Saturday, January 19, 2019

Review of "Hello Friends!"

Memoirs can be tricky - they may be about the author or they may be about the author's memoires.  This one can be classified as the latter as long time Blue Jays radio man Jerry Howarth shares many stories from his 36 years behind the microphone.  Here is my review of "Hello Friends!"


Title/Author:
“Hello, Friends! Stories From My Life and Blue Jays Baseball” by Jerry Howarth

Tags:
Baseball, memoir, broadcasting, Blue Jays

Publish date:
March 5, 2019

Length:
360 pages

Rating: 
3 of 5 stars (good)

Review:
When a broadcaster does the games for one team for a long time, that person will have a vast collection of stories to share. That is the case for Jerry Howarth, who was a radio broadcaster for the Toronto Blue Jays from 1982 to 2017. He shares many of those stories and some about himself as well in this memoir.

As one might imagine, a person who has had the same job for 36 years will have a wide variety of stories to tell. Of course, he shares his recollections on famous moments in Blue Jays history, such as Joe Carter’s walk-off home run to win the 1993 World Series and the famous bat flip by Jose Bautista in the 2015 American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers. However, what makes the book a little different from other collections of stories like this are all the personal connections Howarth had with so many Blue Jays players and personnel over the years.

Some of these stories will be sad, such as the death of Howarth’s long time broadcast partner, Tom Cheek. His telling of the last half inning Cheek called for the Blue Jays will make the toughest of readers generate at least a sniffle. But many, many more of them are uplifting and tell about the successes and positive accomplishments of the subject, especially if it was a player.  Howarth rarely has a bad thing to say about anyone in this book. 

The most interesting part of the book turned out to be the beginning as he tells his tale of how he sent tapes of college games he broadcast and his jobs in sports outside of broadcasting.  He worked for a few years for the Utah Jazz before starting his broadcasting career doing the games of the AAA Tacoma Twins.  While this read much like any other memoir, it was good material and advice for readers who may wish to pursue this profession.  The rest of the book with its storytelling is much like any other collection of stories, fictional as well as non-fictional – some good, some not so good (either very short or just telling the reader “Hey, I talked once to so-and-so). 

Overall, this book is one that Blue Jays fans will certainly enjoy and fans of other teams may like as well.  If nothing else, Howarth can say he has shared a treasure trove of stories that many generations of Blue Jays fans will pass along from generation to generation.

I wish to thank ECW 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, January 17, 2019

Review of "Paul Brown's Ghost"

Having heard of jinxes and curses for sports teams, this book sounded interesting in two ways.  Not only does this affect two teams instead of one, there is a ghost behind the suffering of the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals.  Here is my review of "Paul Brown's Ghost."



Title/Author:
“Paul Brown’s Ghost: How the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals Are Haunted by the Man Who Created Them” by Jonathan Knight 

Tags:
Football (American), history, Browns, Bengals

Publish date:
October 2, 2018

Length:
208 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
 
Review:
Paul Brown is one of the most revered figures in professional football history.  He was responsible for creating two professional teams. First came the Cleveland Browns, who were named after Brown, in 1944, playing in the All-American Football Conference and later joining the National Football League (NFL).  Brown also was the man who got the Cincinnati Bengals up and running in the American Football League (AFL) in 1968.  They too joined the NFL when they and the AFL merged in 1970. As part of the merger, the Browns and Bengals were placed in the same division and that started an intrastate rivalry that has had its share of unusual moments and history.
 
So it is only fitting that when Brown died in 1991, his spirit would haunt both franchises, never allowing them to see much success. That is the premise of this book by author Jonathan Knight, who has written ten books on Cleveland sports and makes a solid case that both teams have been haunted (or cursed, jinxed, whatever the reader wants to call it) by Brown with events both on and off the field.  Knight makes a connection between Brown with most events that have occurred since them with the two teams – mostly negative.

While Knight’s experience may be with Cleveland teams, he doesn’t shortchange the Bengals in this book, giving both teams an equal amount of space and doesn’t show favoritism toward one or the other throughout the book.  Indeed, Knight writes about the Bengals with equally good knowledge and detail that he does about the Browns.  He adds plenty of humor in the book throughout as well, especially with his similes of something that happened between the two franchises. One of the examples that is laugh-out-loud material is when the Bengals hired Forest Gregg as its coach after he was fired by the Browns. Given the rivalry between the teams, Knight compared the hiring to dating the girl your brother had dumped. 

 
The book’s structure starts with Brown’s death, then follows the teams from that time through the 2017 season as well as providing historical information and descriptions of their seasons as well as their matchups.  These games were often played with one of the teams trying to get into the playoffs whereas the other one was out of the running and wanted to spoil the hopes of their cross-state rival.  Of note, the last time both teams made the playoffs was 1988, the year that Knight states the rivalry was at his best. His writing about that season was excellent, but the best story was when the first Browns team left after the 1995 season - not only for the description of Art Modell’s sneaking behind Cleveland’s back to negotiate with Baltimore, but also the Bengals’ role in the move as well too. 
 
While certainly fans of the two teams will want to read this book, they will probably be familiar with a lot of the material presented.  What makes this book an excellent one is that readers who are not fans of the teams will learn much about their history and rivalry without getting bogged down with too much detail – instead the most entertaining aspects of their histories and rivalry is highlighted and for that reason, any professional football fan will want to read this.
 
I wish to thank Sports Publishing for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
 
Book Format Read:
Hardcover

Buying Links:

Monday, January 14, 2019

Review of "Ten Innings at Wrigley"

Wrigley Field was the site for one of the craziest games in baseball history in 1979.  I remember the game well, not only for the 23-22 score, but because it was the first game I watched on cable TV on WGN.  What a first game to see!  So when I saw there was a book written about it, I was very happy to receive an ARC and the book turned out to be just as good as I had hoped.  Here is my review of "Ten Innings at Wrigley"




Title/Author:

“Ten Innings at Wrigley: the Wildest Ballgame Ever, with Baseball on the Brink” by Kevin Cook

Tags:

Baseball, history, Cubs, Phillies

Publish date:

May 7, 2019

Length:

272 pages

Rating: 

5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:

On May 17, 1979, the Chicago Cubs and the Philadelphia Phillies played one of the biggest slugfests in the history of the game, with the Phillies winning the game 23-22 in ten innings.  The two teams combined for thirteen runs in the first inning (Phillies 7, Cubs 6) and the Cubs came back from a 12 run deficit (21-9) only to lose the game in extra innings.  This game, along with some history and follow-up stories on some of the players in that game, is shared in this very entertaining book by Kevin Cook. 

The actual events of the game make up the bulk of the book, but Cook sandwiches the inning-by-inning description by first giving the reader a background history check on the two teams involved and finishes the book with stories about key players such as the Cubs’ Dave Kingman (who homered three times in the game) and Donnie Moore and the Phillies’ Bob Boone and Tug McGraw. 

These players are featured in the post-game writing but what is truly impressive about this book is that EVERY player who made an appearance in this game gets his just due.  Of course, there is more coverage of players who had a great game hitting (or had a terrible game on the mound) but no matter what contribution that player made to the historic game, Cook made sure to mention him. The reader will also get a true feeling of what it was like to see a game at Wrigley at that time – all day games, plenty of empty seats as Wrigley was less than half full on that Thursday afternoon, people waiting in the street on Waveland Avenue for home runs, fans camped on the rooftops - it’s all there and is a terrific trip back in time for readers who remember when only day games were played at Wrigley.

While the brief histories of the teams before the chapters on the game are enjoyable to read, the stories on some of the players following the game are even better.  What is really interesting is how intertwined the stories of that game became and Cook’s reference to them.  For example, it was interesting to read about how two Cubs teammates in that game, Donnie Moore and Bill Buckner, ended up crossing paths on different teams in the 1986 American League Championship Series.  Most baseball fans know what happened to both men after that season, so I won’t rehash it here, but Cook’s prose will leave the reader emotionally spent when reading about them, especially Moore. 

Any reader who is a fan of baseball of that era, a Cubs fan or a Phillies fan, this book must be added to his or her library.  With rich detail and a knack for easy-to-read prose, Kevin Cook has written another excellent baseball book.  It is certainly one that will stay in my library and will be pulled out when I want to remember the first Cubs game I saw on that relatively new industry called cable television.

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

Book Format Read:

E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:


 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Review of "The Fight"

While the bulk of my reading is newer books, it is refreshing to read a classic book every now and then.  That was the case when I picked up this book on the Ali-Foreman fight in 1974 written by Norman Mailer.  Certainly a different perspective on this legendary match.  Here is my review of "The Fight."


Title/Author:
The Fight” by Norman Mailer
Tags:
Boxing, championship, history, classic
Publish date:
September 17, 2013 (original publication date: 1975)
Length:
237 pages
Rating: 
5 of 5 stars  (Outstanding)
Review:
One of the most amazing and historic boxing matches in the colorful history of the sport occurred in 1974 when Muhammad Ali surprised the world and defeated George Foreman to reclaim the world heavyweight title in Zaire. Much has been written about this fight, including this book by renowned author Norman Mailer. 
Part historical, part play-by-play and part memoir (Mailer inserts himself in the book), the reader will get an interesting perspective of this fight and the setting in which it took place. Since the book was originally published in 1975, one can easily note that there are sections and passages that would not pass an editor’s eye today, such as when Mailer stated that “Africa is shaped like a pistol, say the people here, and Zaire is the trigger.” He also writes most of the book in a masculine point of view, sometimes a little too much that might make a reader uncomfortable.
At the beginning of the book, he does state that he is going to do this, so it is not unexpected.  This will also allow the reader, should he or she wish to continue, to get a different perspective.  One part that I did enjoy was when Norman (how he referred to himself throughout the book) went jogging with Ali when the boxer was doing road work. While the pace was slower and he didn’t last the entire length of the run, it was nonetheless something that is not typically found in other books on this fight.
The best aspect of the book are chapters 13 through 15, the fight itself.  Here, the “masculinity” of Norman’s writing shines best, as the reader will feel like he or she is ringside.  Not just from the punches or reading about Ali’s famous strategy by leaning on the ropes early, but also from what is said by each fighter and their corners.  There are similar segments earlier in the book when Mailer visits each fighter’s training and workouts.  Knowing how the fight ends before starting the book, it was amazing to see that some of the popular myths about that fight, such as that Foreman was not prepared, are simply that – myths, not actual events.
Some of the early portions of the book seem to drag, but this is an overall quick read and very entertaining.  As long as the reader keeps in mind the biases and the time period in which this is written, it should be able to be enjoyed by many readers.
Book Format Read:
E-Book (Nook)
Buying Links:


Friday, January 11, 2019

Reivew of "The 'Down Goes Brown' History of the NHL"

The title of this book intrigued me, as I never heard of "Down Goes Brown."  Otherwise known as Sean McIndoe, he now has a new fan as I loved this book on some of the more wackier moments in NHL history. Here is my review.



Title/Author:

“The ‘Down Goes Brown’ History of the NHL: the World’s Most Beautiful Sport, the World’s Most Ridiculous League” written and narrated by Sean McIndoe

Tags:

Ice Hockey, humor, professional, history

Publish date:

October 30, 2018

Length:

272 pages

Rating: 

5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:

Having just recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, the National Hockey League (NHL) has had an interesting and colorful history. Sean McIndoe, also known as “Down Goes Brown” with his popular hockey blog, writes and narrates an excellent book on this history, highlighting some of the more strange moments.

While the book follows the history of the league in a chronological format, that is about the only thing that is “regular” about this book.  Sure, the reader will learn about the origins of the league and how it began with four teams, nearly folded when it was down to three, the Original Six era (which nearly became the Original Seven in the early 1950’s when the league nearly added the Cleveland Barons), the Great Expansion of 1967 and the future expansions to the current league of 31 teams. 

There is also mention of equipment, great players of each era, the styles of play from the wide open offenses of the 1980’s to the trap defensive style made popular by the surprise Stanley Cup championship of the New Jersey Devils in 1995. BUT…and this is a big BUT…this type of writing is not what sets this book apart from the rest.

What DOES make it memorable and one that every hockey fan should read, whether or not they know about “Down Goes Brown”, are the quirky stories that fill every chapter and also serve as a segue between each chapter.  Most likely, many fans have not heard about these occurrences or near-occurrences in the league’s history.  One of my favorites occurred in 1970 when two new teams, the Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks, entered the league.  One of them would be able to get the first pick in the entry draft. The best player in the draft that year was Gilbert Perrault by far and away. So, to try to be fair, the league decided to use a wheel with various numbered slots to determine which team gets the pick – each team had an equal number of slots.  But how to determine who spins?  Well, that was easy – flip a coin.  Now, you may ask, why didn’t they just use that coin flip for the pick?  As the book notes time and time again, this is the NHL – they don’t do anything the easy way.  For the record, the Sabres won the pick and Perrault enjoyed a Hall of Fame career playing 18 seasons in Buffalo. 

This was just one of the many crazy stories told with humor (mostly – the discussion on the violence in the sport certainly was not).  For a funny line, try this on for size – but first a little background.  In 1984, the Montreal Canadiens and Quebec Noridques had a huge brawl that became known as the Good Friday Massacre.  Then in 1991, the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues had a similar melee known as the St. Patrick’s Day Massacre.  They got their monikers because of the holidays on which these took place.  McIndoe wrote the “The NHL – the only sport where you make reference to a holiday-themed massacre and you have to ask to be more specific.”

This book is a must-read for all hockey fans no matter their interest level or their favorite teams or eras.  Very entertaining, very easy to read and informative as well, it is one that is sure to be added to many hockey libraries.

Book Format Read:

Audiobook

Buying Links:





Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Review of "Bottom of the 33rd"

Normally, I will not review a book that I have read multiple times, but this book about the longest game in the history of professional baseball was one that I wanted to share here.  I read it soon after its publication in 2011 to mark the 30th anniversary of the game.  It was a selection for an online baseball book club to which I moderate, so I had to read it again and I loved it just as much now as then.  Here is my review of "Bottom of the 33rd"




­

Title/Author:

“Bottom of the 33rd: Hope Redemption and Baseball’s Longest Game” by Dan Barry

Tags:

Baseball, minor leagues, history

Publish date:

April 12, 2011

Length:

259 pages

Rating: 

5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:

One of the beauties of baseball is that the game has no clock – there is no set time in which a game must be completed, such as 60 minutes for football and hockey or 48 minutes for professional basketball.  It just requires that 9 innings be completed with one team ahead.  If the teams are tied after those 9 innings, they keep playing innings until one team is ahead. 

The only time that it took 24 additional innings to decide a game was on a chilly night in Rhode Island in April 1981.  Because of a simple omission in the league rule book, a game between the Pawtucket Red Sox and Rochester Red Wings that began at 7:30 on the Saturday before Easter didn’t stop until after 4 AM on Easter Sunday.  And THEN the game wasn’t technically over – the two teams had played 32 innings before the International League president was finally contacted and he said to suspend the game.  It was later concluded in the 33rd inning on June 23 on national television as it was the biggest baseball story of the day because the major league players were on strike.

This book by Dan Barry takes this game and weaves so many different stories about so many different people who were involved in the game in some manner.  Of course, the major emphasis is on players who participated.  The two most recognizable names were Hall of Famers Wade Boggs, who played third base for the Red Sox and Cal Ripken Jr., who also was at the hot corner for the Red Wings.  While their contributions to the game didn’t affect the final outcome, their stories were minor compared to some of the other people.

People like Dave Koza, the Red Sox first baseman whose story is the major focus of Barry’s prose and the reader will get attached to him and his wife Ann, who sat in the cold stadium for the entire game, rooting for her husband to not only get that hit, but also to get that chance to play in the major leagues.

The history of the stadium is also discussed in this book as are the history of the town of Pawtucket, the follies of the team and its owners.  One amusing story is the reason why Budweiser beer was not available at McCoy Stadium.  So is the plight of a young clubhouse attendant.  Determined to make the visiting Red Wings a decent meal at the end of the game, he had a chicken and pasta spread ready for them in the ninth inning (a big improvement over the usual fare for post-game meals in the minor leagues) only to have it ruined as the game kept going and going.

So many other people have stories to share – the Red Wings general manager-turned-radio broadcaster calling all of those innings and frequently wishing anyone listening back in Rochester a Happy Easter.  The 9 year old boy who with his dad sat through every inning as the temperature kept dropping.  And speaking of dropping temperatures, the umpires whose hands kept turning colder because there was only one pair of gloves to share were also prominent in the story.  When they could not find the rule in the new version of the rule book that stated an inning could not start after 12:50 AM, their stubborn sticking to the “rules” was both admirable, confounding and ultimately historic.

This long review barely scratches the surface of all the wonderful stories shared in this mostly fast-paced book.  Like the game itself when players were just trying to end it, it does start to drag near the conclusion, but this just added to the excellence in the writing as it plays along exactly as the game does.  It is a wonderful addition to any baseball library and is recommended for all baseball fans.

Book Format Read:

E-book (Nook)

Buying Links:





 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Review of "Spirals"

Reading this book helped me with a couple of online reading challenges in which I am participating.  It is also going to be posted in a new Facebook group dedicated to books and literature on college football and it even has helped me with a resolution to review books in which I was sent a copy, but never got to read for months.  To top it off, I really enjoyed this book on a family's college football legacy. Here is my review of "Spirals."


Title/Author:
Spirals: A Family’s Education in Football” by Timothy B. Spears
Tags:
Football (American), college, family, Dartmouth, Minnesota, Yale, memoir
Publish date:
October 1, 2018
Length:
184 pages
Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Review:
It is very common for the love of a sport, whether as a player or as a spectator, to be passed down from generation to generation. The Spears family is no different as three generations of Spears men played college football.  The eldest, Clarence “Doc” Spears, was a guard for Dartmouth and also became a Hall of Fame college coach, most notably at the University of Minnesota where he was the first college coach of the legendary player Bronko Nagurski.  Then Doc’s son Bob was the captain of the Yale football team in the 1950’s and grandson Timothy would also play for Yale, as an offensive guard in the 1970’s. Timothy went into academics after Yale and he shares his family’s football legacy in this excellent book.
Doc Spears’ story is certainly the most colorful of the three as his legacy as coach at Minnesota, while impressive on the field, is also clouded by his controversies off the field, especially his clashes with the university president. This led to him taking the same position at a rival school, Wisconsin.  However, as he does with his father and himself, Timothy Spears writes about much more than just the football careers of the three Spears men. For each man, their family bonds and their academics are just as important and these passages will bring out the most emotional response from a reader.
This is best illustrated when each of them is in college. For Timothy, his reflections on his life on campus but away from football is both humorous and touching.  His description of the times he would smoke marijuana made me laugh, but then I felt bad for him when his parents confronted him on it.  Bob’s injuries during his football career at Yale, plus his own health issues (the book begins with the death of Timothy’s mother and his dad’s dementia when trying to process it) make for some of the more heart-tugging moments. Then, of course, there is Doc – his presence in the book feels very royal, like we are reading about a monarch or a king.  His story was my favorite of the three.
Timothy writes that he didn’t want to just write about himself, his father and his grandfather in chronological order because the reader would then miss out on seeing how the generations intertwine and truly received their educations through football as well as in the classroom and on other parts of the campus. He accomplishes this as the reader will learn much about what it truly means to be either a COLLEGE football coach (in the case of Doc) or to be a true student-athlete, in the cases of Bob and Timothy.  This is a terrific book for any college football fan, especially as it covers multiple eras of the 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:


Saturday, January 5, 2019

Review of "The Warner Boys"

Let me start this post by saying that this is NOT the typical book I will review.  Yes, there is an athlete who is a co-author of the book and yes, he does talk a little about his career in football.  But that is about it for any sports connection.  However, the story shared here by Curt Warner and his wife Ana is a must read - a powerful story about their lives raising twin boys with autism.  Here is my review of "The Warner Boys"


Title/Author:
The Warner Boys: Our Family’s Story of Autism and Hope” by Ana and Curt Warner with Dave Boling
Tags:
Family, Autism, Memoir, Football (American), Seahawks
Publish date:
December 1, 2018
Length:
193 pages
Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Review:
Curt Warner was an All-Pro running back for the Seattle Seahawks after enjoying an outstanding college football career at Penn State.  He met and married a striking woman from Brazil, Ana and after their first son, Jonathan, was born, it seemed like they would be able to live a comfortable life as Curt was smart with his money while he was a professional athlete.
However, all that changed when their twin sons, Austin and Christian, were born. Early in their lives, it was apparent that something was different about the twins and they were diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder.  Of course, this profoundly changed the dynamic of the Warner family and their story is told in this unforgettable memoir co-written by Curt and Ana.
The book covers so many different aspects and topics. Not only about the Warner’s life trying to raise two boys with autism and all of the challenges that encompasses, but they also talk about their own feelings, their own actions and there is even a chapter in which Jonathan talks about his struggles, especially when he was a teenager and he would not have friends come over to his house for fear of not only embarrassment, but also for the protection of his brothers.
There are many different events that run the gamut of emotions for the Warners. The hopes and disappointments when treatment options don’t work. The never-ending vigilance they exhibit to ensure that neither boy harms himself or others when they express themselves in ways such as biting or hitting their heads against objects. The fear and subsequent relief when their house was destroyed by a fire set by Austin trying to reenact a scene from a Disney movie. The adoption of a little girl, Isabella, in the middle of all this and her immediate taking to her older brothers (all three of them). The pride of seeing Austin and Christian graduate from high school.  This is only a small sample of the events that are described by the Warners that had to be difficult for them to say, but felt that they had to share.
Words in a review cannot do justice to describe the feelings one will have when reading this book.  It is both sad and happy.  It is both hard to read and very uplifting.  The best description of what this book is truly about was written by Curt – “When we tell them about the things that have given us strength, some say that ours isn’t an autism story – it’s a love story.”  That sums up what I took away from this book – it is truly a story of love. Anyone who has family members who are autistic, or anyone who wants to learn more about what it is like to live with loved ones suffering from this disease needs to read this book.
Book Format Read: 
E-book (Kindle)
Buying Links: