Thursday, March 12, 2015

Review of "Tony Oliva"

Having been a Minnesota Twins fan since I was a little kid, I was as thrilled as a little kid at his first game when I saw that this biography of a Twins legend was available for review before the publication dated of April 1.  I requested a copy, was approved to download it the next day, and began reading.  Here is my review of a very enjoyable read on Tony Oliva.

“Tony Oliva: The Life and Times of a Minnesota Twins Legend” by Thom Henniger

Baseball, autobiography, Twins

April 1 2015

296 pages

4 of 5 stars (very good)

It is always interesting to read about baseball players who were able to leave Latin American countries like Cuba in order to pursue their dreams of playing major league baseball. Tony Oliva was one of those players, leaving Cuba just before the Bay of Pigs invasion by the United States in 1961. Three years later, he achieved that dream by starring for the Minnesota Twins.  Not only did he make it to the major leagues, he did so with a flourish by winning the first of his three batting titles in 1964 and winning the American League Rookie of the Year award. 

Even though he achieved fame early, he never let that success either distance himself from fans, nor did he ever not think about the family he left back in Cuba.  All of this and more is chronicled in this biography of Oliva written by Thom Henniger.  

The book takes the reader through Oliva’s life in Cuba, the decision to leave spurred by his father, the discrimination he and other Latin American ballplayers faced, and his career with the Twins. It was certainly a tale of two different times – before and after he hurt his knee diving for a fly ball in an otherwise ordinary game on June 26, 1971.  That would lead to extensive knee surgery which limited him to only 10 games the following year.  When the American League introduced the designated hitter in 1973, Oliva returned to playing most games, exclusively in this role.

While there is nothing that is truly groundbreaking or different about this book, since it follows the tried and true format of most sports biographies, it is an entertaining read.  Some of the stories are entertaining, some will tug at heartstrings.  One that did the latter was one that I knew about before reading the book, but the extra information was touching – Pedro, not “Tony”, is Oliva’s given first name.  It became that because lacking a passport when he was about to leave for the United States, he used the passport of his brother Antonio to gain entry. The stories about how he met, courted and married his wife Gordette are also a nice touch.

The baseball history, especially Twins history, is well-written and researched and as a Twins fan since the late 1960’s, it was great to read about some of the teams and players that I was too young to follow, as well as the later teams that took me down memory lane.  All Twins fans will appreciate this book.  Tony has spent most of his life working for the organization in some capacity, and the fans have shown their appreciation of that. This book captures that spirit as well. 

I wish to thank NetGalley and the University of Minnesota Press for providing an advanced review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Pace of the book: 
It was an easy read as the stories from other players and family members were all fairly short and to the point, yet woven together to make it an enjoyable book to read.  They also followed a chronological time line for the most part, which I always find to be a positive for a sports biography.

Do I recommend? 
This book is a must-read for Minnesota Twins fans and a good baseball biography that readers who enjoy baseball books or books on human interest will also enjoy.

Book Format Read:
Ebook (Kindle)

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