Sunday, January 31, 2021

Review of "Cheating"

A book with this title could apply to any sport, but this one is about NASCAR and some of the things drivers and crews do to gain an advantage.  With the Daytona 500 coming in two weeks, I want to read more NASCAR related items and this is one.  Here is my review of "Cheating"


Title/Author:

“Cheating: The Bad Things Good Stock Car Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed” by Tom Jensen

Tags:

Auto Racing, professional, NASCAR, History

Publish date:

March 24, 2012 (electronic version – original publication 2002)

Length:

254 pages

Rating:

4 ½ of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:

No matter the sport, competitors are always looking for that extra edge that may make the difference between winning and losing.  During the entire history of NASCAR, that has been taken at times to the extremes.  Whether it is the driver, the crew chief, the team owner or the mechanics themselves, there have been some legendary bending or outright breaking of the rules. These have been put together in this very entertaining and informative book by Tom Jensen.

The aspect of cheating, or at least trying to determine how much one can get away with before being caught by NASCAR inspectors, has been around as long as the sport itself.  In fact, Jensen writes about the very first race in NASCAR’s premier series.  It took place in 1949 in the newly created “Strictly Stock” division (which is today’s Cup Series) and how the winner, Glenn Dunnaway, was disqualified for having illegal “bootlegger springs”.  These were simply springs that distributed the weight of the car better on turns, something bootleggers used in the days of Prohibition. It fits nicely with the early history of NASCAR and its connection to bootlegging. Readers will get a fascinating look at how bending and/or breaking the rules were a rich part of the early history of the sport and will learn a lot about that era.

However, cheating and the stories of the attempts of doing so are not limited to just the genesis of NASCAR. Each decade up to the 2001 Daytona 500 is covered in the book, each with its own interesting history of what was done, how some drivers and crews were caught, and how NASCAR officials are trying to keep one step ahead of the mechanics and crews of the cars who are always looking for that edge.  There are many aspects of the cars that can be tweaked to do this, but Jensen concentrates on three main areas that are always under scrutiny: weight, aerodynamics and tires.  

Everything from the simple (simply switching left side tires to the right), the obvious (some spoilers are very clearly illegal), the “ignorant” (bumpers or car parts that oops, fell off on the track to make the car lighter) to the repeats (for example, there are many stories about making fuel tanks lighter by using lighter metals) is covered in the book.  While it has been nearly 20 years since the book was first produced, it is still an excellent read for all race fans.  If one wants to read about one of the more colorful sides of the sport, and there are plenty, this is a book to add to one’s collection.

Book Format Read:

E-book (Kindle)                                                                                                                             

Buying Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Cheating-Things-Stock-Car-Racers-Pursuit-ebook/dp/B007OLLL2Y?ie=UTF8&redirect=true&ref_=ku_mi_rw_edp  


Friday, January 29, 2021

Guest post - Baseball Fiction

When author Del Jones recently reached out to me on reviewing his book "At The Bat" (see review in previous post) he also mentioned that he was going to write about the availability and thoughts from various people on baseball fiction.  He did talk to several people, including myself, and the article he produced is very good.  I am happy to share the following article on baseball fiction. 

______________________________________________________________________________

GOODREADS 10 GREATEST BASEBALL NOVELS OF ALL TIME

By Del Leonard Jones


Baseball more than any sport inspires wonderful writing, says Tim Wiles, former director of research and the public services librarian for the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library. 

“There are dozens of great baseball novels, if not hundreds,” Wiles says, and the game also has inspired a mountain of short fiction, poetry and essays. Baseball contributes in Ruthian ways to many non-baseball novels, including The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Earnest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger. Salinger even appears in the W.P. Kinsella novel Shoeless Joe

Justin McGuire, host of the Baseball by the Book podcast, agrees that good baseball fiction abounds and cites authors Robert Coover, Phillip Roth, Bernard Malamud and Don DeLillo.

“It’s noteworthy that in 2020, two women published excellent baseball novels,” McGuire says and he recommends The Cactus League, by Emily Nemens and The Resisters," by Gish Jen, a novel that examines baseball in a dystopian future when most baseball novels travel to the past. McGuire’s favorite is The Southpaw, which takes a more grounded approach than books that mythologize the game, such as The Natural and Shoeless Joe. The Southpaw is funny, filled with drama, and treats baseball as a sport rather than a symbol, McGuire says.

Matthew DiBiase, formerly a historian with the National Archives, interviews authors of sports books on his podcast “The Packaged Tourist Show.” He says If I Never Get Back is his favorite baseball novel.

“Baseball is the literary sport,” Wiles says. “Beats the heck out of all the other team sports combined.”

Some dedicated readers beg to differ. There have been 15 unassisted triple plays in the Major Leagues but Lance Smith, who has reviewed over 700 books on his website “The Guy Who Reviews Sports Books,” suggest that great baseball novels may be more rare. Smith says 95 percent of what he reads is nonfiction. His favorite novel is The Natural, but he also enjoyed Saving Babe Ruth by Tom Swyers, a legal thriller based on a true story, not about the Great Bambino, but about a hapless league of players who have aged out of Little League.

“Had Mr. Swyers not reached out to me, I never would have known about it,” Smith says. Same with At The Bat: The Strikeout That Shamed America. “Most authors who write in this niche are self-publishing or work with small publishers and don’t have the marketing machines that authors like John Grisham have to promote books.”

“Why craft fictional stories when you have the myth of Babe Ruth’s called shot?” says  Brina Gonzalez, voted the No. 44 best book reviewer by the 20 million members of the Goodreads website. She has reviewed 116 baseball books, mostly nonfiction. “The 1951 shot heard round the world was either heart breaking or euphoric depending on which team you rooted for.”

Baseball novels have often been noticed by Hollywood. Bang The Drum Slowly, published in 1956, was made into a TV show starring Paul Newman, then into a 1973 movie starring Robert De Niro. The Natural, published in 1952, became a Robert Redford film success in 1984.

That inspired Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams in 1989 from the 1980 novel Shoeless Joe. Grisham’s 2012 novel Calico Joe is in development with George Clooney expected to direct. Critically acclaimed The Art of Fielding is also being adapted into a movie.

 

There are 112 books on the Goodreads list of best baseball novels. The latest addition to the Top 10 is At The Bat: The Strikeout That Shamed America, a story I wrote that is built upon the 1888 poem Casey At The Bat. The novel’s appeal is an unlikely narrator, the umpire the fans want so badly to kill. As with baseball novel The Celebrant, At The Bat is an examination of the fall of the proud hero and the rise of the unexpectedly humble.

Among Wiles’ recommended baseball novels are The Brothers K, Heart of the Order, Season of the Owl, The Natural, and Man on Spikes. His favorite is The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, by the Canadian W.P. Kinsella.  “It's a novel of magical realism, and everything I love about baseball is in it,” Wiles says.

Shoeless Joe is the favorite baseball novel of Gonzalez, but she says it is the rare author who can compete with the true stories of baseball. 

Hopefully, that won’t stop novelists from trying. So far, two of the Top 10 have been written in the 21st century. 

“Even as baseball recedes in the national imagination, authors are finding new ways to explore the topic,” McGuire says.

Here are the best baseball novels of all time as ranked by Goodreads readers.



1.       The Natural by Bernard Malamud (1952)

The concept is great, a player injured by a woman’s gunfire at 19 returns as a 35-year-old rookie phenom to take a hapless team to the top of the standings. Baseball scenes are written well, but Gonzalez is among those who say the movie is better than the book, which is full of dark characters. Unlike the movie, the book does not end with fireworks and Roy Hobbs’ shattering of the stadium lights with his bat Wonderboy. Smith says the characters are a complicated mess who, when thrown together with baseball, create a great story.

 

        2. Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella (1980)

On the other hand, several great scenes from this book were left out of the movie Field of Dreams and readers tend to think the book is better. Many rank Shoeless Joe ahead of The Natural. A struggling Iowa farmer obeys the voice of Shoeless Joe Jackson of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal. “If you build it, he will come,” Ray Kinsella hears, and insanely plows under his corn field to build a diamond for the ghostly legends.

 

 3. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (2011) 

Critics say it is much like baseball: 500-plus pages about a college team that crawl toward extra innings. Literary critics, like true baseball fans, shrug and say it’s worth the time invested. It’s great art, though the reader might need a seventh-inning stretch. The perfect fielder at last makes a throwing error that hospitalizes his roommate. The most successful baseball novel in a long time because it has crossed over to the connoisseurs of literary fiction.

 

      4. If I Never Get Back by Darryl Brock (1990) 

Like Shoeless Joe, this is a time travel book except the narrator does the traveling. He steps off a train platform and from a sad life of divorce and into 1869. Just as At The Bat: The Strikeout That Shamed America pulls in real-life characters, If I Never Get Back pulls in the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, Mark Twain and a love affair with a woman of the past. Separated in history by 19 years, the two novels reveal a post Civil War America and the changing game of baseball as it morphs into a professional sport.

      5.   The Celebrant by Eric Rolfe Greenberg (1983)

Go back in time once more to the days of New York Giants pitcher Christy Mathewson and, toward the end, great prose about the 1919 Black Sox Scandal. As with Mighty Casey, this novel is much about the pitfalls of hero worship and the burdens of being a hero. Other historical baseball novels portray the life of Irish immigrants. This one revolves around a family of Jewish immigrant jewelers. 

 

    6. Bang The Drum Slowly by Mark Harris (1956)

Harris is the only author of two books on this list, though Kinsella rightly deserves to be another. Bang The Drum Slowly is a sequel to The Southpaw in a four-book series. Pitcher Henry Wiggen (played by Michael Moriarty in the movie) returns and has a bromance with his slow-talking, disrespected catcher Bruce Pearson (Robert De Niro), who is diagnosed with terminal cancer. The two keep it a secret from teammates and the world. A heart-tugger.

 

      7. The Universal Baseball Association., Inc. by Robert Coover (1968)

True fantasy baseball. A reclusive accountant goes home each night to play a baseball dice game he invented. Perfect games are pitched and players killed by bean balls on a kitchen table where J. Henry Waugh is the god of fate. A change of pace among baseball novels, quite different than the others on this list.

 

      8. The Brothers K by David James Duncan (1992)

One more look back, but to the upheaval of the 1960s and the Vietnam War. Once again, a baseball player’s career is ended by an accident and he raises a family in tension. An examination of faith. The mother is a Seventh-day Adventist; one son obsesses over eastern religions. Then, there is baseball, the religion of so many. An emotional story that runs down the same lane as The Art of Fielding.

 

        9.  At The Bat: The Strikeout That Shamed America by Del Leonard Jones (2020)

Casey, though worshiped, is a flawed super-hero. The unknown umpire, though despised and on the spectrum, calls balls and strikes. Stir into the Mudville mix reporter Nellie Bly, Mouse Mathews (the winningest pitcher not in the Hall of Fame), the racist Cap Anson and Moses Fleetwood Walker, the last African-American to play Major League Baseball (1884) for a long, long time. Anyone who knows the poem knows the ending. Well, not exactly, and that’s where shame breaks across the plate and into the catcher’s glove.

 

     10. The Southpaw by Mark Harris (1953)

First of a four-book series, rookie pitcher Henry Wiggin takes the reader from high school to the World Series with Huckleberry Finn-like language and a confrontation of racism and segregation. A coming of age story, as are many of the novels above.

 

Del Leonard Jones wrote more than 300 cover stories at USA Today and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in beat reporting. At The Bat: The Strikeout That Shamed America is his second novel. His first, The Cremation of Sam McGee, was also built upon a 19th-century poem. He has written the leadership book Advice From the Top: 1001 Bits of Business Wisdom from the Great Leaders of the Recent Past. He can be reached here on LinkedIn.

 


Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Review of "At the Bat"

It isn't often I will read fiction, sports or no sports, but when the author reached out to the baseball book club on Goodreads, a few of us decided to give it a chance. This book on the famous "Casey At the Bat" poem is a decent read for those who enjoy baseball fiction.  Here is my review of "At the Bat"


 Title/Author:

"At the Bat: The Strikeout that Shamed America" by Del Jones

Tags:

Baseball, professional, history, fiction

Publish date:

August 17, 2020

Length:

252 pages

Rating:

3 ½ of 5 stars (good)

Review:

"Casey At the Bat" is probably the most famous piece of baseball fiction that has been written.  However, since it is a poem, there is a lot of room to speculate what may have happened before and after that fateful at bat and Del Jones has weaved a good tale doing just that, speaking mostly from the point of view of the umpire.

Walter Brewster is that umpire, who reluctantly went into that profession upon the guidance of a judge who was assaulted while umpiring a game.  He strikes me as a different type of protagonist, one that is hard to gauge and whether to love or loathe him. The same was true for the judge and other minor characters as I had trouble trying to figure out the development of these characters.

That couldn't be said for the historical characters such as Moses Fleetwood Walker (the catcher in the famous at-bat, using the pseudonym Grasshopper Nova), Cap Anson and Nelly Bly.  Each of them are not only well known due to their real-life accomplishments, their stories are told well in the tale.

While the overall story is good, if it was a little more polished instead of jumping around from before and after, it would have been helpful.  On more than one occasion, I found myself going back to try to catch up to what happened up to that point, whether it was before or after the at bat.  But the story as a whole, especially the ending, is a good one.  That made the book one that I was glad to read, despite my reservations about certain aspects. There wasn't any one particular aspect that I felt was truly outstanding, but at the same time, none of these were so bad that it made the book not worth the time to read. If you like to read historical baseball fiction, this one is worth checking out.

Book Format Read:

E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:

https://www.amazon.com/At-Bat-Strikeout-Shamed-America/dp/1732605246/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Monday, January 25, 2021

Review of "A Pirate for Life"

While I primarily will review new or upcoming books, this one was recommended to me by a local librarian.  Our library has a weekly Facebook chat on books and during a recent session, this book was recommended since I have read several by the co-author Erik Sherman.  I decided to take a look and I enjoyed it.  Here is my review of Steve Blass's memoir, "A Pirate for Life"


Title/Author:

"A Pirate For Life" by Steve Blass with Erik Sherman

Tags:

Baseball, professional, memoir, Pirates

Publish date:

May 1, 2012

Length:

256 pages

Rating:

4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:

It isn't often a baseball player can have a "disease" named after him, but that is what happened to former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Steve Blass.  In 1973, he inexplicably lost his ability to throw a pitch in the strike zone.  This occurred after his two most productive seasons with the Pirates and he was a rising star on one of the better teams in the National League.  His complete story – his rise, his fall and his life after the fall forced him to leave the game – is told in this very entertaining memoir written with Erik Sherman. 

It should be noted that while the book follows the traditional path a sports memoir takes, this isn't the most polished memoir written as Blass skips around without a tangential connection between the two topics. There is also a lot of colorful language and unless one is an avid Pirates fan, some of the nicknames may make it difficult to follow a story.  That is the worst of the book, which otherwise is very entertaining and is a true reflection of Blass's personality as his broadcasting style – he has done broadcasting work for the Pirates – is exactly like how this book reads.

Blass is honest about the "Steve Blass disease" – or also called "the yips" - that afflicted him and mentions other prominent baseball players that had similar issues such as Mackey Sasser, Chuck Knoblach and Rick Ankiel.  The latter one made for one of the better stories not on the diamond as Blass shared that he was watching the playoff game in which Ankiel threw many wild pitches and his "Steve Blass disease" was on full display.  He turned to his wife and said that he figured within five minutes, he was going to get a call from a reporter – it took only three. 

Readers will enjoy hearing Blass tell about his rise to the major leagues as he not only talks about his pitching, the games and his teammates but also some legendary stories about his nights out with friends and teammates – both during and after his baseball career – in which alcoholic beverages played an important part.  It is easy to tell that he enjoyed his adult beverages and some may wonder if he had issues about it but just from the reading, it didn't seem to be that way. 

The other wonderful part of the book for a reader is when Blass finally is able to address his trouble with throwing a baseball properly, even though it didn't happen until long after his career was over as he used psychology to overcome his issues.  He was so happy about it that he threw out the first pitch at a Pirates game many years after last pitching to show that he could do it.  The joy he had doing that is shown both in the text and on the cover as that was where that photo was taken.

Pirates fans will especially love to read this account of a pitcher who seemed to have everything going for him when his baseball world came crashing down but was able to still enjoy all that the game gave to him.   

Book Format Read:

E-book (PDF)

Buying Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Pirate-Life-Steve-Blass/dp/1600787061/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1611598839&sr=8-5

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-pirate-for-life-erik-sherman/1119832662?ean=9781617496462  



Friday, January 22, 2021

Review of "Mat Memories"

This book is one of the few in which the subject had more success in a career outside of sports instead of his time in them.  This memoir is written by a man who was a key figure in the world of professional wrestling for many years doing many different jobs but yet is probably best known for his work in country music.  Wrestling is his first love, however, as evidenced by the title of this book, "Mat Memories"

Title/Author:

"Mat Memories: My Wild Life in Pro Wrestling, Country Music and with the Mets" by John "Alexander" Arezzi and Greg Oliver

Tags:

Wrestling, Baseball, professional, memoir, management, Mets

Publish date:

April 6, 2021

Length:

264 pages

Rating:

4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:

John Arezzi has led a very interesting and varied life.  He has held jobs in three very different entertainment industries – baseball, country music and professional wrestling.  He has also had three different names he used at various times in these professions.  His story is told in this very entertainment memoir written with Greg Oliver, a respected author on professional wrestling. 

Arezzi grew up with two loves: professional wrestling and the New York Mets. As a teenager, he started a fan club for his favorite wrestler, "Classy" Freddie Blassie and even wrote a regular newsletter about the heel. While he remained a wrestling fan, the pull of getting a chance to work in the Mets organization was too strong and in 1981, he worked for one of the Mets' minor league teams.  However, the wrestling bug had bitten him too much and he ended up going back to that business.  He even appeared in the ring as John Anthony.  In a book filled with entertaining stories, that one is probably the funniest and most entertaining of them all as he flubbed some of his parts but somehow was able to finish two matches. 

After that, he hung up the tights for good and settled in for various jobs in the industry.  Whether it was hosting a radio show, writing newsletters and articles, managing wrestlers – you name it, Arezzi was involved. His most notable accomplishment was organizing the first wrestling conventions in which fans could meet their favorite wrestlers and purchase pictures and autographs.  His time in wrestling was filled with conflict as well as success and Arezzi pulls no punches when he describes the difficult times as well as the good times.

In an unusual switch, when he had reached the end of his rope in the wrestling business, he took a job selling advertising time for a country music radio station.  From here, he started a successful stint in that music genre in which he was responsible for the discovery and start of three women who went on to successful country music careers:  Patty Loveless, Sarah Darling and Kelsea Ballerini.  Through this, he went by the name of John Alexander, mainly to have a more "conventional" name upon advice from another woman in the business, Suzanne Alexander. While it was hard for him to give up the wrestling, it is clear from his writing that he was very grateful for the success and relative calm that country music gave him compared to wrestling.

Whether his story is about wrestling, music or baseball, Arezzi drops a lot of names and doesn't hold back anything.  The stories are plentiful and entertaining. The worst that can be said about the book is that at times, the details in some of the wrestling accounts get bogged down that it is difficult to follow and has so many names that a casual fan may not understand the full picture.  What keeps them going is Arezzi's enthusiasm and honesty about everything, making for a good read that anyone who follows wrestling or country music will enjoy.

I wish to thank ECW 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://ecwpress.com/products/mat-memories

https://www.amazon.com/Mat-Memories-Wrestling-Country-Music/dp/1770415645/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Review of "Two Sides of Glory"

 The baseball postseason of 1986 is considered to be one of the best of all time, with both league championship series and the World Series having epic games and all three with unforgettable moments.  While the New York Mets may have won the World Series, their opponents in that epic seven game series, the Boston Red Sox, are considered a great team in their own right and Erik Sherman writes their stories in this terrific book.  Here is my review of "Two Sides of Glory"


Title/Author:

“Two Sides of Glory: The 1986 Boston Red Sox in Their Own Words” by Erik Sherman

Tags:

Baseball, professional, Red Sox, History

Publish date:

April 1, 2020

Length:

288 pages

Rating:

5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:

It isn’t often that the losing team in the World Series is fondly remembered for decades. Even though the Boston Red Sox have won four World Series titles since then, their 1986 team is considered to be one of their best despite losing to the New York Mets in an epic seven game World Series.  Author Erik Sherman, who published a book on that Mets team in 2016, now turns his attention to their vanquished foes, the Red Sox.  His interviews with thirteen of that team’s players reveals how much that season means to them all these years later.

Each chapter covers an interview with the players, starting with Bill Buckner.  After his error in the tenth inning of Game Six allowed the winning run to score for New York, keeping the series alive for a Game Seven that the Mets eventually won, Buckner was subjected to criticism, ridicule and even death threats to him and his family.  His interview was moving, at times heartening and at times melancholy as well. It was clear that the reaction he got to that fateful moment has bothered him for many years. The statement he made to Sherman about being “forgiven” by fans after the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 was telling as Buckner said that made him angry – realizing that was what some people now thought.

As good as that interview was, each one thereafter was just as good and revealed much about each man as Sherman asked excellent questions that could not be answered with the same statements and clich├ęs that you hear in postgame or press conference interviews.  Usually when an author puts himself in the book when it is not a memoir, I find it self-serving, but that is not the case here as Sherman’s questions needed to be stated and his banter with the subject enhanced the stories they told.

Those stories were quite revealing, no matter who was doing the talking and many of them would run against the personality one would immediately think of when mentioning that player’s name.  The two players who exhibited this trait the most were Roger Clemens and Jim Rice.  Both of them had reputations for angry personalities, but both of them were as nice as possible to not only Sherman, but to their Red Sox teammates as well, which was bore out in the interviews with others.  Clemens talks about the allegations of his use of performance enhancing drugs, Rice about his relationship with the media.  Other player interviews revealed other touching stories, such as Dwight Evans losing two sons to brain cancer, Marty Barrett getting choked up when speaking about his former teammates and nearly everyone who had something to share about two teammates who passed away before Sherman began the interviews, Don Baylor and Dave Henderson.  It should also be noted that after being interviewed for the book, two additional 1986 Red Sox players passed – Buckner and Tom Seaver.

One other quality that makes this book a page-turner is that the players are genuine with Sherman.  None of them seem to be phony or trying to sound like someone they aren’t, even if that didn’t match their persona when playing.  This has already been mentioned for Rice and Clemens, but the one interview that struck me as the best one in the entire collection - and they were all excellent - was the one with Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd.  He not only shares his thoughts on the 1986 team and World Series (he is still upset that he was passed over to start Game Seven and instead Bruce Hurst was given the ball), but he also tells of his reverence for the Negro Leagues, why he believes that Jackie Robinson may not have been the best thing to happen to Black ballplayers and his thoughts on why the number of Black players has dropped so much in recent years.  Through all those, he still had the outspoken and larger-than-life personality that he had while pitching for the 1986 Red Sox.

Whether or not a reader is a Red Sox fan, a Mets fan, or a neutral observer for that epic showdown, this book is one that every reader who has any interest in the sport should read.  Sherman became a best-selling author with his book on the 1986 Mets and this one should become another one.

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

Book Format Read:

E-book (Kindle)                                                                                                                               

Buying Links:

https://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/nebraska/9781496219329/

https://www.amazon.com/Two-Sides-Glory-Boston-Their-ebook/dp/B08MPSQ6S5/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1610821374&sr=8-1

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Review of "Sparring with Smokin' Joe"

 Always a sucker for a good book on boxing in the 1970's and 1980's, I was very happy to obtain an advance copy of this book on Joe Frazier.  While the subtitle says it is about his rivalry with Muhammad Ali, there is just as much written about Joe's son Marvis as well as Joe and it was an enjoyable read.  Here is my review of "Sparring with Smokin' Joe"

Title/Author:

"Sparring with Smokin' Joe: Joe Frazier's Epic Battles and Rivalry With Ali" by Glenn Lewis

Tags:

Boxing, professional, history

Publish date:

February 10, 2021

Length:

256 pages

Rating:

4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:

Considered by many to be the best individual rivalry in all of sports, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fought three legendary heavyweight boxing matches in the 1970's.  Frazier won the first two in 1971's "Fight of the Century" when Ali first attempted to regain the heavyweight crown he had lost after refusing military service during the Vietnam War.  Ali then won the next two, a dispute decision in 1974, then again in 1975 in the "Thrilla in Manila".  This rivalry has been well documented, especially those accounts that concentrate on Ali.  This book, written by Glenn Lewis, an author who spent much time with Frazier in 1980, is an attempt to share the story from the Frazier point of view.

This book is not a biography, as it does not describe Frazier's entire life and boxing career, nor can it really be considered even a book strictly about Joe Frazier as there is a lot of material about his son Marvis, who at the time was an up and coming amateur boxer.  Having been denied a shot at boxing in the 1980 Olympics because of the boycott of those Games by the United States, Marvis was trying to decide between turning pro or going to college.  The stories shared by Marvis about his father and Marvis' short professional career, which ended with a first-round loss to Mike Tyson, are excellent. These also give the reader a glimpse into a side of Joe Frazier that many may not know when he became Marvis' manager and, according to many including the author, was not Joe's best work.   

While Marvis' stories do make up a bigger share of the book than expected, this doesn't mean the reader will be shortchanged on the stories that make up the subtitle of the book.  Even if the chapter or section is not primarily about Joe Frazier's fights or rivalry with Ali, one does not have to look too far until someone mentions something about Joe either fighting Ali in the past or making a comeback to fight Ali - remember, this is set in 1980 when Ali fought Larry Holmes and Frazier was mulling a comeback, which he later did with a loss and a draw in his final fights.  Whether Joe Frazier was training Marvis, performing with his band as he was a talented musician, or just talking to Lewis, Ali was never far from his mind. This is clearly evident when Joe speaks about the taunting by Ali, especially when it turned racial such as calling Frazier a gorilla, as Frazier is very angry about it and is still hurt by it years later.  His memories of the fights are not quite as upsetting, even his two losses, as those stories make very good reading as well, whether they are from Frazier, another source or the author.

While the book is not a complete account of the most famous rivalry in boxing history, it does give a reader an excellent view of both Fraziers at that moment and is one that any fan of boxing in that era will want to read.

I wish to thank Rowman and Littlefield Publishers 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/Sparring-Smokin-Joe-Fraziers-Battles-ebook/dp/B08KPN5TND/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1610648151&sr=1-1

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/sparring-with-smokin-joe-glenn-lewis/1137368388?ean=9781538136799