Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Review of "We Will Rise"

One of the more tragic stories in college basketball history was the 1977 plane crash that killed the members of the Evansville basketball team.  This book is a very good recount of that crash and how the team and city was able to carry on afterward. 


Title/Author:
“We Will Rise: A True Story of Tragedy and Resurrection in the American Heartland” by Steve Beaven


Tags:
Basketball, college, history, tragedy


Publish date:
January 1, 2020


Length:
276 pages


Rating:
4 of 5 stars (very good)


Review:

On December 13,1977 a plane crash near Evansville, Indiana killed all on board, including the players, coaches and managers of the Evansville University basketball team. The grieving by the school and city as well as their recovery from this tragedy is the topic of this excellent book by Evansville native Steve Beaven.

He uses his first hand knowledge of the town and the Purple Aces history, along with information from over 150 interviews and many other stories to paint an excellent picture of the basketball program. From legendary coach Arad McCutcheon, who won multiple Division II titles in Evansville to the heartbreaking loss in the 1982 NCAA tourney to Marquette, Beavan's account reads like a history lesson of Evansville University basketball. The most interesting part of this information is the six day coaching stint (no games,.practices, or recruiting) by Jerry Sloan, who abruptly resigned after making his alma mater excited about their most famous player coming to coach. Don't feel.sorry for Sloan...he ended up with a long and successful career coaching in the NBA, most notably for the Utah Jazz more than 20 years.

Of course, in the middle.of all this basketball history is the terrible night of December 13, 1977. Here, Beavan describes the night of the crash with great detail, especially with the delayed takeoff and resulting errors that led to the fatal.crash and the doctor who heard the crash, ran out of his house and tried to help any survivors. The reader will also know something about !many of the young men on the plane, such as prize recruit Mike Hoff and Kevin Kingston. Even the only player not on the plane, David Furr, couldn't escape tragedy as he and his younger brother were killed in a car crash two weeks after David's teammates perished.

But this somber story is not the mood for the book, nor the school or its basketball team. There is great detail in how the Purple Aces, under coach Dock Walters, hired to replace the popular Bobby Watson after the crash, built the team.back to its winning just three years after the crash. While Meagan also is able to write about some of the surviving family members of the players and how they mourned, soles and moved on, their stories are not as.prominent in the book after the crash as the basketball is and that is the only minor flaw, in my opinion, in an otherwise very uplifting book.

Fans of the story of the Marshall football team rebuilding after a plane crash, told in the movie "We Are Marshall", will enjoy this similar tale of tragedy and resurrection after a very dark period. Especially recommended for college basketball fans who recall that tragic day.
    
                                                               
Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)


Buying Links:
https://www.amazon.com/We-Will-Rise-Resurrection-Heartland-ebook/dp/B07LF4VRPC/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr= 

Friday, December 6, 2019

Review of "Stealing Home"

While it is known that the building of Dodger Stadium was controversial in its use of eminent domain, this book puts a human side to the story, and that makes it a great read.  Here is my review of "Stealing Home"

Title/Author:
“Stealing Home: Los Angeles, the Dodgers, and the Lives Caught In Between” by Eric Nusbaum

Tags:
Baseball, history, politics, Dodgers

Publish date:
March 24, 2020

Length:
352 pages

Rating:
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Dodger Stadium is considered to be one of the crowing jewels among ballparks in the United States, nestled in a prime location with beautiful scenery overlooking the park that fans in certain sections can admire during a lull in the action. How the stadium came to fruition, however, is a very controversial journey that is still being talked about today, almost 60 years after its opening.  This excellent book by Eric Nussbaum describes that journey, which took several twists and turns.

While there isn't a lot about the game of baseball or the Dodgers in the book, at least compared to the political aspects of the book, a baseball fan will still enjoy Nussbaum's writing about the team, some of its players in the early days in Los Angeles and also of Walter O'Malley, the owner who moved the team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. 

While these passages make for interesting reading, they are not the heart and soul of this book.  The true heroes of this book are not any baseball players but the Archeiga family, who refused to leave their home in Chavez Ravine, the area where the ball park was eventually built.  When their home, along with all others in the predominantly Mexican neighborhood, was being taken by the government to make way for public housing, the Archiegas refused to accept the money that was being offered after appraisal by the government. 

What followed was a great political story that would make a great novel – except that it was all true.  This was where Nussbaum was at his best.  Two personal stories are good examples of this. Whether he was writing about a man whose goal was to bring public housing to Los Angeles, only to be shamed by the crusade of an anti-Communism committee or he was telling the story of the local city councilwoman who was a key figure in getting O'Malley to move the Dodgers to the west coast, Nussbaum writes about the story in a manner that will keep the reader engaged, entertained and on an emotional roller coaster.  Most of the time, it will be anger – anger at the politicians, at O'Malley, at practically anybody whose last name is not Archiega. 

No matter what type of non-fiction a reader enjoys, this is one book that should be picked up and read cover to cover.  It will explain why despite the beautiful view one gets inside and outside Dodger Stadium, there is a very poignant story underneath.

I wish to thank Perseus Books Public Affairs for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
                                                                  
Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:

Monday, December 2, 2019

Review of "The Whistleblower"

No, don't let the title of the book fool you - this blog has not changed to review political books.  Instead, this one is a very good book on the life of a college basketball referee. 

Title/Author:
“The Whistleblower: Rooting for the Ref in the High-Stakes World of College Basketball” by Bob Katz

Tags:
Basketball, college, officiating, biography

Publish date:
February 3, 2015

Length:
232 pages

Rating:
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
No matter the sport, the job of a referee, official, umpire, or whatever the people in charge of enforcing the rules of the game are called, it is not an easy job.  This book follows one season and part of the career of one of these people, former college basketball referee Ed Hightower.  It provides a great insight into the profession and what it takes for someone to succeed in that profession as author Bob Katz does a nice job of bringing readers onto the court with Hightower.

Katz not only describes Hightower's actions on the court, but he also discusses the intricacies into the profession and why the job of a basketball referee has unique challenges, such as monitoring the activity of 10 athletes whose quickness and skills will require the viewing of a situation, analyzing that situation against the rulebook and making a decision all within a fraction of a second.  When described in that context, which Katz does, and then reading many of the various situations in which Hightower had to perform this task, it makes the reader truly appreciate what an official in any sport must do.  Even if that fan is one who will vehemently disagree with said official if the call goes against that fan's team.

Hightower's life off the court is also a topic of discussion in the book, as he continued his education and eventually became the administrator for a school district.  These duties don't go away when Hightower was on the road, and Katz writes about how he balanced these duties while on the road, usually during an Upper Midwest winter as Hightower's primary referee duties were for the Big Ten conference.   How Hightower was able to juggle this, family duties and the travel involved in his "second" job is nothing short of amazing.

While the book focuses primarily on Hightower, it would be incorrect to label this as a "biography" as Katz delves deeply into the profession of basketball officiating more than the life of Ed Hightower.  It becomes clear to a reader that Katz becomes more focused on officials, leading to the last chapter when he does what the title of the book says he will do and "roots" for the referee. 

While this book does not tell everything about Ed Hightower or everything one can on the profession, this is one that any basketball fan will enjoy as it will give a good perspective of what the people in the striped shirts deal with in their profession – of course, this is in addition to the fans, players and coaches who believe that their version of what happened is the correct one and that the ref is _______.  Fill in that blank with whatever insult or negative connotation you wish.   
                                                                  
Book Format Read:
E-book (PDF)

Buying Links:


Friday, November 29, 2019

Review of "Earl: The Greatest Bowler of All Time"

As a kid who loved bowling, I remember spending Saturday afternoons in the winter watching ABC's bowling telecasts.  Many times one of the five finalists on the televised tournaments would be Earl Anthony.  He was certainly one of my favorite bowlers of the time, and Barry Sparks has written a very good biography of the man considered the greatest bowler ever.  Here is my review of that book

Title/Author:
“Earl: The Greatest Bowler of All Time” by Barry Sparks

Tags:
Bowling, biography

Publish date:
October 7, 2019

Length:
293 pages

Rating: to
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
There was a time when bowling was one of the most popular sports on television. Every Saturday a tournament would be shown in which the five finalists would compete in a single-elimination tourney, leading to a championship match at the end.  For a period in the 1970's, viewers would often see Earl Anthony, a man who didn't take up the sport until he was 21, dominate the field week after week.  Veteran sportswriter Barry Sparks has written a biography on Anthony as a tribute to the bowler's legendary status.

Among the many accomplishments Anthony had during his career was becoming the first bowler to earn over $100,000 in a season in 1975. This was during a time when bowlers often had to compete for small purses during non-televised tourneys and often would be incurring expenses out of their own pocket if they did not perform well enough to earn cash.  Sparks' commentary on the life of a bowler, and specifically that of Anthony early in his career, paints a great picture of the nature of the sport and its participants during that time.

Life away from the lanes was also nicely portrayed by Sparks as the reader will get a great understanding of how Anthony was basically a quiet individual, happy with his simple life and wanting to help others. On the lanes, it is a different story – except for the quiet part.  He did complain enough when he felt that there were conditions that made it difficult for him and others, such as when there was a belief that the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) were making lane conditions more difficult for left handed bowlers than for right handers.  It should be noted that two of the most successful bowlers at the time – Anthony and Johnny Petraglia – were both southpaws.

While the book does seem to be a slow, methodical read at times and requires careful attention by the reader to follow along, this is a very good read.  Readers like me who remember watching the bowling telecasts on cold Saturday afternoons in the winter will especially want to read this account of whom the PBA has called its greatest bowler.

I wish to thank Mr. Sparks for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.      
                                                    
Book Format Read:
Paperback


Sunday, November 24, 2019

Review of "Grim Reaper"

As a huge hockey fan, I am one who doesn't enjoy fighting in the game. I believe it has its place but I don't get as pumped up for a fight at a game as other fans.  That said, some of the better hockey memoirs/biographies I have read are about those players who make a living in the game with their fists.  This is another good book written by a player who was an enforcer, Stu Grimson.  Here is my review of "Grim Reaper"


Title/Author:
“The Grim Reaper: The Life and Career of a Reluctant Warrior” by Stu Grimson

Tags:
Ice Hockey, memoir, professional, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Ducks, Kings, Flames, Whalers, Predators

Publish date:
October 15, 2019

Length:
324 pages

Rating:
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
The life of a hockey player who is called an “enforcer”, a “fighter” or a “goon” is quite different than the life of other hockey players. They play fewer minutes, are asked to perform a duty in which they face great risk of injury, their careers can be much shorter than those of other players, they can play in relative anonymity and they also switch teams frequently.  Aside from a short career, this is pretty accurate for Stu Grimson who has written a very good memoir about his time as an enforcer.

Having read good books on other enforcers such as Bob Probert and Derek Boogardt, I picked this one up with high expectations and it did not disappoint.  It did not follow the usual format from youth to college or junior hockey to the pros to life after hockey. While all of these life cycle events are covered by Grimson with many great stories, the book does skip around at times, especially when he is discussing his life after hockey. 

Despite that, reading about important events in his life other than hockey was very enjoyable, something that usually isn’t the case with sports memoirs. His time working as an attorney for the NHL Players Association was very intriguing, especially when he was fired from the position by the person whom he helped attain the director position of the union. He also talks about meeting his birth parents (he and his sister were adopted) and the fact that his birth father was also a professional athlete (played football in the Canadian Football League) and became a lawyer after his playing days were over is just an amazing coincidence.

Readers who prefer to read about his hockey career will also be happy as he shares many stories of his fights on the ice, his trouble with rules during junior hockey and through it all, he always wondered if this was the best path to make a career in the sport. He repeatedly states at every stop in his professional career (there were many, as he played for seven different NHL teams, including two stints with the Anaheim Ducks) he states he would do whatever he needed to do in order to contribute to the success of his team.  From the descriptions of some of his actions, there was no reason to believe otherwise.

His description of fights, especially one in which Dave Brown broke the orbital bone of Grimson early in his career when he played on the Blackhawks. It was almost gruesome to read the details of not only the injury but how Brown threw the punches.  However, there was no hard feelings between the two players and Brown did show concern.  That is part of the code present among enforcers in the NHL and Grimson talks often about that and displays much respect for his fellow fighters who obey these unwritten rules.

Whether or not one enjoys fighting as part of the game, hockey fans should pick up this book and get a very good perspective into the life and mind of those players whose main job is not to score goals or keep the puck out of the net, but instead have to use their fists to provide value to their teams.

I wish to thank Penguin Random House Canada for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
                                                                       
Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)                                                                                                                                

Buying Links: