Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Review of “You’re Not Welcome Here”

 As part of my almost-annual year end reading to reach my book goal, I just finished this short but informative book on discrimination issues facing marginalized baseball players. Some very good and eye-opening information in this one. 

Title: “You’re Not Welcome Here: Exclusionary Practices in the Game of Baseball” by Daniel Pasternack

Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: While baseball is a sport that likes to keep its history alive through its Hall of Fame and other means, it also has some parts of that history that are shameful. While the exclusion of Black players before Jackie Robinson is well known, this book by Daniel Pasternak takes a deeper look at practices that have hampered progress in having more Black players participate in all levels of the game. 

It should be noted that aside from his chapter on Moses Fleetwood Walker, a Black player from the 1880’s in the highest level of professional, Pasternack’s subjects and discussions take place after the integration that was started by Robinson. From the tales about Wilmer Aaron to those of Vida Blue, Pasternak does an admirable job of telling how discrimination hurt Black ball players both on and off the diamond.

The best parts of the book, however, come when Pasternack talks about the high school teams he has coached in San Diego and the many problems Black players face if there isn’t blatant racism and the players have good skills. His take on the current state of youth and Little League baseball and the prohibitively expensive travel leagues is something that needs to be told and is truly the barrier because of the costs involved. 

He also touches on the lack of acceptance for female and gay players over the years. He does note the progress for the former and lack of it for the latter. While not covered as extensively as the issues facing Black players, it is nice to see that he recognizes the unique barrier those people have in the game as well.  While the book doesn’t spell out any long range solutions (and explains why) this is still good material for those who are concerned about these issues and the underlying factors.

I received a review copy of the book for free and am freely expressing my thoughts on the book. 


Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Review of "Carrie Soto is Back"

As part of my goal to read more fictional sports book, I decided on this one because from the description, I thought the main character would be based loosely on Serena Williams.  While there is coaching from her father, there are some, but not too many other similarities.  That is a good thing, as Carrie Soto is a very interesting character in an excellent novel.  Here is my review of "Carrie Soto is Back." 


“Carrie Soto is Back” by Taylor Jenkins Reid


5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:  While I have started reading more fictional sports books, I had never seen one in which tennis was the primary sport.  Having never read anything by Taylor Jenkins Reid previously but reading so many reviews and articles describing her work, I decided to pick up this novel on a brilliant but unlikable tennis star, Carrie Soto.  Carrie was the record holder for most Grand Slam titles up to her retirement in 1989, then it was threatened to be broken by Nikki Chan.  Soto decides to come out of retirement in 1994 to play in the 1995 Grand Slam tourneys to re-claim her record.

This book validates all the positive material about Reid’s work. The best part of her work is the character development of not only Carrie, but also her father Javier.  Javier coached Carrie during her career and is doing so for her comeback as well.  Other great characters in the book include Bowe Huntley, a male tennis player making his own comeback and was a former romantic partner of Soto; her agent Gwen and even Chan, whom the reader learns more about later in the book.  All of them are brilliant people in one way or another and yet, have flaws that make them vulnerable. Readers can relate to all of them, even if they are not great tennis players.

During her time as a champion, Carrie is called a “battle axe” or even worse, the “bitch” due to her abrasive personality and that shows during her comeback as well.  But there is more to Carrie than the hardened personality and killer on the court and it is for this reason that I believe the book is well worth the time for anyone to read, even if they are not tennis players, fans or even know much about the game.

Be prepared, however, to read a lot about tennis and the strategy, types of shots and what goes through players’ minds as they prepare for matches.  These passages are written skillfully by Reid in that they are complex enough for tennis buffs to not be bored while reading them, yet simple enough that even those who have never been exposed to the game will be able to understand them.  More importantly, regardless of how well the reader understands the sport, the tennis passages give great insight into the characters of Carrie, Javier, and Bowe.

The book and story flow well and the ending is not entirely predictable.  Granted, there are only two ways the ultimate goal for Carrie will end, but which one of those will happen is in question until the end. That isn’t because of the suspense, but simply because the reader will be rooting for whatever character appeals to them the most – and that just might be a hard decision as this is a completely engrossing book with memorable characters and great tennis action.  Fans of either Reid or tennis should add this one to their library.  


Link: Carrie Soto Is Back: A Novel: Jenkins Reid, Taylor: 9780593158685: Books


Sunday, December 25, 2022

Review of “Fore Play”

Merry Christmas to those who are celebrating!  It was a quiet one for me as I decided to pick up a fictional golf novel to catch up on some requests and this one was a quick and fun read.  Also helped me toward my goal of including more sports fiction in my reading and reviews. Here is my review of “Fore Play.” 


“Fore Play” by Linda Sheehan


5 of 5 stars (excellent)


One never knows what truly goes on behind the scenes at any sporting Event. In this novel by Linda Sheehan , the 2011 ladies’ golf tournament at a fictional country club has so much more behind it than just the number of strokes for each golfer. 

The best parts of this book were the character development and how the story had enough twists to stay interesting but not too many that a reader will be confused. The two golfers who were the favorites of the tournament, Mandy Manville (an alias) and Jody Benson, the true protagonist of the story, are both excellent golfers and interesting people. Their spouses, along with a few other key characters (mostly men) are also profiled enough so a reader knows somewhat of what to expect from them.

However, not everyone and everything is given away early and the adventures in how the club President is trying to install a new wine cellar makes for interesting reading. The characters that are scoundrels, like the cheating husband of Jody, are made to look like scum, but not overly so. For just about every aspect of this book, I would call it just right. It isn’t often a fictional sports novel can hold my interest so well, but “Fore Play” did the trick. Heck, there’s even enough golf passages to make it enjoyable for the hard core sports fan that I am.

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


Thursday, December 22, 2022

Review of "The Book of Joe"

During the holiday season, I always like to pick up a baseball book since it's about halfway between the end of the previous season and the start of spring training.  Usually the baseball news is slow at that time (not this year), so it's the best time to do so.  My choice for that this holiday season is this book on Joe Maddon. 



“The Book of Joe: Trying Not to Suck at Baseball and Life” by Joe Maddon and Tom Verducci


3 of 5 stars (okay)


This book fits perfectly with its subject, Joe Maddon, because it’s hard to classify what type of book this is, just as it is difficult to classify what type of baseball manager Maddon is.  He spent 19 years as a major league coach or manager of the Los Angeles Angels (a coach from 2002-2005, then as manager from 2019-2022), Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago Cubs.  It was with the latter two teams where he made his mark on the game, first by taking the Rays from the worst record in baseball in 2007 to the American League pennant in 2008, then ending the Cubs’ 108-year championship drought by bringing a World Series championship to Wrigley Field in 2016.

The reason it is hard to classify this book is that it doesn’t have a nice even flow – at times it reads like a memoir, especially when he is talking about his days as a minor league scout and manager.  Other times, he sounds like a philosopher when he is talking to his players, especially when he or the player comes up with a phrase or slogan that is used for motivation.  A great example is in the subtitle of this book – “Try not to suck.”  Then still other times this reads like a baseball history book when explaining the various eras of managerial styles, from dictatorships to being “yes” men to front office personnel making decision by analytics.

The book does illustrate Maddon as a complex person, whether talking about his managerial style, his road to get to the major leagues or even when trying to fit him into one of these categories.  He speaks out frequently against having too much data inside one’s head, whether that is his own head when making game decisions or giving too much to a player that may cause him to overthink and lose sight of what he actually needs to do on the field.  But before saying that Maddon is an “old-school” type of manager, there are passages that talk about his embracing of data, including carrying clunky computers while traveling before the use of this type of data was common in baseball.

This isn’t to say that the book doesn’t have its positive qualities.  Many of the stories Maddon shares are funny and entertaining and it’s clear that while he may have some “old school” thoughts, he certainly is aware of today’s game and players.  Verducci is a well-respected baseball journalist and it is clear that he contributed to the history portions.  This included portraits of past owners and managers such as Gene Mauch and Billy Martin.  They are all interesting and good reads – but thrown together in the manner that they are done so in this book just makes it one that doesn’t seem to be complete.  When finished, I felt that something was missing and that I couldn’t get exactly what message was being sent to me, the reader.  But if one is a fan of Maddon or likes to just read about baseball, this book is for that person.

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

Link: The Book of Joe: Trying Not to Suck at Baseball and Life: Maddon, Joe, Verducci, Tom: 9781538751794: Books

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Review of "Messi vs. Ronaldo"

 While this book had admittedly been on my TBR pile for a few months, it turned out to be perfect timing when I picked it up.  With one of the subjects playing in the World Cup final, what better time to post a review of "Messi vs. Ronaldo"?


“Messi vs. Ronaldo: One Rivalry, Two GOATs and the Era that Remade the World’s Game” by Jonathan Clegg and Joshua Robinson


4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:  Discussions and debates about the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) of a particular sport are common today and in international soccer circles, that discussion today revolves around two players – Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo.  Strong cases can be made for both players and this book, while very interesting, does not help someone make a case for one or the other to be considered better.

The first bit of advice for reading this book comes early – the authors state that this is not intended to be a dual biography of the two legends but instead a thorough look at their careers from playing the game early in life through their rise to their professional teams by examining the business side of international soccer and how it affected them. There is in-depth information on the two clubs that both players spent the bulk of their careers, and it is no coincidence that they are two of the most famous clubs in European soccer – Real Madrid (Ronaldo) and FC Barcelona (Messi).  Because of both the celebrity of the players and the name recognition of their clubs, Messi and Ronaldo’s rise in fame also helped bring a revolution in the business of international soccer.

Of course, the authors write about other factors that brought this about such as social media and the influx of money, especially American money, that changed the economics for many of the “super clubs” forever, but no matter what business topic is discussed, the text will circle back to one of these two players.  A reader who follows soccer leagues such as the Premier League (both players spent time with clubs in that circuit) or La Liga will find the business discussion quite interesting.  One who may not follow this subject as closely may not be as engrossed but will still learn some very interesting facts on international soccer. 

I will give an example of one that I learned about the Premier League.  Its status as one of the most profitable leagues in the world started when it signed a lucrative television contract with a similarly struggling network at the time, Sky Sports, owned by Rupert Murdoch.  Around the same time in the United States, another struggling Murdoch network, Fox, engaged in a similar contract with the National Football League.  Both leagues and both networks were never the same again.

This is not to say there is no text on the accomplishments on the field by Messi and Ronaldo – there is a good amount of that as well.  There certainly was jealousy between the two in competition for individual awards. Even the most casual of sports fans do realize the greatness of these two as their names are as recognizable as ones like Pele and Beckenbauer for previous generations of soccer fans.  If one wants to learn more about either the business of international soccer or a little more on the two players, this is a good source. 

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

Link: Messi vs. Ronaldo: One Rivalry, Two GOATs, and the Era That Remade the World's Game eBook : Clegg, Jonathan, Robinson, Joshua: Kindle Store

Monday, December 12, 2022

Review of "The Next Everest"

Not only am I trying to get caught up on my reading, but also on my listening of audiobooks.  This was a good one to start on that goal - here is my review of "The Next Everest"



“The Next Everest: Surviving the Mountain’s Deadliest Day and Finding the Resilience to Climb Again” by Jim Davidson


5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: Resilience is a tricky word to either define or describe when it is believed a person has it.  Nonetheless, it is the perfect word to describe the adventures on Mount Everest experienced by the author of this book, Jim Davidson.  Not only did he survive through a 7.8 magnitude earthquake while ascending Everest in 2015 (it killed approximately 8900 people) but after the quake aborted that attempt to reach the summit, he was determined to try again and did so triumphantly two years later.  This book is his memoir of those two events and other parts of his life that led up to them.

The audiobook, which is narrated by Tim Campbell, is very detailed and very descriptive of the earthquake and the two days spent by Davidson and his team awaiting rescue.  Even though the reader/listener will know how it ends, it is still very tense and dramatic with twists and setbacks.  Davidson also does a wonderful job describing what was going through his mind at the time, especially with the concern about other climbers.  He reminds his audience that any loss of life in the climbing community is a painful loss and each time he heard about another death, it is easy to see how he was hurt.  That this came through so well with another person doing the narrating shows how good Campbell’s reading of the book is.

Davidson’s return to Everest, while very inspiring, didn’t evoke the same amount of emotion or drama for me, but it was still a very good account of the climb, as was his description of past events in his life that either made him decide to be a climber or shaped the kind of person that he became.  He doesn’t talk a lot about his family.  The most that he does is when he describes his satellite calls to them while stranded after the quake. These parts of the book didn’t seem to come together as nicely as the passages on the mountain, but nonetheless help the reader/listener put together the total picture of Davidson’s two trips on the world’s tallest peak – a great story of resilience.

Link: The Next Everest: Surviving the Mountain's Deadliest Day and Finding the Resilience to Climb Again: Davidson, Jim: 9781250272294: Books


Sunday, December 11, 2022

Review of "The Inside Game"

Reading time has been sparse lately with a move to an new home, but now that we are settled in, time to get back to writing reviews.  Easing back into it with this library book that was first released in 2019 and was a decent read.  Here is my review of "The Inside Game"

Title/Author: “The Inside Game: Bad Calls, Strange Behavior and What Baseball Behavior Teaches Us About Ourselvesby Keith Law


Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: Hundreds, if not thousands of decisions are made every day by every person.  Of course, some have more consequences and importance than others, but they are still decisions that are made.  Many who enjoy baseball say they do so because it can resemble real life very often.  This book by Keith Law can actually show the correlation – not because baseball decisions such as the Los Angeles Angles giving a 10 year contract to an aging Albert Pujols reflects what most ordinary people will do, but because of how this type of decision was made.

I used this particular baseball decision in this review for two reasons.  One, Law himself refers to this one several times throughout the book and twice for different fallacies that he describes.  Most of the book focuses on bad decisions made in baseball and the biases or fallacies that were used to come up with that conclusion.  Examples of these discussed in the book is recency bias (familiar to many in situations outside of baseball as well as with the game), outcome bias (using Bob Brenley winning the World Series as the manager of the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks despite making some poor managerial choices) and base rate neglect (why some high school pitchers are still drafted in the first round despite the low percentage of these pitchers who will make the major leagues).  Law writes about these and other reasons that poor decisions could be made in baseball and in other areas.

It was these other areas that made the book a little underwhelming for me – I certainly didn’t want to pick this up to read about the falsehood of linking vaccinations with autism, but there was a considerable amount of text given to this topic.  But when Law stuck with baseball, even when talking about the fictional “Joey Bagodonuts” to illustrate a point, I did enjoy it and there was enough baseball in the book to make this a decent read.

Link: The Inside Game: Bad Calls, Strange Moves, and What Baseball Behavior Teaches Us About Ourselves eBook : Law, Keith: Kindle Store

Friday, December 2, 2022

Review of "The Blood and Guts"

I started this book on the Thanksgiving holiday, when football is on the mind of most sports fans who celebrate the holiday, and while it took a little time to complete, this was probably one of the more interesting and fun books I have read on the sport.  Here is my review of a book on tight ends, "The Blood and Guts"


“The Blood and Guts: How Tight Ends Save Football” by Tyler Dunn


5 of 5 stars (excellent)


The position of tight end in football is one of the most challenging positions. For a player to excel in this position, he must have the strength to block defensive linemen who may weigh over 300 pounds, be smart enough to read pass coverage by linebackers and safeties, and also be quick enough to outrun 180-pound cornerbacks. But as any football fan knows, there are many who have not only played this position but have done so at a very high level.  Some of these exceptional tight ends are profiled in this entertaining book by Tyler Dunn.

It should be noted that this is not a ranking of the best players to play the position and it is not meant to be taken that just because a player is not profiled that he would not be considered one of the best to have suited up at tight end.  It starts with Mike Ditka, who began the change of strategy in the use of tight ends to be effective pass receivers as well as blockers.  Dunn interviews and shares the stories of 15 tight ends from Ditka to George Kittle and in between, there are so many interesting stories, on-field recaps and very personal memories.

Of the memories and stories, I felt the most emotional ones were for Dallas Clark (who lost his mother to a heart attack) and for Jimmy Graham, who was literally dropped off by his mother at a group home with his clothes in a garbage bag.  Those two stories both resulted in producing great tight ends who would stop at nothing to succeed.  The circumstances are very different and their paths were certainly not identical, but they both made for compelling reading.

That isn’t to say that every player profiled in this book had tragic or hard stories. Some were out of fear (hard to believe Tony Gonzalez didn’t want to play football because he was afraid of the hard contact), some were just from the “boys being boys” category (Jeremy Shockey’s battles with his siblings) and some were just fun (Rob Gronkowski is probably the most notable party animal). But they, along with all the other tight ends profiled, had in common an unquenchable appetite for success and an incredible work ethic to make sure he did his best to achieve that success.

It should also be noted that while the actual game text is not plentiful in this book, the plays and games that are covered are recapped in an excellent manner.  The most compelling of these is one of the most incredible individual performances in NFL history – Kellen Winslow’s performance in the 1982 playoffs for the San Diego Charges in their memorable win over the Miami Dolphins.  That is just one example of the in-game coverage that is very good when it is presented in the context of that player’s story.

Football fans who remember many of the great tight ends since the era of Ditka and John Mackey will love reading about these players, their stories and their performances.  For me, this book was much like Gronkowski’s early NFL career – just a lot of fun to read.

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