Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Review of "The Cap"

There is a plethora of good basketball books coming out in the next few months, and those are what are composing the bulk of books recently added to the TBR pile.  This is one that is coming off and it is fantastic.  For a reader who enjoys any book on the business side of sports, I was looking forward to this, but it was even better than expected.  Here is my review of "The Cap."



Title/Author:

“The Cap: How Larry Fleisher and David Stern Built the Modern NBA" by Joshua Mendelson 

Tags:

Basketball, professional, business, labor relations

Publish date:

October 1, 2020

Length:

376 pages

Rating: 

5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:

In 1983, the NBA was in a precarious financial situation.  The monetary losses of several teams put them on the brink of ruin.  A maverick owner was trading away draft picks for veteran players in questionable moves.  Players were reaping the benefits of their newly acquired free agency.  This led to two adversaries at the bargaining table to create the first salary cap in sports.  The road to the NBA salary cap is captured in rich detail in this outstanding book by Joshua Mendelson.

The story of the salary actually began in 1964 when the fledgling NBA players' union, after discussions with their legal counsel Larry Fleisher, threatened to not play that year's NBA All-Star game unless the owners contributed to their pensions.  That near-walkout, in which the players waited in the locker room until their concerns were addressed, was the when the resolve of players was tested and held.  This was important in the evolution of a lawsuit filed by players, led by Oscar Robertson, that after six years from the initial filing, created free agency for the players.

Fleisher remained with union and was also the agent for several players and was their main person in collective bargaining agreement negotiations.  But by 1982, the owners were determined to reverse the explosion in player salaries and stop the losses felt by many franchises.  They communicated their demands to the executive vice president of business and legal affairs for the league, a young attorney named David Stern.  While Stern and Fleisher were the main voices for their respective sides in the negotiations, it was a tense time as a strike deadline was set for April 2, 1983 if a new agreement was not reached.  That was avoided – by one day as on April 1, the sides announced that the new agreement included a salary cap in which teams could not spend more than a certain amount for player salaries, but the players were guaranteed 53 percent of gross revenues collected by the teams. 

The entire process, including good chapters on Fleisher and Stern, is well researched by Mendelson and the writing is crisp, easy to understand, and reads like a novel.  Making text about the business side of sports intriguing is very difficult to do, but Mendelson does a fantastic job of doing so.  While any reader who follows the game and the business would already know that the NBA has a salary cap, following Mendelson's account of the negotiations and the back and forth between sides is very entertaining as well as informative. It reads like a great novel with many plot twists and turns. The build-up to the April 2 strike date makes the reader feel like the end is near (if not already aware of the actual outcome) and with how much action was going on behind the scenes, this is a book about the business side of sports that will one that every sports fan should read.  

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:

https://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/nebraska/9781496218780/

https://www.amazon.com/Cap-Larry-Fleisher-David-Modern/dp/1496218787/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Monday, October 19, 2020

Review of "The Big Three"

Upon review of my TBR list - or should I say mountain - there are many upcoming basketball books this winter so it is time to break them out and read about hoops while we are in the off-season despite the calendar saying October.  Here is my review of a book on the 2008 champion Celtics, "The Big Three"



Title/Author:

“The Big Three: Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and the Rebirth of the Boston Celtics" by Michael Holley

Tags:

Basketball, professional, Celtics, championship, history

Publish date:

December 1, 2020

Length:

288 pages

Rating: to

5 of 5 stars (excellent) 

Review:

Basketball fans are aware that the Boston Celtics have won 17 championships, a record they held themselves until the 2020 Los Angeles Lakers tied that mark. This book by Michael Holley, who has been called "the premier chronicler of Boston sports", tells the reader the complete story behind the 17th title, which was won in 2008.  It is a fascinating look at the complete picture of the era of the "Big Three" in Boston, from the first day that former Celtics player Danny Ainge considered a front office job with his former team to the last chance for the team as it was constructed in 2013 to get back to the Finals.

That last chapter of the team's saga, with Ray Allen having already departed the Celtics in favor of the then-rival Miami Heat, was especially painful considering the stories from the previous chapters. For the most part, the "Big Three" players mentioned in the subtitle – Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen – all had similar NBA careers before they were teammates.  Pierce had spent his entire career in Boston and was getting antsy to be able to add a banner to the rafters of the TD Garden.  Garnett, having already won one MVP award in Minnesota, was growing frustrated with the inability of the Timberwolves to build off their one year of playoff success in 2004.  Allen was starring in Seattle but wasn't happy with all the side talk about the team moving to Oklahoma City.

Here is where Ainge, along with coach Doc Rivers, puts together two brilliant trade packages to land Allen and Garnett to play alongside Pierce, making up the Celtics' "Big Three".  It is to the author's credit that he does not try to make this seem like a historic collection of stars – indeed, he frequently mentions an earlier "big three" combination for the Celtics of Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale, who were all teammates of Ainge.  The latter of those three remained friends with Ainge and that connection was the key in obtaining Garnett as McHale was the GM of the Timberwolves at the time.

The story of the Garnett trade, with not only that trade itself but what Ainge did to ensure that he collected all the parts Minnesota wanted to make the trade, was Holley's writing at its finest.  While he certainly writes about the on-court action well, especially during the 2008 NBA finals when the Big Three won their only championship together, it is his writing about the front office workings and the conversations between the players or players and Rivers off the court that makes the book stand out.  Any reader will learn a lot about the Celtics and their use of analytics before it became as big as it is now, one very important part of why Ainge was successful at putting together  team that for five years was among the very best in the NBA, making it to at least the conference finals three of those five years.

There is also good material on important items in the league that didn't directly involve the Celtics but had an impact on them, such as LeBron James moving from Cleveland to Miami and the NBA lockout of 2011. Holley makes sure to tie these back to the Celtics and what these meant to the team.  This was important to help paint the complete picture of the Boston Celtics from 2007 to 2012.  If this is a topic about which a reader wishes to learn more, this is an excellent source.

I wish to thank Hachette 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/Truth-Michael-Holley/dp/0316489948/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-big-three-michael-holley/1133984060?ean=9780316489942

Friday, October 16, 2020

Review of "The Bona Fide Legend of Cool Papa Bell"

Any book on the Negro Leagues is bound to have very entertaining stories and this wonderful biography of James "Cool Papa" Bell is no exception.  The only downfall of his story, and those of his teammates that are told as well, is that they did not get the chance to showcase their skills in the major leagues.  Here is my review of this biography. 


Title/Author:

“The Bona Fide Legend of Cool Papa Bell: Speed, Grace and the Negro Leagues" by Lonnie Wheeler

Tags:

Baseball, professional, biography, history, Negro Leagues

Publish date:

February 9, 2021

Length:

352 pages

Rating: to

5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:

Most baseball fans have heard of the story that James "Cool Papa" Bell was supposedly so fast that he could turn out the lights and be in bed before the room was dark. The actual story behind that myth is just one of the many wonderful passages about this Hall of Fame outfielder in this book by the late Lonnie Wheeler.

Baseball was Bell's ticket out of a working life in the slaughterhouses in St. Louis, where his family relocated from Mississippi when James was a boy.  He started as a pitcher and was a good one, but his coaches wanted to utilize his speed more fully and, in the outfield, he became one of the most legendary figures in the Negro Leagues.  Because of the nomadic nature of the Negro League teams and their usual travel to wherever they could find a decent paying audience to cover the bills and earn a little extra money, there are many teams for which Bell plied his trade.

On those teams, Bell became a teammate with some of the other great players in Negro League history such as Oscar Charleston, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and Turkey Stearns.  Whether it was the Pittsburgh Crawfords, the Homestead Grays or even playing in Mexico and the Dominican Republic, Bell always played hard and usually was one of the best players on the field.  His legend only grew wherever he played.

"Legend" is a good word to use for much of the information known on Bell and the Negro Leagues because, as noted in the book, the recordkeeping was questionable at best.  That would be whenever there were statistics kept or recorded.  The black newspaper in Pittsburgh was the closest to anything official, but it could only publish what it was provided.  Therefore, as noted by the author, much of the information on Bell was obtained through sources that were anecdotal and were not able to be verified.  One humorous example is one season when it was decided to see just how many bases Bell had stolen.  The official stats say 5, which seems awfully low given his legend.  However, if we are to believe Cool Papa's own running tally, he amassed 312. This illustrates the challenge one can face when trying to gather cumulative statistics on the Negro Leagues.

Some of the best chapters are those in which Bell is playing outside the United States, as mentioned earlier.  This is mainly due to Satchel Paige wandering to wherever he wanted to play, even when he was supposed to be part of another team.  He also had the charm to convince other stars to join him, including Bell.  How he was able to do that in the Dominican Republic and play for the campaign of a ruthless dictator was quite interesting, both in a chapter in this book and in more detail in a separate book on Paige's time in this country.

Through the stories of the players, it was also clear how they felt much more welcome and relaxed in foreign nations, especially Mexico, because of the segregation of not only the game but also the racism in the United States in general.  What made this quite interesting is the interaction of the Negro League stars with their white Major League counterparts.  Many of the latter felt that these men were just as good or better than their fellow MLB players.  The eventual integration of baseball is covered in the book – sadly, too late for players like Bell to be able to play.

Even Bell's life after baseball is good reading, especially when he was giving baseball advice to up and coming players through the St. Louis Cardinals' system as Bell lived with his wife Clara in that city after his playing days were over.  One of those players to whom he gave baserunning advice was a young Lou Brock.

Covering much more than just Cool Papa Bell's life, this book would be a wonderful addition to any reader who wants to learn more about the Negro Leagues and some of the legendary players who made the stories rich and entertaining.

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

Book Format Read:

E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Bona-Fide-Legend-Cool-Papa/dp/1419750488/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

 

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bona-fide-legend-of-cool-papa-bell-lonnie-wheeler/1137070668?ean=9781647001117


Monday, October 12, 2020

Review of "City of Champions"

When I picked up this book from the publisher, I expected a collection of stories from the championships for Detroit teams.  It turned out to be something far different, and far better, than any type of book like that.  Here is my review of "City of Champions"



Title/Author:

“City of Champions: A History of Triumph and Defeat in Detroit" by Stefan Szymanski and Silke-Maria Weineck

Tags:

Baseball, football (American), basketball, ice hockey, boxing, Tigers, Red Wings, Lions, Pistons, race, social issues

Publish date:

October 13, 2020

Length:

416 pages

Rating: 

5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:

Detroit has a very interesting and rich history, both in sports and in political, racial and social contexts. Some of it is very uplifting, some is very unflattering but all of it is worth discussing as these two authors do in this very informing and extensive book about the connection between the city's sports and its track record for various political and social issues.

The format of the book is the first clue that this will not be a typical sports book that mingles a few political or social issues into the discussion of what happened on the field and the athletes that accomplished those feats. The book goes in reverse chronological order, starting in 2017 with the opening of the new home for the Red Wings and Pistons and goes all the way back to the 18th century when the city was settled.  Through each chapter the connection between a significant sporting event and the issues of the day in Detroit are covered completely and with impeccable research.

Selection of the events was a good cross between significant events in Detroit sports history. The Pistons' "Malice at the Palace" in 2004, the Lions' last playoff victory in 1970, the Tigers' 1945 pennant in the last year when "4Fs" were the majority of major league players and Joe Louis' victory over Max Schmeling in 1936 are just a few of the major sports events involving Detroit are covered.  They are complemented by events that shaped Detroit's image and explained how they tied in with the systemic racism and economic inequality that plagued the city.  The 1967 riots, the struggle for union workers despite the presence of a large union (that tied in nicely with a chapter on Red Wings' star Ted Lindsey) and the fate of the automobile industry are just a small sampling of those issues in which the research and writing are even better than the sports coverage.

For readers who want to get a good picture of how intertwined sports and social issues can be within a population, this is the best source for that kind of information that one can find. Whit it wasn't a topic for which I was seeking more material, it certainly was a book that I could call an education for history in both sports and the city of Detroit.

I wish to thank The New Press for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Format Read:

E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:

https://www.amazon.com/City-Champions-History-Triumph-Detroit/dp/1620974428/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

 

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/city-of-champions-stefan-szymanski/1136204408?ean=9781620974421

Monday, October 5, 2020

Review of "Dalko"

It has been a fairly slow season for new baseball book releases, but fortunately there are a few on the way.  This one about Steve Dalkowski, known equally for his fastball speed and the wildness with which it was thrown, is a complete account of his career.  Here is my review of "Dalko"


Title/Author:

“Dalko: The Untold Story of Baseball's Fastest Pitcher" by Bill Dembski, Alex Thomas and Brian Vikancer

Tags:

Baseball, professional, biography, minor leagues, Orioles

Publish date:

September 22, 2020

Length:

336 pages

Rating: 

4 ½  of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:

Even though he never pitched in a regular season major league baseball game, most baseball fans have heard of Steve Dalkowski through the legendary stories of the speed of his pitches, the inability to get many of those pitches over the plate and his drinking stories.  This book, a collaborative effort by three authors, is an excellent account of "Dalko's" athletic career.

When including Dalkowski's high school time, athletic is the more appropriate word to use than baseball since he was an outstanding football player. It was noted in the book that his passes when he played quarterback were much more accurate than his fastballs, which drove his coaches crazy when trying to figure out why he was accurate with the pigskin but not the horsehide.

There isn't much about Dalkowski during his childhood in the book, which is the only blemish on the book as the rest of his life is written with excellent detail and from many different viewpoints by people important in his life. Unlike many other biographies, this book had very good information on Dalkowski's life after baseball, especially when he, for a short time, had a stable family life and his drinking was not having an extremely negative effect on his life.  This is consistent with the writing about his baseball career.

That aspect is the best part of the book as it accomplishes two major factors that will have readers learning the real story behind the legend of Steve Dalkowski.  One is the truth, fiction or embellishment of several of the stories about his fastball and his wildness.  One example is that there is information on the story that he ripped the ear off of a batter with his fastball.  While it was true about the ear injury to the batter, that is an embellishment that grew over the years.  Another example is how he injured his elbow during an exhibition game when pitching for the Orioles, the team that signed him out of high school when they saw the blazing speed on his fastball and patiently tried to get him ready for the big leagues.  There are several versions of that injury and the book sets it straight.

The other major component of Dalkowski's baseball career, the patience and advice of the many coaches and teammates who tried to help him, is both maddening and sad.  Sad in the fact that nearly everyone wanted to help him and wanted him to succeed and maddening in that nothing seemed to work, probably because with so much advice, he very likely couldn't keep it all together.  His alcoholism is also addressed well in the book, with stories of when it seemed to start, some of the trouble he got into with his drinking and one very interesting fact – whenever he borrowed money from teammates or coaches for nights out, he made sure to always pay them back every day. 

For the complete story of the legend that was Steve Dalkowski and his fastball, before the days of other contemporary pitchers known for speed like Nolan Ryan, this is the book to pick up.  It's a great read for not only readers who know about the talented but erratic pitcher, but also for those who have never heard of him and wish to read about an intriguing person.

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

Book Format Read:

E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Dalko-Untold-Baseballs-Fastest-Pitcher/dp/1645427102/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dalko-bill-dembski/1137346942?ean=9781645427117

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Book Series - Hamilcar Noir - Boxing True Crime Stories

 

This post will be different that the typical book review that is posted on this blog.  Today I am going to feature some books from a series on one post.  The series is a set of books that are true crime stories involving boxers, the Hamilcar Noir series.

According to Andy Komack, Co-Founder & Principal of Hamilcar Publications, this series is not meant to be definitive biographies of any of the fighters portrayed.  Instead, these fairly short books are intended to be read by those who wish to enjoy a quick read when doing activities such as travel.  They tell a good story about not only the boxer, but the circumstances that led to the criminal activity in which the fighter was involved.  It should also be noted that they do not read like whodunit mysteries, as the outcome is already known by many of the readers.  Instead, they are stories of these men written in excellent prose and supplemented by quality cover art inspired by classic pulp novels.

These books do not have to be read in the order in which they are numbered as they are independent works and can be enjoyed in any order at any time.  Here is a list of the “hard-hitting true crime” books in the series:

·         “Slaughter in the Streets” by Don Stradley

·         “Berserk” by Don Stradley

·         “The Ghost of Johnny Tapia” by Paul Zanon with Teresa Tapia

·         “Killed in Brazil?” by Jimmy Tobin

·         “A Fistful of Murder” by Don Stradley

·         “Shot at a Brothel” by Patrick Connor

·         “President of Pandemonium” by Luke G. Williams.

Below are short reviews of each of the four books that I have read thus far in the series, listed in no particular order.  As I read the other three titles, I will make another post for them and refer back to the publisher web site for more information, as will be listed at the end of this post.  Enjoy the reviews and more importantly, be sure to check out the excellent books in this series.

“A Fistful of Murder” by Don Stradley       



This was an engrossing short book on the life of middleweight boxing champion Carlos Monzon. The book starts with the death of his wife Alicia when she was found dead beneath the balcony of the suite she and Monzon were at. Monzon would later be convicted of murdering her and during his prison sentence, he died when he crashed the car he was driving when returning to prison after being granted a short furlough.

There is enough good material about Monzon’s rise from poverty in Argentina, his rise to boxing legend and his narcissistic personality that the reader will get a good look into the life of this troubled man, despite the relatively short length of the book. It’s an excellent quick read for boxing fans who remember the Argentinian champion.

 

“Killed in Brazil?” by Jimmy Tobin  


Excellent quick read on the mystery surrounding the the death of champion boxer Arturo Gatti. Officially ruled a suicide by Brazilian law enforcement, questions were immediately raised surrounding the competence of the investigation and the role Gatti’s widow Amanda might have played in her husband’s death. The book takes interviews with Amanda and other family members as well as research into the case and lets the reader draw his or her own conclusion. Mix in a good recap of Gatti’s career, including his legendary trio of fights with Mickey Ward and you have a short but great book every boxing fan will enjoy.


“Slaughter in the Streets” by Don Stradley  


This is a very good collection of true crime stories that all have a common theme - former professional boxers who had performed in Boston and somehow got into the crime scene in the streets of that city and ended dead because of that decision. Author Don Stradley gives the reader a very good picture of what life was like for these boxers once they were involved in some of the more notorious crime mobs. Whitey Bulger plays a role in some of these accounts - that tells you just how deep some of these pugilists became into the underworld. Given the sad ending to each one of these lives, it is not a book for the faint of heart - one should be a serious fan of either boxing or true crime books to enjoy this.

“The Ghost of Johnny Tapia” by Paul Zanon with Teresa Tapia 


The story of Johnny Tapia is at once brutal and sad. This short book by Paul Zanon packs a lot of punch in only 96 pages. From the horrific murder of his mother to his numerous highs from drugs that at times left days away from home to his untimely death, Zanon doesn't miss a beat when describing Tapia's life to the reader. What makes the story even sadder is now much promise Tapia had in his boxing career as he was the junior welterweight world champion in the late 1980's and later became the lightweight champion. Johnny's widow Teresa contributes to the book as well as she shares many details of their volatile marriage with Zanon. The reader will be hooked from the start of their life together when Johnny was night on their wedding night to when Teresa had to tell Johnny in his corner that he suffered his first professional loss in the ring and ultimately to when Teresa had to call 911 because Johnny died from a prescription drug overdose. The whole gamut of emotions will flood the reader, unusual for such a short book. It is one that boxing fans will enjoy about the short life of the troubled Hall of Fame boxer.

 

For more titles and information in the series, visit https://hamilcarpubs.com/hamilcar-noir/