Monday, July 26, 2021

Review of "Klondikders"

 A few of the upcoming books in my reading queue are either quite lengthy or quite detailed, meaning that these will not be quick reads.  This one is one of those of the latter quality - and quality is the key word as this is a high-quality book on one of the biggest underdog hockey teams to ever compete for the Stanley Cup.  Here is my review of "Klondikers"

Title/Author: "Klondikers: Dawson City's Stanley Cup Challenge and How a Nation Fell in Love with Hockey" by Tim Falconer

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: While many sports books, no matter the sport, do combine history, social events of the time and even national pride while discussing a particular event in the sport's history, this book about a hockey team from the Yukon competing for hockey's most prized trophy, the Stanley Cup, is a masterful combination of all these subjects.

Tim Falconer takes the story of a rag-tag hockey team from Dawson City and follows them not only on their journey to Ottawa to take on the defending Cup champions, but also provides readers with excellent information on the Klondike gold rush that resulted in the formation of Dawson City. He also paints a very good picture of both the social situation in Canada as they were emerging into the 20th century and becoming less influenced by Victorian-era norms. 

Not only Canadian history is portrayed in the book – two excellent hockey history subjects are discussed as well. Readers who may not be familiar with either the origin of the Stanley Cup or how the early version of the sport was even rougher than it is today will enjoy learning more about hockey in the early 1900's.

The person most important in the transformation of the Stanley Cup to become hockey's most holy grail, P.D. Ross, is portrayed extensively here as well as Weldy Young, who was the player who was most responsible for the success of Dawson's team and made them believe that their amateur team could compete for the Cup.  At the time, amateur teams, not professional, were competing for the trophy as Dawson competed with Ottawa about 15 years before the creation of the NHL and one of the more stubborn Victorian-era traditions still in vogue was the purity of amateurism.  While not explicitly stated by Falconer, it was clear that this was still the belief in the country and professional players would somehow taint this image.  That quickly came to pass, but the nation's fascination with the voyage that Dawson took to play those two games was clearly a nod to the amateur status.

Unfortunately for Dawson, the weeks-long journey caught up to them and their lack of conditioning resulted in an easy victory for Ottawa.  Nonethless, the entire nation was captivated by the Klondikers and this story is part of the legacy of how hockey became the national sport for Canada.  Even after the tourney, Dawson played more games in the east and Maritimes, some with great attendance, in order to not only raise funds for the trip back but also to allow the fans who followed them to see them play.

No matter which aspect of the Klondikers' interests a reader, they are sure to be pleased with this book.  It is detailed and will have to be read carefully to fully appreciate all the information, but when all is said and done, this book is well worth the significant amount of time required to invest in it.

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


Sunday, July 18, 2021

Review of “Best Seat In the House”

This was the first book that I have ever won in a giveaway contest- and I am glad I was selected as this was a very good book of lessons without coming across as preaching. With 18 in the title, it is easy to figure out that this is a golf book. Here is my review of “Best Seat in the House.”

Title/Author: "Best Seat in the House: 18 Golden Lessons From a Father to his Son" by Jack Nicklaus Ii

Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: Jack Nicklaus is one of the few athletes whose name is recognized outside of his or her sports and is well-loved by fans and non-fans alike.This book written by his oldest son is more than just a tribute to the “Golden Bear’s” golf career. The younger Nicklaus uses examples from his father’s legendary success on the golf course and his skills in handling whatever life threw at him to provide the 18 lessons.

Golf fans won’t be disappointed, though, as there is plenty of text in the book about some memorable (for Jack II) moments in which his father either showed his golf talent, his impeccable sportsmanship or even some other moments that may not be familiar to fans. One great example of this was when Jack noticed his wife Barbara was not at her usual spot in the gallery one one of his holes because she stopped to talk to the wife of another golfer.

No matter which golf moment Jack II writes about, it is always tied in with a lesson that he wishes to share with readers. One great example of this is the chapter on focus and concentration. He shared a story about his father making a putt in one of his many Masters tourneys. There was a car accident just outside the Augusta National ground and nearly everyone, including Jack II who was caddying for his father, looked up after hearing the squealing brakes and subsequent crash. But not Nicklaus Sr. He kept his head down, made the putt and asked what was the commotion. That was my favorite story, but far from the only good one. Some of them not involving golf, such as both his father and mother Barbara giving 95% to their marriage (61 years strong) sounds impossible, but the explanation by Jack II made perfect sense.

This book is perfect for those readers who want to read about life lessons without being lectured or made to feel like they are failing. This is friendly advice from a man who not only loves and respects his parents but also sees how their example can be helpful to everyone.


Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Review of "Clubbie”

If one wants to have a job in professional baseball, being a clubhouse attendant is one option.  That is how Greg Larson decided to do so and his story of the two years he worked in that position is told in this book.  Here is my review of "Clubbie"


Title/Author: "Clubbie: A Minor League Baseball Memoir" by Greg Larson

Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: Life as the clubhouse attendant for a baseball team, whether major or minor league, is far from glamorous.  But yet, because "clubbies" can feel like they are part of the team and have access to certain perks that many fans would love to have, there are plenty of people who apply for the job. Greg Larson did that after his dreams of having a career in baseball as a player ended. In 2012, he took the job of clubhouse attendant of the Aberdeen Ironbirds, a low-level farm club of the Baltimore Orioles. He shares the story of the two years he held the job in this memoir.

While the book is not really a how-to on being a clubhouse attendant or manager, the reader will get a good look inside what goes on in there during a baseball season.  Far from the fancy food and luxurious accommodations that greet major league players, Larson talks often about having to get the food for players ready, at times resorting to leftovers from the stadium concession stands or restaurant.  Later, he also feels remorse for having to collect any dues for the food when he realizes how little these players are paid as they are mostly low draft choices or undrafted players who are given a chance to follow their dreams.

Speaking of pay, Larson doesn't make much in this either as his tips were the best source of income and he also bemoans the lack of support for an apartment from the team in his second year, choosing instead to live in the clubhouse closet for that season.  It came across as a desperate attempt to try to chase that "dream" of a baseball career, even if it meant preparing food and doing laundry for peers who are players.

That doesn't mean the book isn't entertaining or a good read.  Indeed, some of the stories of his interaction with players, coaches and the manager are fun reading.  I really got a kick out of the team's manager Allen Mills (a former Orioles pitcher) always calling Larson "meat."  After a while, one realizes that Mills called everyone that, but it still was funny when Mills would be either calling Larson out for a mistake or imploring him to come join the celebration when Aberdeen won the New York-Penn League championship in 2013.  His adventure of warming up an outfielder also made an excellent funny story.

Those stories offset some of the melancholier parts of the book, such as when he is describing his relationship with his father or his girlfriend.  He also at times seems to be upset about not being one of the players.  Those, however, only occasionally dull the otherwise fun mood one will be in when reading this book.

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


Saturday, July 10, 2021

Review of “Under the Black Hat”

 While I have not watched professional wrestling shows for many years now, I do recall hearing the legendary ring announcer Jim Ross and his unique style he brought to each episode of the Monday night show he would be working. That made me want to read his memoir and it was just as good as his work with the microphone. Here is my review of “Under The Black Hat.” 

RATING: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)

REVIEW: Jim Ross is in the WWE Hall of Fame due to his knowledge of the wrestling business, his adoration by the fans, his announcing of some of the most famous matches with his Oklahoma drawl and his love-hate relationship with Vince McMahon. Given all this, his memoir would have to be about many of his adventures in the business of professional wrestling. 

It certainly is that, but in the end, this book is truly a love letter to his late wife Jan. Repeatedly crediting her for helping him make through yet another humiliation by McMahon, whether in the office or on the air, Jan was his rock. Ross was fired by McMahon more times than Billy Martin was fired by George Steinbrenner and yet “J.R.” kept coming back. Just one of the many reasons he was adored by fans and wrestlers alike. The best story in the book about his interaction with wrestlers was one in which Ross had one of his lower moments.

In what was billed as the last match for both Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker at Wrestlemania XXVI, the both pushed hard for Ross, not calling matches on the air at this time, to call this one. They seemed to succeed as J.R. and Jan headed off to join them. At the last minute, WWE decided to ‘go in another direction’ (a phrase used often in the book by Ross to explain McMahon’s decisions) and Ross would not call,it. Micheals and the Undertaker still went on with the show but were very angry. Afterward, they invited Ross to their trailer ant the three of them just shared their emotions and stories over adult beverages. Reading this account made it clear that no matter what WWE threw at Ross, he loved the business, loved the shows but mostly loved the people behind it.

This is just one of the many stories that Ross shares to make this book such an enjoyable read. Throw in he clearly shown love for his wife and you have a memoir that is truly a reflection of the feelings of the author. Wrestling fans who fondly remember the voice of J.R. will want to add this to their library.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Two for the 4th, part 2 - Review of "The Only Way is the Steady Way"

Part two of the July 4 doubleheader for this blog is a review of a book of baseball essays I read on a train ride to...a baseball game.  Going to see a baseball game, America's Pastime, during the weekend of July 4 and reading a baseball book just seemed to be the right thing to do.  Here is my review of "The Only Way is the Steady Way"

Title/Author: "The Only Way is the Steady Way" by Andrew Forbes

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: Usually when I read a book of essays or short stories, the final result ends up being a mixed bag – some good, some not so good and some in between those two areas.  This one doesn't fall into that category as I was enjoying every single word of this collection of mostly baseball essays by Andrew Forbes.

I say "mostly" because not every part of every essay is about baseball.  There are some very personal and moving sections about Forbes' family life, a little social commentary and other personal observations.  They are all related to baseball by the end of the essay, but they do give a snapshot into not only Forbes' personal life but also how much the game of baseball plays into his life.

Residing in Ontario, Forbes is a Toronto Blue Jays fan and some of the writing deals with them – the Jose Bautista bat flip in the 2015 postseason is one of the better topics when he writes about his team.  But he saves his best work for his writing about Ichiro Suzuki and how his success in Major League baseball after an excellent career in the Japanese leagues shows how much that one player affected him.

This is not to say Forbes writes only about Ichiro in glowing terms, although he mostly does so.  This is also not to say that this book is ONLY about Ichiro, although he is the subject of many of the essays.  Instead, the book is best viewed as a tribute to baseball and a reminder of how important it is in the lives of those who play the game, watch the game or otherwise enjoy the game.  Ichiro is the main illustrator of how this is done, and Forbes does a great job of conveying that message in short sections that will be enjoyed by anyone who fits the above categories. 

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


Two for the 4th, part 1 - review of "Tall Men, Short Shorts"

Happy Independence Day to those in the United States. On its 245th birthday, I decided to post two reviews of books I just finished in the last two days, both on sports truly American.  One is a basketball book on the longest dynasty in the professional version of a sport invented in the United States, basketball.  This memoir/historical book is an excellent read in many ways.  Here is my review of "Tall Men, Short Shorts"

Title/Author: "Tall Men, Short Shorts" by Leigh Montville

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: Leigh Montville, a well-known Boston sportswriter, covered the 1969 NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers for the Boston Globe and it was one of the biggest assignments in his burgeoning career.  His reflection on both his writing about that event and the two teams involved is the subject of his latest book.

The book reads like the current septuagenarian Montville wants to talk to his 25-year old self.  However, that isn't because he has advice that he has learned over the years and wants his younger self to treat the plum assignment any differently.  Instead, it reads almost like a time travel memoir in which the older man is back in 1969 and viewing what his younger self was doing while covering the last hurrah for one of the longest dynasties in professional sports.

In 1969, the Celtics were getting older as their star throughout their dominance in the 1960's, Bill Russell, became their player-coach and knew that his time left to play was getting short.  They were not their usual dominant selves in the regular season but had enough left to make it back to the finals, where they had won 10 of the last 12 NBA championships.  On the other side were the Lakers, who were frequent victims to the Celtics in those years.  They too had their superstars, had just recently acquired Wilt Chamberlain to match up against Russell and also had an aging star, Elgin Baylor, who wanted his one last shot at a title.

The writing in the book on the teams and the players (including other stars on the teams like Jerry West and Sam Jones) was very good- and much of it was due to his columns written during that series.  However, it is the manner in which he reflects on his more daring self during that time that makes the book a great read.  Montville refers to his younger self never by name but by "the bright young man" or TBYM.  This is the case even when that TYBM makes some youthful mistakes, but these are never documented in a scolding or regretful way.  Indeed, the whole book reads like one great wonderful memory from his youth and that is why it is such a fun basketball book for any fan, of any era. 

While the Celtics did go on to win that series in seven games and capture that 11th title in 13 years, it is not one that only Celtics fans should read, nor is it the typical sports memoir. As noted above, anyone who enjoys basketball should read it.