – and being able to go back to baseball for a few hours each week is a relief when the rest of my time is spent reliving some rather painful true life events. As for current projects, I’m writing the memoir for Tony Stevens – he was in the Twins’ farm system on 9/11 and later he left baseball to join the Marines and served three tours in Iraq. The Day Before 9/11 was the first of three eBooks on 9/11 related topics that are meant to introduce Tony and his story to readers. The Memory of Hope and 11 Bombs are the second and third eBooks and will be released after the first of the year. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Review of "Baltimore Orioles IQ"

I received a request from the publisher of this book for a review.  Mildly surprised to see a request to review a trivia book, I decided to go for it and I was glad I did.  Even though this isn't my favorite team and as a result, I didn't do so good on the trivia questions it is still a book worth consideration.  Here is my review of "Baltimore Orioles IQ."


Title/Author:
“Baltimore Orioles IQ: The Ultimate Test of True Fandom” by Tucker Elliot

Tags:
Baseball, trivia, Orioles

Published:
October 13, 2013

Length:
148 pages

Rating: 
3 1/2 of 5 stars (good)

Review:
Books on sports trivia can be tricky to review as a reviewer may not know much about the topic and therefore may not know the accuracy of the information as presented.   I found this to be my dilemma when a review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher who requested that I review it.   Feeling up to a challenge, I decided to give it a go and also contacted the author in case I had any questions.

While I have not followed the Baltimore Orioles closely so some of the material would not be known to me, I did find that the book had some very good narrative pieces and was organized well.   I felt it was clever that the questions were divided up by topics and each topic was an “inning.”  For example, the first inning was about numbers worn by Orioles players.  There were 20 questions on this topic, with 10 questions asked in the “top of the first” and the other 10 questions asked in the “bottom of the first.”  There were 10 such innings for a total of 200 questions.   The difficulty of the questions, at least to this serious baseball fan who follows a different team, ranged from fairly easy to having no clue to the answer without searching Google.

Without doing a through fact check on the validity of each question, I did match the answers to the questions I did not know back to the question to at least see if they made sense from what I did know or recall.   While this may not a totally accurate way to verify information, I did find it useful in order to get a feel if this was a trivia book that would be useful to baseball fans, especially Orioles fans, and I found it to be that.   If I did want more information on a question, I contacted the author who was very responsive and helpful. 

Elliot has written several of these trivia books on different teams and is continuing to do so.  That is good news for baseball fans, for if you like trivia books on your favorite team, this format makes reading them and answering the questions easy and fun.   I recommend this book for both Orioles fans and hard-core baseball trivia buffs. 

Did I skim?
No. 

Pace of the book: 
I was able to go through the questions pretty quickly.   The organization of the topics helped with that, along with the answers being listed at the end of each half inning instead of the back of the book.

Do I recommend? 
Yes to Orioles fans, as they would enjoy this book best.  It would be also good for trivia buffs who want to win the next round of bets with their buddies for some lesser-known facts.

Book Format Read:

E-Book (PDF)

Buying Links:


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Review of "Off the Ropes"

When searching for my next book, I stumbled across this gem when searching boxing books.  When I read that it was about Ron Lyle, I was very happy as it is hard to find books on fighters such as him who didn't win a championship but was a very good boxer in an era where there were many great fighters.  Here is my review of his biography, "Off the Ropes." 


Title/Author:
“Off the Ropes: The Ron Lyle Story” by Candace Toft

Tags:
Boxing, Biography

Published:
September 10, 2013 (e-book - Original publication date: May 15, 2010)

Length:
264 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (Outstanding)

Review:
Ron Lyle is a name only serious boxing fans would recognize today.  He did not win a heavyweight title during his career.   He had what many would be considered a troubled life because he was convicted of murder at a young age, later would be acquitted of another murder charge, divorced twice and never truly fulfilled his goal of becoming a champion.  However, he does not regret what turns his life took and talks about everything, the good and the bad, freely with author Candace Toft.  The result of this is a fascinating book about his life that is a terrific insight into the man and what made him tick.

Hard core boxing fans may be disappointed with the boxing portions of the book as Toft does not describe Lyle’s fights, including his most famous bouts against Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, into great detail.   She does write enough about them that the reader will get a feel of what happened in the ring during those fights, but there isn't a blow-by-blow recap or many exchanges between fighters or fighter and corner men. 

Those, however, do not take anything away from the rich stories told by family members and Lyle himself about his time in prison, his dedication to family, his marital triumphs and failures, and most importantly, Lyle’s fierce commitment to his goal of fighting for the heavyweight championship.  The reader really does feel like he or she is sitting next to Lyle and knows the man personally from the details written about these topics.  What is very intriguing to me is that to this day, Lyle will not share any details about the incident that resulted in his murder conviction.  His account did not sound like a man who would commit such an act, yet it also doesn’t exactly sound like something a defense lawyer would use in order to get a client acquitted.  Lyle accepted this verdict, did his time and became focused on his boxing goals with the help of two men who were willing to take him under their wings.

I also liked how Toft wove this focus into the other aspects of Lyle’s life.  She explains how this focus on his boxing career contributed to his marital problems, his demanding training regiments but yet he would never forget that family was important.  He comes across as a loving father despite problems with his wives and fiercely loyal to his mother and siblings.   Overall, this is an outstanding biography on a boxer who may not be a household name today, but has a story that is worth sharing.  Highly recommended for any boxing fan.

Did I skim?
No. 

Pace of the book: 
Excellent.  While the book may have lacked specific details about parts of Lyle’s life, the stories told by the many people interviewed made it an entertaining and fast read.

Do I recommend? 
Yes.  Fans of that era of boxing or boxing history buffs will enjoy reading about this fighter who engaged in a very memorable fight for his moment of fame in the boxing ring.  

Book Format Read:
E-Book (Kindle)

Buying Links:



Thursday, November 14, 2013

Review of "Fourth and Long"

With the Minnesota Golden Gophers enjoying a good season, I have been watching more college football this year than I have the past few seasons.  So I decided to pick up this book on four Big Ten football programs and I am glad I did.  Here is my review of "Fourth and Long" by John U. Bacon.



Title/Author:
“Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football” by John U. Bacon

Tags:
Football, American, College

Published:
September 3, 2013

Length:
352 pages

Rating: 
4 1/2 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:
A book that explores the landscape of college football through four Big Ten schools was reason enough for me to pick up this excellent book by John U. Bacon.  What he did with his unlimited access to the football programs at Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan and Northwestern was chronicle nearly every aspect of the game today.   That includes the good, the bad, the ugly, the greed, the passion and the joy that makes millions of fans care about good ol’ State U. every Saturday in the fall.

Of course, discussion of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State could not be avoided and Mr. Bacon handles this matter with the proper amount of sensitivity and objectivity.  The main focus on Penn State is the new coach and the players who stayed with the program in 2012 even after the NCAA allowed them to transfer schools without losing a year of eligibility.  Even if the reader is not a Penn State fan or looks upon the school and football program less favorably because of the scandal, he or she cannot help but to be uplifted by the unabated enthusiasm and pride these young men have for their school.

As for Ohio State (or should I say THE Ohio State University), they also have problems of their own since they are also ineligible for postseason bowl games, but they have also hired one of the biggest names in college football coaching, Urban Meyer.  Their season too has some interesting moments and the intensity of the Ohio State – Michigan rivalry is told with interesting anecdotes.

Which leads me to Michigan.  Bacon not only tells of the football team’s comings and goings, but it is through the Michigan athletic program where I believe he is at his best in explaining both the good and bad of college sports.  Good in areas such as fierce loyalty by fans, the lack of public funds used for stadiums (he writes scathing commentary on pro teams who use the threat of leaving to secure public funds for facilities) and the sheer numbers of fans who care.  Bad in areas such as college athletics becoming more corporate and the continuing milking of these loyal fans for more money.  He likens the latter to a frog that is placed in a pot of water and the temperature of the water is very slowly raised until it reaches a boiling point and kills the frog.  He asks the rhetorical questions of when the fans will reach that point.

The fourth program analyzed is Northwestern and this one is very different than the other three.  Bacon does a nice job of illustrating how Northwestern still is able to maintain its strict academic policies and also be competitive in football.  They are the new kids on the block compared to the other three schools, having had many losing seasons until 1995.  How they have dealt with the new found success and the people involved is woven into very interesting tales.

Overall, this book is an excellent accounting of four Big Ten programs, each with their own issues and traditions.  All college football fans should read this book, especially Big Ten fans and that includes fans of the other eight schools in the conference.

Did I skim?
No. 

Pace of the book: 
Very good.  It never seemed to drag or steer off course.   What also helped make this a good read was that Mr. Bacon never stayed too long on the story of one school.  Staying on one too long would make the reader forget what was going on with the other three.  However, he didn’t jump around too much, so it was easy to follow the saga for each school as well.

Do I recommend? 
Yes, especially for Big Ten fans.  But even though the book follows the trials and tribulations of four Big Ten teams, all college football fans should enjoy this one.

Book Format Read:
E-Book (Nook)

Buying Links:



Saturday, November 9, 2013

Interview with David Todd

I recently had the pleasure to speak with David Todd, author of "In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People" and ask him a few questions about the book and his upcoming writing projects.



Q: What was the inspiration for “In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People”?
David A. Todd

A:  Frankly, I wish I knew!  After I finished my first novel, I needed an idea for the next one and the idea just came to my mind.   However, I would say that because I don’t like the changes in baseball lately such as specialty pitchers, I wanted to create a character that would be like someone such as Walter Johnson.  Ronny Thompson’s character spoke for those who long for those days. As noted in your review, I do realize that Ronny’s performance would be impossible in today’s game, but I developed his character for the nostalgia. 

Q: Why the tie–in with organized crime?

A: I had a conversation with a person who said that he was a baseball fan, but he was not aware of the 1919 Black Sox scandal.  I wondered how someone who called himself a fan could not know about this, but realized a lot of people don’t know or study history. I then thought of what a modern version of that scandal might look like. From there the plot with the organizations placing large bets and bribing players to throw the World Series in much the same manner.

Q: What were your baseball experiences?

A: I have been a fan of the Boston Red Sox and the San Francisco Giants (because of Willie Mays).  My earliest baseball memory was seeing Bill Mazeroski hit the winning home run in the 1960 World Series.  Unfortunately, I only played pickup baseball as I didn't have the skills to play well enough to make a team.

Q: Do you have any future sports books or writing projects?


A: I am writing a sequel to this book, titled “Headshots”, which is about 25% complete.  I got the idea from one of my beta readers who noted that the end of “In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People” there were several plot elements to finish.  These included what would become of Ronny and his girlfriend Sarah, how he dealt with his injuries, would the bet be paid off, what would become of the mobsters who were caught or the three players who took the bribes.   So with all of these elements to finish, a sequel is being written.  I am learning new writing skills as I write it and I anticipate it being released in time for the 2014 baseball season. I also have ideas for stories about professional football and college basketball.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Review of "Knuckler"

I picked up this book to pay off a bet.  A small but fun group of baseball book junkies of which I am a part of decided to place a wager on the World Series.  Each person who wished to participate would pick a team.  If that team LOST the World Series, then the person who picked them would have to read a book about the WINNING team and post a review.  I picked the Cardinals to win.  So, I had to find a Red Sox book that I thought would be interesting.  What could be more interesting than the story about a knuckleball pitcher, especially one who is beloved by Red Sox Nation?  I read this book and am now posting my review so my debt is officially paid off!  Enjoy this review of "Knuckler." 


Title/Author:
“Knuckler: My Life with Baseball’s Most Confounding Pitch” by Tim Wakefield with Tony Massarotti

Tags:
Baseball, autobiography, Red Sox

Published:
April 6, 2011

Length:
301 pages

Rating: 
2 1/2 of 5 stars (just okay)

Review:
At first I was very happy to see that there was a book written about Tim Wakefield, a player whose career defines perseverance.  Having set many of the team pitching records for the Boston Red Sox, I expected his autobiography to be rich with many stories about his ups and downs, the various roles he has played in his pitching career and maybe even a few personal insights.

Alas, it wasn't to be.  There were two glaring issues I had with the book while reading it.  One was that it wasn't written in the first person.  While autobiographies of celebrities are almost always written by a ghostwriter, they are at least told in the first person.  This book doesn't do that – the pitcher is always “Tim” or “Wakefield”, never “I” or “me.”  So that was problem number one.  

Problem number two, at least for me, was a trivial mistake, but one big enough that had me wondering where else I would find gaffes like this.  Wakefield was a member of the 1992 Pittsburgh Pirates team that lost a heartbreaking game 7 to the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series.   It is a highlight finish that was memorable for many reasons.  The section describing that winning play is actually well written except for one detail:  the batter who got the game winning hit was not “Fernando” Cabrerra as written in the book, but instead Francisco Cabrerra.  While that may seem small, I had this thought: if the writer couldn't get a memorable moment like that correct, what else could be wrong in this book?  While I didn't do a fact check on everything, it still seemed to take away from the book as a whole.

This isn't to say there weren't good parts to this book.  I enjoyed the sections about the nuances of the pitch, whether it was about how to throw it, how to catch it or how it moves in a crazy fashion.  I also liked some of the information on knuckle ball pitchers of the past such as Phil and Joe Niekro and Wilbur Wood.  However, what would have made those even better would have been more stories about them, not just a recap of their playing days.  

That same reporting style of writing was evident in the rest of the book as a large portion of it is devoted to the ups and downs of the Red Sox franchise during Wakefield’s time as a pitcher for them.  While it was somewhat fun to relive the historic comeback the Red Sox made against the New York Yankees in 2004, and uplifting to see Wakefield become such an iconic figure for the franchise, the book felt more like a Red Sox history lesson (and one that skims at that) than it did as a biography for Wakefield.  A disappointing read for me, but Red Sox fans might enjoy it for a brief historical perspective of the recent team history.

Did I skim?
No. 

Pace of the book: 
It moved along fine.  It never really dragged along or seemed too dry despite the lack of insight or personal stories.

Do I recommend? 
No, unless the reader wants to learn more about the nuances of the knuckleball.  That was the best part of the book.  But if the reader wants to learn about the Red Sox or Wakefield’s career as a whole, those can be found in other sources.

Book Format Read:
E-Book (Kindle)

Buying Links:




Sunday, November 3, 2013

Short review of "Collision Low Crossers"

Normally a shorter review like this will be reserved for a short story or flash fiction, not a full length book.  However I could not do more than skim this book through several parts.  Therefore I am leaving a shorter review, listed below.  I do wish to thank NetGalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 2 1/2 of 5 stars.  (Okay)

Review:

This book, written by a former member of the New York Jets coaching staff, provides a unique pespective into that life:  the life of an NFL coach.  Everything from play creation to scouting to the combine of prospective draft picks is covered.  The latter was my favorite topic of the book and had a quote from a coach that makes the reader raise his or her eyebrows. Paraphrasing it, this coach felt that with many middle aged white men appraising mostly young black men, it had the feel of a Southern plantation in the pre-Civil War era.

That, however, was the best humor and story telling in this book for my liking.  There are plenty of personal stories, especially about Rex Ryan, but they just felt like pauses in the high stress world of coaching.  The book was a difficult read for me mainly because it is geared for the hard core football person who loves the inside scoop.  If that is you, get this book.  If you are a more casual fan like me who only pays attention on Sunday and Monday night (and the occasional Thusday) then pass on this.