Thursday, September 29, 2022

Review of "New Kids in the World Cup"

 Every current fan of MLS and the US Men's National team owes a debt of gratitude to the 1990 US team.  Without their stunning qualification for that year's World Cup, the current state of US soccer would not be possible.  This book is a great ride with that team through qualification and the tourney.  Here is my review of "New Kids in the World Cup". 

Title/Author: “New Kids in the World Cup: The Totally Late '80s and Early '90s Tale of the Team That Changed American Soccer Foreverby Adam Elder

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: When the United States men’s soccer team qualified for the 1990 World Cup, that was the first time in 40 years that they played in the tournament.  It was such a surprise that most people associated with the tourney and soccer felt that the United States would embarrass themselves and made many wonder why they were selected to host the next tourney in 1994.  The road that team took to Italia ’90 is described in this fun book by Adam Elder.

Those readers who were not following US men’s soccer (and that would be many) at the time may be amazed to learn how different the funding, salaries and everything else that goes along with it was at that time.  There was no Major League Soccer – or any professional league in the United States since the demise of the North American Soccer League in 1985.  The team was concerned that they would not be able to continue playing the game they love. At the time, there was serious concern there would not be a US soccer team.  In 1986, after failing to qualify for that year’s World Cup, the US team played only two official matches.  It was a dark period and Elder’s writing about that time helps set up the rest of the book, which was terrific.

When the US team defeated Trinidad and Tobago to qualify for the 1990 World Cup, it was the culmination of an adventure of a group of men who were unknown to most, including soccer fans and media in their own country, but coach Bob Gansler knew the talent and determination of guys like Tab Ramos, Bruce Murray, Tony Meola (who supplanted David Vanole as goalkeeper) and Michael Windicshmann.  Elder’s writing about these players included using their nicknames like “Windy” (Windischmann) and “Juice” (Murray) makes the reader feel like he or she knows them on a personal level.  The stories about their games and travels, especially those in Central America when the pressure was at its greatest, was mesmerizing and have many “can’t put it down” moments.

The story didn’t end with the qualification into the tournament, although it felt like that should have been the climax of the book.  The writing about the three games played by the US in group play was just as good, even though they lost all three games. It was the same play-by-play account that Elder wrote for the qualifying games and he included quotes from the television announcers. This makes it apparent that part of the research was watching the games as well as interviews and the usual research methods.  When one considers how different media was in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, this shows the author’s dedication.

The writing style isn’t all that typical and does read as more suited for readers of a certain age, but it’s just so darn fun to read. From naming each chapter for a popular song from that era to the liberal use of the player’s nicknames, Elder has written a book that any American reader who enjoys today’s version of soccer in the United States should read.  If it was not for this scrappy bunch of players, there would not be the current high salaries for the US men’s team, there would not be the wall-to-wall media coverage and there wouldn’t even be Major League Soccer without this 1990 team.

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

Link: New Kids in the World Cup: The Totally Late '80s and Early '90s Tale of the Team That Changed American Soccer Forever: Elder, Adam: 9781496229434: Books

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Review of "Bleeding Green"

While I cannot consider myself a fan of the Hartford Whalers, I do consider their logo to be the best one ever created in North American team sports.  Because many others have this same opinion, I wanted to pick up this book to see if I could learn more about why this team is still so popular.  It didn't quite help there, but it was a great source of information on the team.  Here is my review of "Bleeding Green".

Title/Author: “Bleeding Green” A History of the Hartford Whalers” by Christopher Price

Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: Even though the team has not been in existence for 25 years, the Hartford Whalers still bring back great memories for hockey fans. This may sound puzzling since the team only won one playoff series during their 18-year history in the National Hockey League (NHL). Their unique logo – a whale tail placed strategically above a “W” in green, blue and white – makes Whalers vintage hockey merchandise the best selling items for any seller in that market.  The history of the team, including their time as the New England Whalers in the World Hockey Association (WHA) is the topic of this book by Christopher Price.  

Readers who are looking for a detailed expose on why the Whalers are so fondly remembered and why their merchandise sells so well won’t find it in this book.  While Price does touch on that topic in the final chapter, the bulk of the book is a detailed history of the team both on and off the ice.  This is the case for not only their NHL years, in which the Whalers became and still remain the only professional sports team base in Connecticut, but also their mostly successful years in the WHA.

No matter which era is covered, Price does a very good job of informing the reader of their on-ice success (or lack thereof), the moves made by the front office and the business side of the team’s operations as well.  All three of these areas are covered in excellent detail.  This is especially true of the latter because those stories were the most colorful.  Part of this was due to the financial instability of the WHA – the Whalers were considered to be the most stable of the franchises in this league, but even they had issues, mainly due to needing to share the Boston Garden with the NHL’s Bruins.

There are many interesting aspects in the team’s history that seems to tug at the heart of Whalers fans.  These include the trades of popular players like Ron Francis and Mike Luit, the team’s goal song “Brass Bonanza” and even how the community pulled together when the roof of the Hartford Civic Center collapsed and the team temporarily played its home games in Springfield, Massachusetts. 

Those are just a few of the many aspects of the very interesting history of a hockey team that may not have enjoyed much success in the NHL (it should be noted that the Whalers won the first WHA championship in 1973 and faced the Winnipeg Jets in the finals in 1978) but certainly has won a place in the hearts of many hockey fans, especially those in Connecticut. This book is a very good source of information for the Whalers and is recommended for anyone who still has attachments, for whatever reason, to the team.    

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

Link: Bleeding Green: A History of the Hartford Whalers: Price, Christopher: 9781496222008: Books


Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Review of "Hockey's Hidden Gods"

As I always am intrigued by books on sports with which I am unfamiliar, this one on sled hockey, a game I only knew about from ads about the Paralympics, was one that I enjoyed and learned a lot about the game as well as this team that pulled off an upset about as big as the 1980 Olympic hockey team.  Here is my review of "Hockey's Hidden Gods"

Title/Author: “Hockey’s Hidden Gods: The Untold Story of a Paralympic Miracle on Ice” by S.C. Megale

Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: When one hears about a “Miracle on Ice” done by a hockey team from the United States, one immediately thinks of the 1980 Winter Olympic team that defeated the Soviet Union on the way to the gold medal.  However, there is another Olympic feat performed by a United States hockey team that could be considered a miracle in its own right.  That miracle, winning a gold medal in sled hockey in the 2002 Paralympic Games, is covered in this very good book by S.C. Megale

In 1998, sled hockey was introduced to the Paralympics and the United States had no team, no sled hockey program and no funding.  Thanks to some dedicated coaches and players, they started putting together the foundation of a team that would compete in 2002 – only because as the host nation of the games, the United States was granted an automatic berth into the tournament.

In only three years, from the formation of the United States Sled Hockey Association in 1999 to the start of the 2002 Paralympic Games, a lot of work was done in recruiting coaches and players plus getting the necessary funding and backing from USA Hockey. The coach of the team was a name familiar to hockey fans of a certain age – Rick Middleton who had a good NHL career with the Boston Bruins.  The star players of the sled hockey team, such as Sylvester Flis and Patrick Byrne, were certainly not as well-known but their contributions were just as important.

The book is roughly divided in half between player profiles and descriptions of the preparation and then the actual games of the 2002 Paralympics.  Just like the 1980 team, the 2002 had to defeat a very good team from a Scandinavian country as Norway was considered to have the best sled hockey team and that was the game that gave the United States the gold medal.  Megale’s writing on both the games and players is very good in easy-to-understand language for fans and non-fans alike.

It should also be noted that from the start, Megale did not write this book to have be inspirational to see what disabled athletes can accomplish or to have it be interpreted as a “feel-good” tale.  He lists three priorities for the topic of the book – hockey, history, heart.  He did a very good job of meeting this goal as the takeaway from this book will be that this team accomplished a terrific athletic feat against excellent competition in their chosen sport. 

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

Link: Hockey's Hidden Gods: The Untold Story of a Paralympic Miracle on Ice eBook : Megale, S. C.: Kindle Store

Monday, September 19, 2022

Review of "An Economist Goes to the Game"

In order to be interested in a book, I usually need more than just the title to pick it up.  However, this title was so different and so interesting that I took a chance and ended up liking this short and informative book. 


“An Economist Goes to the Game: How to Throw Away $580 Million and Other Surprising Insights from the Economics of Sports” by Paul Oyer


5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: There have been many books published about the business of sport – just about all sports – in various formats, but this one was very different and very informative.  Written in several short chapter on various sports topics, this book by Paul Oyer is not only one in which a reader will learn about a different line of thinking for economics and sports, but will also be entertained as well.

While I thought the entire book was good, the best part came at the beginning when Oyer explained how some of the action on the field of play comes from theories of economics.  His example of why Michael Jordan passed up the shot that would win the 1997 NBA championship for his Chicago Bulls and instead passed the ball to Steve Kerr who hit that shot is brilliant in how it ties economic thinking and the risk versus reward logic worked for that instant. Similar scenarios and different theories are sprinkled throughout the book.

However, the bulk of the stories are written about the topics that one would expect in a book on economics and sports – ticket sales and brokers, publicly financed stadiums, and why cities are not as excited to host the Olympic Games or the FIFA World Cup like they used to be.  Oyer writes about these topics in a manner that anyone who has an interest in either topic will enjoy but also in plain language without a lot of advanced vocabulary in either sports or economics.  This combination, plus the variety of topics addressed, made this a book that will be enjoyed by a wide variety of readers.

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

Link: An Economist Goes to the Game: How to Throw Away $580 Million and Other Surprising Insights from the Economics of Sports: 9780300218244: Oyer, Paul: Books

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Review of "Intentional Balk"

With so much talk in the media about "cheating" in baseball, whether it was the Houston Astros sign stealing scandal to the recent denial of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens into the Hall of Fame due to allegations of steroid use, there is no lack of material for a book on cheating in the game.  This book covers just about every type of rule-bending in the game.  Here is my review of "Intentional Balk."


“Intentional Balk: Baseball’s Thin Line Between Innovation and Cheating” by Daniel R. Levitt and Mark Armour


4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: As any baseball fan knows, cheating has been part of the game for as long as the game has been played.  No matter how one will define “cheating” – anything from breaking rules specifically documented in a rule book to some that are more vague and left for interpretation – its history in the game is quite interesting.  This book by Daniel Levitt and Mark Armour explores the history of cheating in various forms and by various people in different roles.

One of the best aspects of this book for me was the authors’ detailed explanation in various chapters of why some people would get a pass for certain actions while others who may have committed the same or similar actions, most likely in a different era, were punished or scorned by the media and fans.  An example that would be familiar to everyone would be the “steroid” era when some players decided to use performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) to improve their statistics compared to the use of substances in other eras such as amphetamines.  The authors paint detailed stories of players using these drugs during both (and earlier) eras, but do note how earlier players, such as Pud Galvin, do not receive the same scrutiny as players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

This type of comparison is not limited to players who have been suspected of cheating.  Owners and general managers are also included in this book and their actions may surprise some readers that they may have been considered cheating.  Take Branch Rickey – he and several other owners at the time stashed players away instead of paying clubs for acquiring them from minor league teams, as was normal procedure in the early 20th century.  So Rickey developed the farm system where specific minor league teams would develop players for the affiliated major league club – in Rickey’s case, the St. Louis Cardinals.  This was considered “cheating” as it was against the rules, but unlike players, Rickey and others who developed this system get a pass and are credited as innovators.

These are just two examples of the manner in which Levitt and Armour write about the various forms of cheating – or innovation if you prefer – and nearly every type of rule infraction one can think of is included.  Sign stealing – from telescopes to the trash can banging by the Houston Astros is one.  So are foreign substances, corked bats, equipment alterations – it’s all there and makes for interesting reading. It should also be noted that the authors do a good job of staying neutral for the most part and not condemning or forgiving most of the people portrayed, instead choosing to simply report.

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


Link: Intentional Balk: Baseball's Thin Line Between Innovation and Cheating: Levitt, Daniel, Armour, Mark: 9798985263268: Books

Monday, September 12, 2022

Review of "Lords of the Gridiron II"

With the start of another NFL season, it is only appropriate to review a pro football book.  This one can be considered a sequel to an earlier book, but unlike most movie sequels, this one about the ranking of pro football coaches is just as good as its predecessor ranking college football coaches.  Here is my review of "Lords of the Gridiron II"



“Lords of the Gridiron II: Pro Football's Greatest Coaches” by Matthew DiBiase


5 of 5 stars (outstanding)


While conversations about the greatest in professional football usually revolve around quarterbacks, an equally lively conversation can take place about the greatest pro football coaches. Author Matthew DiBiase answered this question about college football coaches in 2019 with his book on the 50 greatest coaches in college football history and he has followed it up with an equally great book to answer that for the professional ranks.

The formulas DiBiase used for his college football book are similar to those used in this book.  The biggest differences, as one would imagine, is in postseason success where playoffs are where a coach builds his record for championship success or failure instead  of the bowl games in college football. The formula also takes into consideration the many changes in pro football and also other leagues such as the AAFC and AFL.  DiBiase developed an intricate formula to account for a coach's successes and failures such as conference and national championships, bowl records and overall season records.  It is important to note that his rating systems, of which there are several, takes several different factors into consideration so that coaches from all eras of the sport get a fair shot.

As for the actual rankings, like with his previous books (in addition to football coaches, he has published similar books ranking hockey coaches and general managers), DiBiase starts at #1 and works his way through the top 50.  All top 50 coaches have their accomplishments listed at the top of their chapters, followed by an excellent short biography or memoir, based off not only extensive research but from interviews with players, colleagues, family members or the coaches themselves. It doesn't matter how the information was gathered or which coach is being portrayed, each chapter is full of good information and entertaining stories.

Coaches from all eras are honored as one of the top 50 and it doesn't matter when the coach did his trade, DiBiase gives each one of them about the same amount of writing and that is especially noteworthy since, of course, it would be more difficult to capture some of this information on coaches from the earlier decades of college football. The chapters on some of these coaches such as Potsy Clark, Jimmy Conzelman and Earle “Greasy” Neale  were just as enjoyable to read as were those about current coaches such as Bill Belichick and Andy Reid.  This reviewer, a Minnesota Vikings fan, was especially grateful to be able to read quite a bit about Bud Grant and Dennis Green.

One last note about the book is that the system DiBiase uses to rank these coaches will produce surprises – most of these surprises will be that some of the most legendary names in the history of the game will rank lower than many will expect.  Whether a coach is ranked #1, #50 or somewhere in between, the author will give a through and detailed explanation why before sharing the stories about that coach and that information is very useful.

Pro football fans of all ages, team loyalties and level of interest will want to read this book.  While it can be used as a reference book and also is one that can be read in small doses at a time, it can also be a page turner that will be hard to put down, as was the case for this reviewer.  After reading this book and his book on college football coaches of equally high quality, a reader should be eagerly anticipating the next book from this author.  

Link: Lords of the Gridiron II: Pro Football's Greatest Coaches: DiBiase, Matthew Heavener: 9798804066995: Books

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Review of "Path Lit by Lightning"

As a legendary figure in American athletics, Jim Thorpe has had many stories told about him, some of mythological proportions.  This book not only sets them straight but also gives a lot of insight into his complex life.  Here is my review of "Path Lit by Lightning"

Title/Author: “Path Lit by Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe” by David Maraniss

Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: Jim Thorpe was unquestionably the greatest male American athlete in the first half of the 20th century. Having achieved success in both college and professional football as well as baseball and track and field, his life and career would seem to be one filled with glory.  Sadly, that was not the case and this very good biography written by David Maraniss brings Thorpe’s life into focus complete with the many downfalls into the myths around the Sac and Fox indigenous American.

Having read Maraniss’s excellent biography on Roberto Clemente, I expected more of the same in this book. Many sections lived up to that expectation, especially when it came to describing Thorpe’s baseball career.  This was of particular interest for me since it was his participation in the lower levels of professional baseball that led to Thorpe being stripped of his gold medals for track and field in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden.  Maraniss’s writing on the part of the Games’ officials to ensure that the amateurism of the games remained was both brilliant and maddening as was the description of the responses by the football coach of the Carlisle School, Pop Warner. 

Other parts of the book that deserve special mention for their excellent writing and research were those on the Carlisle School, where Thorpe and other Native Americans were being taught how to live in the America that was being shaped by white leaders.  It did not make for happy reading, nor did the sections on Thorpe’s personal struggles with alcoholism.  Also troubling for Thorpe was trying to hold his marriage together with his first wife and their children.  While life for any professional athlete’s family is hard, Thorpe’s life of playing both professional baseball and football made it even harder on that family.  Especially for baseball, where Thorpe was often released from a team before the family had a chance to settle.

The writing on his athletic career mirrors how Maraniss covered every other aspect of the book – very detailed and mostly informative, but at times it felt bogged down in too much detail. This was also the feeling I had while reading of the many injustices suffered by Thorpe and others at Carlisle.  It needed to be told but at times it felt like just too much after understanding what was being said. This is not to say that it was bad, but just that the message came across easily without extra minutia.

Even at this length, this is a book that is certainly worth the time to read if one has any interest in Thorpe, the history behind his loss of his Olympic winnings or even the treatment of Native Americans at that point in American history.  Just be prepared to spend a lot of time with the book.

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



Friday, September 2, 2022

Review of "Curveball at the Crossroads"

 Sometimes persistence can pay off for more than one person.  The author of this baseball novel, Michael Lortz, sent me a review copy several months ago and admittedly I had forgotten about it.  Mr. Lortz reminded me of the book on more than one occasion and I finally got around to reading it.  That turned out to be a wise choice, and I am happy to say that I enjoyed it.  Here is my review of "Curveball at the Crossroads"

Title/Author: “Curveball at the Crossroads” by Michael Lortz

Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:  Baseball fans can probably name many players who were great for a year or two, then because of injury or ineffectiveness became forgotten as quickly as they became household names – Mark Fidrych and Joe Charboneau just to name two.  Michael Lortz has written a novel about a fictional pitcher JaMark Reliford, who became one.  But not for the reasons that real ballplayers suffered from that indignity. Instead, after JaMark suffered an injury in high school baseball and hit “rock bottom”, he made a deal with the Devil that made him a star, but also had its consequences.

This story was an enjoyable read for a few reasons. One is that Lortz developed his characters well, especially JaMark, his love Betsy, JaMark’s Uncle Rufus and Inga, the old woman who Uncle Rufus said was the only one who could help JaMark.  All of them are people with whom the reader can relate, even if the reader was never a major league pitcher, an awesome Southern cook or someone who had trouble staying out of jail.

Another part is the baseball scenes. While some of the play will most likely never happen in real life, they are fun to read.  Two examples – JaMark pitches a minor league game in which he strikes out all 27 batters on 81 pitches – nine “immaculate innings.”  Another is pitching seven innings in the MLB All-Star game – that will never happen when it's an exhibition game to show off all the stars.  But for the actual games, with the thinking by JaMark during his pitching and the description of both good and bad outings for him, a baseball fan will enjoy the realistic description.

The last characteristic of the book I liked was how Lortz’s story had a lot of elements of good baseball movies and stories woven together.  He clearly didn’t steal anything from them, but if a reader has seen any of these baseball movies, then they will see how JaMark or others are just like some of the people in scenes of these movies: “The Scout” (where I remembered the above mentioned perfect game), “Rookie of the Year”, “Field of Dreams” and “Major League.”  This is not to say that one had to see those movies to enjoy the book, but fans of them will look at parts of this story and remember them.  Not to mention I kept hearing the song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” throughout the story – even though it takes place in Mississippi.

The story of JaMark Reliford is an engrossing tale that one doesn’t need to be a baseball fan to enjoy, but those who love the sport will want to read this if they enjoy baseball fiction.

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