Saturday, January 28, 2023

Review of "Switching Fields"

Continuing my never-ending attempt to clean up my TBR pile, I pulled this one out that while it hasn't sat in the pile too long, it was one that was compelling enough for me to read even though it has been a couple months since the World Cup ended.  Here is my review of "Switching Fields."


Title/Author: “Switching Fields: Inside the Fight to Remake Men’s Soccer in the United States” by George Dohrman

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: While the United States men’s soccer team (USMNT) has made the World Cup in every year since 1990, with the exception of 2018, it has been a constant source of puzzlement why the country with such a large and diverse population is not a bigger powerhouse in the sport.  This book by George Dohrman explores why that has been the case and also takes a look at some creative ways that some are trying to address this problem.

The book starts off with that 2018 team – specifically the game in which the USNMT lost to Trinidad and Tobago that ended their chances to qualify for the World Cup. Dohrman explains that the subsequent review of why the team did so poorly sets the tone for the book and the explanation of the inherent problems for growing the sport in the United States.  Instead of looking at the entire system, there was criticism of smaller details such as the lineup used in that game.  As Dohrman noted, this missed the bigger picture that the system was the problem – making the United States “a country that should be a shark into a minnow.”

Dohrman then goes on to explain how the country’s youth soccer organization AYSO “was conceived in about ninety minutes” and how the country’s soccer development became entrenched in the Pay-to-Play model that many other youth sports follow. The issue with this model for soccer is that due to many factors, it leaves out a significant portion of the population and leaves the future of the sport in the hands of mostly white, suburban and upper middle class (or higher) players. This didn’t allow the sport to grow in other areas populated mostly by Black families or other people of color.  It also did not help that most coaches of these players were either unfamiliar with the game or if they were, they followed only the European model of play, which is very different from that in other areas where the game is extremely popular such as South America.

What sets this book apart is that Dohrman not only describes and analyzes these shortcomings, but he also highlights people and systems that buck the traditional models of American soccer in the past and are trying to bring more players of all types and backgrounds into the game.  One example, and the best story of the book, is a coach who went against the traditional pay-for-play model in Iowa, Matt Carver.  Carver’s youth allowed him to experience the game in places like Harlem and Germany and when he became a coach with his own children, he saw the flaws in the system and wanted to create a league that would not require high fees and extensive travel.  After several fights with the bureaucracy of the soccer league in suburban Des Moines, he eventually won and now has players coming to his league.

Dohrman also talks about why the women’s teams for the United States are so successful – again, mainly due to some thinking outside the box – and how the men can use ideas such as those from Carver to have more success for the USMNT.  This is a book that should be required reading for anyone who has an interest in seeing how the United States can become a nation that will use its population and diversity to its advantage in the sport of international soccer.

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

Link: Switching Fields: Inside the Fight to Remake Men's Soccer in the United States: Dohrmann, George: 9781524798864: Books

Monday, January 23, 2023

Review of "Little Poison"

 Having never heard of Paul Runyan before this book became available for review, I was curious to read about the PGA tourney mentioned in the subtitle.  However, the book is much more of a biography of Runyan and an excellent read.  Here is my review of "Little Poison". 


“Little Poison: Paul Runyan, Sam Snead and a Long-Shot Upset at the 1938 PGA Championship” by John Duchant


5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: Professional golfers who have been known as long hitters during their time, from Harvey Penick to Tiger Woods, are also popular in both galleries and the press.  However, those who are great at other parts of the game that overcomes their lack of distance off the tee are not as well known.  That is the case for Paul Runyan, who is the subject of this excellent biography by John Duchant.

The title is a bit misleading, as this book is not just about the 1938 PGA Championship.  In that tourney, that was when Runyan rose from relative obscurity (even though he had already won one major tourney in 1934, also the PGA Championship) to defeat Snead 8 and 7 in match play.  That was the largest victory for any PGA Championship winner when that tourney was decided by match play until 1957. It was such a surprise that Runyan even kept the sign with the score to show that he did indeed win with that big a margin.

While there is some material on Snead in the book, including his gracious handling of the defeat, this book is primarily about the life of Paul Runyan, and it is a fascinating life and read. Every aspect of his life, from his upbringing to his many jobs in golf (caddy, fitting clubs, club pro) to his time on the PGA tour to his business life after his career came to an end.  There were a couple of events he played as a senior member who was invited (the Senior/Champions PGA tour was not yet established) and while he showed flashes of his excellent game, he was content with working in the game.

His personal life is well documented in the book as well, including his two marriages in which he loved both of his wives and was widowed twice.  Other highlights include how he gained his nickname of “Little Poison”, the excellence of his short game that gave him his wins and his overall positive aspect of his life.  For readers who wish to learn more about this little-known Hall of Fame golfer, this is an excellent source of information on him

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

Link: Little Poison: Paul Runyan, Sam Snead, and a Long-Shot Upset at the 1938 PGA Championship: 9781496231420: Dechant, John: Books

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Review of "From the Ouside"

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States and it is celebrated in part with a full slate of NBA games.  In between catching those in which I had interest, I also read this memoir by former NBA star Ray Allen.  I was able to complete it fairly quickly and enjoyed it. Here is my review of "From the Outside."



“From the Outside: My Journey Through Life and the Game I Love” by Ray Allen with Michael Arkush


4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: Most memoirs from current or past professional basketball players will follow a certain pattern as they are read, from the less than desirable conditions, for whatever reasons, the subject went through in their formative years.  Then because a certain person or persons believed in them, they achieved success on the basketball in youth leagues or high school and they were able to take that newfound success into a career in the NBA.  This memoir by former NBA All-Star Ray Allen follows the same path, but reads differently in a few ways.

One is that Allen was a child of a military member, so when he talks of his father not always being there for him, it was due to his father’s military commitments, not because he was absent from his children’s life.  However, due to this, Allen obtained much of his personal traits from the women in his life, starting with his mother.  He mentions that frequently through the book.  Another difference is that when he became a teenage father, he remained in the child’s life even though he and the child’s mother did not marry (although they did attempt to keep their relationship going when Allen went to college).  That experience made a difference in how Allen lived his family life when he married and had children with his wife.

This type of writing is not the main point of the book, however, as it is very basketball-centric as Allen describes his experience in high school basketball in South Carolina, his college career at the University of Connecticut and his NBA career in which he played for four teams – the Milwaukee Bucks, Seattle SuperSonics, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat.  The last two teams are the ones he speaks most fondly of, mainly because that was with whom he won his championships.  Throughout his basketball career, no matter what level, there is one constant theme that worked well for him – his work ethic. He always wanted to be the first one at the gym and he would always be working toward improving his game, especially his shooting.

That last aspect is what he became most noted for, especially his accuracy with three-point shots.  He made one of the most memorable three-point shots in NBA history, a game tying 3 point shot at the end of regulation in game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals with the Heat.  That shot not only sent the game into overtime, but it catapulted the Heat to win that game and the championship over the San Antonio Spurs. I enjoyed this section of the book (including the description of that shot in Chapter 1) along with his stories about his championship team in Boston.  On that 2008 team, he bonded well with Kevin Garnett who like Allen, was a key off-season acquisition by the Celtics to build that championship team.

The last aspect of the book that should be mentioned is that Allen never comes across as angry or bitter, even when describing issues that if they did, would be understandable.  Of course, he was subjected to racism but other incidents such as with his Milwaukee coach George Karl or when he was told several times that he would not succeed, he always wrote in a tone that suggested that he was glad he overcame whatever obstacles that situation or person made him endure.  It’s a very good read for those who enjoyed watching Allen become one of the better shooters of his era.

Link: From the Outside: My Journey Through Life and the Game I Love: Allen, Ray, Arkush, Michael, Lee, Spike: 9780062675477: Books

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Review of "Never Ask 'Why?' "

The books I usually read on sports business and labor issues are on baseball, but this one on football labor strife in the 1970's was quite good.  Written by the late Ed Garvey, this was an excellent look, from the union side, of the labor situation of the NFL at that time. 


“Never Ask ‘Why?”: Football Players’ Fight for Freedom in the NFL” by Ed Garvey with Chuck Cascio


5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: In today’s sports world, players in nearly every team sport can pretty much pick whatever team they wish to play for after their contract expires.  That has not always been the case for every sport, especially in the National Football League (NFL) where for many decades, rules existed to keep players from moving to different teams in order to keep salaries low. 

One of the more restrictive rules was called the “Rozelle Rule”, named after the commissioner of the league at the time, Pete Rozelle.  Briefly, if a player switched teams, the team that lost the player was entitled to compensation that would be determined by Rozelle.  Usually, this was so cost-prohibitive that players very rarely would change teams. Because of this restriction, the players formed a union and it was led by attorney Ed Garvey.  This book, written by Garvey before his death in 2017 and edited for publication by Chuck Cascio, tells of the struggle of NFL players to not only form that union but of their strikes in 1974 and 1975 to gain more freedom for players.  The strike in 1974 lasted two weeks during the preseason and ended when many players decided to play instead of picket.  In 1975, a few teams, led by the New England Patriots, went on strike for one game.  This one was more to illustrate the poor treatment of players by management more than to gain leverage in negotiations.

While fans of a certain age may remember these strikes during pre-season games in those two years, readers of all ages will learn much about the labor climate of the NFL during that era.  The title of book is a good indicator, as a player was to never ask “why” when it came to salaries or movement.  Garvey also talks about the iron fist that Rozelle used with members on his staff and sending them out to have meetings with Garvey and other union representatives.

Even while keeping in mind that the book is written from the point of view of the leader of a union that was in contentious talks with the NFL, it was very shocking to see some of the lengths Rozelle and some NFL owners went to try to ignore the union or even destroy it.  Some of the tactics are comical, some are aggravating and some, as it turned out, were illegal.  The famous case of Mackey v. NFL is detailed well in the book and eventually led to the end of the “Rozelle Rule.”  Reading this made me respect these players and the risks they took in order to benefit not only themselves, but future players. 

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

Link: Never Ask "Why": Football Players' Fight for Freedom in the NFL: 9781439923153: Garvey, Ed, Cascio, Chuck, Fields, Dr. Sarah K., Page, Judge Alan: Books

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Review of “Earnhardt Nation”

It’s hard to believe that it’s only about one more month before the 2023 NASCAR season begins. While I am always excited for a new season, I pulled this book off of my shelves to get back in the swing of the sport. What better way to do than reading an excellent book on one of the most famous racing families?  

Title: “Earnhardt Nation: The Full-Throttle Saga of NASCAR’s First Family” by Jay Busbe

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: Say the name “Dale Earnhardt” and people will immediately think of the crash that killed the popular NASCAR driver at the 2001 Daytona 500. This book by Jay Busbee is more than just a good biography of him - it portrays a racing family in both good times and not so good ones.  

While the entire family is included in the book and there is good, detailed information on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s driving career as well as the split he had from the family’s racing business before joining Hendrick Motorsports, the book is primarily about Dale, Sr. Not only his life, but the impact that he had on the sport even 15 years after his death (the book was published in 2017). 

The writing on Dale Sr. is very balanced and that is the primary reason that I felt that this was an excellent book. Busbee give the proper respect and praise for Earnhardt for his accomplishments, but this is not a hero-worshipping type of portrayal. The flaws in his personality and life choices are mentioned, but there is also the side of him that shows how he was truly nice to many people. 

One great example of this portrayal is the story of an 8 year old girl who got to meet Earnhardt through the Make-A-Wish foundation. It was on the day of the 1998 Daytona 500 and the girl was told Dale may not have much time for her or that he may be not very nice. Not the case at all - he spent a lot of time with her and the girl gave him a penny for good luck. Earnhardt took that penny, taped it to his car’s dashboard- and then won that race, the only Daytona 500 win in his legendary career. 

NASCAR fans, no matter their level of interest or their knowledge of the sport during this time, will enjoy this book. One will learn a lot about Dale Sr, even if they thought they knew much about him. Add in the material on Dale Jr, Teresa Earnhardt and her ways of keeping the family business running and even the other two Earnhardt children Kelley and Kerry and you have a great look at this legendary racing family. 


Monday, January 2, 2023

Review of “Finding Elevation” - first review of 2023

 Happy New Year! Instead of making any resolutions, especially when it comes to reading or reviewing books, I decided to just keep on doing what I am doing. So to start the new year, going back to a favorite topic of mine - climbing K2. Here is a review of Lisa Thomason’s summit on that mountain.

Title: “Finding Elevation: Fear and Courage on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain” by Lisa Thompson

Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: Lisa Thompson became the second American woman to reach the summit of K2, considered to be the world’s most dangerous mountain. Having read several books on other attempts at climbing this peak (some successful, some not) I was intrigued to learn more about her story and for the most part, it was excellent reading.

The only downfall to this book for me was something that was important to her story - the struggles that she faced outside of climbing that could have been hindrances to her goal of not only claiming K2, but also Mt. Everest; that expedition is documented in the book, but not with as much detail. While her victory over breast cancer was inspiring, reading about her failed relationships in both her family and in her marriage that ended in divorce felt more about self-pity than courage. While it was great that was able to push the, to the side during her climb, reading about it was a downer that seemed to get sadder as it went along.

But just like Thompson, if the reader can get past them and keep reading, they will be in for a treat. If that reader has a basic understanding or knowledge of mountaineering or the layout of K2, that is helpful but not necessary as Thompson writes in a manner that even non-climbers will understand. Her style of describing the K2 expedition is wonderful. She touches on how to deal with the male-dominated world of climbing without sounding bitter or snarky. Her bond with two other climbers, including the only other female on the trip, was fine as the reader will get to know them quite well. I really enjoyed her descriptions of the camps at various points, including base camp. 

During both expeditions, but especially the one on K2, the book reads like a well-written drama even though the ending will already be known. That is what makes this mountaineering book one to include in one’s library - even more than the historical or inspirational aspects. It is just a fine story to tell. 

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