Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Review of "The Wizard of College Baseball"

When I saw the title of this book, I thought it was about the long-time coach of USC, Rod Dedeaux.  When I saw it was about Miami coach Ron Fraser instead, I thought that's fine, I'm still interested.  Glad I picked it up.  Here is my review of "The Wizard of College Baseball."


“The Wizard of College Baseball: How Ron Fraser Elevated Miami and an Entire Sport to National Prominence” by David Brauer



4 of 5 stars (Very good)


College baseball, now a staple on sports networks like ESPN, has not always been a popular option for athletes, spectators or television viewers.  It was long considered to be a “non-revenue” sport and had to either raise its own funds or receive money from the revenue sports like football or men’s basketball.  Ron Fraser almost single-handedly changed that with the baseball program at the University of Miami and how he did so is captured in this book by David Brauer.

 If there was ever a person who could sell anyone on college baseball, it was Fraser. Whether it was cost-conscious athletic directors, skeptical business who were being wooed by Fraser for donations or fans who had limited entertainment dollars at their disposal, Fraser would work his magic and convince those people to provide the funds, support and/or backing the baseball program would need.  When Fraser took the job, he saw how run down the field and equipment were and instead of moping about the condition of the program he took over, he got to work.

That work not only lead to a revenue generating sport in baseball for the school, but it made Miami baseball the place to go for good family entertainment at affordable prices.  The newly renovated Mark Light Stadium (named for the biggest donor and supporter of Fraser’s program) had affordable food, games and other entertainment as well. It should also be mentioned that other sports at the school, most notably football, also benefited from the new notoriety that baseball gave the university.  This is especially true as ESPN

Success came not only on the financial side but also on the field as Miami became a powerhouse in the sport, going from very few wins to regular appearances in the NCAA Regional tournaments and the College World Series. Their championships in 1982 and 1985 were the best moments for Fraser’s tenure as the coach.  His coaching methods and motivation talks were the best parts of the book that concentrated on the on-field accomplishments of Hurricanes baseball.  Many of Fraser’s players were interviewed by Brauer and they all shared great stories of their time with the coach.

After Fraser retired from coaching Miami in 1992, he was named head coach of the 1992 US Baseball team.  However, his involvement in the game was not over after those Olympics as he provided guidance and assistance to many teams, including the Los Angeles Dodgers and his friend Tommy Lasorda.  The book covers all these topics quite well, but not in an organized manner and it was here, especially the last two chapters, where I found the book to be a little harder to follow and haphazard.

However, that doesn’t mean that this book is not a good read as I enjoyed learning more about Fraser and his work in building up the Miami baseball team from afterthought to powerhouse.  College baseball fans will be especially interested in this book as it is a good source of information of one of the most successful programs in the sport.

 I wish to thank the author and publisher for providing a review copy. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.


Link: The Wizard of College Baseball : Nebraska Press (unl.edu)

Monday, April 8, 2024

Review of "Roberto Alomar"

Sometimes a book on a famous player will allow the reader to learn much more about that player than what they learned in the media or through fandom.  That was the case for me with this book about Roberto Alomar.  Here is my review.



“Roberto Alomar: The Complicated Life and Legacy of a Baseball Hall of Famer” by David Ostrowsky


4 of 5 stars (Very good)

Review:  The subtitle of this book by David Ostrowsky is very accurate when discussing the baseball legacy of Roberto Alomar, a Hall of Fame second baseman who played for seven different major league teams but found his greatest success as a Toronto Blue Jay.  Alomar’s entire career, as well as his personal life and the controversies that surrounded him both on and off the field are captured here.

From the very beginning it is clear that Ostrowsky is not going to sugar coat Alomar’s life as the book begins with the infamous incident in 1996 when Alomar, then a member of the Baltimore Orioles, spit on umpire John Hirschbeck after a disputed called third strike. Alomar then further enraged fans and media when he mentioned that Hirschbeck had become more bitter since his son passed away.  While easily the most famous of the controversies involving Alomar, there are others that did not get as much attention but are noted by Ostrowsky.  These included allegations of sexual assault that led Major League Baseball to ban him from the game in 2021, although it would not change his Hall of Fame status.

Lest one thinks this book only covers this side of Alomar, it is also full of food writing about Alomar’s baseball career, from his excitement about the game as a child to his determination to keep playing late when his diminished skills in his mid-30’s would not allow him to hang on with a team.  His brief time with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox (twice) illustrate how much he had declined.

But when his star shone bright, it was brilliant as his accomplishments in Toronto made everyone who saw him believe he was one of the best, if not the best second baseman in the game.  His knowledge was considered to be off the charts, and he was always sharing it freely with teammates or anyone else who wanted to learn more about the game.

 In short, this book was a very fair, balanced, and informative account of Roberto Alomar.  A reader will come away from this agreeing that he certainly deserves to be considered a Hall of Fame player but will also understand why there are also detractors given the many controversies, justified or not, that surround his legacy.

 I wish to thank the author and publisher for providing a review copy. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

 Link: Roberto Alomar: The Complicated Life and Legacy of a Baseball Hall of Famer: Ostrowsky, David: 9781538158029: Amazon.com: Books

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Review of "Perfect Eloquence"

I never thought I could hear more good things about Vin Scully, nearly two years after his passing - but this book has many of them.  I learned a lot more about the legendary broadcaster by reading this book.  Here is my review of "Perfect Eloquence." 


“Perfect Eloquence: An Appreciation of Vin Scully” by Tom Hoffarth


5 of 5 stars (Excellent)

Review:  It’s difficult to add any more praise and adulation for Vin Scully that hasn’t already been said, but this book by Tom Hoffrarth does just that.  Scully was the broadcasting voice of the Dodger, covering them both in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, for 67 years.  Imagine doing a job you love, with millions listening to you, for that long.  Whether you are a big fan of the Dodgers or know practically nothing about baseball, the chance to meet or talk to Scully was a memorable moment for those lucky enough to do so.  This book is a collection of stories from people of all walks of like who were able to do so.

That is why this book is not only such a joy to read but is also one that must be given credit for accomplishing a difficult task – namely to share insights into the man that were not already shared either during his last year of broadcasting in 2016 or after his death in 2022. By interviewing various people – from fans to baseball personnel to other celebrities – Hoffrath was able to compile a great selection of stories on many different aspects of Scully’s life. To a person, everyone that Hoffrath gathered information from said the same thing about Scully – that he treated them with kindness, listened to them and expressed sincere pleasure in meeting them.

This went well beyond his broadcasting excellence. Many of the stories were about Scully’s faith and how that shaped his personality and how he interacted with people.  While the book stayed away from politics unless the person sharing the Scully story mentioned it, his leanings in that topic were shown. But even then, if the person had a different viewpoint than Scully, it didn’t affect the kindness and grace they showed in their feelings on him. That was very refreshing given today’s landscape.

Of course, there is baseball and Scully broadcasting moments in the book as well, but they were not the biggest takeaways from the book.  Whether your favorite call of Scully’s was his description of the perfect game by Sandy Koufax in 1965, his description of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run (my personal favorite) or the miraculous home run by Kirk Gibson in the 1988 World Series, fans of the sport and of Scully will not only recall those great moments, but they may also learn more about the man himself.  Hoffrath deserves a lot of praise for being able to not only collect all these wonderful stories, but also weave them together in a great book that does justice to one of the greatest sports broadcasters of all time.

I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press and NetGalley for providing a review copy. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

Link: Amazon.com: Perfect Eloquence: An Appreciation of Vin Scully: 9781496238788: Hoffarth, Tom, Rapoport, Ron: Books

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Review of "The Formula"

While NASCAR is my favorite motorsport, I do like to watch an occasional Formula 1 race and I LOVE to read anything I can on it.  This book is one reason why F1 books are so good - this one deals mostly with the business side and it's fantastic.  Here is my review of "The Formula."


The Formula: How Rogues, Geniuses and Speed Freaks Reengineered F1 Into the World’s Fastest-Growing Sport” by Joshua Robinson and Jonathan Clegg


5 of 5 stars (Excellent)

Review:  Formula 1 racing has long been a staple of the sports environment in Europe for several decades.  However, it had trouble attracting fans in the United States until a Netflix show about the sport called “Drive to Survive” was shown during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.  How the sport got to that point, and what has taken place since to make it grow as fast as the subtitle suggests, is documented in this excellent book by Wall Street Journal writers Joshua Robinson and Jonathan Clegg.


This book, as the authors state in the beginning, is not a detailed history of the sport in which race results are chronicled, drivers and crews are not provided detailed biographies and details about season results are not recapped here.  Instead, this book provides many excellent stories and illustrations on the business side of the sport from its early history to its current popularity that has grown from the Netflix exposure.

While biographies are not a main source of information in this book, the authors do a terrific job of portraying some of the biggest names in the sport, both on the business side and some of its most famous drivers.  For the latter, there is an entire chapter on Michael Schumacher, considered by some to be the greatest driver in the history of F1.  A good portrait of the best driver in the 1990’s, Ayrton Senna is also done well.  It is short mainly because Senna died in a 1994 crash.  Then there are the two current superstars, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. Their personalities and excellence on the road are both well-written and compelling reading.

As good as these are, however, the best parts of the book are when Robinson and Clegg are writing about the business side of the sport, complete with complex rule changes, back-room dealings, television contracts that are written mainly to only line the pockets of the leaders and so much more.  Personalities here are described in even better prose than described above on the drivers.  Enzo Ferrari, Bernie Ecclestone and Colin Chapman are just three of the many personalities that make F1 history fascinating, and the authors do a fantastic job of describing their influence on the sport.

The sport has also had various controversies through the years and some of the most bizarre ones are covered here as well.  One that particularly caught my interest was “Spygate.” NFL fans may know about their own “Spygate” in which Bill Belichick was recording practice sessions of another team. That Spygate is mild compared to F1’s version.  In that, a disgruntled engineer from Team Ferrari handed over documents to the McLaren engineering team that covered everything – something that nothing in American sports can compare to.  Including the fines – the Patriots’ fine from the NFL is peanuts compared to what came down from F1 officials.  There are other incidents, including a deliberate crash by a mediocre driver to allow his teammate to win a championship, that are mind-boggling and fantastic reading.

No matter your interest in F1, or even motorsports, this is a book that anyone will enjoy reading.  Just like how Liberty Media, the latest owners of the F1 brand, made fans out of people who have never watched race thanks to a popular streaming show, this book may make a reader take interest in a sport that they may never have had any knowledge about before opening to the first page.  

I wish to thank Mariner Books for providing a review copy. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

Link: Amazon.com: The Formula: How Rogues, Geniuses, and Speed Freaks Reengineered F1 into the World's Fastest-Growing Sport: 9780063318625: Robinson, Joshua, Clegg, Jonathan: Books

Monday, March 18, 2024

Review of "The Fenway Effect"

This is an upcoming book by a well-known MSNBC reporter about the cultural influence of the Boston Red Sox and even though I knew that the Red Sox were beloved by many, I didn't realize just how many connections in non-baseball areas the team had.  I learned a lot and enjoyed the book as well. 



The Fenway Effect: A Cultural History of the Boston Red Sox” by David Krell


4 ½ of 5 stars (Very Good)

Review:  The Boston Red Sox have a special place in the hearts of many New Englanders.  Even those who don’t follow baseball closely seem to have their emotions tied together with the ups and downs of the area’s baseball team. This book by David Krell explores some of those connections and why the Red Sox are an important part of the fabric of Boston.

The book explores many different aspects of this grip that the team has on the culture of the area.  Not only are the important baseball games covered (Game Six of the 1975 World Series, Game Six of the 1986 World Series, the “Boston Strong” game after the Boston Marathon bombing where David Ortiz gave his famous speech) but connections in the community and in other forms of entertainment are discussed as well.  For the latter, examples of this is the television show “Cheers” and it’s main character Sam Malone who was a pitcher for the Red Sox before opening his bar and “Fever Pitch”, the romantic comedy with Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon, who plays a die-hard Red Sox fan.

Something that is worth noting is that topics that originated from a source other than the Red Sox are also included and proper credit, when due, is given. The best example is one of my favorite topics in the book, the Jimmy Fund. For those who don’t know about it, it is a very popular fundraiser for research into children’s cancer.  It was inspired by a child cancer patient in 1948 and the “Jimmy” name is fictional, although the real name of the child is later revealed. But while this charity is well-connected with the Red Sox and legendary Red Sox player Ted Williams often visited patients without publicity, this was not originally a Red Sox staple.  “Jimmy” expressed a desire to see his favorite baseball player, Billy Southworth.  At the time, he was the manager of the Boston Braves, so the Jimmy Fund was started by the Braves.  There are other connections to the Braves and plenty of mentions of the other professional sports teams in Boston.

The fan experience should also be included in this book and it covers many different areas of the region and various ages.  This was my only disappointment with the book, although not because they were included.  Indeed, this book would be incomplete without hearing from people on why the Red Sox are so important.  But reading them in one chapter as they were organized felt like they were staring to sound the same.  Of course, they were not – and for other Red Sox fans, this might resonate more greatly, but for me, they just started to feel like the same story but told in different ways.

That doesn’t take away anything from the book as it is one that I thoroughly enjoyed and it is complete for everything from the Red Sox ballpark before Fenway Park (Huntington Avenue Grounds) to the iconic Citgo sign seen over the Green Monster, this book is one that any baseball fan who understands what the Red Sox mean to the New England region will want to read.

I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing a review copy. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

Link: The Fenway Effect: A Cultural History of the Boston Red Sox: Krell, David: 9781496232335: Amazon.com: Books


Friday, March 15, 2024

Review of "Charlie Hustle"

Sometimes it's hard to find a book that is fair and complete when it is about a controversial person or event, but this book on Pete Rose fits that perfectly.  Here is my review of "Charlie Hustle." 


Charlie Hustle: The Rise and Fall of Pete Rose and the Last Glory Days of Baseball” by Keith O’Brien


5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:  Pete Rose is one of the most polarizing figures in baseball history.  Even people who have never followed the game but know about him through the news about his gambling, conviction on tax evasion and his banishment from baseball will have an opinion on him.  Whatever one’s opinion is about Rose, it is unlikely to change, even after reading this excellent biography of Rose by Keith O’Brien.

Before getting to all the excellent aspects of the book, I will the two criticisms I have out of the way.  One is a passage about how baseball changed, for the worse in O’Brien’s view, during the steroid era after Rose was banished from the game in 1989.  That fits the subtitle of this book and is an opinion held by many but it just felt out of place – not only where it was placed in the book but by being included at all.  Rose was never believed to use steroids so why is that included in a book on him?

The other detail that was a negative is that in later passages, when mentioning the number of children Rose had, it always stated four – the four he had with his two wives.  There was another daughter who Rose fathered with one of his mistresses, but aside from when she was little, she is ignored and forgotten the rest of the book.  For the record, Pete Rose fathered five children, not four.

With that out of the way, time to talk about all of the good things about this book and there are plenty.  The first is that O’Brien was able to get many quotes, stories and pieces of information from Rose himself.  For a such a controversial figure, it was remarkable that the author was able to glean this much from Rose and it made for more authenticity. Now, whether one believes that Rose is lying, as he did in many of his public statements about his gambling, that doesn’t really matter as the reader will be getting the story from the person himself.

About that gambling – the detail with which O’Brien writes about Rose’s betting is what truly shines in this book.  As many know, Rose gambled on more than just baseball.  It was interesting to read about Rose’s “triple header” days in Florida during spring training.  After the games, he would often head to the dog races, the horse races and the jai alai centers for placing bets. This would often take place with some characters who were less than desirable.  This became known to many who befriended Rose through baseball and they had concerns.  Teammates, managers and front office personnel alike all had questions about Rose’s acquaintances, but because of his success on the field, this wasn’t an issue for awhile.

That is until the FBI and the Department of Justice started investigating some of those acquaintances such as Tommy Gioiosa and Ron Peters.  The latter’s testimony to the agents working for these agencies was the most damaging and O’Brien brings their stories to life in riveting pages.  The same goes for the investigation by John Dowd for Major League Baseball and his report.  The reader will think that they are right there in the room with Dowd and the baseball commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti when reading about this investigation and the banishment of Rose from the game.

These are just a few of the excellent topics covered in this book.  I haven’t even mentioned anything about O’Brien’s writing about Rose’s accomplishments on the field.  The beginning of the book that describes the night when Rose became the all-time leader in hits will give you an idea of how he covers that aspect of Rose as well – which is excellent.

 No matter how one feels about Rose as a person or whether or not he belongs in the baseball Hall of Fame, one who cares at all about him or baseball should read this book.  It deals with a very controversial baseball figure fairly and leaves the reader to make the final judgement for themselves.

 I was provided a review copy via NetGalley and the opinions expressed are strictly my own.

 Link: Amazon.com: Charlie Hustle: The Rise and Fall of Pete Rose, and the Last Glory Days of Baseball: 9780593317372: O'Brien, Keith: Books


Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Review of "The Tennis Champion Who Escaped the Nazis"

Train rides are always the best time for me to catch up on reading and on my recent travels to Washington, DC via train, that gave me that opportunity.  One of the older books on my TBR pile was this one on a tennis player whom I never heard of, but had a story that should be told - and it was by her granddaughter. 


The Tennis Champion Who Escaped the Nazis” by Felice Hardy


4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:  The story of Liesl Herbst, as told by her granddaughter Felice Hardy in this family memoir, is one that is at times compelling, at times inspiring but for the most part tragic.  Liesl came from a Jewish family in Vienna with some wealth – but being Jewish in a country so close to Germany, there were rumblings of trouble when the Nazis rose to power.  Before this however, Liesl wanted to channel her athletic talent into tennis and follow her idol, Suzanne Lenglen into the sport. 

Through extensive research (by herself and other researchers in Austria and Czechoslovakia), Hardy is able to not only find out about her grandmother’s tennis career but is also able to describe in great detail about the escape from Austria that Liesl and her daughter Dorli (Hardy’s mother) were able to accomplish and settle in London.  Because Liesl was a former tennis champion in Austria, she wanted to compete again and was able to do so at Wimbledon.  She and Dorli became the only mother/daughter team to compete at Wimbledon and while they may not have advanced far in the tournament, it was a testament to their athletic ability and their determination in both athletics and survival.

However, this book is not all positive.  The rest of the family members did not escape the Nazis and all perished at various points during their imprisonment.  These passages, which were more of the book than Liesl’s tennis accomplishments, were difficult to read, but really were necessary for both the reader and the author.  Hardy should be commended for remembering all members of her family, not just her famous grandmother.

There are many conversations that are quoted in the book and given the time frame and lack of ability to verify these from survivors, one must consider these as conversations that Hardy believed these people would have had when either making their escapes or being captured. The journey of David, Liesl’s husband, to London after sending his wife and daughter there almost reads like a survivalist story.  While this is not to question any of the authenticity of this and other similar accounts, it does appear that some of this is what Hardy believes her family members did and said. However, that doesn’t detract from the overall quality of the book.  It is one that is a very good read and while tennis is a part of the story, the takeaway after reading is how much suffering people endured at the hands of the Nazi party during the Holocaust.

I was provided a review copy via NetGalley and the opinions expressed are strictly my own.

Link: Amazon.com: The Tennis Champion Who Escaped the Nazis: From Vienna to Wimbledon, one family’s struggle to survive and win: 9781802471199: Hardy, Felice: Books