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: 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: 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 (

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: 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: 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: The Duke: The Life and Lies of Tommy Morrison eBook : Acevedo, Carlos: Kindle Store