Saturday, June 25, 2022

Review of "Up and Down"

An annual summer project is to wade through the pile of books that I never got around to reviewing before work or teaching obligations cut into reading and reviewing time.  This memoir by golfer Bubba Watson is one of those and it now can be taken off that pile. Here is my review of "Up and Down." 

Title/Author: “Up and Down: Victories and Struggles in the Course of Life” by Bubba Watson with Don Yaeger

Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:  Bubba Watson burst into the golf spotlight by winning the 2012 Masters with an incredible hook shot out of trouble.  From there, he became just as notable for becoming an unlikable person and because of this he was suffering from mental health issues.  How he handled them and has found himself in a better place is the main focus of his memoir written with Don Yaeger.

Watson became known as “Bubba from Bagdad” as he grew up in this small town in the Florida panhandle.  He was supported by his parents to attempt to fulfill his dreams of making it in professional golf, although he did have some hiccups along the way. Unlike many other memoirs and biographies, I found this part of his story just as interesting as his victories in the Masters (he also won in 2014) or his adult personal life. 

Watson’s account of his unusual path to success in golf at the University of Georgia is a story with many twists that in the end will work out well for him.  Not only did he have success on the course despite not being a part of the team during his senior year, he also met his wife Angie.  She was also an athlete – a member of the Georgia women’s basketball team who had aspirations of a WNBA career that didn’t happen mainly due to injury.

Once Watson embarked on a professional golf career, his story and the book progresses well, despite some repetition and also some stories that feel like they were not complete.  One example of this is his relationship with his caddy Teddy Scott.  Watson gives him a lot of credit for everything – improving his golf game, giving him a stern talk when his behavior was putting off many of his fellow pro golfers and reminding him of his priorities for both his family (he and Angie adopted two children) and his faith.  But after setting Bubba straight, it is unknow what has become of Teddy.

His faith, and that of his wife, is an important part of this book and Watson’s story – it is never far from his thoughts.  It certainly helped him change the behavior that made him the person who would be the least likely to receive assistance from fellow golfers if he ran into trouble off the course.  That isn’t the exact wording of what this informal poll revealed, but it is a illustration of how Watson acted on and off the course – and his explanations of how and why he was that way was adequate, but did not feel completely genuine.

Because of this vagueness, I felt this memoir lacked true reflection but Watson does come across as sincere and truly wanting to be a better person.  For that, I given him credit for not only making his life better, but also for still playing well enough on the PGA tour to be a top-ranked player.  He does talk about his golf, but not as much as his personal life.  That is something that a reader should consider before deciding to pick up this book – it worked out fine, but it may not satisfy readers who want to read more about the game instead of the person.

I wish to thank Thomas Nelson Publishing for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Links:   Up and Down: Victories and Struggles in the Course of Life: Watson, Bubba, Yaeger, Don: 9780785292012: Amazon.com: Books


Monday, June 20, 2022

Review of "A Season in the Sun"

Figuring it was time to start picking books out of the BOTTOM of the pile for those needing reviews instead of the top, I read this one on Tom Brady's first season in Tampa Bay and it was about what I expected - which meant it was good.  Here is my review of "A Season in the Sun." 

Title/Author: “A Season in the Sun: Bruce Arians, Tom Brady and the Inside Story of the Making of a Champion” by Lars Anderson

Rating:  4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:  There were few people who expected Tom Brady to leave the New England Patriots, but after the 2019-20 NFL season, there were some indications were shown that his time with the Patriots and their head coach Bill Belichick were coming to an end.  How the Tampa Bay Buccaneers convinced Brady to sign with them and then lead them to their second Super Bowl championship is described in this very good book by Lars Anderson.

Unlike many books that are about one particular season (no matter the sport), this one doesn’t spend a lot of time with game-by-game accounts nor does it spend a great deal of time discussing other issues of the time such as social issues or politics.  Given that this book was about a season (2020) during a global pandemic, one would expect that more of this would be discussed, but Anderson sticks with strictly matters affecting the Buccaneers, Brady or head coach Bruce Arians. If the pandemic is mentioned, it is how it affects the football team, such as not being able to conduct face-to-face meetings.  The best of these references is a well-known story in which Brady goes to the wrong house soon after signing to pick up the Tampa Bay playbook from the offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich.

Most of the text in this book would be considered character-driven if this were a fictional novel as there are plenty of stories and information about people.  The main two characters are in the subtitle – Tom Brady and Bruce Arians. Readers who did not know a lot about the personalities of these two men will get to know them well by the end of the book.  Anderson also does a terrific job of telling the reader how the relationship between quarterback and head coach evolved, including Brady’s relationships with his teammates and his other coaches.  Leftwich was a quarterback who faced Brady several times in his career, but that was put aside and Brady made sure to listen and learn from his offensive coordinator.

The 2020 season for Tampa Bay is reviewed and important games are described in detail.  Of course, these include the victories in the playoffs and Super Bowl, but also some key defeats as well, such as the 38-3 loss to the New Orleans Saints that left the Buccaneers at 7-5 and in danger of missing the playoffs.  From there, the reader is taken on a great ride of success and hard work to achieve the ultimate goal for any football team.  It should be noted that Brady is praised by many, friends and opponents alike, for the amount of work he did during that season.  It didn’t matter that he already had six championships, he made sure to put in the work he felt was needed to get his seventh and first one outside of New England.  This is a book that pro football fans will enjoy no matter their rooting interest or even their admiration or loathing of Tom Brady.

I wish to thank William Morrow and Custom House for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Link:  Amazon.com: A Season in the Sun: The Inside Story of Bruce Arians, Tom Brady, and the Making of a Champion: 9780063160200: Anderson, Lars: Books

 

Monday, June 13, 2022

Review of "Stumbling Around the Bases"

Some people consider themselves political junkies.  I place myself in that category if the politics are those inside baseball and this book is one that any "junkie" like me should pick up.  Here is my review of "Stumbling Around the Bases."


 

Title/Author: “Stumbling Around the Bases: The American League’s Mismanagement in the Expansion Eras ” by Andy McCue

Rating:  5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:  For a significant portion of the latter half of the 20th Century, the National League was considered the superior of the two leagues in Major League Baseball.  This was due not only because of the play on the field or the faster pace of racial integration in that league, but also because of its actions taken when its franchises would relocate or be added.  This book by Andy McCue concentrates mainly on the American League on that latter topic and explains why, due to its own missteps, why it was considered to be league that reacts instead of leads.

When the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants relocated to Los Angeles and San Francisco respectively in 1958, the National League realized the market for baseball on the West Coast was untapped and wanted to take advantage of this. Seeing how attendance was boosted significantly for the two franchises, the American League also wanted in on West Coast business.  However, as McCue expertly describes, the owners couldn’t agree on a well-researched and reviewed plan and instead hurriedly decided to expand in 1961 to Los Angeles (where their team, the Angels, had to agree to conditions set by the Dodgers) and in Washington, D.C. 

The latter site was chosen only because the American League feared that Congress would take away from baseball the exemption for anti-trust laws after owner Calvin Griffith moved the Washington Senators to Minnesota to start the 1961 season.  This expansion plan, panned by many observers, only set the stage for even more blunders by American League ownership and McCue doesn’t leave many individuals unscathed in his account of these transactions.

Among those who McCue profile to show how the American League executives were not exactly experts at vetting who would become owners are two men who became enemies of the fraternity. One was Charles O. Finley who purchased the Kansas City Athletics and moved them to Oakland (again, going to a West Coast territory already with a National League). The second was Bob Short, who during the 1960’s purchased the expansion Washington Senators team and ended up moving them to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, becoming the Texas Rangers.  Finley and Short, as well as the sale of the New York Yankees to CBS, are all cited as examples of American League ineptitude as well as the tale of Seattle.

Seattle’s part of American League mishandling of expansion and markets is a very interesting story. The Seattle Pilots were one of two expansion teams in 1969 along with the Kansas City Royals (another team that was provided to a market because of fear of retaliation after the city lost the Athletics) but it was clear that the ownership group did not have the funds and backing necessary to run a major league team, nor was there a stadium up to major league standards.  A well-known story but one that is worth mentioning was that fans who had tickets in the left field bleachers had to wait for the paint to dry on the benches in their seating location.  The Pilots ended up in Milwaukee just days before the 1970 season opened and Seattle got its replacement team (see a pattern here?) in 1977 when the Mariners began play in the new Kingdome.

There is a lot of information told in this compact book of approximately 200 pages and that includes the footnotes and references.  This shows the crisp writing and excellent research into these issues that McCue has done.  Readers who enjoy books on the business side of the game and its politics will enjoy this one immensely.  Some of the information may be known from other larger sources, but it will be hard to find another book that tells of the infamy of the American League brass in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

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

Link:  Stumbling around the Bases: The American League’s Mismanagement in the Expansion Eras: McCue, Andy: 9781496207036: Books (amazon.com)

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Review of "A Thing or Two About the Game"

Readers of this blog know that I am not a big reader of fictional books, but this novel about a man who reluctantly agrees to coach a softball team of 11-12 year old girls is a very enjoyable read that I recommend to anyone who wants to have something light on their TBR list.  Here is my review of "A Thing or Two About the Game."

Title/Author: “A Thing or Two About the Game” by Richard Paik

Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:  Coaching youth sports, no matter the sport or the gender of the players, is never easy and the rewards can be more than just the performances on the field of play.  This novel by Richard Paik illustrates this in a delightful and touching manner.

Brad is a man who is unemployed and not sure where his life is going. His ex-wife Stephanie contacts him and asks him to coach a girls’ softball team, the Marlins, when her boyfriend is unable to commit to doing so because of his job.  Brad accepts and wonders what exactly he signed up for – it turns out to be a lot more than he thought.

The best aspect of this novel, aside from its ease of reading, is the character development.  The reader will soon not only begin to connect with Brad, but with just about every other character in the book.  Every one of Brad’s players has some type of quirk or issue that is nothing unusual for 11–12-year-old girls.  They also are diverse for these traits – Jamie is an excellent athlete and is the Marlins’ best player.  Kacie, while not having the skills of Jamie, is determined to succeed and plays her heart out.  Those are just two small examples of how Paik develops each character in such a way that the reader will cheer for them.  There really is not a character who a reader will dislike or cheer against, even opponents (players and coaches) of the Marlins, as Paik makes sure to provide the reader a little insight into them as well.

In the meantime, there are all kinds of mini-stories that take place around the main focus of the book and that is the play of the Marlins, both in practices and during games. For the players, these can range from family matters to health issues.  For Brad, and his best friend Mike (who is a coach for another team, the Braves) these can include relationships (at least for Mike, as Brad is not seeing anyone during the book) and work-related issues.  There are times that a reader might wonder what Brad’s work in biotech research has to do with girls’ softball but as the book progresses, it is clear how these items, along with others, mesh together.

This book isn’t going to come with a nice neat ending, nor is the story one that is clear from beginning to end.  But that is what makes the book different – it reflects what will happen in life.  This is the case for both the girls and the adults in the book.  Put their stories together on the softball field and one gets a very enjoyable novel that is a treat for readers of many different tastes.

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

Links:   A Thing or Two About the Game - Kindle edition by Paik, Richard. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

 

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Review of “Sandman”

While this book is quite short at 100 pages, it is an excellent golf story that is a great choice for a short, engaging read.  Here is my review of “Sandman”


Title/Author: “Sandman: A Golf Tale” by David W. Berner

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:  Anyone who has played golf and feels there is more to the game than just their score, the clubs to use or their mechanics will be able to relate to the two protagonists in this wonderful short book.  One of them, a boy whose name is never revealed, is an excellent golfer but feels there is more to the sport and feels unfulfilled. The other, a homeless man named Jimmy who hangs around the 5th green at the boy’s home course, also has a unique perspective, mainly gained during his time as a caddy at the most famous course, St. Andrews. 

Their stories will be ones that anyone connected to the game, whether playing, looping, or just as a worker at a course (Nancy, the clubhouse cook, is a wonderful secondary character) can relate to the stories of the boy and Jimmy. Berner does a wonderful job of brining these characters to life for the reader in such a short amount of text. Readers who like stories that are short and to the point without a lot of fluff should pick this up. While it is helpful to know about golf, it is not necessary to connect with the boy and Jimmy and their dreams. 

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

Link: https://www.amazon.com/Sandman-golf-David-W-Berner-ebook/dp/B09YLKR6LH/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=


Monday, May 30, 2022

Review of "Tales from the Minnesota Sports Beat"

While I may not be living in Minnesota any longer, I still read the Star Tribune sports page daily online and was thrilled to learn one of the long-time writers there, Patrick Reusse has written a memoir.  Of course I had to get a copy and it was as good as I had hoped.  Here is my review of his memoir. 


Title/Author: “Tales from the Minnesota Sports Beat: A Lifetime on Deadline” by Patrick Reusse with Chip Scroggins

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:  Many cities have a sports broadcaster or sportswriter who over the years become very familiar to the fans of that city.  Often they are recognized when one states just either their first or last name.  In the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Patrick Reusse is one of those sports writers as one just needs to say “Reusse!” and fans will know not only who that is but will have both an opinion and a memory or two about him.  Reusse, who has been a sportswriter in Minnesota since 1965, teams up with Chip Scroggins to produce this excellent memoir.

No matter which sport or team is the favorite of a Minnesota sports fan (including this reviewer), Reusse will have seen them, written about them and includes them in this book.  He does share his preferences on which sports he prefers to write about (baseball and golf are his favorites), which sports he admits to covering but not knowing much about it (hockey and figure skating) and a sport that he initially knew nothing about but became a big fan (volleyball).  He writes about these in the same style in which he has written his column for many years – some are flattering, some are biting and some are humorous but all are clearly written from the heart.

As one would expect, he has plenty of stories with his interactions with not only some of the best athletes around but also with other sportswriters and other notable personalities.  Because some of the stories come from a different time, he does note that when some of them took place, certain comments and actions would not be likely to be taken well today.  While the stories with athletes are great and some brought back some nice memories of sports events, the best ones were about other journalists.  His tales of pranks played on another long time Minnesota sports writer, Sid Hartman, left me in stitches.

Reusse not only worked for the newspapers in both cities, but he was also a radio personality for many years.  He teamed up with another sportswriter, Joe Soucheray, for a Monday night sports talk show (originally on Sunday night) that took on a personality of its own, attracted many regular callers and was a can’t miss event that had the ears of many Twin Cities residents.  In this chapter, Reusse is at his most humble self, giving all the credit to Soucheray for the success of the show.  As one who was a regular listener before leaving the area, I can state that it took both to make that show as good as it was.  Something in the book that Reusse states that seems amazing is that neither of them came in with a specific topic in mind to discuss – they simply let the callers drive the program.  Whatever they did, it certainly worked.

Of course, there are sports stories in the book.  Whether it was the good times, such as the two World Series titles for the Twins in 1987 and 1991, the bad times such as the Vikings’ loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the 1999 NFC Championship (he came up with the name of the famous “Weeping Blondes” photo from that game) or the background stories of various teams, such as the football team for the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the 1960’s, Reusse covers it all.  If there is something the reader remembers about Minnesota sports in the last 55 or so years, chances are Reusse has written about it or was there in some manner.  Minnesota sports fans, whether they are fans of Reusse or or think he’s just a curmudgeon, should pick up this book as it is sure to be one that will contain at least some material that will be pleasing to them.

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

Links:   Tales from the Minnesota Sports Beat: A Lifetime on Deadline: Reusse, Patrick, Scoggins, Chip, Barreiro, Dan: 9781681342306: Amazon.com: Books


Friday, May 27, 2022

Review of "Lefty and Tim"

One of the more successful pitchers of the 1970's was Steve Carlton and he had a "personal catcher" for some of those successful seasons in Tim McCarver.  The story of how these two became a great battery is told in this book.  Here is my review of "Lefty and Tim."


 

Title/Author: “Lefty and Tim: How Steve Carlton and Tim McCarver Became Baseball’s Best Battery” by William C. Kashatus

Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:  The two men who are the subject of this book, Steve Carlton and Tim McCarver, are both members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, albeit in different areas.  Carlton, one of the most dominant left-handed pitchers in the history of the game, was a first-ballot inductee for his pitching.  McCarver, who had a long productive career as a catcher for several teams, had even more success as a broadcaster and his long and illustrious career there was rewarded with the Ford C. Frick Award, the highest honor bestowed to baseball broadcasters and a spot in the Hall of Fame.

However, Hall of Fame credentials are not all that link the two together. They both started their careers with the St. Louis Cardinals, where they developed a friendship that would develop into a great working relationship where McCarver became Carlton’s personal catcher – first with the Cardinals until they traded McCarver to the Philadelphia Phillies before the 1970 season and then later when Carlton was also sent to the Phillies before the 1972 season for a brief time before becoming teammates once again in 1976.  This pairing of pitcher and catcher is captured in this book by William C. Kashatus.

Kashatus is known for his work on books about the Phillies, especially the depth of knowledge he has about the team and it shows in this book.  The seasons in which Carlton and McCarver worked together are captured in great detail with a lot of game descriptions and rundowns of the outcomes of their teams. This is the case for not only their time together in Philadelphia but also in St. Louis, where there is a good deal of writing about the state of the Cardinals franchise in the 1960’s as well as the rise of the Phillies in the 1970’s from a last place team in 1972 to the championship 1980 season, even though the pair was no longer together as McCarver left the team after 1979 and after a brief stop in Boston, started his broadcasting career in 1980.

If this review sounds like it talks a lot about the baseball and not much about the two men who are the subject of the book, that reflects how the book is structured.  In the introduction, Kashatus tells the reader that this will not be a biography of the two men but instead will focus on the teamwork and results of their time working together to bring success to both franchises.  He certainly succeeded on that goal as the reader will learn much about the success for both men on the diamond, especially Carlton.  The best chapter in the book about Lefty is about Carlton’s best season – 1972 when he went 27-10 for a last-lace Phillies team. 

However, that season saw him only work briefly with his friend McCarver because Tim was traded that season to the Montreal Expos and did not rejoin the Phillies until 1976, when the battery became even more productive and was seen by a larger audience as the Phillies won the National League East division for three consecutive seasons.  These seasons are captured as well as 1972 by Kashatus and readers will learn a little more about stars on that team such as Mick Schmidt and Greg Luzinski as well as Carlton and McCarver. 

While this book is not heavy into details about Carlton and McCarver, especially their personal lives, it is one that serious baseball fans of that era will enjoy reading to learn more about the success of a very effective pitcher and catcher team.

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

Links:   Amazon.com: Lefty and Tim: How Steve Carlton and Tim McCarver Became Baseball’s Best Battery: 9781496226679: Kashatus, William C., Christenson, Larry: Books

Lefty and Tim : Nebraska Press (unl.edu)

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Review of "1972"

Usually when a special anniversary arrives for a special sports moment, there are books to commemorate the event.  That is the case this year for the 1972 Summit Series between the national hockey team for the Soviet Union and Team Canada.  Other books coming out on the series will have a hard time topping this one, a terrific read on the series.  Here is my review of "1972."

Title/Author: “1972: The Series That Changed Hockey Forever” by Scott Morrison

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:  Sports have many moments that prompt the question “Where were you when…?”  For hockey fans, especially Canadian hockey fans, one of those moments occurred on September 28, 1972 when Paul Henderson scored with 34 seconds left to give Team Canada a 6-5 win over the Soviet Union in the eighth and final game of a series between the Russian national team and an all-star NHL team representing Canada.  This entire series is recounted in this terrific book by Scott Morrison.

Going into the series, it was believed by not only the players and coaches, but by most hockey fans and journalists in the country that Canada would win this series easily.  This was bolstered by a scouting report on the Russian team that they were not very good.  The report included notes such as the equipment used by the team was in poor shape and the goaltending was not very good.  Therefore, Team Canada went into the first game of the series, played in Montreal, extremely confident. Morrison does an excellent job of illustrating this overconfidence through research and interviews over time with players and coaches from the team.  Throughout the book, coach Harry Sinden supplies great information on the games.

After the 7-3 win by the Soviet Union in game one, the next three games were played in Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver respectively.  The teams essentially split these three games, with each team winning one game apiece and the Winnipeg game ending in a tie.  That game was noteworthy because of who was one of the spectators – Bobby Hull.  Even though he was clearly one of the best players in the game at the time, he was ruled ineligible for Team Canada because he had signed with the Winnipeg Jets of the rival WHA.  That added to the already tense situation that came about when it was clear that this series was not going to be the cakewalk Team Canada thought it would be.

Another illustration of Morrison’s excellent work is his writing about Phil Esposito’s passionate speech after the game in Vancouver.  Not to give away too much about that moment, it is fair to say that it was a moment in which Team Canada knew who was the captain of their team, even if it was not official.  Then my favorite part of the book comes, when Morrison writes about the team’s time in Sweden before playing the final four games in Moscow.  It is there that a reader will really feel a connection with the players profiled and understand how during that time they finally felt like a true team and what they did to play and act like one.

The chapters on the four games in Moscow, much like those about the four games in Canada, are terrific in that they blend the perfect combination of game action with insight from the players and coaches.  It should also be noted that while the book has more of this information from the Canadian point of view, there is also good insight into what some Russian players and coaches saw as well.  Of course, as one might expect, the best of this came when Henderson scored the historic goal.  While reading this part, I, an American hockey fan who was 11 at the time of the series, remembered that moment and got goose bumps just from this description nearly 50 years later.  That alone will make me give this book a glowing recommendation for anyone who is interested in either learning more about this historic hockey season or wants to read it to bring back fond memories.

I wish to thank Simon & Schuster for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Link:   1972: The Series That Changed Hockey Forever: Morrison, Scott: 9781982154141: Amazon.com: Books

Monday, May 16, 2022

Review of "Charlie Murphy"

Books on the early days of baseball are always fascinating, and this biography of Charlie Murphy, the owner of the Cubs in the early 20th century, is no exception.  Here is my review:


Title/Author: “Charlie Murphy: The Iconclastic Showman behind the Chicago Cubs” by Jason Cannon

Rating:  4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:  The early history of the Chicago Cubs is very different than the club that is familiar to baseball fans.  For one example, they have not always played home games in Wrigley Field on the north side of the city – they were at the West Side Ball Park in the early 20th century when they had their greatest run of success with four National League pennants in five years and two World Championships.  That and many other differences make the era of owner Charlie Murphy very interesting and that comes through in this biography of Murphy by Jason Cannon.

Murphy can be accurately described as an owner who certainly was not like his contemporaries.  Acquiring the Cubs for the bargain price (at least to Murphy) of $100,000, Murphy didn’t rest on his remarkable rise from newspaper reporter to a team owner.  He immediately immersed himself into the running of the ball club, overseeing much of the operations.  He was very active in the trades and personnel of the team, but was also wise enough to leave the managing of the team on the field to the capable hands of Frank Chance, one part of the famous “Tinkers to Evers to Chance” double play team. 

Despite Murphy’s connections (his co-owner was Charles Taft, the half brother of President William Howard Taft who was a visitor to a Cubs game) and his ideas for innovation in the game, he eventually gained enemies in both the National League offices (Charles Ebbets of the Dodgers was an especially harsh critic of Murphy) and to his popular players.  His poor handling of the contracts with Chance and then Evers for managing the club led to not only bad public relations with Cubs fans but also to his fellow owners and the two league presidents.  Believing that he was not helping Organized Baseball, Murphy was forced out in 1913 and the club eventually was sold to Charles Weeghman, who moved them to the north side and started to have the personality of the team we know now.

As for the complete story of Murphy, from his beginnings to his ownership of the Cubs and the fractured relationships at the time of his ouster, Cannon does a very good job of brining him to life to the reader and illustrating an accurate picture of the business side of the game at that time.  Cannon doesn’t stope when Murphy’s time in baseball was done, however, as he also informs the reader about Murphy’s ownership of a theatre in his hometown of Willmington, Ohio.  The excellent research and detail make it a book that has to be read slowly and carefully, but it will be worth the time as the reader will learn much about the man who was behind the first great era of the Chicago Cubs.

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

Link:  Charlie Murphy: The Iconoclastic Showman behind the Chicago Cubs: Cannon, Jason: 9781496228635: Amazon.com: Books

Monday, May 9, 2022

Review of "Miracles on the Hardwood"

While I knew that Catholic colleges and universities have had success in basketball, I didn't realize how much and for how long until reading this book.  It was a very good read for me as one who enjoyed the college game during the time when the Big East conference was dominant - both in the sport and for eastern Catholic schools.  Here is my review of "Miracles on the Hardwood." 


Title/Author: “Miracles on the Hardwood: The Hope-and-a-Prayer Story of a Winning Tradition in Catholic College Basketball” by John Gasaway

Rating:  4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:  Catholic colleges have a very important place in the history of college basketball, going all the way back to the first NCAA tournament (Villanova was one of the Final Four schools in the 1939 tourney), through the era when the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) was just as prestigious as the NCAA and into the modern era which saw a year (1985) when three of the Final Four schools – Georgetown, St. John’s (NY) and Villanova – were Catholic schools.  This deep connection between Catholic colleges and basketball is discussed in this very good book by John Gasaway.

If a reader is looking for information on the school’s theological history and how that relates to basketball, then this is not the book for them.  If, however, a reader wants to learn about the ins and outs of basketball teams that played an important part of college basketball history, then this is one to pick up.  This includes details on the seasons and games of some of the schools and certain personalities.  Probably the best chapter on this is on Marquette University in Wisconsin and their colorful coach Al McGuire when they won the championship in 1977, McGuire’s last game as coach.

Not just Marquette, but most Catholic schools that have won a championship (either NIT or NCAA) or played an important role in the sport’s history are included.  Examples are the University of San Francisco when Bill Russell was their star player, Georgetown during the John Thompson era and Villanova, both in their “perfect game” to win the 1985 NCAA championship (against Georgetown) and their recent success in 2016 and 2018.

Some of the passages about how Catholic schools have affected the history of the game are very interesting.  The best of these is during the discussion of the period in which schools could enter both the NCAA and NIT tournaments or later when a school had to decide whether to accept one or the other.  This was during the late 1940’s and early1950’s when the NIT was considered to be the more prestigious of the two tourneys.  It was also interesting in that many Catholic schools chose the NIT because it was held in New York and since most of these schools were in the East, the travel costs were much lower because the NCAA tourney was always held in Kansas City at that time. 

All in all, this was an entertaining and informative book that hard core college basketball fans will enjoy.  More casual fans may find some of the details too intense, but it’s still a fin source of information on this segment of college basketball.

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

Link:  Miracles on the Hardwood: The Hope-and-a-Prayer Story of a Winning Tradition in Catholic College Basketball: Gasaway, John: 9781538717103: Books - Amazon

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Review of "The Duke"

I had vaguely recalled the name Tommy Morrison when this book popped up on my feed when searching for new boxing books. Seeing that it was written by a very good boxing author, Carlos Acevedo, I decided to pick it up - that turned out to be a good decision.  Here is my review of "The Duke"

Title/Author: “The Duke: The Life and Lies of Tommy Morrison” by Carlos Acevedo

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:  Tommy Morrison is probably one of the most tragic figures in boxing.  He was hyped as one of the many “Great White Hope” fighters that was pursuing the heavyweight boxing title.  That was a very prestigious title in sports during his career in the 1980’s and 1990’s and he achieved that goal.  Of course, this was during the time when boxing had some many sanctioning bodies – some of them with questionable credentials.  But nonetheless, Morrison did obtain one title with his defeat of George Foreman in 1993, earning the WBO (World Boxing Organization) heavyweight title.  However, this book by Carlos Acevedo, a very well-respected boxing author, does much more than recap Morrison’s fights and his life.

It should be also noted that Morrison not only was a celebrity due to his boxing but also as an actor.  He played the part of Tommy Gunn in Rocky V and while the movie was not as big a blockbuster as the other movies in that franchise, it did earn Morrison some celebrity status outside of the boxing and sports world, and this is important when discussing his private life, as will be noted later and also is done well by Acevedo.

The book is divided into two parts, and they are drawn out at the time of a very shocking (at the time) announcement:  in 1996, Morrison publicly announced that he was infected with the HIV virus. That was a jolt to the boxing world – and also in the sporting world, who still was grappling with a similar announcement by Magic Johnson in 1991.  Since at the time HIV was still considered a death sentence and much incorrect information was being circulated about HIV and AIDS, it was a very big deal to learn of Morrison’s announcement. 

Part I of the book deals mostly with Morrison’s early life and his boxing career, with some passages about his movie role as well. He ties the two of them together well when possible.  A great example of this is when Morrison defeated Foreman for the WBO title but yet the audience and media were not satisfied with this performance.  Acevedo writes that the crowd was “expecting more Tommy Gunn and less Running Man, but he was also lambasted by the media” and then further indirectly quotes a boxing writer accusing Morrison of cowardice during the Foreman fight.  There are many more examples of this type of writing in Part I.

However, Acevedo saved the best for Part II, which deals with Morrison’s life, both in and out of the ring (and courtroom and jail) after his announcement that he had tested positive for HIV before a scheduled bout with Arthur Weathers.  If you have not heard of Arthur Weathers, that is perfectly fine – as Morrison had built up his record on many unknown and less than average boxers, something Acevedo notes frequently in both parts. Acevedo also has many excellent statements that show not only his knowledge but also his wit and use of the language, such as this one about one of Morrison’s many trainers in the boxer’s career – this trainer, “like so many others in a sport that seemingly took its cues from Dada or the Marx Brothers, he was susceptible to delusion.”

Morrison also was heavy into conspiracy theories after his diagnosis as well as having an issue with telling the truth.  He had stated that he was living a healthy lifestyle to combat his diagnosis, when in reality he was still very promiscuous and taking drugs.  He was frequently criticizing the advances made in combating the disease, saying they were not effective or even true for various reason.  He eventually succumbed to the disease at age 44 in 2013. 

For readers who remember Tommy Morrison, whether for his boxing or his role in Rocky V, this book is one that will tell his complete story, warts and all and is a riveting fascinating look at one of the more tragic celebrities in our time.  Yes, there are many of those types of stories, but this book is one that tells about one such tale in a well-written manner.

Link:   Amazon.com: The Duke: The Life and Lies of Tommy Morrison eBook : Acevedo, Carlos: Kindle Store

 

Monday, April 25, 2022

Review of "True"

This year marks the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's debut in Major League Baseball.  To mark this, a new book on him has come out and it is a very different type of biography that does include a very different look on one of the most recognizable athletes to have ever graced a playing field.  Here is my review of "True".


 

Title/Author: “True: The Four Seasons of Jackie Robinson” by Kostoya Kennedy

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:  Jackie Robinson is a person who needs no introduction or explanation on what his place is in history, even for people who have no interest in baseball.  There has been much written about him that covers just about everything he did in sports, for civil rights and every other aspect of his life.  So it was with curiosity that I decided to read this book on Robinson by Kostoya Kennedy, wondering what more could be written about him without simply rehashing what others have written.

It turned out to be a wise choice – this book was outstanding in many aspects.  The first of which is simply the idea for the subtitle.  By writing about four different years in Robinson’s life span which would be considered the season of his career and post baseball life, Kennedy portrays Robinson and his wife Rachel, who is just as important a figure in this book as is Jackie, in a very different context than most other biographies do.

The best example of this would be the first season, Spring, which details the year 1946 when Robinson played for an otherwise all-white team, the Montreal Royals.  It was the year before Robinson made his historic debut for the Dodgers and it was remembered fondly in the book by everyone Kennedy referenced.  It has been well-documented that this was done to prepare Jackie for the rough treatment he would receive in the Major Leagues, and it isn’t right to say that his time in Montreal didn’t have its rough patches as well. But that doesn’t take away the excellent memories shared by Rachel with Kennedy about how they were treated, nor does it detract from the overall picture created about that year.

The other chapter in which Kennedy’s work shows its excellence is the last chapter, Winter, which is about Jackie’s failing health and Rachel’s strength in 1972 before he passed away that year.  The chapter’s beginning was very powerful as it describes Jackie’s struggles to travel in order to attend the funeral of one of his beloved Dodger teammates, Gil Hodges. The help Jackie received from other teammates and even how Kennedy described the sudden death of Hodges sets up the reader for a very powerful conclusion to the book.

This type of writing, save for all pleasant memories and instead providing excellent narrative no matter what the emotions of the time may bring, is present in the other three seasons as well.  Whether the reader is thrilled by the success on the field for Jackie in 1949 when he was the Most Valuable Player in the National League, stunned by the realization that his baseball career is over when he made the last out of the 1956 World Series (and his subsequent trade to the rival New York Giants, to whom he would not report) or saddened by reading about his health struggles in his last year of life, this is a book that should be read by all – not just baseball fans, but everyone who has any interest in Jackie Robinson the man.

I wish to thank St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Link:   True: The Four Seasons of Jackie Robinson: Kennedy, Kostya: 9781250274045: Books (amazon.com)

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Review of "The Forgotten First"

Currently there are many books available that are about teams or athletes that were pioneers in making sports more accessible, equitable and available to all who are interested.  For professional football, this book about four Black players who played important roles in this issue is a good read for those interested in the subject.  Here is my review of "The Forgotten First"

Title/Author: “The Forgotten First: Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, Marion Motley, Bill Willis and the Breaking of the NFL Color Barrier” by Keyshawn Johnson and Bob Glauber

Rating:  4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:  Much like professional baseball, professional football in its earliest days had Black players in its ranks, then an unwritten rule to bar them from further participation took effect.  For the fledgling NFL, that barrier lasted 13 years which was broken in 1946 by two star players from UCLA – Kenny Washington and Woody Strode.  In that year, there was another professional football league, the All-American Football Conference that also signed two Black players, Marion Motley and Bill Willis.  They signed with the Cleveland Browns who were led by the legendary coach Paul Brown, who was one of the most progressive coaches for integration at that time. 

This book by Keyshawn Johnson and Bob Glauber tells the story of each of these men and others who were either important in the breaking of the color barrier, such as Brown and Rams owner Dan Reeves or those who were responsible for the lack of Black players in the professional ranks such as George Marshall, the owner of the then-Washington Redskins, now known as the Washington Commanders. 

The negatives of this book are not many but there are two main issues I have with the it.  One is that while the portrayal of Marshall is accurate, it places the bulk of the blame for the lack of integration on him.  Yes, he was outwardly racist and had an inordinate amount of influence on NFL owners, including the legendary George Halas.  However, the entire league had this barrier, not just Marshall’s team.  To blame it all on him is not correct – the entire league was the problem.  The other one is that far too little is mentioned about the Black players before these four as they were the true pioneers, such as Fritz Pollard. 

However, the positives of the book do add up to a good reading experience.  While there are other books that may have more information on Washington and Strode in particular, this book will be a good introduction to them, as well as Motley and Willis, and their lives and careers.  As one would expect, all four of them had to endure the racism from not only fans but other players as well.  There were many instances described in the book about them taking extra hits or getting their hands injured when other players would make sure they stepped on the Black player’s hands at the end of a play.  I was especially pleased to read about Motely and Willis as there is even less available reference material on them, mainly because the NFL does not recognize statistics and other items from the AAFC.  This despite the fact that three of that league’s teams were absorbed into the NFL – the Browns, the San Francisco 49ers and the then-Baltimore Colts, now the Indianapolis Colts.

Overall, this is a quick paced book that gives good information on these four players who may not have been superstars during their era but still played a very important role in the history of professional football.  Those who have read other books on them, such as “The Black Bruins” (about among others, Washington, Strode and their famous teammate Jackie Robinson) may not learn as much as other readers who have not heard of these pioneers.  But for those who have not, this is a very good starting point to learn more about them and the permanent integration of professional football.

I wish to thank Grand Central Publishing for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Link:  Amazon.com: The Forgotten First: Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, Marion Motley, Bill Willis, and the Breaking of the NFL Color Barrier eBook : Johnson, Keyshawn, Glauber, Bob: Kindle Store


Friday, April 15, 2022

Review of "Walter Johnson"

 As a Minnesota Twins fan, I am also very interested in books about their time as the Washington Senators. Since the best pitcher in franchise history played during that time, I was very interested in this biography of Walter Johnson and it was terrific.  Here is my review:


Title/Author: “Walter Johnson: Baseball’s Big Train” by Henry W. Thomas, narrated by Ian Esmo

Rating:  5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:  At the time of his retirement in 1927, Walter Johnson was considered by some to be the greatest pitcher in the history of baseball to that point.  Today, nearly 100 years later, he is still considered to be an all-time great despite pitching for mostly losing teams in Washington.  Henry Thomas' biography of Johnson can be considered to be in that same lofty conversation - nearly 25 years after its publication, it should still be considered among the better baseball biographies. 

Every aspect of Johnson's life is covered in great detail and will never come across as "ordinary" or one that a reader will want to skim or skip entirely.  Thomas writes with as much passion about Johnson the man as he does about Johnson the pitcher.  Johnson's childhood and life after baseball was mainly on the farm and he enjoyed that lifestyle - it is said often how much he enjoyed being outdoors.  He was also a very devoted family man to his children and his wife Hazel and he received a lot of praise for his clean living.

That praise was matched by the accolades he received for his pitching as despite pitching for a mostly poor Washington Senators team, Johnson was able to accumulate 417 wins, 3509 strikeouts and an ERA+ of an astounding 147 (100 is considered an average major league pitcher).  While most of his time with the losing Senators is written in mostly positive terms in this book, Thomas' best baseball writing in the book coincides with the two best seasons for the Senators during the Big Train's career when the Nationals (which is the name used for Washington most of the time during that era and is used by Thomas) won the World Series over the New York Giants in 1924 and came within an inning of defending that title against the Pittsburgh Pirates the next year.  Even though Johnson was clearly on the downhill side of his career, it was also very clear he was first in agony in the 1924 World Series when he lost the first game but elated when he came in and pitched game 7 in relief and was the winning pitcher.  This part of the book is the perfect example of how good the writing is throughout. 

The narration in the audio version by Ian Esmo is just as good as the writing as he not only makes the play-by-play sections very exciting but a listener will enjoy the many stories and articles sprinkled in the text by some of the better sportswriters of the time such as Grantland Rice and Damon Runyan.  For this reviewer, it enhanced the writing about Johnson as well.  But whether one wants to read or listen, any baseball fan who wants to learn more about this legendary pitcher should add this to their collection

Link:  Amazon.com: Walter Johnson: Baseball's Big Train: 9780964543904: Henry W. Thomas, Shirley Povich: Books