Thursday, March 31, 2022

Review of "Robotic Golf"

With March turning to April, those of us in northern colder areas are awaiting the opening of golf courses and enjoy the game.  This book was of interest to me as I am one of those anxiously awaiting the start of golf season and like every year, hope to improve my game.  Here is my review of "Robotic Golf"

Title/Author: “Robotic Golf:  How a High Handicap Golfer Can Become a Single Digit Golfer by a Guy Who Did It” by Larry Carpenter

Rating:  4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:  Anyone who likes to play golf but struggles at hitting consistently good shots, like me, is always trying to do so.  This would not only improve a golfer’s handicap but would also make the game more enjoyable.  While many instructional books, videos and lessons from club professionals can help, many golfers become frustrated with them and fall back into old habits.  This instructional book from Larry Carpenter is meant to help golfers like this try something different to help improve their score.

The difference here is that, per Carpenter, many of these other sources will provide their lessons and tips from the viewpoint that a golfer should play the game by feel. In other words, don’t think too much about the mechanics as a golfer already has enough on his or her mind.  Just make that shot by feel. Instead, Carpenter believes that mechanics and repetition will make the high handicappers improve their game.  The reason why is that the “regular” golfer doesn’t have the same hand-eye coordination that professional golfers do, hence the need for other tactics to compensate.

From here, the book is not unlike other golf instruction books – ideas for drills and the tips that will help the golfer.  However, here Carpenter uses a bit of humor and a lot of instruction on mechanics that will help a golfer reduce mistakes such as opening up the club and hitting thin or fat shots.  Like other books, there will be repetition involved as he does tell the reader to practice several of these drills on the range. 

Speaking of repetition, that is another aspect of this golf instruction book that is a little different.  Carpenter makes sure to let the reader know that they won’t have the same skill set as the professional as he likes to say that if you could do ________, you wouldn’t be reading this book.  But it is stated in a way that is not insulting nor condescending.  Some of these tips can even be done in one’s basement or yard, not necessarily on the range or on the course.

All types of shots are covered in the book – from drives (which is actually the shortest section) to chipping to putting.  All club types are discussed as well and there are illustrations throughout the book for help.  However, I would recommend that one buys the paperback version as I had an advance Kindle copy and the pictures were upside down!  Having not seen the final version, I am confident this was noted and fixed before the final version, although I will be picking up the paperback so I can use it and hopefully be one of those high handicap golfers who benefit from this book.

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


Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Review of "Rigged Justice"

Sailing is a sport that I have not read about before, and while this book is about a sailing coach, the sport is not the reason this book is so good.  Written by a coach who was truly a victim of the Varsity Blues scandal, it is one that comes highly recommended.  Here is my review of "Rigged Justice"


Title/Author: “Rigged Justice: How the College Admissions Scandal Ruined an Innocent Man’s Life” by John Vandemoer

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:  While many know about the Varsity Blues college admission scandal thanks to celebrities who participated like Felicity Huffman and Lori Laughlin, there were other innocent people whose lives were shattered because of the scandal.  One of these people was former Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer and he tells his story of how he was caught up in this controversy.

There are a few sections in the book where Vandemoer talks about the sport of sailing – these include how he got interested in the sport, his coaching methods, the awards won while he was at Stanford and some of his coaching techniques.  However, those are few and far between his account of his legal troubles that all started with a phone call.

That call, from a man named Rick Singer, was one in which a student whose parents would make a substantial contribution to the sailing program should Vandemoer put in a good word for the student at Stanford and get her on the team.  Not paying close attention to what Singer was saying, Vandemoer agreed to do so as fundraising was always one of the more challenging duties he faced in his job. This led to other calls from Singer for other “recruits” and again, without fully listening and in some cases, getting poor reception, Vandemoer agreed to having more funds coming into the program in exchange for providing priority for these students.

What wasn’t known was that Singer was working as an informant for the FBI and when agents from the FBI and IRS came to Vandemoer’s house one morning, he let them in and started answering their questions.  This is how the book starts and from there, it reads like an exciting legal thriller – except it wasn’t really “thrilling” for Vandemoer as he was eventually charged with fraudulent activities.  He was able to obtain good legal counsel thanks to his parents.  He was one of the first people who pleaded guilty in the Varsity Blues scandal and his punishment was much lighter than what prosecutors were hoping to get. 

That doesn’t wash away the upheaval done to his life as he lost his coaching job and the hosing and medical insurance that came with it, Stanford wanted absolutely nothing to do with him, his family life was in turmoil and he was hounded by the media.  The book is heart-wrenching and maddening at the same time when one reads about the means to which an innocent man who thought he was simply raising money for his program ended up getting ensnared into one of the biggest scandals in recent years.  It’s a book that is a quick read that one will have a hard time putting down.  Not to mention one doesn’t have to be into sailing to want to read this one.  

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


Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Review of "Rickey"

Spring has begun and now that there is labor peace in baseball, fans and players alike are ready for the season to begin.  Of course, that also includes reading any new or upcoming advance copies of baseball books and this biography of Rickey Henderson is one that many should look for when it is released in June.  Here is my review of "Rickey"


Title/Author: “Rickey: The Life and Legend of an American Original” by Howard Bryant

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:  Rickey Henderson was a one-of-a-kind baseball player.  He set many major league records, such as most stolen bases and most home runs to lead off a game.  Those are just two of the many reasons, both on and off the field, that made him one of most interesting people to play the game and this biography of him by Howard Bryant is an excellent book on this excellent and exciting man.

Bryant has written several books on the topic of race and sports, including an excellent biography on Hank Aaron that discusses the topic and this book is very similar.  Bryant takes a critical look at the topic as Henderson had to deal with it during his youth in Oakland, his time in the minor leagues, and especially when he was a member of the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees.  There are many eye-opening passages that deal with race, especially in the chapters when Henderson wore the Yankee pinstripes.  Without being harsh, Bryant does raise some legitimate criticism of the team and specifically owner George Steinbrenner.

The criticism of Steinbrenner is in general terms and the difference in treatment between the team’s white players and the Black players.  In this specific case, that is clear not only in the dealings with Henderson but also with Steinbrenner’s investigation of Dave Winfield.  This is just one example of Bryant’s great writing on the topic, in which he casts a needed critical look but without blanket generalizations.  Another good example is in Oakland during his second tour with the A’s when Henderson, despite setting the record for stolen bases during that time, always seemed to be in the shadow of a more prominent player.  This could be either a teammate (Mark McGuire, Jose Canseco) or an opponent (Nolan Ryan).

This isn’t to say the book is all about that topic. It is a very good and complete look at Henderson’s life and baseball career.  It also has lighter moments, especially when talking about some of the legendary “Rickey being Rickey” stories, whether they are embellishments, legends, or the absolute truth.  These are especially enjoyable to read, such as the story about talking to John Olerud when both were teammates in Seattle when Rickey said that he had a teammate on the Mets who wore a batting helmet in the field like the Mariners’ Olerud did.  That teammate – John Olerud. 

The organization and structure are much like any standard sports biography, but that is about all that is ordinary about this book.  Readers who either enjoy sports biographies or Bryant’s work will want to pick up this one.  While it would be a stretch to call it as unique as Rickey Henderson, it is one that isn’t quite like other biographies – it is even better.

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


Thursday, March 17, 2022

Review of "Built to Lose"

A hot topic in sports today is "tanking" - purposely losing in order to improve a team's draft position in their respective sport.  While it is talked about in all the major sports, this book concentrates on basketball and the NBA and does a good job of teaching the reader the management and culture of those teams who have engaged in the practice.  Here is my review of "Built to Lose."

Title/Author: “Built to Lose: How the NBA’s Tanking Era Changed the League Forever” by Jake Fisher

Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:  In basketball, more than any other professional sport, one draft pick can make or break a team’s future success.  Therefore, draft picks, or more correctly, draft capital, are considered a very valuable commodity.  Because the NBA draft lottery does not guarantee that the worst teams will get the first pick, some teams may want to accumulate draft capital in addition to losing more games, known as “tanking”, in order to improve their draft position.  How this was done by some NBA franchises in the five year period between 2013 to 2018 is chronicled in this very good book by Jake Fisher.

Fisher conducted many interviews with players, coaches and team management personnel to collect the information and stories he uses throughout the book and it provides very good insight into the workings of those teams who sought to improve their draft capital.  While several teams are discussed in the book, the primary focus was on the Philadelphia 76ers and their “process”, as it was called, in obtaining draft capital at the expense of wins.  They came very close to breaking their own record for the worst full season but did get some valuable picks. 

Other teams include two that might surprise people – the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers.  While both of those storied franchises may not come to mind when the subject is tanking, they did fit the profile that Fisher gives to teams who may lose many games, trade veteran players for draft picks or realize that it may be more beneficial to try to gain draft capital instead of chasing a low playoff spot.  The results are mixed – the Celtics and Lakers did not take long to go back to their winning ways while others, such as the 76ers (on the rise, but not a champion yet) or the Minnesota Timberwolves (still struggling at the time of the book’s publication) have not seen the fruits of this type of management.

While the book is a good look at this type of management of a basketball franchise, the stories jump around and at times it’s hard to keep up with all the different names and stories being discussed.  Because of that, no one team’s experience is described fully.  Not even the 76ers’ story could be considered complete here.  There is another book on their process that is recommended if the reader wants to know more about them specifically – “Tanking to the Top” by Yaron Weitzman.  But if a reader wants to learn more about this type of management in a more general sense, this is good reference.


Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Review of "The Spencer Haywood Rule"

Spencer Haywood was one of the first basketball players I enjoyed watching as a kid learning the game and when I saw this book, I was interested.  It wasn't what I hoped it would be but it wasn't a bad read either.  Here is my review of "The Spencer Haywood Rule"

Title/Author: “The Spencer Haywood Rule: Battles, Basketball and the Making of an American Iconoclast” by Marc J. Spears and Gary Washburn

Rating: 3 of 5 stars (good)

Review:  It is isn’t often an athlete will have a certain rule or process named for him or her, but Spencer Haywood is one of those athletes.  After bucking the NBA’s rule for not allowing players who did not attend at least three years of college and playing in the rival ABA, the NBA changed and allowed players that young to compete.  The amended rule was known for a long time as the “Spencer Haywood Rule” and that is the title of this biography of Haywood by Marc J. Spears.

There are many aspects of Haywood’s life that even hardcore fans of that era of basketball in the 1970’s and early 1980’s will learn.  Not many realized that he was working picking cotton in Mississippi before going to Detroit and learning that his basketball skills will bring him farther than he dreamed.  It was also interesting to read about his time on the 1968 US Olympic basketball team and his perspective on the civil rights issues of the time.  It was clear from his commentary that despite the extra attention he received and the perks that come with his celebrity, he did not forget the struggles of not only his mother Eunice but all Black Americans. 

There are some parts of his commentary, however, that will not resonate with some readers.  His language is raw at times, as he is quoted frequently in the book no matter the topic or how he is talking. He does point out many people and even cities that he felt did him wrong, whether it concerned his basketball career, his drug use (which was a part of his basketball downfall) or his personal life.  It would be safe to say Haywood experienced many highs and lows – some of which were his doing, some of which were not.  This is his life and the way that he sees the circumstances that played out to make that life the way it was.  For that, no matter how it comes across, it is authentic and therefore worth the time to read.

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

Link: The Spencer Haywood Rule: Battles, Basketball, and the Making of an American Iconoclast eBook : Spears, Marc J., Washburn, Gary: Kindle Store

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Review of "Playmakers"

With NFL news being reported even during the off-season, it isn't a surprise that there will be a new NFL book released in March.  It promises to be a good one - here is my review of "Playmakers."  

Title/Author: “Playmakers: How the NFL Really Works (And Doesn’t) ” by Mike Florio

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: It feels like a week cannot go by without some type of news about the National Football League (NFL) being generated.  Most of the time, if the news is not about games or player accomplishments, it is usually some type of bad or controversial news.  Yet, the league and the sport are more popular and making more money than ever.  Mike Florio of takes a look at this seemingly contradictory phenomenon.

There isn’t an aspect about the league that Florio doesn’t cover. Whether it is the players – especially quarterbacks since they are the most important member of the team in today’s game – coaches, the draft, owners, social awareness, officials – you name it, Florio writes about it.  The chapters are all very short, but packed full of not only information but well-crafted opinion and explanations on those thoughts that are just as interesting as the writing about the game itself.

One example, without giving away too much of the segments on this topic, is Florio’s observation about the NFL draft.  He writes about the popularity of this event and how it is grown into an event that cities are bidding against each other to host.  But Florio also is against the draft because it restricts where a player can pursue his career, a restraint that just about every other person in most other careers do not face.  All of the chapters on the draft make for great reading, as does every other topic he covers.

The chapters themselves are all very short but they tie together into one good package for the topic at hand. This makes the book a very good one for readers who don’t have large segments of time to devote to a book – it can be read in small doses and one will not feel lost or have a hard time picking up where they left off.  It also reads well for fans of any level.  A casual fan will enjoy this book as much as a hard-core NFL fan – and neither fan will be either too confused by technical language or bored because it is too simplistic.  This is highly recommended for all readers of pro football books.

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


Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Review of "We Showed Baltimore"

Lacrosse is a sport I never paid much attention to until an indoor lacrosse team moved to our local area this past year.  I attended a game a couple months ago - and now I am hooked on the sport.  So, when I saw that a book on the Cornell University lacrosse program was available for review, I jumped on the chance and was even more excited when the request was approved.  Here is my review of "We Showed Baltimore"

Title/Author: “We Showed Baltimore: The Lacrosse Revolution of the 1970’s and Richie Moran’s Big Red” by Christian Swezey

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: Before the 1970’s, college lacrosse was dominated by five schools, collectively known as the “Big Five” – Army, Johns Hopkins, Maryland, Navy and Virginia. Cornell University’s program was getting better as the 1970’s approached and went through their 1970 season undefeated. At that time a team had to selected by writers to win the national championship.  Cornell did not gain the votes needed, which made their coaches, players and athletic department upset enough to call for a tournament.  This led to a very successful decade of lacrosse for Cornell and that decade is captured in this excellent book by Christian Swezey.

Swezey is a well-respected lacrosse writer – his knowledge and the depth of his research shines in this book that is best described as a history book of the Cornell lacrosse team for the decade of the 1970’s.  Just about any question or piece of information you would want to know about those squads can be found in these pages.  There is much information on the two coaches of that decade – Ned Harkness, who also coached the hockey team, and Richie Moran.  Harkness left after the undefeated 1970 season to take an NHL job, leaving the program to Moran.

That was a wise decision, as the book does a great job in describing Moran’s teams, his players and his coaching style for the decade.  The book never goes too deeply into personal lives, whether Moran or star players like Eamon McEneaney, Mike French and Tom Marino.  There are some sections which get very detailed, such the recruiting of McEneaney or even the description of what some of the players did in a hotel room before an NCAA tournament game (listing the Friday night TV programs they watched in the hotel room).  This does give the reader a decent look at the person being profiled.

Unlike many books about teams or athletes from different eras, there is not a lot of text about the social and political climate of the time.  Of course, since this is about a college sports team during the 1970’s there is some mention of the Vietnam war and the associated protests.  But that type of commentary is not often found in the book.  Instead, more is written about the sport of lacrosse and those changes, such as the introduction of plastic sticks, which were much easier for players to use and more affordable than the traditional wooden sticks.  This was an excellent way to introduce the reader to the changes that were occurring in the sport during the decade.

But the best writing by Swezey is when writing about the action on the field and associated actions that occurred, such as the switching of Cornell’s home field from natural grass to artificial turf to accommodate the training and practice regiments of Moran.  This led to better conditioned players for Cornell and combined with the outstanding skills of the players, Cornell ended up winning the NCAA championships three times in the decade – 1971, 1976 and 1977.  Their championship games, especially the 1977 one against Johns Hopkins, is great reading for detailed, on-field action. 

For any reader interested in the sport of lacrosse, whether a newcomer or a long-time fan or player, this book is one that must be added to their library. It doesn’t matter if the reader knows much about the history of Cornell lacrosse because it is such a great read about the sport itself that every person who likes the game will like the book.

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