Thursday, July 28, 2022

Review of "We Are the Troopers"

While not many people, including myself, will recognize the team name "Toledo Troopers", some may recall their best player, as I do, Linda Jefferson. More than just a competitor on the 1970's sports program "The Superstars", Jefferson was a fantastic football player on a team that was one of the most dominant in its sport.  Here is my review of a book that gives this team its due.


Title/Author: “We Are the Troopers: The Women of the Winningest Team in Pro Football History” by Stephen Guinan

Rating:  4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: In the 1972-73 season, there were two professional football teams who went undefeated.  One is very familiar to sports fans, the Miami Dolphins who remain the only NFL team to do so in the Super Bowl era.  The other one is one that may not be as familiar – the Toledo Troopers. They played in the Women’s Professional Football League (WPFL) and while the league only lasted a few short years and didn’t gain the popularity of the men’s version, those who were a part of the Troopers felt a lasting impression. The stories of some of those people are captured in this book by Stephen Guinan.

There has been a book published on the history of the WPFL and this one covers some of that history.  That includes the vision of Sid Friedman who saw potential viability for women’s football given the social climate of the time when the Equal Rights Amendment was passed by Congress and more exposure and compensation was available for female athletes.  This was also an era when more professional sports leagues were formed in men’s football, hockey, and basketball. Given all these, Friedman saw a possible windfall.

However, the Troopers already existed at the time the WPFL started (1974) as there were several professional women’s football teams loosely organized. The success of the Troopers made them the premier franchise of the league and amazingly, during their existence between 1972 and 1979, they lost only 4 games and won or shared 7 professional championships. This was recognized in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well, calling the Troopers the “winningest team in the history of professional football.”

It was a combination of coaching and talented players that gave the Troopers this stellar record and those people are the strength of this book.  The best profiles are those of coach Bill Stout and the most accomplished athlete to wear a Trooper uniform, Linda Jefferson.  Jefferson’s story is very noteworthy in that not only was she a star for the Troopers, but she was also honored as the female athlete of the year in 1975 by women’s Sports, a magazine published by tennis legend Billie Jean King. Other players for the Troopers such as quarterback Lee Hollar and Beverly Severance get their due as well as coach Carl Hamilton.  There are many aspects to their stories, especially Stout and Jefferson, that a reader will learn much about them. 

For serious football fans, there is a lot of game action in the book, especially of important playoff and championship games.  At times, it reads like a play-by-play recap book and while good, it is not the best aspect of this book.  That is reserved for the personal stories and just finally giving the Toledo Troopers the recognition and respect they richly deserve. 

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

Link: We Are the Troopers: The Women of the Winningest Team in Pro Football History eBook : Guinan, Stephen: Kindle Store


Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Review of "Phil"

Like him or loathe him, anyone who follows golf knows about Phil Mickelson, both the good and the bad.  He is probably the most popular and polarizing golfer this side of Tiger Woods and this biography is one that should be read by all golf fans.  Here is my review of "Phil"

Title/Author: “Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar” written and narrated by Alan Shipnick

Rating:  5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:  Phil Mickelson is one of the most popular golfers in the game’s long history.  He drew many fans that would follow him at every tournament he entered, and his success has nearly equaled his popularity. He has won 45 tournaments, including 6 majors after a wildly successful college career at Arizona State.  His complete story, including his recent entry into the new LIV tour, is told in this book by award-winning golf writer Alan Shipnick, who also narrates the audio version. 

If a reader wants personal stories, especially from friends and family, they are present.  There are not a lot of them after Mickelson turned pro, but they are present throughout the book. The best ones and most entertaining are those about his time at Arizona State, especially from his teammates.  When listening to them, they seemed a lot like the Phil Mickelson a fan sees on the course – outgoing, smiling, joking – in short, just having fun.  Even when he was a killer on the course, given his college record.

If one wants to read about Mickelson’s best moments on the course, especially in the majors where he has experienced both triumph and frustration (especially in the US Open, where he has finished second six times, the only major he has not won), those are present as well.  The shot-by-shot descriptions are evidence of Shipnick’s experience in this type of writing.  Both Phil and his wife Amy are portrayed fairly and mostly positively.

“Mostly” was used because in Phil’s case, his many controversies are covered as well and they are not used to portray him in a negative light.  Just like his successful majors, any controversy one may remember about Phil is covered – the infamous press conference after the 2014 Ryder Cup, the investigation into insider trading he did to pay off gambling debts and the most recent, the LIV tour.  Whether it is these or the lighter moments, Shipnick portrays Phil as a very complex individual which is more than fair. While listening, if Shipnick was making any judgements, they were not apparent and that is one of the best aspects of this book. 

Shipnick does include himself in the book, including the opening story, but not overly so and does not make those parts about him, but instead how they relate to Phil’s story – a story that no matter how one feels about him, any golf fan will enjoy reading. 

Link:  Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized!) Biography of Golf's Most Colorful Superstar: Shipnuck, Alan: 9781476797090: Books


Thursday, July 21, 2022

Review of "This Is Our City"

No matter which of the four major professional league one follows, it is clear that Boston has been the city with the most success in those leagues.  This book by a popular sports radio host in the city does a very good job of describing why that has happened.  Here is my review of "This Is Our City."


Title/Author: “This is Our City: Four Teams, Twelve Championships and how Boston Became the Most Dominant Sports Citty” by Tony Massarotti

Rating:  4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:  Since the beginning of the 21st century, sports fans in New England, and specifically Boston, have been blessed with excellence by the city’s professional sports teams in all four of the major sports.  Between the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics, they have won 12 championships, made an additional six appearances in their respective sport’s championship game or series, and won over the hearts and minds of nearly every Bostonian.  How each of these teams achieved this lofty status is covered in this book by Boston sports radio host Tony Massarotti.

As one might expect, the Patriots are the team that dominate the book, and it is their improbable victory over the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI that Massarotti uses as the start of the Boston dominance of professional sports.  While the Patriots would certainly earn the distinction of getting the most text in this book with their six Super Bowl wins, each of the other three teams certainly gets a fair share of coverage as well.  Even though the Celtics and Bruins each won only one title during the time frame covered by the book, the coverage of those two teams was very fair and complimentary.  This is especially true for the Bruins, who, per the book, have won the fourth most games in the NHL during that time frame despite taking home only one Stanley Cup.

One surprising aspect of the book, given its title and occasional smug tone (totally justified with the teams’ records) was that the struggles of the teams were covered in detail as well as the triumphs. A great example of this was the implosion of the 2011 Red Sox in missing the postseason amid controversy over the actions of players in the clubhouse and the subsequent departures of field manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein.  While most sports fans know the details, Massarotti’s writing brings a different perspective into the stories.  The same goes for other shortcomings such as when the Bruins blew a 3 games to none lead against the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010, the two Super Bowl losses to the Giants by the Patriots and how the Celtics went quickly from riches to rags to riches to rags and riches yet again. That is not uncommon in the NBA, and explaining that is one reason I felt Massarotti was very fair in his coverage of all four teams when describing the times they did not win championships.  

For fans who want to learn more about the recent accounts of the teams, here the book falls a little short, at least when comparing them to the early accounts.  For example, there was surprisingly a shorter write up about the incredible comeback by the Patriots in Super Bowl LI, at least compared to their earlier wins.  Same goes for the Red Sox and their 2018 World Series victory – this section was very short when compared to the 2004 and 2013 wins. This is not to say that a reader won’t learn more about that time frame for all 4 teams – indeed, there’s a good write up on the 2019 Bruins when they lost the Stanley Cup Final to the St. Louis Blues – but it just isn’t quite as complete as the earlier chapters.

Overall, this is a decent book for readers who want to learn more about the Boston dominance in the last 20 years of professional sports.  Be prepared for a little bragging and a little possible arrogance, but it is a great look at the professional sports scene in that city.

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

Link:  This Is Our City: Four Teams, Twelve Championships, and How Boston Became the Most Dominant Sports City in the World: Massarotti, Tony: 9781419753589: Books

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Review of "Intimate Warfare"

 It's always a good idea to peruse library shelves, either in person or online, when searching for a book.  I had no idea there was a book published about the legendary fights between Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti, but lo and behold, when I checked the online catalog of the New York Public Library, I found one.  It was just as good as the fights - which I will now have to watch again.  Here is my review of "Intimate Warfare."

Title/Author: “Intimate Warfare: The True Story of the Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward Boxing Trilogy” by Dennis Taylor and John R. Raspanti

Rating:  5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:  Boxing has had many pairs of fighters linked together throughout its history at all weight levels – Ali-Frazier, Louis-Schmeling, Tyson-Holyfield and so many more.  One of the most memorable pairings came in the light welterweight class between Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti as they met in three memorable fights.  Their lives and their fights are captured in this excellent book by Dennis Taylor and John R. Raspanti.

The depth of research and number of interviews conducted are evident in the chapters describing each man’s boxing career leading up to the first fight in May 2002.  Ward’s life and career was a hardscrabble one in Lowell, Massachusetts with many ups and downs. Because he was not getting high-paying bouts, he worked in construction and a freak accident on the job nearly ended his career. 

Gatti’s career was a little more straightforward with some big paydays and even a title in the super featherweight division in 1995.  As he moved up in weight classes fights became more difficult, such as a loss to Oscar de la Hoya.  By 2002, he was struggling to find an attractive matchup and agreed to the fight with Ward.

It is here that the book switches from biography to a blow-by-blow account of each fight, almost literally.  Even though it has been 20 years since that first fight and I have seen all three of them on YouTube or other sites, it was still quite mesmerizing to read about each of the three fights through the words of Taylor and Raspanti. They not only describe the action inside the ring thoroughly, but they also capture the heart of both fighters and the deep respect they had for each other.  This respect is best illustrated by this line from the book: “In the case of Gatti-Ward, there was no smack talk. There were no taunts. The affection between the two men was obvious. It was all about respect.”

By the end of the first fight (won by Ward in a majority decision) it was clear that they were going to fight again and both of the other two fights (won by Gatti, the second in a majority decision, the third unanimous) were just as memorable.  The first and third fights were deemed the “Fight of the Year” by Ring Magazine in 2002 and 2003 respectively and the book vividly explains why.

Their lives after the trilogy is not as extensively covered, but still enough that the reader will get a good look at how they lived after boxing.  In the case of Gatti, who died in 2009 under mysterious circumstances despite the official cause of death being listed as suicide, there is a fair look at all the questions surrounding his demise with quotes from many people close to him, including his wife Amanda who was cleared of any murder charges. 

Boxing is a sport in which I love to read about and books like this one are why. This passage is a perfect explanation for this love of the sport for not only me but for any fan, fighter, or anyone else involved.  “Ward had summed up what makes boxing a mesmerizing sport: Two fighters, on a collision course, have total faith in their own abilities and – even more important – their own will to win.  Each believes he possesses a bottomless well of determination that, when it is needed, will be there – and be enough – when he needs it. Both have tortured themselves in training camp for weeks – sometimes months – to prepare for this specific opponent.  Both have been honed to a razor-sharp mental edge by a team of trusted boxing experts.  Neither believes he will lose the fight, yet one of them will.”

Link: Intimate Warfare: The True Story of the Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward Boxing Trilogy: 9781442273054: Taylor, Dennis, Raspanti, John J.: Books

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Review of "Comeback Pitchers"

When I obtained this book, I had to admit that I knew very little about the two pitchers who are the subjects.  One, I vaguely remembered reading about in a children's baseball book and the other I thought I remembered hearing when one of his records was broken 10 years ago.  Turned out what I remembered about them was correct, and by reading this book, I learned a lot more about both men and their pitching careers.  Here is my review of "Comeback Pitchers." 

Title/Author: “Comeback Pitchers: The Remarkable Careers of Howard Ehmke and Jack Quinn” by Lyle Spatz and Steve Steinberg

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:  Athletes in every sport will hear from others that when their performance or their health is slipping that it is time to give up the sport.  For two pitchers whose best years came in the 1920’s, Howard Ehmke and Jack Quinn, they were no different.  However, what was different is how at an advanced age for a pitcher they both were able to not only lengthen their baseball careers, but also perform at a high level.  Their careers and stories are chronicled in this excellent book by Lyle Spatz and Steve Steinberg.

There are some similarities in their careers.  They both played in the Federal League, a third major league that lasted only three years, 1913-15.  It was Ehmke’s breakthrough after much success in the minor leagues, while for Quinn it was a chance to make more money when he felt that his current team, the Boston Braves, were not giving him enough chances to pitch. They were also teammates for two and a half seasons on the Boston Red Sox (who were not a good team at the time) and later for the Philadelphia Athletics under Connie Mack.

It was here that Ehmke acquired the fame that he was long remembered for – in 1929, he was a “surprise” starter for the Athletics in Game One of the World Series against the Chicago Cubs.  The chapter on this game and the actual events and conversations that led up to the game is one example of the excellence of this book. Spatz and Steinberg dispel many myths about the game, starting with the “surprise” announcement of Ehmke as the starter.  He and Mack had actually worked out an agreement in which while it wasn’t certain that Ehmke would start game one, he was certainly going to be part of the A’s World Series team and contribute.  There are numerous quotes and sources about Ehmke’s start that support the notion that it was not a complete surprise to many in baseball.

This, of course, is not all that is written about Ehmke in the book as the authors included such items as Ehmke’s frequent clashes with Ty Cobb when Ehmke pitched for the Tigers, Ehmke’s very good performance for a terrible Red Sox team and his elation that despite all the health issues he suffered, he was able to be on a championship team in 1929. 

Similar extensive writing and research was done on Quinn as well, but his fame was due more to his longevity instead of any one particular accomplishment. There are three noteworthy records he held for a long time because of his longevity.  One that still stands is that he was only one of three pitchers to appear in a game at age 50 or older.  The other two have since been broken – the oldest player to hit a home run (broken by Julio Franco in 2016) and oldest pitcher to win a game (broken by Jamie Moyer in 2012).  Quinn’s career is covered just as extensively as Ehmke in the book, with detailed pages on his success with many different teams.  It should also be noted that Quinn was one of the last spitball pitchers as those pitchers who used it as their primary pitch were allowed to continue using it after it was banned in Major League baseball in 1920.  That meant he was still throwing the spitter for another 13 years. 

While neither pitcher was ever considered outstanding or had a career that would be considered for the baseball Hall of Fame, this book is one that certainly could be considered to be in that lofty status of baseball books, it was that good.  Because of the detail, it is not one that will be read quickly, but it is so through that a reader will feel like they will now be an expert on the careers of Howard Ehmke and Jack Quinn, two pitchers who certainly can be considered as “comeback pitchers.”

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

Links: Comeback Pitchers: The Remarkable Careers of Howard Ehmke and Jack Quinn: 9781496222022: Spatz, Lyle, Steinberg, Steve, Williams, Pat: Books

Monday, July 4, 2022

Review of "The Hot Seat"

Normally, I'll only post one review per day, but during this holiday weekend, I had the chance to not only take part in my usual weekend games (basketball and golf) and watch some baseball, but I also finished two books.  This one is the second of the two, and it is a good look at college football from the eyes of a Michigan fan.  Here is my review of "The Hot Seat." 

 Title/Author: “The Hot Seat: A Year of Outrage, Pride and Occasional Games of College Football” by Ben Mathis-Lilley

Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:  To a person who is from another nation, American college football must be a very different sport.  There are many different aspects that a visitor may not understand, such as the tailgating, the fever that so many have for a particular school, the recruiting and the concept of a “student-athlete” representing their school. These may make one, even college football fans, wonder why so many people are so enthralled with the sport.  Slate writer Ben Mathis-Lilley makes an attempt to describe this game that is all-consuming for many fans.

He accomplishes the goal by writing about different viewpoints on why people would be so invested in the sport while he himself interrupts this analysis by writing about his own rooting interest, the University of Michigan Wolverines and their head coach Jim Harbaugh.  The title of the book, and the cover, would make one think that it is only about Michigan and the calls for Harbaugh’s ouster, hence he was on the “hot seat.” This came after the 2020 college season in which Michigan went “only” 9-3, which for that fan base is unacceptable.  Add in the fact that as the 2021 season started, a Harbaugh-coached Wolverines team had yet to defeat its arch rival, Ohio State, and you have some very upset Michigan fans and alumni.

Going beyond just the football, Mathis-Lilley looks for connections between college football fans and other disciplines to learn more about their behavior.  He interviews several people in those disciplines and analyzes their connections in topics like politics (he does show his political leanings but is fair to all political shades), psychology and even visiting other colleges to see what their coaches and fan bases do.  The two schools he writes most about aside from Michigan are Louisiana State University and Florida Atlantic University. The contrasts between the two are stark, and as one might expect, Michigan would be closer to the LSU experience because both schools have a history of success in the sport, but they are still very different.  Their coach, Ed Orgeron, also had his share of controversy and time in the “hot seat” but again, a very different circumstance.

Of course, the book follows Michigan’s mostly successful 2021 campaign, which included that long-sought win over Ohio State for Harbaugh, a Big Ten championship and playing in the College Football Playoff for the first time in school history.  Mathis-Lilley writes more about his observations of fans, himself and others online, more than the games, but the reader will still get a good amount of information on the team and season.  It is just not a pure recap of the season, as that is not what the book is about.

College football fans, no matter their region or their favorite team, will enjoy this unique look at the game, the fans, and the issues surrounding the sport now.  It is at times, funny, serious, reflective and even controversial, which makes it have a little bit of spice for everyone. It may be a little hard to follow and will take careful reading, but if a reader does that, they will walk away with a better understanding of how the sport reflects its fans and vice versa.

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

Links: The Hot Seat: A Year of Outrage, Pride, and Occasional Games of College Football eBook : Mathis-Lilley, Ben: Kindle Store

Review of "Doping"

Happy Independence Day to those in the United States who are celebrating today.  It feels ironic to be posting a review about a sports book that is international and not US-centric today.  This book on doping and PED use in international competition is one of the better books I have read so far in 2022 - and sorry, there is only a very brief mention of baseball in it.  Here is my review of "Doping." 

Title/Author: “Doping: A Sporting History” by April Henning and Paul Dimeo

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:  The use of various types of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) in various sports is not a relative new phenomenon.  Methods of doing so have been around about has long as the modern Olympic games, which started in 1896.  This book by April Henning and Paul Dimeo takes a complete look at this issue from many different angles.

One of the most striking features of the book is that while it is a scholarly work in which they present theories and possible resolutions, the language and format is very easy to follow and a reader will notice that aside from the scientific names of some of the drugs, it is written in plain language.  That will help the non-scholarly reader to comprehend and absorb the points the authors are making.

The variety of sports is far-reaching and international.  While much of the international competition in which the authors describe are the Olympic Games (both Summer and Winter) there are other international competitions included as well.  This is especially true for two sports that internationally have been ripe with drug issues, track and field and cycling. There is an entire chapter devoted to Ben Johnson’s disqualification from the 1988 Olympics, for example. 

There is also extensive research and text on the use of PEDs in communist nations during the Cold War era.  Most notably, that of East Germany, whose athletes would regularly earn more medals than the United States despite having a significantly smaller population. The stories of their athletes requiring the use of these drugs or else they could not compete were compelling.

Although their work on the use of PEDs was very good, the criticism and suggested solutions of the enforcing agencies, current the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) made the book one that was hard to put down.  Just about any critical idea one can think of for these enforcers was included.  The determination of what was a PED and the science behind these decisions was questioned at times. This included things like banning cold medicines that were taken for illness but resulted in an athlete’s disqualification because it contained trace amounts of a banned substance. The lack of communication of what these banned substances would be and what products would contain them was criticized by the authors, as were the punishments as individual athletes would suffer from draconian measures. These included  bans from competition or awards taken away while larger organizations and nations would either receive light warnings or even nothing at all. The authors then conclude the book on their suggestions on how to right this matter, striking a balance between fair enforcement and keeping the competition fair for all.

From the first Olympic games to the 2016 scandal that plagued the team from Russian, this book is a wonderful and complete look at the use of various drugs and other scientific advancements to improve the performance of various athletes.  No matter one’s sports interest or interest in this topic, it is a book that is well worth the time to read.  

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

Links: Doping: A Sporting History eBook : Henning, April, Dimeo, Paul: Kindle Store