Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Review of "The Fast Ride"

Even with the two recent Triple Crown winners, I admit that I have not been much of a horse racing fan since the 1970's - but what a decade that was for the sport.  One of the great horses from that time, Spectacular Bid, is featured in this book that takes a hard look at his trainer and jockey.  Fantastic read that even non-fans would enjoy.  Here is my review of "The Fast Ride"

Title/Author: “The Fast Ride: Spectacular Bid and the Undoing of a Sure Thing” by Jack Gilden

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review: The decade of the 1970’s was considered to be one of the best in horse racing history.  After not having a Triple Crown winner in 25 years, the decade saw three horses accomplish that feat – Secretariat in 1973, Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978.  In 1979, a horse named Spectacular Bid had many qualities to be the fourth in the decade and third in a row to join that exclusive club. This excellent book by Jack Gilden tells a tale of what could have been and the many factors that kept the “Bid” (what he calls the horse throughout the book) from winning that coveted title.

While his jockey was a young newcomer to the sport, teenager Ronnie Franklin had already ridden the Bid to the winner’s circle before the first leg of the Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby. From his humble beginnings in Dundalk, a factory town near Baltimore, Franklin found himself becoming immersed in the business of horse racing under the tutelage of legendary trainer Buddy Delp. While he was becoming an overnight sensation to the fans and public, underneath the surface was an ugly picture of substance abuse, horrific working conditions and treatment at Delp’s stables and unkind treatment by fellow jockeys and the press. 

When the Bid won the Derby and the Preakness Stakes, that put even more pressure on the young jockey when the toughest of the three races arrived, the Belmont Stakes.  Delp instructed Franklin to run Spectacular Bid hard right from the gate, in complete contrast to the manner in which horse and rider won the previous two races.  Following his boss’s order, the Bid failed to win the Crown and even worse, Delp, the press and the public blamed Franklin for the horse’s downfall when there were many reasons behind the poor showing by the Bid.

That is what makes this book so good – Gilden’s writing about those other factors in not only why the Bid lost that race, but the entire picture behind the fall of Franklin.  There was a lot of drug abuse in the Delp stables, led by Buddy himself and his son Gerald, who became Franklin’s best friend and led him down a destructive path.  The owner of the horse, Harry Meyerhoff, also plays a role in the downfall of the Triple Crown path and even a horse doctor who was not supposed be on Belmont property but on the day of the race performed a procedure on Spectacular Bid to remove a pin from his hoof that would have otherwise been certain to keep him from running that day.

Gilden gleaned his information from interviews as much of the story that he writes was not published.  He cited three main contributors for which he gave enormous praise in the acknowledgments – Gerald Delp, Franklin’s nephew Tony Cullum and Cathy Rosenberger, who was a long-time employee of Buddy Delp and helped develop Franklin as a jockey.  From these interviews, Gilden gathered enough information that behind the beauty and speed in which Spectacular Bid ran his races - he would go on to win some more races after the Triple Crown – the ugly story of what happened on that Saturday in June 1979 is now being brought to light.  Gilden takes the reader inside the stables and development of a jockey and a race horse in a manner that shows both the beauty and the ugliness of this sport.  This is a book anyone interested in horse racing, especially during that era, must add to their bookshelf.

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

Link: The Fast Ride: Nebraska Press (


Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Review of "Scotty"

Having renewed my subscription to Audible as my current working set-up allows access to listening to audiobooks, I added this one to my library upon renewal and it turned out to be an excellent choice. Scotty Bowman has led a charmed hockey life and this book is a perfect means to learn about it. Here is my review of "Scotty"

Title/Author: "Scotty: A Hockey Life Like No Other" written and narrated by Ken Dryden

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: Scotty Bowman is considered to be one of the all-time great coaches in all of team sports, with his teams winning nine Stanley Cups spanning a time frame of 29 years between the first (Montreal Canadiens, 1973) and the last (Detroit Red Wings, 2002).  He amassed over 1400 regular season wins during his remarkable career and his goalie for five of those championships, Ken Dryden, has written a book on Bowman's hockey life as a player, scout, coach and other duties.

"Other duties" include his current status as a special guest of the Tampa Bay Lightning to their home games.  He still attends as many games as he can, goes to his seat in the press box and still takes diligent notes on each game with the chance that he might be able to pass along information to the Lightning staff.  That is typical Bowman – always looking for anything that can help a hockey team improve. It is the impression a reader or listener will get after enjoying this book.

Dryden and Bowman will take the reader through decades of hockey history and the name dropping is impressive – Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky for starters as players he saw but did not coach.  As for those he coached on his championship teams in Montreal and Detroit, there are plenty of stories and observations of them, from Guy Lafluer to Mario Lemieux (even though he was the coach for Pittsburgh when they won the Cup in 1992, Bowman doesn't talk a lot about that team, only obtaining the job due to the death of Bob Johnson, so he calls them Johnson's team) to Steve Yzerman. 

The book isn't limited to Bowman's championships as he talks about his life before coaching when he was working for Sam Pollack with the Canadiens – later they would become a very successful coach-general manager tandem.  He also talks about his time coaching the St. Louis Blues as a brand new expansion team as well as the Buffalo Sabres, who were a talented team under Bowman who could never get over the hump.

One other feature of the book is a "tournament" in which Bowman selects the eight greatest teams he has seen in his lifetime and he breaks each one of them down to Dryden and then eliminates them one by one until there is one team left.  No spoilers here as one will have to read or listen to the book in order to find out which team that will be.

Dryden is an established hockey author and his work shines here.  At times, there is great detail and I believe that the audio version that I listened to will work better for those who both read physical books and listen to audio books.  But whichever version is chosen, one will enjoy this biography of a legendary hockey coach.

Links: Scotty by Ken Dryden | Audiobook |

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Review of "The Great Nowitzki"

 For those who celebrate Christmas, I hope yours was merry and that you were able to share it with the people who are important to you.  

On Christmas, it is traditional to have a plethora of good NBA games and what better book to post a review than one about one of the great NBA players, Dirk Nowitzki?  A book that was published in Germany in 2019 on him is soon to come out in the United States in English and I was fortunate enough to obtain an advance copy.  Here is my review of "The Great Nowitzki"

Title/Author: “The Great Nowitzki: Basketball and the Meaning of Life” by Thomas Pletzinger

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review: Dirk Nowitzki will go down as one of the greatest players in professional basketball history.  He played 21 seasons in the NBA, all with the Dallas Mavericks with the highlight of his career coming when he led his Mavericks to the NBA championship and was named the MVP of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat.  His story of his development as a player in Germany, and his career with Dallas is captured in this excellent book by Thomas Pletzinger.

Originally published in German in 2019, the English version is one that American fans should be sure to pick up whether or not they were Novitizki or Mavericks fans.  Pletzinger spent six years working on this project while spending many days during that time frame talking to Dirk, to his longtime personal coach in both Germany and Dallas, Holger Gerschwinder and key people in Dirk’s professional life in Dallas.  However, that statement doesn’t do justice to the connections Pletzinger made to give the reader a complete picture of not only Dirk the basketball player but Dirk the person.  THis makes the book a very different read than the typical sports biography or memoir in that it delves into other areas of the subject’s life because the author was part of it.

Beyond the season and game recap, Pletzinger brings the reader inside other areas of Nowitzki’s life, starting with his relationship with Gerschwinder.  The conversations between them that are shared in the book are very interesting since they are more than just the drills and unusual training methods used by Gerschwinder.  There are paragraphs how music, specifically jazz music, gets tied in with Dirk’s life and this is made even better with quotes from Ernest Butler.  There are interviews and information from Dirk’s family in both Germany and America, teammates on both teams and so many others.

One of those “others” is a poignant moment that I felt set the tone for not only the quality of the book but captures how nearly everyone who has met Nowitzki has felt about him.  Before Nowitizki, Drazen Petrovic was considered to be the best European player to play in the NBA before he tragically died at 28.  In the book, Dirk is called to meet a woman after the 2005 European tournament in which he led Germany to the title and has already made his mark in the NBA.  Dirk opens his hotel room door and meets Petrovic’s mother who tells him that he reminds her of her son and plays the game the right way.  It remains one of the most memorable moments of Nowitzki’s life.

That is just one small example of the many great moments and passages in this book that pays a proper tribute to one of the truly great players in basketball history. 

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

Link: The Great Nowitzki: Basketball and the Meaning of Life eBook : Pletzinger, Thomas: Kindle Store

Monday, December 20, 2021

Review of "How to Beat a Broken Game"

With the lack of baseball news this off-season due to the current lockout, this was a welcome relief to that drought as I picked up an advance review copy and it was excellent.  And I am not even a Dodgers fan!   Here is my review of this book on the Dodgers' 2020 championship.

Title/Author: "How to Beat a Broken Game: The Rise of the Dodgers in a League on the Brink" by Pedro Moura

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: Baseball has undergone a fundamental change in its approach to strategy and the development of players through the use of data as well as traditional statistics and scouting.  One team has succeeded quite well in mixing the two together, the Los Angeles Dodgers.  How they accomplished this, climaxed by their World Series championship in 2020, and the people behind this are the subject of this excellent book by Pedro Moura.

The title is the only quibble I have with this book as in the thorough description of the Dodgers organization there really is no description that makes the game "broken."  There are plenty of issues, from low television ratings to the calls that today's "three true outcomes" game is too boring to the wide gap between teams for revenue and therefore spending – and all of them are discussed.  However, I didn't see any of that being used to call the game "broken."  Instead, I saw these as some of the obstacles or aides that the Dodgers faced in order to win it all in the abbreviated 2020 season.

This isn't a game-by-game description of the season.  Instead, it is a deep dive into the minds and actions of several key personnel behind the team's success.  This starts with team President Andrew Friedman, whose success previously with the Tampa Bay Rays led the sport to its current use of analytical data to gain a financial edge. The hiring of Gabe Kapler to run their minor league system also accelerated the use of data for player development. Ironically, Kapler is now the manager of the San Francisco Giants, the biggest rival for the Dodgers. There are great write ups about some of the players who have benefitted greatly from this data such as third baseman Justin Turner, outfielder Mookie Betts and pitcher Walker Buehler. Other excellent chapters in the book include one on pitcher Clayton Kershaw and scout Tom Kunis.

On the last profile and other scouts, it is noteworthy that throughout the book it is emphasized that traditional scouting methods and information is not dismissed out of hand but instead integrated with the data compiled by the "nerds" of the organization (it was interesting to learn that their workspace was the old visiting clubhouse at Dodger stadium). This is in contrast to the message that was sent about the last seismic shift in information gathering and use, during the "Moneyball" era where readers of that book or viewers of that movie would have the impression that traditional scouting was going to be gone. 

More than fixing a broken game, the big takeaway from this book for me was that other teams should look to the Dodgers on the proper use of both traditional and modern methods of player development and training.  It has proven beneficial to both players and the team and the results in 2020 were evident.  It's an excellent book for readers who want to know more about today's game, whether or not they believe it is "boring."

I wish to thank Public Affairs Publishing for providing a copy of the book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Links: How to Beat a Broken Game: The Rise of the Dodgers in a League on the Brink: Moura, Pedro: 9781541701427: Books

Monday, December 13, 2021

Review of "Till the End"

While I have never been a "fan" of CC Sabathia or any of the three teams he played for, I was intrigued when I saw a copy of his memoir available at my local library.  It was a good read and I certainly learned a lot about the man.  Here is my review of "Till the End"


Title/Author: "Till the End" by CC Sabathia and Chris Smith

Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: As one of the better pitchers in baseball for more than a decade, CC Sabathia was a very public figure, but for a long time he was dealing with a very private battle with alcoholism. That struggle, along with his rise from humble beginnings in northern California and his success in Major League Baseball with the Cleveland Indians (now Guardians), Milwaukee Brewers and New York Yankees is told in his memoir co-written with Chris Smith. It deals mainly with his baseball career at various levels and ends when his baseball career ends with the Yankees when they were eliminated in the 2019 postseason.

From the beginning, Sabathia shares his pain and dealing with the disease of alcoholism and aside from when he talks about his childhood, it remains a topic throughout the book.  He describes himself as one who doesn't hide when he is upset or wants everyone to know what he is feeling and when he decided to seek treatment, that was the same way he announced it.  He didn't go quietly to his manager and sneak to the rehab facility – he told the world about his disease and what it did to him. Like many other public figures who make this type of announcement, he did so with the hope that it might help others in a similar situation.

He tells very good baseball stories from his time playing high school ball as well as his stint in the minor leagues and then with the Indians.  It was in Cleveland where he became an All-Star and helped the Indians make the postseason.  He was comfortable in Cleveland but also knew the business of the game well enough that his trade in 2008 to the Milwaukee Brewers wasn't a surprise – he enjoyed the challenge of leading them to the postseason.  That lead to a big contract he signed as a free agent with the Yankees, with whom he won his only World Series championship in 2009.  He talks of mostly good memories with teammates and managers for all three clubs.

Sabathia also approaches the topics of racism, mainly through his experiences but also because of the shrinking number of Black players in the game.  Most notably, he talks about his time in Milwaukee mainly through being in a larger group of fellow Blacks than with the other clubs.  While nothing he states is incorrect, his stories may come across to some as complaining.  It should also be noted that he repeatedly states that he got along fine with his white and Latino teammates as well, but was just more comfortable around fellow Blacks.

There is a lot of swearing in Sabathia's account so this book is best read only by adults, but they do add a layer of authenticity to the emotions he has when sharing these tales.  Overall, it is a good book and the reader will get to know the true CC Sabathia, just in a slightly over-the-top way at times.  It is certainly one to read if one wants to learn more about him.

Links: Till the End: Sabathia, CC, Smith, Chris: 9780593133750: Books

Monday, December 6, 2021

Review of "Savage Summit"

Realizing that I had not read a book on mountain climbing in quite awhile, I searched for one with my favorite summit in which to read about - K2.  I found this one, picked it up and was very glad I did as these women deserve this kind of recognition.  Here is my review of "Savage Summit"

Title/Author: "Savage Summit: The Life and Death of the First Women of K2" by Jennifer Jordan

Rating: 4 ½ of 5 stars (very good)


Wanda Rutkiewicz. Liliane Barrard. Julie Tullis. Chantal Mauduit. Alison Hargreaves.  These five women were the first to reach the summit of K2, the world's second highest mountain and considered to be the most dangerous to climb.  These women are portrayed in this book by Jennifer Jordan that digs deep into not only the accomplishments of these mountaineers but also into their personalities.

One cautionary note about the book is that Jordan writes often about the blatant and not so blatant sexism each of these women received.  Some of it is attributed to culture, especially that of Pakistan (K2 is on the Pakistan-Nepal border), some of it is attributed it to simple chauvinism and some is attributed to the attitude of some male climbers that the women were expecting them to do the heavy work of climbing.  Much of that is dismissed by Jordan in the writing.  It should also be noted that much of her research will come from the viewpoints of friends or family members of the women as all of them perished within six years of reaching the summit.  Barrard, Tullis and Hargreaves all died while descending the mountain after reaching K2's peak while Rutkiewicz and Mauduit later died on future expeditions.

While some of the criticism of Jordan's work being biased against the male climbing community can be debated, there is no doubt about the depth and quality of writing about each of the women and that is excellent.  Whether or not one will agree with how much Jordan writes about items such as physical beauty or the sexual affairs of the women (yes, those are include), the descriptions of each woman's climb up K2, their experiences that led them to the decision and how much they each loved the risk and adventure of their chosen career or hobby will leave readers feeling like they knew each of these climbers.

I found Rutkiewicz's story the most fascinating as she was by far the most accomplished climber of the group and had overcome the biases and stereotypes that hinder many female climbers.  She was receiving many accolades for her accomplishments in her native Poland which suddenly stopped when the Cold War era drew to a close in the 1990's.  Her story, while the best reading in my opinion, is just one of the five excellent stories about these pioneering women.  Jordan mentions the passion she had for this project and how she wanted to project their personalities and their accomplishments.  In that sense, this book is a job well done. 


Links: Savage Summit: The Life and Death of the First Women of K2 eBook : Jordan, Jennifer: Kindle Store