Thursday, February 14, 2019

Review of "The Ultimate Cleveland Indians Time Machine"

Whether or not I am a fan of the team, it is always fun to read about the history of a sports team.  This is especially true of those teams who have had a long dry spell without a championship and the Cleveland Indians certainly fit that description right now.  This book captures some of the more memorable and crazy moments in the history of the team.  Here is my review of "The Ultimate Cleveland Indians Time Machine"



Title/Author:
“The Ultimate Cleveland Indians Time Machine Book” by Martin Gitlin
 
Tags:
Baseball, history, Indians

Publish date:
April 1, 2019

Length:
224 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
As one of the charter teams of the American League, the Cleveland Indians have a long list of exciting seasons, interesting stories and wacky moments.  This book by veteran writer
Martin Gitlin relieves some of them in a fun, page turning book.

Most baseball fans know that currently the Indians have the longest title drought in major league baseball, having gone 70 years since their last championship in 1948.  That of course leads to many heartbreaks and frustrations for the team and its fans. I mention this because while the book certainly tries to remain upbeat, it was puzzling to me to see so many negative or embarrassing stories about the team.  Even when a season or player was successful, some part of the chapter was less than positive. 

 
One example of this was the chapter describing the 1920 season, one in which Cleveland won a thrilling pennant race over the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees and then they easily defeated the Brooklyn Robins (later the Dodgers) five games to two in the World Series.  However, what produced the most talk in that chapter was the death of Ray Chapman after being beaned by a Carl Mays pitch.  This story, like many others in the book, was described well in this book and if a reader wants to learn more, there are other books that go into greater detail about this and some of the other stories.
 
It should also be noted that the many seasons in which the team did well in the regular season and postseason only to fall short in the end are covered and a reader will feel either frustrated or sad, depending on the ending.  Many memorable eliminations from postseason are shared in the book – the demoralizing World Series defeats in 1995, 1997 and 2016 are all there, but told in a mostly positive tone as the wins are fondly remembered as well as the soul-crushing losses.
 
This isn’t to say that all is doom and gloom in the book.  Indeed, even some of the less-than-positive stories are told in either humor or good cheer.  One example of this is the story of “Super Joe” Charboneau, a one-season wonder who was the Rookie of the Year for the Indians in 1980 and never was a productive player in the major leagues again.  By the end of the chapter, the reader should be happy to learn that he has done well for himself after his baseball career flamed out.  These types of stories and that type of writing make the book a very fast read.
 
Indians fans will certainly want to add this book to their shelves as will any other fan who wants to relive highs and lows of the team.  It does include the absolute low, which came before the team was named the Indians. The first team described in the book is the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, who still hold the record for the worst winning percentage in baseball history. That does set a tone that at least doesn’t stay quite so sad.
 
I wish to thank Lyons Press 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.amazon.com/gp/product/1493040227/ref=x_gr_w_bb?ie=UTF8&tag=x_gr_w_bb-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1493040227&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2

 
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/ultimate-cleveland-indians-time-machine-book-martin-gitlin/1129321192?ean=9781493040230#/

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Review of "Let's Play Two"

Ernie Banks is considered to be one of the greatest shortstops in baseball history, but much of his story aside from his sunny disposition is lost to many fans because he played on some very bad Chicago Cubs teams.  His story is told in this excellent biography.  Here is my review of "Let's Play Two".



Title/Author:

“Let’s Play Two: The Life and Times of Ernie Banks” by Doug Wilson



Tags:

Baseball, biography, Cubs



Publish date:

February 15, 2019



Length:

272 pages



Rating: 

5 of 5 stars (outstanding)



Review:

Ernie Banks was a Hall of Fame player for the Chicago Cubs know primarily for three things: his happy demeanor, his joy for the game of baseball, and oh, by the way, he was a pretty good hitter as well.  Banks’ story is told in this excellent, complete biography by author Doug Wilson. 



Every aspect of the life of “Mr. Cub” is covered, from Banks’ childhood in Dallas to his life after baseball which included health and financial problems up to his death in 2015.  Even then, one of the most enduring personality traits of Banks, his genuine desire to make others happy, still can be evident despite the less-than-happy late stages of his life.  Wilson illustrates the difficult childhood of Ernie and the other Banks children as they grew up in segregated North Dallas. 



As for the baseball aspect of Banks’ life, that is completely explored and brought to the reader in excellent detail as well.  Banks was the first player to go from the Negro Leagues, where he was playing well for the Kansas City Monarchs, directly to the major leagues.  Signed by the Cubs, Banks immediately made his presence felt on field, winning the job as the everyday shortstop for the Cubs..  It was common practice to have black players roomed together at the time and Banks was roomed with another shortstop, Gene Baker, when they were called up to the Cubs. Banks beat out his roommate for the shortstop position, forcing Baker to learn how to play second base.  



From there, Banks took off, winning back to back MVP awards and becoming one of only eight men at the time to hit 500 home runs. The Cubs’ penchant for losing is also on display in the book with a chapter on their failed experiment with a “college of coaches” running the team instead of a manager.  Their 1969 collapse after leading the National League East division is also well documented – enough that a reader will either remember the events well or will feel like he or she was there.



One other aspect of this time frame in baseball and society that is covered well is the racism and prejudice that Banks and other players of color faced at that time, especially in Florida during spring training.  Not only will the reader learn about the mistreatment of black players by many (including white teammates) but he or she will come away with a deeper appreciation of Banks’ disposition through all the racism.  But, as Wilson also notes in the book, some of Banks’ measured comments about civil rights were taken to mean that he wasn’t a good role model to use his status as one of the best baseball players to speak out.  This issue is written with a good amount of sensitivity and insight and are stories that should be told.



Any reader who is a Cubs fan, interested in baseball history or wants to learn more about “Mr. Cub” needs to add this to his or her library.  It is a thoroughly enjoyable, easy read that should bring a smile to the reader as big as Ernie’s.



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



Book Format Read:

Paperback



Buying Links:




Monday, February 11, 2019

Review of "K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches"

It isn't often that a book will make me realize how little I know about a sport, especially baseball, but this one did just that.  I thought I understood the history behind many different pitches, such as the origin of the split-finger fastball - but by reading this book, I learned SO much more.  Here is my review of "K"



Title/Author:
“K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches” by Tyler Kepner 

Tags:
Baseball, history

Publish date:
April 2, 2019

Length:
614 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
In order to be a successful pitcher in Major League Baseball, it is highly recommended that a pitcher has more than one type of pitch he uses to consistently get batters out.  Through the history of the game, ten pitches have been used most frequently and a discussion on each one of them is the basis of this excellent book by Tyler Kepner.
 
Pitches that are popular in today’s game, such as the fastball, cutter and slider, as well as pitches that are now phased out or given a new name, such as a screwball or splitter, are all discussed. Everything about a particular pitch is discussed. Kepner’s thorough research is on display each time he writes about pitchers in the early history of the game who threw the pitch being discussed without it being called the current name.  Interviews with pitchers who threw the pitch with much success, such as Sandy Koufax and Bert Blyleven on the curveball chapter, add valuable insight into the specific pitch as well. 
 
However, what really made this book a joy to read was the smooth and easy flow this book takes.  The writing is outstanding in that it keeps that balance that a non-fan who wants to learn about pitching can do so without feeling overwhelmed, yet it is technical enough so that hard-core fans are not bored or disappointed because it is too simple for their tastes.  Humor is spread throughout the book, both from pitchers being interviewed and the author himself.  The information is also thorough since pitches that are no longer used or legal (such as the spitball), there isn’t an era, pitch or pitcher that isn’t covered. 
 
No matter what level of fan a reader is or what is his or her favorite era of the game, this book is one that should be added to the collection of baseball books.  If pitching is supposedly 90% of the game, then every baseball fan needs to read this to be informed of that 90%.
 
I wish to thank Doubleday Books 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.amazon.com/K-History-Baseball-Ten-Pitches-ebook/dp/B07FC2SHGR/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr
 
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/k-tyler-kepner/1129054048?ean=9780385541022#/

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Review of "Brainwashed"

Concussions in football are a hot topic and it is always educational to read anything about the topic.  Most of the news has been bad as far as football's role in this issue has been concerned.  This book is a very good account of another viewpoint.  Here is my review of "Brainwashed."



­

Title/Author:
“Brainwashed: The Bad Science Behind CTE and the Plot to Destroy Football” by Merril Hoge and Peter Cummings, MD
 
Tags:
Football (American), injuries, politics

Publish date:
October 22, 2018

Length:
337 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
Even if one is not a football fan, that person will probably have heard about the deaths, some by suicide, of former football players who were suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).  Because of the studies that have been published about links between the collisions in football, concussions and CTE, some are concerned about the safety of the game, especially at the youth level.  This book by Merril Hoge, a former NFL player and analyst, and Dr. Peter Cummings, a board-certified neuropathologist, provides a different perspective on the issue.
 
Let me get the bad points out of the way first – I felt that Hoge kept repeating the same points over and over in a way that made it feel he was forcing the reader to believe the same way he did instead of simply providing information.  During the book, he states that the science of football causing CTE has been hyped by a willing media, but yet the title of this book is just as much a hype by stating that this is a plot to “destroy football.”  While reading this, I never got that impression that the goal was to destroy the game. 

Those, however, don’t overshadow the excellent research and narrative that the book truly provides, namely that there are flaws in not only the science, but the presentation of the results of that science. It was interesting to read Dr. Cummings’ views on some of the findings and also his opinion on how some of the more famous deaths of football players such as Junior Seau and Aaron Hernandez were most likely NOT caused by CTE.  This is an excellent counterpoint to the news in the media now and offers a balanced viewpoint. 
 
It should also be noted that Hoge repeatedly states that he does not underestimate the concern for safety and does not criticize any families of deceased players who wanted the brains of their family members sent for study.  He simply wanted to present a different perspective and he does a good job of that.  This is a book that needs to be read by anyone interested in this topic.
 
I wish to thank Amplify Publishing 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.amazon.com/Brainwashed-Science-Behind-Destroy-Football/dp/168401865X/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=
 
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/brainwashed-merril-hoge/1129445818?ean=9781684018659#/

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Review of "Circle of Hope"

While looking for an older book that got buried in my TBR mountain, I also wanted to read about one of the so-called "niche" sports.  This inspiring book written by a Christian author during a difficult time in her own life was one that I am glad I dug out.  Here is my review of "Circle of Hope."


Title/Author:
“Circle of Hope: An Inspiring NASCAR Journey” by Deann Alford

Tags:
Auto Racing, NASCAR, underdog, faith

Publish date:
October 23, 2013

Length:
221 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
No matter the sport, fans love the underdog.  When an athlete, a team, a driver overcomes long odds to achieve something that seemed impossible, there is often an inspirational story behind.  This book by journalist Deann Alford, who writes about people like this in all walks of life, captures that spirit with stories about several NASCAR personalities who overcome long odds.

The book starts out with an improbably win in the then-Nationwide series by David Gilliand in only his seventh race in the circuit. From there the author writes about other NASCAR drivers such as the legendary Morgan Shepard, who was living week-to-week with no sponsor but still traveling to each track every week in order to qualify for that weeks’ race. Brett Rowe and Eric McClure are also portrayed and each one has their own stories of inspiration and hope.

Alford writes about these stories as she was going through her own dark period, losing a child due to a miscarriage. This insertion of herself into the story as well as the drivers was a nice touch because it added to the overall theme of the book of not only hope but that of faith as well. Faith is a central theme in many NASCAR events and Alford provides numerous examples of how this is evident in the sport. The best examples are during the stories about Shepard needing to find money for equipment such as tires. Superstars of the sport such as Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick would often contribute money or equipment to Shepard’s team in order to allow him to compete.

Whether the reader is a NASCAR fan or is inspired by underdog stories, this book is one that is not only a quick and inspirational read, it is one that illustrates that no matter the odds or how dark the present may seem, there is always a Circle of Hope that will watch over that individual. 

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:

Friday, February 1, 2019

Review of "The New Boys of Summer"

While not STRICTLY obeying this New Year's resolution, I am happy that I can still say I am working on a resolution in February to read books that were sent to me by authors and publishers awhile ago.  This is one that helps toward that resolution and it turned out to be better than I had hoped.  Here is my review of "The New Boys of Summer"



Title/Author:
“The New Boys of Summer: Baseball’s Radical Transformation in the Late Sixties” by Paul Hensler
 
Tags:
Baseball, history

Publish date:
October 6, 2017

Length:
316 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Major league baseball underwent many changes between the 1968 and 1969 seasons.  Due to the lack of offense in 1968, dubbed “The Year of the Pitcher”, the pitching mound was lowered by five inches and other rule changes were implemented to increase run scoring.  Four new teams, two in each league, started play in 1969.  These are just a small sample of the topics discussed that affected the sport in those two years in this excellent book by Paul Hensler.
 
Hensler weaves together recaps of on-field action, some of the background history of the sport, hot button issues of the time such as civil rights and the Vietnam War, and other issues affecting the sport such as franchise relocation and stadium building. By doing so, the book is a thorough look at just about anything related to the sport during those two years. Hensler writes about topics that generated much protest in a fair and neutral manner, even if the sport took criticism for its actions.  An example of this was the section on baseball’s lack of a complete time of mourning when Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated in 1968.
 
Baseball matters off the field are well researched and chronicled as well, such as the firing of Commissioner William Eckert and replacing him with Bowie Kuhn, the rise of the major league players’ union led by Marvin Miller and the political wrangling by each of the four cities – Kansas City, Seattle, San Diego and Montreal – that were awarded expansion teams that began play in 1969.  While readers who like to concentrate more on the actual games and less on the business side will find these chapters more tedious, those readers who like these topics will be thrilled to learn more about the last minute deals that each of these cities had to do in order to ensure they received a franchise.
 
One other topic that seems unusual to find in a book about 1960’s baseball is the topic of advanced statistics.  This was the time that IBM computers started to become more widely used in various businesses, and baseball was no exception.  Their use included attempts to find different statistics that may measure value of things like clutch performance and how much players help their teams win games.
 
One such use of computers was to give different percentage values to different game situations to determine “clutch” players.  For example, a hitter who gets on base when his team is down by one run in the ninth inning with two runners on base and no one out will get a higher percentage than that batter who came up in the same inning with no one on base and no one out.  The computers allowed teams to gather this data in ways that could never have been done manually.  There is even some humor in this section as Hensler shares a prediction made by a computer earlier in 1965.  In mid-September, a computer gave the Minnesota Twins a 10,000-1 long shot chance to win the American League pennant.  At the time of the prediction, the Twins were in first place with a nine game lead and sixteen games left to play.  So much for the use of computers to place odds for gamblers.

Overall, this book is an excellent account of everything baseball-related for those two years.  The text is fairly dense and cannot be read and absorbed quickly.  Casual fans may find this pace not to their liking, but hard core fans and baseball historians will want to add this book to their libraries.
 
I wish to thank Rowman and Littlefield for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
 
Book Format Read:
Hardcover

Buying Links:
 
https://www.amazon.com/New-Boys-Summer-Baseballs-Transformation/dp/1538102595/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=
 
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-new-boys-of-summer-paul-hensler/1126002985?ean=9781538102596