Sunday, May 30, 2021

Review of "Forty Years a Giant"

As one of the last teams that was owned by a family in which the team was the primary source of income instead of a side venture, the New York and then San Francisco Giants were owned by the Stoneham family.  This book chronicles the time that Horace Stoneham ran the team.  Here is my review of "Forty Years a Giant."

RATING: 4 of 5 stars (very good)

REVIEW: At 32, Horace Stoneham became the youngest owner in Major League Baseball when he assumed control of the New York Giants after the passing of his father Charles.  For the next forty years, Horace would see the Giants through not only the ups and downs that most teams experience on the field, but also through two seismic shifts in the baseball industry - integration and the movement of Major League Baseball to the West Coast.  Horace was directly part of the latter and his role in that, as well as everything else related to the Giants, is told in this very good book by Steven Treder.

This is not a true biography, as there is not much written about Horace Stoneham's personal life outside of the Giants. In fact, there really is more about his father Charles' life outside of baseball in the first three chapters, leading up to when Horace takes over the club after his father's passing, than there is in the rest of the book about Horace.  This isn't to say that there isn't plenty of material about Horace in which the reader can get a good glimpse into what kind of person Horace Stoneham was - it's just that this perception will be made based on how he handled the Giants.

If one said Horace's life revolved around his baseball team, that would be accurate and hence why it is fair to have this book based mainly around Horace's interactions with the team. The reading about the Giants, both in New York and in San Francisco, is rich in detail and whenever a major decision is made affecting the team, Treder will include Horace Stoneham's involvement in that decision.  The best parts of the book in which this is done is when Horace made the decision to move the team west to San Francisco, when he made the decision to trade legendary center fielder Willie Mays to the New York Mets and when he was forced into selling the team because the team was close to bankruptcy - and this was just before free agency would drive up the salaries of players.  For each of these topics, Treder not only provides good information - at least as good as can be derived without being able to speak directly with sources - but also dispels some of the stories that have grown over the years.  

Most notable of these is that the story of Horace simply riding the coattails of Walter O'Malley in the move to the West Coast because O'Malley asked Stoneham to join the Dodgers in California is simply not true.  Long before O'Malley met with Horace, Stoneham had already looked into leaving New York as attendance was plummeting for the Giants at the Polo Grounds. He not only considered San Francisco, but also the Twin Cities in Minnesota before that meeting and simply said okay.  This was one of many passages about the Giants that made for very good reading.  

The team's success or lack thereof on the field for every year of play under Stoneham's ownership is covered as well.  Stoneham ran the team with treating those who remained loyal to the team with generosity, almost to a fault.  This is illustrated in the writing about his reverence to figures like Mel Ott and Willie Mays.  There were many questionable transactions made by Stoneham as well and the reasons that would seem to explain them (again, since everything obtained in this book is secondhand, there is no way to verify) are given in the text. A reader may not always agree with the conclusion or speculation provided by the author, but it doesn't diminish the work done to make this book an enjoyable read.  Fans of the Giants will especially be interested in this historical book on the team as well as those who enjoy reading baseball history books. 

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


Friday, May 28, 2021

Review of “Across the River”

Many books about a sports team turn out to be about much more than the sport or the team. This excellent book on the coach of a high school football team is one of those books. Here is my of “Across the River” by Kent Babb.

REVIEW:  In the New Orleans neighborhood of Algiers, gun violence is a way of life. That is part of the a-too-familiar lifestyle of the mostly Black residents but for those young men who are football players on the Edna Karr Charter School football team, there is a welcome distraction. That is not just because of the football, but also because of their coach, Brice Brown and his staff. He spends as much time mentoring his players, talking to nearly every one of them daily to ensure they are safe - this takes more time than he spends on his football plays and strategy. Coach Brown’s story and that of his assistants and players is told in this terrific book by Kent Babb.

Babb first covers coach Brown for the Washington Post in 2018 and this book is a more complete story of the complex coach. Babb weaves stories about coach Brown, stories about his players and his own inner turmoil about whether to move on to become a college football coach. The stories can be uplifting, like those who graduate and earn football scholarships to college; heartbreaking, such as the story of one player’s trauma when his mother is sent to prison when he is being raised by her alone; or downright maddening, usually when accompanied by descriptions of the desperate situations of these players. It was compelling reading and often times, these were much better reads than the passages about the football team.

Don’t skip over those, however, as they are just as good. While not greatly detailed or heavy on the “X’s and O’s” these games nonetheless do highlight not only the success of the Karr program and their many years of playoff football, but also provided the reader a glimpse of the mindset of the coach and his sometime unorthodox means of not only playing the game, but also motivating his players. 

Along with discussions on racial inequality so prevalent in New Orleans and other areas, this book is a fascinating look at a high school coach and his challenges to be the best he can be for his players on and off the field. A reader doesn’t have to enjoy football to be rewarded by reading this book.


Thursday, May 13, 2021

Review of "Mountains and Desire"

As a reader who loves mountaineering books, but could never do such a thing, this book was a fantastic look at the reasons why so many people take the risk to make dangerous climbs such as Everest, K2 and the "Free Solo" climb.  Here is my review of "Mountains and Desire"

REVIEW:  Ever since George Mallory gave his famous quote "Because it's there" when asked why he would climb Mt. Everest, that answer, or very close variations of this answer, has been part of every climber's reason to take the chance and attempt to scale not only Everest, but so many other dangerous mountains and cliffs.  This book by Margret Grebowicz not only explores why this drives so many people but also explores the future of the sport as social, environmental and economic changes have affected attitudes toward mountaineering.  

When Grebowicz started the book by making connections to the culture of climbing to various movies, it felt like this would be a scholarly research book with a lot of theories with facts to back them up, but that would not be a fair categorization.  While yes, it has this quality throughout the book, there are so many different ways Grebowicz expresses the ways in which climate change and capitalism have changed many of these expeditions.  This is especially true for Everest - for example, the complaints of the debris left behind on the commercial climbs that are very popular, but it also is true for other climbs and mountains.  Two examples are her excellent chapter on K2, considered to be far more dangerous a climb than Everest and Alex Honnold's "Free Solo" climb - both a narrative and a discussion on the movie.

Another reason why it would not be correct to simply label this book as a scholarly type is because some of the passages are truly entertaining and thought-provoking.  One in particular that stuck with me was when she quoted Pam Sailor's work on the philosophy of climbing.  Sailors is quoted in the book as writing about "two types of climbers, summiteers and mountaineers."  The former is more goal-oriented and self-oriented while the latter is more process-oriented and "may show moral responsibility for the welfare of others."  This is just one of the many passages on the thoughts and psychology behind the climbing culture.

Any reader who enjoys books on climbing or mountains will surely enjoy this excellent book that is both excellent for its writing on the history of the sport as well as its current state and what the future may hold from the perspective of the minds of those who participate. 

I wish to thank Repeater Books for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

LINK: Mountains and Desire: Climbing vs. the End of the World (Audible Audio Edition): Margret Grebowicz, Margret Grebowicz, Repeater Books: Books

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Review of “Lights, Camera, Fastball”

 Having never heard of the Hollywood Stars before obtaining this book, I was interested to learn more about this team - and this book is a great source of information for them.  Here is my review of “Lights, Camera, Fastball”


The Hollywood Stars may not have been the most successful minor league team during their 27 season existence existence, despite winning three Pacific Coast League pennants. Where their success came was at the box office, their innovations and their celebrity fan base. This book about the team by Dan Taylor is one of the best sources for information about the team that is not only well researched but also and easy read - only troubled by trying to keep all the names of their fan base straight.

The driving force behind nearly everything that the Stars were noted for can be traced back to the owner of the Brown Derby restaurant, Robert Cobb. Using much of the business acumen that made his restaurants success, Cobb brought int baseball when he purchased the franchise in 1039. His first action was to get many celebrities on board as part owners and/or stockholders.  A sample of these stars make up a Who’s Who of Hollywood at the team - Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Bing Crosby, Gail Patrick and Gene Autry. The last man listed is notable as he later purchased another team based in Southern California in Major League Baseball, the latest team called the Angels.

As for the Hollywood Stars on the field, they usually struggled to find the best players. When it seemed like they finally found the right players, they would often lose them to either major league clubs, a rival team in the PCL or to the military in World War II. However it was not all gloom for the team and when they did win in 1949 for their only championship (the previous franchise with the same name won the 1929 and 1930 titles), Taylor’s writing brings the fans close to the celebration, both in the locker room with the players and all the parties in Los Angeles as their famous fans were celebrating. 

Cobb’s team borough several innovations to the game. Some of them caught on and became staples for the game, both in minor and Major League Baseball.these include televising games, dragging the infield during the fifth inning for a “time out” to give fans time to visit concession stands and the use of batting helmets. They also designed uniforms wearing shorts, which of course didn’t go over as well. It should also be noted that Cobb built a new ball park for the team instead of sharing the Los Angeles version of Wrigley Field, building Gilmore Field and drawing many fans to the games regardless of the Stars record on the field.

With the arrival of the Dodgers, Cobb and his group decided to sell the team instead of moving and operating them elsewhere. When that happened a colorful portion of West Coast baseball ended and this book talks about all aspects of the Hollywood Stars that is such a good read that any fan will want to pick it up.  

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

Monday, May 3, 2021

Review of "Boxed Out of the NBA" and new streamlined format

With the arrival of May and the eighth year of "The Guy Who Reviews Sports Books", I am announcing a slightly streamlined format.  I have broken these posts into sections with various bits of information on the book.  Starting with this review, the posts will consist only of the title of the book, the cover and the review.  At the bottom of the review there will still be a link where the information that was in the post can now be easily found by those wishing to learn more information.  So, with that, here is the review of my latest book

TITLE: "Boxed Out of the NBA" by Syl Solbe and Jay Rosenstein

Long before there was the G-league that operates as the NBA's developmental league and even before the ABA that existed from 1967 to 1976, there was the Eastern League for players who for one reason or another, could not play in the NBA.  This book provides an entertaining look at that league that served as not only a de-facto minor league when NBA teams provided players but also as the only avenue in which some players could show off their basketball talent.

The authors, Syl Solbe and Jay Rosentstein, grew up in Pennsylvania watching games from this league and their book waxes nostalgic when writing about the teams, players and coaches.  At times, there are even names mentioned who would be familiar to even casual basketball fans today, such as Jim Boeheim and John Chaney, two legendary college coaches who had success as players in the league.

It must be noted that the league was based mainly in Pennsylvania and as a result, there was a lot of bus travel and games were limited to weekend because like many other players in all of sports at the time, they had to have a primary job in order to provide a living income.  But that didn't detour these players and coaches, many of whom had fond memories that they shared with the authors that makes the book a fun read.  The most depressing part is certainly from the Black players who talk about the quotas in the NBA at that time that teams would place on the number of Black players they could employ and some of the other aspects of "Black" basketball that were believed to be bad for the sport.  Given the chance to prove these critics wrong in the Eastern League, they wowed both colleagues and spectators alike. 

Like most leagues, the lack of funding led to the end of the league, which lasted much longer than anyone had anticipated and even was able to compete with both the NBA and ABA for players in its last seasons to keep on playing.  Readers who have not heard of this league, such as this reviewer, will thoroughly enjoy learning about this basketball league that entertained fans for a few decades in the Northeastern United States.

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

Boxed out of the NBA: Remembering the Eastern Professional Basketball League: Sobel, Syl, Rosenstein, Jay, Ryan, Bob: 9781538145029: Books