Monday, October 31, 2022

Review of "The Last Folk Hero"

Jeff Pearlman came on my radar a few years ago with his excellent book on the history of the first edition of United States Football League.  That made me want to read more of his books and while I have read a few of his earlier works, this is his most recent and so far one of his best.  Here is my review of his book on Bo Jackson, "The Last Folk Hero." 


“The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson” by Jeff Pearlman


5 of 5 stars (excellent)


Whenever an athlete can compete at the highest level in two (or more) sports, it is a very noteworthy accomplishment.  When that athlete can do certain feats that even most stars in that particular sport only dream of accomplishing, that is when stories of incredible feats are told and passed down through the years.  Vincent “Bo” Jackson is one of those athletes in which this was accomplished, and his story is told in this excellent book by Jeff Pearlman 

Pearlman has made a very good career on writing sports biographies of famous athletes who may have a flaw or two, but has had either outstanding success in their sport, some great stories to share, a compelling story on the way to fame or, in Jackson’s case, a bit of all three traits.  The “great stories” are feats of amazing athleticism by Jackson shared by those who have claimed to have seen them.  This goes from his youth to high school sports (track and field as well as baseball and football) to college sports at Auburn (again, all three, although his fame there was for football) to the professional ranks.  Because many of these stories have a “you have to see it to believe it” aura, that was the inspiration for the title which is very appropriate.

The book also does an excellent job of portraying Jackson’s life and personality without the benefit of input directly from him.  Pearlman does write that he did contact Jackson about the project and certainly wanted to talk to him, but Jackson declined.  However, he did not give Pearlman any objections to writing the book, so the author went ahead and between his research and over 700 interviews, he ended up with a very entertaining and detailed book.

Among these details are plenty of discussion about Jackson’s accomplishments at Auburn, the NFL with the Los Angeles Raiders and in major league baseball, primarily with the Kansas City Royals, but he also spent some time with the Chicago White Sox and California Angels.  He suffered a devastating hip injury that required a hip replacement and given the medical knowledge at the time, it was considered a near-miracle that he was able to resume his baseball career (his football career was not resurrected) with the White Sox.  Mainly because his football career, especially with the Raiders, was shortened due to the injury, more of the sports accomplishments described are in baseball.  That doesn’t diminish either the writing about nor the stories telling about Jackson’s feats in that sport as well as track and field.

There is plenty of text about Bo off the field as well.  Of course, the “Bo Knows” campaign by Nike is covered and that is quite entertaining as well as informative.  The feeling of Bo being used for business purposes is not unique to him, but his views (as told by others such as teammates or friends) about team owners such as Hugh Culverhouse of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Ewing Kaufman of the Royals was very interesting.  Jackson’s personality also makes for interesting reading.  The easiest way to describe it would be complex as many people of all types of relationships with him have stories to share and they range from him getting very angry at people for seemingly minor issue to being very generous to strangers with his time, money or both.  Something that is very consistent, however, is his dedication to family.  This is true for both his mother and later with his wife and children.  He vowed to ensure that his children did not grow up with an absent father like he did and he is keeping that promise, at least according to those who spoke to Pearlman.

This is a complete book on the man that is all the more remarkable when one considers none of this information came from Jackson himself.  Any reader who “knows Bo”, no matter if it is from sports, TV commercials or some other means, will find this book one that will be hard to put down and well worth the time to read.

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

Link: The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson: Pearlman, Jeff: 9780358437673: Books


Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Guest post - “The NBA in Black and White”

 While this book has been on my radar, I received a request to post this review on my blog and frankly, I know I would not have done this as well as Syl did, so I will simply post the review and let you enjoy.  

Book Review: Ray Scott’s The NBA in Black and White

A Memoir, a Tribute to Black Trailblazers, and a Lesson in Race 

By Syl Sobel


Today’s basketball stars often acknowledge that they stand on the shoulders of African American players who came before them. They credit stars of the 1960s and ‘70s like Elgin Baylor, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, and Wilt Chamberlainfor building the foundation for today’s game and opening doors for Black athletes.  

But what about the generation of Black players before them, the groundbreakers of the 1950s who cleared a path for African-Americans in the NBA? Men like Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, and Sweetwater Clifton who broke the league’s color barrierin 1951? Or pioneers who came after them like Hank DeZonie, Don Barksdale, Ray Felix, Jim Tucker, and the great Maurice Stokes, who labored in the trenchesat a time when the NBA had an unwritten quota on African Americans and expected them to rebound, play defense, and run the floor, but not score or overshadow the white stars?

Thanks to Ray Scott, former great NBA and ABA player and coach and a member of the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame, today’s players and fans now have a chance to remember players the NBA forgot. In The NBA in Black and White: The Memoir of a Trailblazing NBA Player and Coach, which Scott wrote with prolific basketball author Charley Rosen, we learn about all of these players and morealong Scott’s journey from Philadelphia high school star, to NBA and ABA star, to the first African-American to be selected as NBA Coach of the Year. Scott doesn’t just tell their story – he lived it with themHe is one of the last remaining links to the first generation of African American NBA players who made the modern game possible. 

Scott began his career in the playgrounds and high school gyms of Philadelphia where he competed against Chamberlain, Hal “King” Lear, Guy Rodgers, and other city legends. He went to the University of Portland where he played against University of Seattle star Elgin Baylor; to the Catskills where he, Chamberlain, and other college players competed against each other and visiting pros in summer exhibition contests; and to the Eastern Basketball League where he teamed with fellow Philly great Sonny Hill and developed his game for three years after he left Portland, and played with and against some of the best basketball players you probably never heard of, like Lear, Wally Choice, Dick Gaines, Tom Hemans, and former Globetrotters Andy Johnson (a former Philadelphia Warrior), Carl Green, Roman Turmon, and Gene Hudgins. 

In 1961, the Detroit Pistons made Scott their no. 1 draft pick and fourth overall. He played nine years in the NBA for Detroit and Baltimore, battling Chamberlain, Russell, Nate Thurmond, Willis Reed, Robertson, Baylor, and other greats of that era, averaging a double-double at 14.9 pts. and 10.5 rebounds per game. Then he ended his playing career with the Virginia Squires in the ABA where one of his teammates was a young Julius Erving. 

Scott readily traces his lineage and his development as a player, coach, and personto Earl Lloyd, who not only was the first African American to play in an NBA game, but was also the league’s first Black scout and assistant coach. Lloyd was the scout who recommended that the Pistons draft Scott, became Scott’s valued mentor as Detroit’s assistant coach, was the head coach who hired him as an assistant in 1972, and who Scott replaced as head coach when Lloyd was fired early that season. 

Lloyd was Scott’s confidante who not only taught him how to prepare and conduct himself on the court, but off of it as well. Lloyd helped Scott navigate the delicate balance of being a Black NBA player and coach in what was still a white league in the early 1960s, with many false preconceptions about Black athletes and culture. 

As the title suggests, race and its influence on professional basketball are as important an element in Scott’s story as the game of basketball itself. Scott’s career spans the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and ‘70s, and he weaves race into his story from his personal observations, insight, and involvement.

Scott’s racial consciousness was born during his childhood in Philly and matured through his basketball and life experiences. Lloyd introduced Scott to Dr. Martin Luther King during a chance airport meeting, and after King’s assassination Scott became Coretta Scott King’s bodyguard. He met Malcolm X, befriended Muhammed Ali, and played pick-up basketball in Harlem with H. Rap Brown (a good player”).

Scott recalls how he informed his college search by identifying which college programs already had their “quota” of African American players and which played games in places that were hostile to Blacks. He explains how the Eastern League became the landing place for many great Black players who were limited by the small number of NBA teams at that time and the NBA’s unwritten quotas. Hremembers how he and other Black NBA players were denied service at restaurants in some cities, and how white owners undervalued Black players and coaches thinking they required a lower standard of living than their white contemporaries.

Scott recounts these and many personal slights now not with bitterness but as teaching points.

“My purpose . . . in writing this book is to explore, and hopefully to encourage a better understanding of, a certain portion of the history of “We the people” as I have experienced it,” Scott says in the Prologue. “My ultimate aim is not to shock but to encourage readers to think.”

Scott succeeds, on three levels. First, he describes a remarkable life in which he has excelled not only at the highest levels of professional sports but also in business and community service. 

Second, hadds to the growing literature on African American basketball players who are finally getting recognition for their contributions to the game. Other recent books on this topic include Claude Johnson, Black Fives: The Epic Story of Basketball’s Forgotten Era (2022); Syl Sobel and Jay Rosenstein, Boxed Out of the NBA: Remembering the Eastern Professional Basketball League (2021); Douglas Stark, Breaking Barriers, A History of Integration in Professional Basketball(2018); Earl Lloyd and Sean Kirst, Moonfixer: The Basketball Journey of Earl Lloyd (2011); Mark Johnson, Basketball Slave: The Andy Johnson Harlem Globetrotter Story (2010); Ron Thomas, They Cleared the Lane: The NBA’s Black Pioneers (2002); Bijan C. Bayne, Sky Kings: Black Pioneers of Professional Basketball (1997).

But perhaps most importantly, Scott sees in basketball and its history of racism a hopeful metaphor for society. “In so many ways,” he writes, “the NBA and the WNBA are showing the way for a future in which all Americans have a seat at the table.” 

To the extent one agrees that basketball has succeeded in furthering opportunities and inclusion for African Americans, it provides both lessons and optimism for the future.


Syl Sobel is a writerattorneyand the coauthor, with Jay Rosenstein, of Boxed Out of the NBA: Remembering the Eastern Professional Basketball League. His website is

Monday, October 24, 2022

Review of "Hidden Mountains"

As one who likes to live vicariously through books on mountain climbing, the title of this one caught my eye and I am glad that I picked it up.  It tells quite the story of a climb by four climbers in Alaska and one daring rescue.  Here is my review of "Hidden Mountains"



“Hidden Mountains: Survival and Reckoning After a Climb Gone Wrong” by Michael Wejchert


5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: In 2018, two couples with many years of climbing experience between the four of them, set out to the Hidden Mountains range in Alaska to reach the summit of an area none of them had explored in the past.  While the terrain was not considered difficult for their level of expertise, one of the climbers did suffer severe injuries from a rock fall.  The story of their expedition and the subsequent rescue is the subject of this excellent book by Micheal Wejchert, himself a climber as well as an author.

Readers who have an interest in climbing, whether they are climbers themselves or just enjoy reading about mountaineering, like I do, will be captivated by not only the stories of the four climbers but also of the pararescuers, the mountains themselves and even a little bit about the author.  On this last part, he didn’t insert himself into the story but instead explained how his past experiences gave him the knowledge to write about a certain situation or condition.

Not only is the story of the climb, accident, and rescue gripping, but a reader will also feel a range of emotions while the injured climber is recovering from his injuries and his long road to recovery.  It includes a breakup with his climbing and relationship partner which makes reading about it emotional as well.  This portion of the book was just as good for me as the actual climb.  It should also be noted that Wejchert does a great balance of writing for novices and experts in climbing.  There are explanations of some terms and actions that is helpful for those readers not familiar with the sport, but yet is not so simple as to bore a climbing expert – there are plenty of sections for them as well.  It comes highly recommended for anyone interested in any aspect of climbing.

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

Link: Hidden Mountains: Survival and Reckoning After a Climb Gone Wrong: Michael Wejchert: 9798212202107: Books

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Review of "A Giant Win"

Nearly 15 years later, Super Bowl XLII is still talked about as one of the best football games played and one of the biggest upsets in football history.  One illustration of this is a publication of a new book on that game by the coach of the winning team.  Here is my review of "A Giant Win."


“A Giant Win: Inside the New York Giants’ Historic Upset Over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII” by Tom Coughlin with Greg Hanlon


4 of 5 stars (very good)


Super Bowl XLII has been considered by many to be not only the best Super Bowl in the history of the game but also one of the biggest upsets in professional football.  The New England Patriots had won their previous 18 games that season and looked to become the first NFL team to win 19 games in a perfect season.  However, the New York Giants, a team that New England defeated during the regular season, ended those dreams with a stunning 17-14 victory.  The coach of that team, Tom Coughlin, writes about that game and the many players who contributed to the victory in this book.

If a recap of the game is what a reader wants, they will certainly get that.  Nearly every play is covered by Coughlin, and especially each series and how it was important to determining the outcome is discussed.  Of course, there are extra pages devoted to some of the more famous plays such as the “helmet catch” by David Tyree and the winning touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Plaxico Burris.

Speaking of Manning, he writes the forward for the book. His football career and a little of his life is covered by Coughlin in the early portion of the book.  Coughlin does this throughout the book for nearly every player on that Giants team.  After discussing a few plays in which certain players made key blocks, gains or tackles, Coughlin will talk about that player and how he contributed to the Giants’ success – not only in that game but for the season or their time with the team.

Coughlin also discusses his own career from bouncing around various assistant coaching jobs to becoming the head coach at Boston College as well as his time as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Giants.  He also includes pages about his family (which included a Giants offensive lineman, Chris Snee, who is his son-in-law) which gives a little bit of a memoir feel, but this book is certainly not one of those.  It instead is a very good look at the coaches, players and events of one of the most memorable games played in NFL history.  

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

Link: A Giant Win: Inside the New York Giants' Historic Upset over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII eBook : Coughlin, Tom, Manning, Eli: Books



Monday, October 17, 2022

Review of "Game"

 Every year around this time, I start to go back through older books on my list to review and came across this one.  Since it is nearly time for basketball to return, it felt like a good time to read "Game", Grant Hill's memoir.  Here is my review. 


“Game: An Autobiography” by Grant Hill


4 of 5 stars (very good)


To say Grant Hill has lived a charmed life would not be inaccurate, but it certainly had some bumps in the road.  From his upbringing by two successful parents (his father was Calvin Hill, an All-Pro NFL running back and his mother was a successful businesswoman) to an eventful basketball career complete with injuries and a near-death hospitalization to successful business ventures, Hill has many stories to share and he does so in this fast paced and fun-to-read memoir.

Having read this fairly quickly on an e-reader, I was surprised to see that the hardcover edition is 400 pages – it certainly didn’t read like a 400 page memoir.  No matter what part of his life Hill is discussing, he does so in a manner that the reader will enjoy as it feels like Hill is sitting next to the reader, talking to them in plain language – even when discussing basketball strategy or later, medical terminology during his injury-plagued years while under contract for the Orlando Magic.

Those years were certainly the most frustrating for Hill, as he not only laments his lack of time on the court but also expresses his displeasure at the medical teams that treated him for his ankle injuries.  One of the surgeries he underwent had complications due to infections and he nearly died in the hospital.  He eventually recovered from these thanks to the medical teams at Duke University and was even able to play some more seasons as a role player for the Phoenix Suns.

It is only appropriate that Duke was the place for his medical recovery as that was where his basketball career really took off and his star rose quickly as in his four years as a Blue Devil, Duke won one championship and appeared in two additional championship games in Hill’s four years there.  He was the third pick in the 1994 NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons and immediately made an impact in the NBA as well, as his six years with the Pistons were successful for him individually but not as much for the team before he left for Orlando as a free agent.

The book is certainly not limited to his basketball career or his medical issues as he talks at length about his parents and their influence in his life, both in childhood and adulthood.  He also spends much time discussing his marriage to Canadian singer Tamia and their two daughters.  His love for hip hop music is evident throughout the book and he even dips into social and political commentary.  The latter is written quite well and even-toned which was a welcome change from the divisive dialogue of today.

One doesn’t have to be a basketball fan to enjoy this book, although it does help when he is discussing his time at Duke and in Detroit, where much of the basketball talk is focused.  The book is a great look at the man and his mostly humble personality.  I say “mostly” because he isn’t shy in sharing his opinions when they enhance the discussion.  

I wish to thank The Penguin Group for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


Link: Game: An Autobiography eBook : Hill, Grant: Books

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Review of "Backyards to Ballparks"

This is the second book of baseball stories compiled and published by a Facebook friend, Eric C. Gray.  I was also present when he visited the Albany, NY area for a reading of selected stories (along with noted baseball author Erik Sherman). It was great to meet him in person, have him read my story and enjoy several others for the second time after reading the book.  Here is my review of "Backyards to Ballparks."



“Backyards to Ballparks: More Personal Baseball Stories from the Stands and Beyond” by Eric C. Gray


5 of 5 stars (excellent)


In his second collection of baseball stories from people in all walks of life, Eric Gray has produced another excellent book that will be an enjoyable read for those with at least a passing interest in the game.  It isn’t often a collection of baseball stories will be from “regular” people instead of those who worked in or played the game, but this one and his first book, “Bases to Bleachers” provide a voice to fans and others who love the game but did not end up making a living from it.

That doesn’t mean there are no stories from people in the game – they are included as well.  One of my favorites is a pioneering umpire, Perry Barber.  She was among the first female umpires in professional baseball and she shares her story in the chapter on umpires. Chapters are broken into various categories of how the storytellers were involved in the game or how if affected them such as special family memories.  For full disclosure, this reviewer had a story published in the chapter on ballpark employees like ushers and vendors, as I was a vendor for the Minnesota Twins and Norfolk Tides and I sent a story to the author for inclusion, which he included in that section.

Like any other collection of stories, not every story will be one that will be enjoyed or connect with every reader.  Nor will a reader necessarily want to know about the particulars in some of the longer anecdotes. However, what all of them DO have is a very personal reason for why the person wants to share that story with anyone who will read it and Mr. Gray is providing those people, including myself, with an outlet to do that. 

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

Link: Backyards to Ballparks: More Personal Baseball Stories from the Stands and Beyond eBook : Gray, Eric C.: Kindle Store

Friday, October 7, 2022

Review of "The Grandest Stage"

With the start of the 2022 baseball postseason, it is only appropriate to review a book on postseason baseball.  This book will be out soon, on October 11 and it is a wonderful look at the history of the World Series.  Here is my review of Tyler Kepner's new book, "The Grandest Stage". \


“The Grandest Stage: A History of the World Series” by Tyler Kepner


5 of 5 stars (excellent)


Starting at the time young children dream of hitting a home run to win it all, the World Series is the ultimate destination for anyone involved in baseball.  Since it started in 1903, it has a rich history filled with unique people, teams and moments – just like the game.  Tyler Kepner, the national baseball writer for the New York Times, has captured the history of this championship series in a compelling book.

Kepner divides the book into seven chapters, representing the seven possible games in the World Series.  Each chapter is filled with interesting stories about the particular topic.  For example, he talks about moments that are forgotten because of one that occurred later that was considered even more important for that particular game or series. Take the 1960 World Series in which the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the New York Yankees when Bill Mazeroski ended game 7 with a home run.  Kepner makes the case that Hal Smith’s home run in the 8th inning was just as important as it gave the Pirates the lead and without that, despite the fact the Yankees tied the game in the top of the 9th, Mazeroski’s home run doesn’t happen. 

The book doesn’t just describe moments or games like that.  There are plenty of interviews with players, managers, general managers.  Tom Kelly, who guided the Minnesota Twins to two titles in five years; Theo Epstein, who was the GM for two teams who ended long droughts without a World Series titles, and (before his recent passing), former Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully. Scully’s story of how he and his wife celebrated the championship for the 1981 Dodgers with a bottle of champagne and potato chips in their hotel room was one of the more memorable passages from these interviews.

This is just a small sample of the type of material that baseball readers will encounter in this book.  While it certainly cannot and does not have items about every World Series played, it does contain good material from the Series during every era and has something for every reader who enjoys the game, especially once that final best-of-seven series begins in October.

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

Link: The Grandest Stage: A History of the World Series eBook : Kepner, Tyler: Kindle Store