Friday, June 14, 2019

Review of "The City Game"

One sports trivia question that I have burned to memory is that City College of New York is the only college basketball team to have won the NIT and NCAA in the same season.  A book on that remarkable team and the point shaving scandal that brought them down is coming out in November, but I was fortunate to obtain an advance review copy - and it is one that I will purchase when it comes out.  Here is my review of "The City Game."


Title/Author:
“The City Game: Triumph, Scandal and a Legendary Basketball Team” by

Tags:
Basketball, college, scandal, gambling, politics, championship

Publish date:
November 5, 2019

Length:
448 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
The 1949-50 basketball team from the City College of New York accomplished a feat that will never be done again. They won both the National Invitational Tournament  (NIT) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tourney in the same season. At that time, they were held at different times rather than concurrently as is done now. These championships came at a time when college basketball was much more popular than the professional game and also at a time when gamblers have a large influence in the sport. Through these gamblers, City College was found to have participated in a point shaving scandal along with several other college teams. This City College team, its players and both the good and bad times for them is captured in this outstanding book by Matthew Goodman.

What is the most striking feature about the book and the writing is how a reader will have a deep connection with the City College players, especially Eddie Roman and Floyd Layne.  Roman is Jewish and Layne is black, making them the perfect symbols to represent the student body make up of City College, which was tuition free and comprised mainly of black and Jewish students who were gifted intellectually but would not otherwise have been able to pursue higher education.  Goodman starts the book off by introducing the reader to Roman and his family and ends it with a wonderful success story achieved by Layne in a surprising twist.  In between, the reader will be taken back to that era of smoke-filled arenas and students cramming the cheap seats while the gamblers, politicians and businessmen filled the lower bowls with other items to take care of than watching the games.

While the writing about the basketball was very good and the recap of that special season for City College was easy to follow (and to cheer for them), the coverage of the point shaving scandal is even better.  The reader will get information from several viewpoints – the City College players who accepted bribes to shave points, the gamblers who set up the players and the informants who provided the information prosecutors needed to charge the players and gamblers.  On the latter, the story of Joseph Gross and his flip-flopping on his willingness to testify was especially entertaining.  Between his arrogance when he was arrested and his speedy exit from the courtroom when he was supposed to testify, he is just one character of many with whom readers will become very familiar.

However, that quality is best illustrated when writing about the City College players and their lives.  Whether Goodman is sharing their family life, their basketball prowess, the shame they felt when arrested and deposed, or their various degrees of success after City College, the reader will feel like they have known these men for a long time. The best section in the entire book is when the players are arrested at Penn Station after disembarking a train after a road game – the emotions of not only the players but Coach Nat Holman are on full display.

One more quality about the book that makes it an outstanding read is how several issues that are still discussed today are raised in this book.  Only two of the City College players that were arrested served jail time – both of them African American.  Several times it was pointed out that nearly everyone involved – the schools, the arenas, the gamblers – were making money off college basketball except the players.  These are issues that are still being discussed today.

For these and many other reasons, this is a book that should be picked up by either college basketball fans or readers who want to learn more about the history and times of New York City in the 1950’s as the dialogue has an authentic feel. 

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

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:


Sunday, June 9, 2019

Review of "The Sixth Man"

While I cannot call myself a "fan" of the Golden State Warriors, I have two admissions to make about them.  One, whether or not they win the NBA title again in 2019, they are a fun team to watch. Two, books on their players make excellent reads.  Recently I enjoyed a biography of Kevin Durant. Now, I had the pleasure of reading Andre Iguodala's memoir and it was just as good.  Here is my review of "The Sixth Man"

Title/Author:
“The Sixth Man” by Andre Iguodala with Carvelle Wallace

Tags:
Basketball, professional, Warriors, Nuggets, 76ers

Publish date:
June 25, 2019

Length:
256 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Basketball is unique in one way in that a player can become even more famous when he is no longer in the starting line up and instead will come off the bench to contribute in a valuable manner to his or her team. One player who has done that is Andre Iguodala. While he was a very good player as a starter for the Philadelphia 76ers and Denver Nuggets, he became even more noticed as the sixth man for the team that has won three of the last four NBA championships, the Golden State Warriors.  He tells the story of his life, his career and his take on some of today’s issues in the game in this excellent memoir with Carvelle Wallace.

While the writing may not be as crisp as some other memoirs, what I found refreshing about this book is the Iguodala was very candid about every topic he addressed. Whether it was whether college athletes should be paid, the point in his career when he truly realized that professional sports are a business and not just a game, how the public believes athletes should communicate in the media or racial issues, Iguodala lets the reader know up front that this is his viewpoint and how he sees the particular issue.

The latter two topics come up in the incident in which I believed that this book went from good to excellent and that was when he used a phrase that sounded like one used from the days of slavery when he answered a question on the relationship between a head coach and the players. He didn’t back off of his comment, he didn’t take swipes at those who criticized his remarks (and there were plenty) and his explanation of it was consistent with his stance on his viewpoints earlier expressed on racial matters and the ways in which professional athletes are expected to conduct themselves.

None of them are really shocking or reveal new material, but are excellent to read for the sheer rawness of exposing his feelings. When he praised Curt Flood, who challenged baseball’s reserve clause in 1970, it showed that he has studied the history of these subject extensively and his comment that every professional athlete should thank Flood for them being able to enjoy the freedoms and riches they have today was profound.

Of course, he talks about basketball in the book a lot as well as these other issues. On this topic, he is quite fluid as well. This part of the book does follow the tried and true formula of chronicling the highlights of each level of basketball played. His reflections on his time at the University of Arizona and what coach Lute Olson did for and to him were very interesting to read as it can be the case for many college basketball players, but was something I had never read before.

Iguodala’s time in Philadelphia was marked with many ups and downs, both on the court, where the 76ers enjoyed some moderate success and off the court with his relationship with the fans and press an ongoing drama. After a brief time in Denver, he signed with the Warriors as a free agent and his accounting of his time with Golden State is one in which he really learns what it is like to share the spotlight with superstar players.  He explains how these players like Steph Curry and Kevin Durant not only are excellent players but how they each contribute to the success of the team on the court and in the public eye.

Any fan of the current NBA game, especially Warriors fans, will want to read this book about the team’s vital sixth man and how he sees the world of professional basketball. It is a book that once a reader starts, it will be very hard to put down.

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:



Friday, June 7, 2019

Review of "They Played the Game"

To start this post, I want to give a shout out to one of the publishers who have graciously supplied me with books to review and I have been successful with getting a review out on every one of them - sometimes later than anticipated but nonetheless I read them.  That publisher is University of Nebraska Press and their great marketing team of Anna and Rosemary.  This review is of one of their books, "They Played the Game"



Title/Author:

“They Played the Game: Memories from 47 Major Leaguers” by Norman L. Macht



Tags:

Baseball, professional, essays



Publish date:

April 1, 2019



Length:

320 pages



Rating: 

4 of 5 stars very (good)



Review:

Some of the best storytellers are former major league baseball players. No matter how long his career lasted or how he compiled his statistics, a baseball player is always eager to share his experiences.  Author Norman Macht has collected anecdotes from 47 former players who played from the Deadball Era of the early 20th century up to the 1970’s in this fast-paced book.



As is the case for any collection of stories, essays, or other writing, this is a mixed bag.  Some of the stories were very entertaining, some were hilarious and some of them might leave a reader scratching his or her head, trying to figure out just what the man was talking about.  Personally, while I enjoyed reading all of them, I didn’t find any one particular anecdote that would stand out above the rest. 



The best aspect to reading this book is that the reader will be taken back to certain events in a way that a neutral author could not capture. Reading about a moment in which the player was there to experience helps the reader picture the scene even better.  This is true even of events that have been written about many times.  Two very good examples of this involved stores I enjoyed about Babe Ruth. One came from former Yankee Mark Koenig, who described the Babe’s legendary nightlife, and the other was from Carmen Hill, who was thrilled more than fifty years later about the fact he pitched to Ruth in the 1927 World Series.



If those two names don’t sound familiar, then that is the norm for this book – there are many more stories from players who did not become household names or superstars.  Instead, these could be considered as simply stories about the work life of a baseball player much like stories shared in the office at the water cooler, albeit these are about a worklife that many people dream about having when they are kids. 



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:






Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Guest post - Sports Book Lady’s review of “Jackie Robinson West”

The school year is winding down across the United States. As pencils and notebooks are pushed aside, kids turn to their favorite summer activities: summer camp, swimming, late night reading, and little league baseball. In a little over two months, the Little League world will converge in Williamsport, Pennsylvania for its annual World Series. The stands will be packed, and kids appear as happy as ever to play America’s game. Five years ago, two stories took the Little League world by storm: pitcher Mo’ne Davis and the team from the south side of Chicago comprised of all African American players named Jackie Robinson West. Long time Chicago sports writer George Castle followed the JRW little leaguers that year and was compelled enough by their story to chronicle their championship season. 

The south and west sides of Chicago are in the news on a regular basis for shootings, gang involvement, and other related stories. An outsider would think that once one left the city’s downtown, that the entire south and west side is one large grid of gang activity. In certain neighborhoods that may be the case, but the Mt Vernon neighborhood on the city’s south side was founded by middle class, two parent families looking to carve a safe space to raise their children. Castle interviews some of the original residents of Mt Vernon, a neighborhood comprised of stable family units, two parent working families, who desired the best for their children. During the late 1960s, white flight to the suburbs and housing discrimination against African Americans were normal occurrences in Chicago. Even star athletes on both Chicago baseball teams found it difficult to find housing outside of traditional black neighborhoods. Although well north of the Mason-Dixon Line, Chicago was considered the most segregated city in America. Yet, in the 1970s, according to Castle, the hot button issue for African Americans was not gangs but the break down of the family due to the Aid for Dependent Children Act. In order to forge a sense of community and establish deep roots, the Mt Vernon residents started their own little league from the ground up. 

In 1971 Bill Haley put down the roots for the Jackie Robinson West little league. With teams for boys ages 6 through high school and a minimal participation fee, there was a place on a team for every neighborhood boy who wanted to play. Girls could participate in the league as well as Haley issued them pompons and t-shirts and many rooted for their neighbors as cheer leaders. Games in Mt Vernon, later renamed Jackie Robinson, Park were community wide events as the whole neighborhood came to cheer on their boys. These were wholesome families; parents worked as nurses, teachers, police officers, and in various capacities for the city, and there was much parental involvement on most of the Little League teams. League alum David Harris, now an attorney in the Atlanta area, cites his years on Jackie Robinson West as molding his identity as a leader and team player. Harris lauds Bill Haley and Illinois senate leader Emil Jones as the builders of the league that played a role in generations of boys in the neighborhood. It was through this little league and all around community involvement, that families stayed in Mt Vernon as a safe place to raise new generations of ball players, cheerleaders, and wholesome kids. 

As the 1980s moved into the 1990s and then the 2000s, less and less African American children turned to baseball. Sports had become a year round endeavor as kids began to specialize in one sport for the entire year rather than play seasonally. With high participation fees for travel leagues, many African American kids turned to football and basketball as their sport of choice. If parents did not want to risk their kids becoming a statistic by venturing outside to a park, kids stayed home and played video games. Baseball was becoming an afterthought, and Major League Baseball wanted to do something to boost African American participation. Their RBI program aimed at inner city baseball leagues, had opened some eyes, but going forward, many kids prefer other sports to baseball fans even if baseball may be a safer alternative to football. From the major leagues to little league, administrators looked for new ways to encourage African Americans to turn to baseball as their sport of choice. 

The 2014 Jackie Robinson West Little League Team came along at a time when both little league participation and Chicago Major League Baseball was at an all time low. Yet, the team did the unthinkable: the boys made it all the way to the Little League World Series and then made it to the championship game. The boys known as JRW had won America’s hearts and become the feel good story of the year and more importantly increased exposure and television ratings. Yet, according to community members, JRW was not a Cinderella Story. The boys on the team came from two parent, middle class families, and both parents worked with their sons to mold them into top ballplayers, students, and leaders. Galvanized by the team, the community met for watch parties and the city finally had a baseball team to cheer about. Even in a summer with more gang shootings than ever, for two weeks the murder rate was down as people all across Chicago met to watch their boys compete for a title. 

Five years later some members of the 2014 JRW team, now associated with Cal Ripken League, are finishing high school and eligible for major league baseball’s draft. With the draft this week, it will be interesting to see if some of the boys made it. In 2014, the Jackie Robinson West team was the feel good story of the summer. The boys were noticed by African American Major League ball players and the president of the United States. They made their community proud and allowed Chicago to be known for something positive. George Castle, a native Chicagoan, has done a fine job of documenting the Mt Vernon community and Jackie Robinson Little League as one built to last by community leaders and should be commended and used as an example by inner city communities across the United States. 

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Review of "Golden Glow"

It isn't often that a book on a swimmer or Olympic swimming is available for review, so when I saw this one on Kaitlin Sandeno, who medaled in the 2000 and 2004 Games, I had to pick it up.  Here is my review of "Golden Glow"


Title/Author:
“Golden Glow: How Kaitlin Sandeno Achieved Gold in the Pool and in Life” by Dan D’Addona with Kaitlin Sandeno

Tags:
Swimming, Olympics, biography, women
 
Publish date:
July 2, 2019

Length:
160 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
Kaitlin Sandeno proved to be one of the most versatile female swimmers in recent Olympic history by being part of a world-record setting relay team for the United States and medaling in three other strokes in the 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympics – the first one coming when she was just 17 years old.  Now she is the national spokeswoman for the Jessie Rees Foundation addressing childhood cancer, and has also been a youth swimming coach.  Her swimming career and life outside the pool is captured in this short but very good book by Dan D’Addona, a noted writer on the sport.

The most notable aspect of this book that I found interesting was the format – instead of following the chronological order most biographies or memoirs do, the book started with one of Kaitlin’s visits to a children’s hospital, her work with the Jessie Rees Foundation and, in one of the most touching moments in the book, how she met Jessie and the inspiration she gave Sandeno.  This was a good way to introduce the reader to Kaitlin to describe what a positive and upbeat person that she is. 

While Sandeno’s work for the foundation is inspiring, so is the story of her career.  The youngest of three sisters, Kaitlin seemed to be born to live in a pool as she became a swimming prodigy very quickly.  When she qualified for the 2000 Olympics as a high school swimmer, that was when she started gaining world-wide attention and by medaling, she didn’t disappoint.  Her swimming continued at USC, where she won her events in the 2003 NCAA tourney, then capped it off with medals in the 2004 Olympics, including being the anchor on the world-record performance by the United States team in the 4x200 freestyle relay.  Any swimming fan, casual or serious, will enjoy reading about the rise of the friendly, outgoing Sandeno.

The writing overall is quite good – the only problem was an editing matter, in that quotation marks were either missing or put in the incorrect place, making it hard to determine who was providing the quote.  This will most likely be corrected in the final version.  There are other passages that seem to be incomplete.  One example – when Sandeno was struggling with her swimming at USC because she was living a very active social life, it was noted that later she curbed that by having a “long distance relationship” but there is no explanation of how that helped.  These are far and few, however, and the reader will get to learn how happy and outgoing a person Kaitlin is, in both her marriage and her life after her swimming career. Any reader who is a swimming fan is encouraged to pick up this book.

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

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Review of "Gentleman Gerry"

While real life has gotten in the way of posting as frequently as I did earlier, this memoir that includes just as much as the subject's real life as well as his sports career is a very good read.  Here is my review of the memoir of former heavyweight boxer Gerry Cooney. 


Title/Author:
“Gentleman Gerry: A Contender in the Ring, A Champion in Recovery” by Gerry Cooney with John Grady

Tags:
Boxing, professional, memoir

Publish date:
June 12, 2019

Length:
344 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
Gerry Cooney was one of the most exciting contenders for the heavyweight boxing title in the early 1980’s.  This was during an era when that title was one of the most prestigious in all of sports. While there was much written in newspapers about his rise to contender, his loss to one of the greatest champions, Larry Holmes, and his subsequent lack of bouts, there was an inner darkness in Cooney’s life.  That darkness is addressed, as well as his career, in this memoir written with John Grady.

As a youngster, Cooney suffered abuse, both physically and mentally, from his father. When he became a teenager, Gerry (which is what he is called throughout the book – never “Cooney”) sought refuge in boxing. That became a wise choice as he had a very successful amateur career which translated into similar success in the professional ranks, culminating in a bout for the heavyweight championship with Larry Holmes. While Holmes won the bout with a technical knockout in the 15th and final round, Cooney won much praise for his performance. However, he had very few fights after that one for reasons varying from his lack of trust of promoter Don King to his managing team looking for bigger paydays, to Cooney’s personal battle with alcohol and drug addiction.

The latter issue plays a very big role in the shaping of Cooney’s story, as well as the abuse he took from his father as that is mentioned throughout the book.  At times, the same points are repeated multiple times, but they are included to illustrate how much these issues affected Cooney in his personal and professional life. Grady’s background as a mental health and addiction counselor provides valuable insight into the troubles Cooney faced. With the balance of material on both Cooney’s personal and professional lives, this is a very good book for fans of boxing or memoirs.

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

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:



Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Review of "They Bled Blue"

Currently one of the better teams in baseball is the Los Angeles Dodgers. Fans of the game know that the Dodgers have a rich history and this book describes one of their championship seasons, 1981, with great prose.  Here is my review of "They Bled Blue"



Title/Author:

“They Bled Blue: Fernandomania, Strike Season Mayhem and the Weirdest Championship Baseball Had Ever Seen: The 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers” by Jason Turbow



Tags:

Baseball, professional, history, Dodgers, championship



Publish date:

June 4, 2019



Length:

384 pages



Rating: 

5 of 5 stars (outstanding)



Review:

1981 has been remembered as one of the strangest baseball seasons in the history of the game. The season was split in two due to a player’s strike and the division winners in each half made the postseason, even though that meant the two best overall teams in the National League missed the playoffs.  A rookie pitcher who had a body that was closer to resembling a keg than a six pack took baseball by storm. Four infielders who had played together for nearly eight years were on their last quest together.  The link for the last two points was the Los Angeles Dodgers, who ended up as the champions in three exciting postseason series. Their quest to the championship is documented in this breezy, fun-to-read book by Jason Turbow.



While the book reports on the 1981 Dodgers season in chronological order, it is not the typical “this happened, then that happened” type of season recap.  It actually starts in 1978 when the New York Yankees defeated the Dodgers in that year’s World Series, winning the last four games after Los Angeles won the first two. That plays as motivation for many of the players who were on that team, including the four infielders who had been on the team and playing nearly every game since 1973.  Along the way the reader will learn a lot about all four of them – first baseman Steve Garvey, second baseman Davey Lopes, shortstop Bill Russell and third baseman Ron Cey.



However, the best personal story in the book was also the best baseball story of that year. Turbow does an excellent job of bringing the reader into the world of Fernando Valenzuela, a 20 year old rookie pitcher with a portly body, a lack of ability to speak English and a devastating screwball. He won his first eight decisions with an ERA under one and took the baseball world by storm.  Being of Mexican heritage, he became a hero to the Mexican population in Los Angeles, which makes up a significant portion of the city’s residents.  How he handled this fame, especially when he was a guest of President Ronald Reagan at the White House, was the best reading in the book, along with stories about manager Tommy Lasorda.



The book was capped off by providing an excellent account of the Dodgers’ postseason run.  In the Division Series (only made possible by the split season) they fell behind the Houston Astros two games to none in the best of five series, only to win three straight to capture the series. Then, in another best of five series, they defeated the Montreal Expos in thrilling fashion with Rick Monday hitting a homer to win the game for Los Angeles in the ninth inning of game five. Then the Dodgers made the three year wait to face the Yankees again worth it, defeating them in six games in the same manner as New York won in 1978 – lost the first two games, won the next four. The description of the games, the players’ emotions and the joy of the entire city was well written. 



Dodger fans will want to add this book to their collection as it is very likely the best source of information on that crazy championship season for them.  Baseball fans and historians who are interested in that team should pick it up as well.



I wish to thank Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.



Book Format Read:

E-book (Kindle)



Buying Links:





https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/they-bled-blue-jason-turbow/1129078110?ean=9781328715579

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Review of "Yells for Ourselves"

While this book is not extremely long at 368 pages, it nonetheless is a heavy read because it is jam packed with details of the 1999 and 2000 New York Mets, a team that never deprived its fans of controversy, drama and exciting baseball.  Here is my review of "Yells for Ourselves"


Title/Author:
“Yells for Ourselves: A Story of New York City and the New York Mets at the Dawn of the Millennium” by Matthew Callan

Tags:
Baseball, professional, history, Mets

Publish date:
March 12, 2019

Length:
368 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
For most of their history, the New York Mets have been playing the part of second fiddle to New York City’s other baseball team, the New York Yankees.  At the start of 1999, as a new millennium was about to begin, this was still the case, especially since the Yankees had just come off one of the most successful seasons in baseball history and won their second World Series title in three years.  The Mets, meanwhile, were also starting to make waves and capture the attention of New York baseball fans and media.  The Mets’ adventures in 1999, as well as 2000 when they got to face the Yankees in the Subway Series.  This book, mainly a collection of writings by the author, Matthew Callen, from blog posts is a very good account of those two seasons.

The most impressive aspect of this book is the minute detail in which Callen writes about the Mets for those two seasons. Not only does he capture the highlights of the best of the team those years, he writes about the agony of some of the losses, all of the controversy and all of the front office maneuvers.  While many of the more controversial statements and actions involve manager Bobby Valentine, there isn’t a person involved with the Mets those two seasons that escapes being noticed by Callen. 

While the detail of so many games and so many press conferences with the New York media can get tedious to read (at least if the reader is not a serious Met fan), it gets very entertaining without Callen needing to insert his own brand of humor or opinions. There is very little that the reader will learn about Callen’s views because he lets the players, manager, general manager and reporters tell the story themselves and he simply reports it.  That proved to be a winning formula for this book.

Every great Mets memory from those two seasons is captured here – the thrilling come-from-behind victory at Shea in the 1999 series against the Yankees, the tie-breaking game against Cincinnati to give the Mets the wild card spot in that same season.  Then in those playoffs, the epic National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves is covered in its full glory.  The Braves winning the first three games fairly easily, then the Mets storming back in games 4 and 5, capped off in that latter game by Robin Ventura’s “Grand Slam Single”, and finally the heartbreak of the loss to the Braves in game 6. 

Then when the new millennium starts, Callen writes about 2000 with just as much gusto as 1999, although this time, he adds some Yankees text as well since the two teams met in the World Series to give the World Series a complete New York flavor for the first time in 44 years.  This is also where the book finally gives a more thorough picture to the reader of the pulse of New York City and how they feel about their baseball teams and the Subway Series.  This aspect of that time is what drew me to the book and while this was very good, it left me slightly disappointed that there wasn’t more of this material written throughout the book.  Keeping in mind that this was most a collection of blog posts that were weaved together to make the book, I felt the author did a very good job of putting them together in a fluid story instead of simply throwing them together because they spoke on a similar topic – the Mets.

Die-hard Mets fans will really enjoy this book, and fans of other teams, even the Yankees, would be wise to take a look at this as well for a complete picture of the Mets for those two seasons when New York truly did capture the lions’ share of attention from the baseball media.  

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

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:



Sunday, May 12, 2019

Review of “Kansas City vs. Oakland”

When I saw the cover of this book on NetGalley, I thought this would be about one of the best football rivalries from the 1970’s.  While that was a good portion of the book, it was much more than just the Chiefs vs. the Raiders - a great book on the two cities as well as their football and baseball teams.  Here is my review of  “Kansas City vs. Oakland.”


Title/Author:
“Kansas City vs. Oakland: The Bitter Sports Rivalry That Defined an Era” by Matthew C. Ehrlich

Tags:
Baseball, Football (American), professional, politics, Raiders, Chiefs, Athletics, Royals
Publish:
September 16, 2019

Length:
256 pages

Rating:
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
One of the best professional football rivalries from the 1960’s through the 1970’s was the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders.  While their rivalry was the most notorious and visible, that was certainly not the only rivalry or sports connection the two cities had.  There was a bitter history between the two cities in baseball as well and how these two sports connect with the local politics of both cities is told in this excellent book by Matthew C. Ehrlic.

While the book is geared more toward readers who prefer scholarly works, the narrative is not like that format at all - indeed, it is a quick and easy read that all readers will easily digest.  Ehrlic explains what each chapter will encompass in the introduction and there are plenty of endnotes to illustrate the extensive research he performed about not only the sports teams but the civic atmosphere in both Kansas City and in Oakland.

The coverage of the rise of the rivalry and also the fortunes of both football teams is very good, with most of the detailed passages describing games between the two teams.  Both the Chiefs and Raiders were considered to be the model franchises for the upstart American Football League and both represented the league in the first two Super Bowls, losing to the Green Bay Packers in both.  What really stood out in the chapters about these football teams was the fact that both of them had shaky beginnings in the AFL and nearly didn’t exist. Oakland was awarded a team only after Minneapolis broke its promise to the league and instead accepted an NFL expansion team (who became the Vikings) and Kansas City got the Chiefs only because Lamar Hunt had experienced poor attendance and financial difficulties in Dallas after that city was awarded an NFL expansion team, the Cowboys.  After such inauspicious debuts, it was interesting to read about how both franchises rose to success.

As for the baseball, the early connection between the two cities is more familiar as Kansas City was home to the Athletics in the American League.  In 1968, after a very acrimonious relationship between the city and A’s owner Charley Finley, the team moved to Oakland, where after the very brief honeymoon between that city and the team was over, the same type of attendance and financial problems still were present.  This was the state of the franchise even though the team won three consecutive World Series from 1972 to 1974, with players who were signed by Finley while still in Kansas City. That city was awarded an expansion franchise in 1969 to offset the loss of the A’s and while that team, the Royals, experienced the usual growing pains associated with expansion teams, they too became a good ball club and soon were battling Oakland for the Western Division title in the American League every year.

However, what really makes the book a fantastic read is how all four teams are connected to the civic and political issues of those times for both of the cities.  Both cities had to construct new stadiums for the teams. In Kansas City’s case, Municipal Stadium that housed the A’s was deemed too decrepit for the new Royals franchise, while Oakland had to build a stadium for both the Raiders and A’s from scratch.  Both cities constructed new sports complexes, despite protests from city residents about using tax money that could be better spent on things such as schools. Because these were not built in the respective cities, these were also seen as catering to the suburbs instead of the inner cities, where the population was mostly African American.  Both cities had the same types of problems addressing these issues. The connections between them were numerous, and Ehrlich covers them all, right down to the fact that both teams were awarded NHL franchises that failed as well. These sections were so well researched and written that this is the rare book that while the emphasis is on sports, the passages on other topics are even better reads.

One doesn’t have to be a fan of Kansas City or Oakland teams to enjoy this book.  History and sports buffs who enjoy reading about those topics from the 1960’s and 1970’s will love this book.  Highly recommended for those readers with those interests, as well as fans of those four teams.

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

Book format read:
E-Book (Kindle)

Buying Links:
Kansas City vs. Oakland: The Bitter Sports Rivalry That Defined an Era (Sport and Society): Matthew C. Ehrlich: 9780252084492: Amazon.com: Gateway