Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review of "The 1997 Masters"

This was one of those sporting events that you will know exactly where you were and what you were doing when you heard that Tiger Woods won the 1997 Masters by 12 strokes. The only part of that day that seems sad to me is that it has already been 20 years since that historic event.  Woods decided to share his story about that tourney, and it is a terrific book. Here is my review of "The 1997 Masters."




Title/Author:
“The 1997 Masters: My Story” by Tiger Woods with Lorne Rubenstein, narrated by Scott Van Pelt
 
Tags:
Golf, history, race, audiobook

Publish date:
March 20, 2017

Length:
244 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:

By 1997, Tiger Woods had already become a well-known golfer thanks to his outstanding amateur career.  But that year, when he won the Masters by 12 strokes, his career and personal life took a different turn that would drastically change both of those lives for him.  On the 20th anniversary of that historic tournament, Woods decided to share the story of that tourney and what it meant to him and his family.

Readers who want to learn more about Woods’ personal scandals or hear him speak out on racial issue will be disappointed as he only calls his divorce and subsequent scandal personal mistakes and instead of speaking out on social issues, his talk about race is gratitude and appreciation for black golfers who suffered through discrimination in the game and broke through the color barrier the Augusta National Course.  These include golfers such as Charlie Sifford and Lee Elder, the latter being the first black golfer to play in the Masters in 1975. 

The most personal Woods gets is frequent stories about his parents – and in the book, his mother receives as much credit and love from Woods as does his father.  Most stories fans read only talks about Woods’ relationship with his father, but in this book he opens up about the relationships with his mother as well.

The bulk of the book is about golf.  There are stories about that week in the Masters of course, but he also shares stories about playing practice rounds with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, his current golf business and much discussion on technique and equipment.  Casual golf fans may be lost in the talk of angles of putters or snap-hooked drives into the trees, but for me, this was terrific.  A reader can learn a lot about the game by listening to these segments, which come in the sequences about the 1997 Masters itself as well as the stories outside the tourney.

The reader will follow Woods shot by shot, hole by hole for the entire tourney and I loved listening to Scott Van Pelt’s voice describing the scene and Woods’ thoughts as he wrote them.  The end of the book when he describes how today golf is all about how long the players can hit is a perfect transition to illustrate the differences between his win 20 years ago and the game now. Golf enthusiasts should add this to their libraries, regardless of their fandom of Woods. The tourney was a historic one and this first-hand account from the winner of that Masters is one to treasure.


Book Format Read:
Audiobook

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Review of "Dick Allen, The Life and Times of a Baseball Immortal"

Dick Allen was a player whom I remembered as someone who would hit a home run against the Twins every time I watched a Twins-White Sox game when I was a kid.  I did know that he was also a star in Philadelphia, but those majestic shots he hit in a White Sox uniform was what I remembered about him.  So, when I saw this book offered on NetGalley I picked it up to learn more about the man.  Here is my review of the latest biography written about him.



Title/Author:
“Dick Allen, The Life and Times of a Baseball Immortal: An Illustrated Biography” by William C. Kashatus

Tags:
Baseball, biography, Phillies, White Sox

Publish date:
May 28, 2017

Length:
288 pages

Rating: 
3 of 5 stars (okay)

Review:
Baseball has had many players through the years whose talent would be overshadowed by some type of controversy, be it bad press, a bad personality or maybe just bad luck.  One of these players was Dick Allen, who played primarily with the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago White Sox between 1964 and 1976, with stops in Los Angeles (Dodgers) and St. Louis along the way.  His story and career is captured in this biography by long time Philadelphia writer William C. Kashatus.

The book follows the tried-and-true format for a sports biography by writing about Allen’s childhood in which his father was gone for long periods of time but when he was around, the moments were special for Dick.  His mother ran a strict house and that helped Dick concentrate on baseball.  When he signed with the Phillies (who subsequently called him “Richie” on rosters and press releases) he had his first exposure to racism and discrimination when he played in Little Rock, Arkansas.  That brought a profound awareness to him on the civil rights movement and his views were note always popular with the media or the fans in Philadelphia, a city that was having its own problems with race riots in 1964.

Throughout the book, Allen is portrayed in a sympathetic light, explaining that many of the accusations made through the press are countered by either teammates, his manager or other personnel associated with the teams.  This was the case not only with the Phillies but also with the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox, the other teams for whom Allen played in his career.  He enjoyed the best success in Chicago where twice he led the American League in home runs and was the league’s Most Valuable Player in 1972.  He then went back to the Phillies after expressing his desire to “retire” after the 1974 season.

After writing about Allen’s post-baseball life, Kashatus devotes the last chapter to making a pitch for Allen to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He uses today’s advanced statistics to make a favorable case for Allen that from strictly numbers, looks favorable when compared to legendary players who are already enshrined such as Harmon Killebrew.  It is the author’s belief that Allen has been kept out because of the media’s negative feelings toward him, both in the past and present.  This is a section that is one that is best left for the readers to make that judgement for themselves.

This is the second book on two years written about Allen and this one shows the player in a very favorable light.  If a reader was a fan of Dick Allen during his career, then this will one to add to his or her library.

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



Book Format Read:
E-book (PDF)

Buying links:




Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Review of "Boston's 100 Greatest Games"

I will admit, I love to read books like this one.  Lists of the greatest or the worst of anything are sure to generate arguments, discussions and second guessers.  Even if I agree 100% or don't otherwise have a great interest in a subject, it is always interesting to read about someone's choice of the best. This book is one of those books - here is my review of "Boston's 100 Greatest Games."


Title/Author:
“Boston’s 100 Greatest Games” by Rob Sneddon

Tags:
Baseball, Football (American), ice hockey, basketball, Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins, Celtics

Publish date:
February 15, 2017 (Third edition)

Length:
290 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:  
Any book that contains a list of the greatest games, players or teams (or worst for that matter) is sure to generate conversation, arguments and second guessing.  When that happens, that means the book has done what it was supposed to do. This list of the 100 greatest games involving a Boston team by Rob Sneddon does that and a whole lot more.

What I liked best about the book was Sneddon’s explanation at the beginning that explained his criteria for selecting the game.  They were magnitude, closeness, level of play and historical context. This might hurt some teams that would otherwise be closer to the top – such as the 2007 Red Sox, who were champions soon after the 2004 edition broke the mythical “curse.” 

All four major sports and Boston professional teams are included, as well as Boston College and Harvard football and Boston University hockey.  Therefore, no matter what team a Boston fan roots for, he or she is sure to find that team represented in the book. The rankings, despite the explanation of the reason for them, are sure to generate debates, even amongst the fans of the same team. Which of the Patriots’ five Super Bowls was the best one? (Given the date of this third edition, most can figure out that answer)  Was winning the 2004 World Series the best moment for the Red Sox, or was it beating the Yankees that same year in the American League Championship Series after being down three games to none?  There are plenty of Celtics and Bruins moments as well and all four teams are represented in the top ten, so no bias toward one sport exists either.

Boston sports fans will want to pick up a copy of this book as the short story of each game will bring back great memories or let the fans learn a little history about their favorite teams.  Even those who are not Boston fans, like myself, but always like to find books like this for trivia information and a good debate will enjoy it just as well.

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

Book Format Read:
Paperback

Buying links:

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Reveiew of "The Cubs Way"

Having been a fan of Tom Verducci's work for Sports Illustrated and ESPN, I was thrilled to learn that he wrote a book on the 2016 Chicago Cubs.  Then when I saw he also narrated the audio version of the book, I knew I had to pick up a copy of the audiobook. Sometimes when I look so forward to a book like this, it lets me down because of the high expectations.  That was not the case with this one - an outstanding book on an outstanding baseball team. Here is my review of "The Cubs Way."


Title/Author:
“The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse” by Tom Verducci

Tags:
Baseball, history, Cubs, championship, audiobook

Publish date:
March 28, 2017

Length:
396 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Nearly everyone, including non-baseball fans, is aware of the story of the Chicago Cubs during the 2016 season.  Having not won the World Series since 1908, the team was led by a core of young position players and not only compiled the best record in baseball, they broke the so-called “curse” and defeated the Cleveland Indians in a thrilling 7-game World Series.  The story of how this championship team was built is told in this outstanding book by Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci.  He also narrated the audiobook, which was also done well.  Authors who narrate the audio version of their books help to lend an air of authority to the work.

The story of the team is told mostly through extensive interviews with Cubs president Theo Epstein and field manager Joe Maddon.  Both of them have ideas and viewpoints that go against the traditional way of building and managing a winning team, something that is noteworthy in the usually conservative business of baseball.  For example, many teams try to build their teams through pitching as there are plenty of clich├ęs and conventional thoughts that state pitching is more important. 

However, Epstein didn’t follow that model.  Instead, he concentrated on obtaining a core of talented position players who would live up to his standards for talent, character and leadership.  Between trades and the draft, Epstein found his core players.  First baseman Anthony Rizzo (trade), third baseman Kris Bryant (draft), catcher/outfielder Kyle Schwarber (draft) and shortstop Addison Russell (trade) make up that core and Verducci tells the reader why each of these players are so important to the team.  Oh, and as for pitchers – through some shrewd trades and free agent signings of veterans like Jon Lester and Jake Arrietta, that was addressed as well.

The best and most extensive writing, however, is saved for the lengthy passages about Maddon and his unorthodox approach to running his team.  Having already achieved success with the Tampa Bay Rays, Maddon’s complete story with the Cubs is captured with humor, detail and inside information that he was more than happy to share with Verducci. The reader will feel like he or she is part of the Cubs clubhouse – which is one of those important details that helped change the culture of the team after it underwent a multi-million dollar upgrade.

If Cubs fans read only one book about their team’s magical 2016 season, this is the one they must read.  Even readers like me who are not Cubs fans but want to read about an excellent baseball team, this book should be added to their libraries.  Verducci can certainly fly the “W” with this winner of a book.

Book Format Read:
Audiobook

Buying links:



Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Review of "One Nation Under Baseball"

The old adage that sports and politics do not mix has been proven to be false many times. This book is another blow to that thought as it illustrates how the game can be a mirror of what is going on in the country at large.  Here is my review of "One Nation Under Baseball."


Title/Author:
“One Nation Under Baseball: How the 1960’s Collided With the National Pastime” by John Florio & Ouisie Shapiro

Tags:
Baseball, history, society

Publish date:
April 1, 2017

Length:
256 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:
No matter what time frame or era is mentioned, one can usually find a connection to baseball and the political and social culture of the times. That was especially true in the 1960’s and how they intertwine is illustrated in this book by John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro.  

Most of the important social issues and important events of the decade and are
mentioned and their connections to baseball are documented as well. There is the
moon landing by the Apollo 11 crew in 1969 – and baseball games were paused to
announce the landing generating cheers and tears from fans. The connection
between the New York Mets and the Beatles was mentioned  - or more
appropriately, a certain Mets employee who served the Beatles at their
historic Shea Stadium concert.

The most compelling writing for both society and baseball was saved for the topic of race relations. One of the more poignant stories was shared by Atlanta Braves slugger Henry Aaron when he talked about hearing dishes breaking in a restaurant where he ate a meal. He stated that it was the belief of the owner that no future customers would want to eat off of the same plate from which a black man ate, so the workers were told to break the dishes instead of wash them. There is detailed writing about the important events on this issue such as the March on Washington as well as rioting across the country.

The same attention to detail is paid to baseball issues of the decade and how they connect to the political and social fabric of the country as well.  Topics that are covered in this manner include the unionization of the players by Marvin Miller, the publication of “Ball Four” and the portrayal of the game and the challenge to baseball’s reserve clause by Curt Flood.  There is also detailed writing about the change in how sports were covered by newspaper writers, in which the stories and questions asked were not always flattering to the players or teams.  These reporters, called “chipmunks”, were the writers who revolutionized the way baseball was covered.

At times the book reads more like a history lesson about the 1960’s instead of a baseball book – and that makes it an even better book to read if one is truly interested in how the game is connected to the American mood. This is recommend for those who like reading history books, whether that history is about baseball or about America.

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:



Sunday, April 9, 2017

Review of "No Money, No Beer, No Pennants"

Each baseball team, no matter how good or bad they have performed on the field over the years, has a unique history and some very interesting stories. This book shares some of those for the Cleveland Indians during the Great Depression.  Here is my review of "No Money, No Beer, No Pennants."


Title/Author:
“No Money, No Beer, No Pennants: The Cleveland Indians and Baseball in the Great Depression” by Scott H. Longert

Tags:
Baseball, history, Indians

Publish date:
September 15, 2016

Length:
272 pages

Rating: 
4 ½  of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:
After winning the World Series in 1920, the Cleveland Indians didn’t repeat the success again, sinking to new lows by 1928 with a star (Tris Speaker) who retired amidst a gambling scandal, their owner passed away and the value of the franchise was rapidly declining.  However, all was not lost for the team as a new owner and a new stadium would help reverse the team’s fortunes despite the country being deep into the Great Depression. 

In this well written and deeply researched book, Scott Longert illustrates how the Indians were able to overcome this adversity and help convince the voters and local government leaders of Cleveland to build a brand new stadium – Cleveland Municipal Stadium with a capacity of over 80,000. The dealing and construction of the stadium is just one of the many issues affecting the team in which Longert gives the reader sufficient detail to get a clear picture of the issue, who the key people are in the matter and what the final result will be. 

The portrayal of people, from owner Alva Bradley to managers Roger Peckinpaugh and Walter Johnson are also well researched and the reader will follow them through most of the book.  Key players are also included and the same attention to detail is paid to them as well.  From Wes Ferrell and Earl Avirill  to Bruce Campbell (who survived spinal meningitis) to a teenage sensation named Bob Feller, the players are portrayed in a manner that the reader will learn much about them.

The business of the ball club is a main topic throughout the book and that was just as good, if not better, than the writing about the people. Readers will learn a lot about what the team, and the sport of baseball, went through during the Great Depression and how they, like every other industry and business, had to make significant cuts to expenses to survive. The saga of the team moving to the new stadium also made great reading, including the incredible decision of Bradley to move the team back to its smaller, older park in 1934 because he felt the rent charged by the city was too high. 

Readers who are interested in baseball history, even if that interest isn’t concentrated on the Indians, will enjoy this book as it paints a complete picture of the team during that time frame. Indians fans who want to know more about the history of their team and the old “Mistake by the Lake” – the nickname later given to Cleveland Municipal Stadium – will enjoy reading this one as well.

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

Book Format Read:
Paperback

Buying links:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/no-money-no-beer-no-pennants-scott-h-longert/1123744486?ean=9780821422441


Saturday, April 8, 2017

Review of "Leap In"

Two reading goals I set for myself in 2017 were to read more books on female athletes or sports and to have a bigger variety of sports topics.  This book helped both of these goals as it is the story of a woman who decides to try the sport of open water swimming.  Here is my review of "Leap In".


Title/Author:
“Leap In: A Woman, Some Waves and the Will to Swim” by Alexandra Heminsley

Tags:
Swimming, memoir, endurance sports

Publish date:
July 4, 2017

Length:
336 pages

Rating: 
3 of 5 stars (okay)

Review:
Open water swimming is one of the fastest growing participation sports and is one of the few where both men and women compete against each other without separate categories. This book by Alexandra Heminsley chronicles her journey to be a competitor in that sport.

Having already conquered running and having written a similar book on that sport, Heminsley shares a story that is at times funny, inspiring, dramatic but most of all a simple feel-good story about what it takes to overcome the fear of trying something new.

The reader will learn much about her personal life as well as her struggles to become an open water swimmer. The best way I can describe the story is like some of the water in which she swam: choppy.  The topics seemed to go all over the place, from her discovery that the only way she and her husband could have children was in-vitro to her first open water swim in which she stayed near the end with two other women who were in her swimming classes.

This isn’t to say this book isn’t good, as the story is worth reading, but as a reader who is not a great swimmer, I found the sections on the history of the sport of open water swimming and some of the techniques used to be more interesting than that of her story.  Nonetheless, this book is recommended for readers who either read her first book on running and wish to know more about her or for people interested in the sport of open water swimming.

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

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying links:


http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/leap-in-alexandra-heminsley/1125005889?ean=9781681774336


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Review of "My Cubs"

When a team wins a championship, that will usually bring out a flurry of books and other materials on that team within months of the win.  This has been the case for the Chicago Cubs and given their large fan base and the long length of their championship drought, it was just a matter of time before I started finding books on the Cubs. This is a good quick read written by a long time fan.  Here is my review of "My Cubs."


Title/Author:
“My Cubs: A Love Story” by Scott Simon

Tag
Baseball, professional, memoir, Cubs

Publish date:
April 11, 2017

Length:
155 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
Many fans of any sport have a team that they “love.” In the case of Scott Simon, a National Public Radio personality, that team is the Chicago Cubs. This book is a collection of stories, reflections and accounts of Simon’s team.

Simon tells of his family connection to two people who played big roles in the history of the team: former first baseman and manager Charlie Grimm and former Cubs broadcaster Jack Brickhouse. Grimm was married to a good friend of Simon’s mother and Brickhouse was a godfather.  The tales of “Uncle Charlie” and “Uncle Jack” were interesting and added to the intimacy of the tales.

The writing was not especially insightful, especially the recap of the team’s most exciting moment in 108 years, the night when they won game 7 of the 2016 World Series. They were, however, something that a fan would write when reliving a great memory.  The reverence that Scott feels for the Cubs is very evident throughout the book.  One of the more clever aspects is that many of the infamous moments in the team’s history- the Curse of the Billy Goat during the World Series in 1945, the black cat as Shea Stadium in 1969 and the eighth inning meltdown in game 6 the 2003 National League Championship Series – are written to the same cadence as the famous “Tinker to Evers to Chance” poem.

The best line in the book comes near the end when Simon explains why he has the feelings for the team that he does.  He explains that his “feeling for the Cubs is love, not loyalty. It has not always been pure pleasure to be a Cubs fan, but it’s never been a chore…” That one line explains much about the author, the book and what means to love one’s team.  Most baseball fans can relate to this sentiment and therefore will enjoy this book written by a fan that truly illustrates a fan’s point of view.

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

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying links:


http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/my-cubs-scott-simon/1125289573?ean=9780735218031


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Review of "Home Team"

The calendar says April and we all know what that means - Opening Day is almost here!  To continue the baseball theme that has been prevalent on this blog, the next book is one on the history of the San Francisco Giants since their move west from New York.  Lots of little-known stories and some rebuking of commonly held beliefs.  Here is my review of "Home Team."


Title/Author:
“Home Team: The Turbulent History of the San Francisco Giants” by Robert F. Garratt

Tags:
Baseball, professional, history, Giants

Publish date:
April 1, 2017

Length:
264 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
When Horace Stoneham moved the New York Giants from Manhattan to San Francisco, the team’s fortunes and culture took as dramatic a change as its address did. The story of the team on the West Coast is captured in this interesting book by Robert Garratt. 

From the first time that Stoneham had the idea to move the ball club from the outdated Polo Grounds in Manhattan to the team’s success during the current decade on and off the field in AT&T Park, Garratt weaves facts and beliefs that are not quite facts into an entertaining read about the team that has often had a love-hate relationship with the fans and the city.

There are some stories that may not be as well known to a casual fan or to readers with a passing knowledge of baseball history. One of those is that the construction of Candlestick Park, while not as fraught with controversy as the construction of Dodger Stadium, had its own share of shenanigans. For example, the construction was overseen by contractor Charles Harney, who owned the land on Candlestick Point where the ballpark was built. He demanded that all plans from the architects and all construction vehicles on the site bore the name “Harney Stadium”, believing the park would be named for him.  When a fan vote gave the stadium the name “Candlestick Park” Harney ordered a work slowdown which delayed the opening of the ballpark for one year.

The years of ownership by Stoneham, which came very close to ending with the club moving to Toronto, and then later Bob Lurie, which came very close to ending with the club moving to Tampa Bay, make up the bulk of the book. They cover a wide range of topics - the results on the field, the struggles of the front office to come up with sufficient revenue, and the atrocious conditions of watching baseball at Candlestick Park.

However, once Peter Magowan became the principal owner in early 1993 and signed Barry Bonds to what was at the time the richest contract in baseball history, the team’s fortunes changed off the field as well as on it.  After suffering four defeats in five years for referendums on a new ball park under Lurie, Magowan spearheaded a successful referendum to build what is now AT&T Park. While the latter was built with private funds as opposed to using public funds in the other votes, it still represented the change in attitude of the city and public officials toward the value of the team to the city, a belief that is captured in the writing of the political process. 

Once the team moved to the new park in 2000, there is little written about the team’s history there and that was the only disappointment with the book for me. It would have been interesting to read about this author’s take on the recent run of World Series titles, the only three the team has won during its tenure in San Francisco, especially comparing the team’s riches from these to the struggles of the franchise during the 1970’s.

Overall, this is a very entertaining and informative book. It is recommended for readers who are either fans of the Giants or are interested in the history of the team.

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: