Sunday, April 23, 2023

Review of “Savanna Bananas”

Having heard about the Savanna Bananas but knowing much about the, I was eager to read this book when I became aware of it. It was just as good as I had hoped. Here is my review of the book by Bananas co-owner Jesse Cole.


“Banana Ball: The Unbelievably True Story of the Savanna Bananas ” by Jesse Cole


5 of 5 stars (excellent)


One of the biggest criticisms of baseball today is that it is no longer fun, either for the players or the fans. Enter the Savanna Bananas, a touring team that tours various ballparks with its opponents, the Party Animals. The Bananas are the result of much creativity and hard work by Jesse Cole and his wife Emily. How they got to this point, where the Bananas are a big hit both in person and on TikTok, is captured in this terrific book written by Jesse.

When Jesse realized that his dream career of playing baseball was not going to happen, he also saw how the fun was being sucked out of the game for both players and fans. Wanting to still have a career in the game, he took an unpaid internship for an independent team in North Carolina. Taking the lessons from that team’s owner and adding in his creativity, he and a woman with a similar job (who would marry Jesse) and drive came together to create the Bananas. 

It should be noted that as soon as Jesse and Emily obtained the team and the historic stadium in which it would play, the Bananas were not touring but were in a summer league for teams of collegiate players. Jesse’s writing about his time in North Carolina, his relationship with Emily, and their shared vision of creating a team that would put the fun back in baseball is terrific. This is especially clear when describing some of crazy ideas and stunts of the team. Jesse also makes it clear that not everything must come from him or Emily - the player’s input is important as well. A great story about this is a player who suggested setting his bat on fire for a plate appearance. It became one of the most popular Bananas video on social media.

The book does not have much on-field action but it doesn’t need it - the stories about the struggles and then the huge victories for the Coles are riveting on their own. One more note about the games the Bananas currently play on their tour with the Party Animals - they are very competitive. The Party Animals are not the perpetual losers to the Bananas like the Washington Generals are for the Harlem Globetrotters- like the Bananas they are good baseball players as well as entertainers.

This review cannot properly describe the Coles, the teams or the entertainment they provide. Just pick up the book and the reader will see for themselves how good the story of the Savanna Bananas is. 

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


Friday, April 21, 2023

Review of "The Best Team Over There"

Having gone to a baseball game via the train recently, I did the usual activity I do on a train and read a book about the sport that I am attending.  For this ride, I chose this book on Grover Cleveland Alexander.  It wasn't quite what I expected.  Here is my review of "The Best Team Over There"


“The Best Team Over There: The Untold Story of Grover Cleveland Alexander and the Great War” by Jim Leeke


3 of 5 stars (okay)


Grover Cleveland Alexander was both one of the best stories in early 20th century baseball and one of the most tragic. The winner of 373 game, the pitcher known as “Pete” was inducted in the baseball Hall of Fame in 1938. He also was a decorated veteran of World War I and his time in the service and how it affected his baseball career and his life afterward is the subject of this book by Jim Leeke.

A reader should not expect a book that talks much about Alexander’s baseball career.  There is some baseball talk, especially for the year before he left for Europe, which included a trade from the Philadelphia Phillies to the Chicago Cubs.  Leeke does a nice job of illustrating Alexander’s feelings about being drafted and his farewell game for the Cubs before leaving for basic training.

It is after this part where the book really becomes a military book.  While the research and detail about the particular battles and movements made by Alexander’s division, it is written in a manner that unless a reader is well-versed in World War I military language, it could be confusing.  I did go back several times to re-read passages to make sure I followed along.  This took up the bulk of the book, especially when Alexander and his fellow soldiers had to stay in Europe for occupation of Germany after the Armistice Treaty ended the war on November 11, 1918.  

Because of this, and the following disconnect that seemed to occur after Alexander continued his baseball career upon his return, I found this book to be one better suited for military buffs than for baseball fans.  But it is clear that Leeke is knowledgeable about both topics and his work on both is worth the time to read.

I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.  The opinions expressed are strictly mine.




Sunday, April 16, 2023

Review of "Bingo!"

Books written by or about sports broadcasters are always interesting and this one on long-time Los Angeles Clippers announcer Ralph Lawler is no exception.  Here is my review of his memoir, "Bingo!"

Title/Author: Bingo! Forty Years in the NBA” by Ralph Lawler with Chris Epting

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: When a team’s long-time broadcaster writes a book, there are plenty of interesting stories that can be shared and fans of that team will enjoy them immensely.  That is true no matter the sport or how successful the franchise has been.  For the Los Angeles Clippers, a basketball team with no championships and a history of mostly losing, that broadcaster is Ralph Lawler.  From the team’s days in San Diego to its move to Los Angeles and then some, Lawler has been there for many Clippers games and his stories of his time broadcasting the team (and a few with the Philadelphia 76ers) are told in this interesting memoir.

While I love many of the stories Lawler tells about the Clippers and his adventures in radio, especially early in his career, what struck me the most about his memoir was the name dropping. I suppose that in Los Angeles it shouldn’t be surprising to read that Lawler knew and befriended so many celebrities, sports and otherwise, but it was something that I didn’t expect to see.  This is primarily because the other professional basketball team in the city, the Lakers, are the ones who seem to attract all the attention.

Speaking of the Lakers, Lawler devoted one of his many side stories to the first Laker to become a superstar, George Mikan.  I mention this because throughout the book, Lawler shows how passionate he is for not only the Clippers, but for the entire history of pro basketball.  He talks up Mikan as one of the greatest players in the history of the game because he was the first big man to succeed in the NBA and it was because of him that some rule changes took effect, such as widening the lane.  As one who enjoys learning about the history of all sports and appreciates kind words about players from different eras, it was refreshing to read about a player from several decades ago be described as an all-time great. 

Of course, as expected, the best writing is about the Clippers.  While the team has had more losing than winning, when that winning came, he wrote about it with a lot of knowledge, a lot of love and even some great interviews with some of those players.  From Chris Paul to Quentin Richardson to Blake Griffin, many former players for the team are mentioned as great people for Lawler to have been around.  But he saves the most love for Bill Walton.  While Walton’s time with the Clippers may have been very short due to all the injuries he suffered, he and Lawler became very good friends.  Walton wrote a letter to the voters for the Basketball Hall of Fame to campaign for Lawler’s induction as a broadcaster.  It was successful as Lawler was named for his broadcasting and is always grateful to Walton for this.

It should be noted that the title is only one of two catchphrases that is attached to Lawler.  “Bingo!” came about when the Clippers acquired Bingo Smith, a noted three-point shooter.  Whenever he made a three, Lawler would exclaim “Bingo!” and that just stuck with him long after Smith retired.  The other catchphrase for Lawler was “Oh Me! Oh My!” and the best story about that is not how it started but how it was used to play a prank on Lawler by three members of the Clippers during their best years, the “Lob City” teams with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul as the main stars.

One doesn’t have to be a Clippers fan to enjoy this book.  Any reader who enjoys the game of basketball will want to read Ralph Lawler’s story.  It is one filled with a lot of great memories, great basketball and great relationships.

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

Link: Bingo!: Forty Years in the NBA eBook : Lawler, Ralph, Epting, Chris, Walton, Bill: Kindle Store



Friday, April 14, 2023

Review of "NASCAR 75 Years"

If it feels like NASCAR has been around longer than 75 years, that might because of the rich history of the sport. This book is one of the best around to illustrated that history.  Here is my review of "NASCAR 75 Years."


“NASCAR 75 Years” by Al Pearce with Mike Hembree, Kelly Crandall and Jimmy Creed


5 of 5 stars (excellent)


2023 marks the 75th anniversary of NASCAR and this commemorative book to celebrate the milestone is an excellent source of the sport’s history and drivers.  No matter how long one has been a fan of NASCAR or what portion of the history one wants to research, this is a good book to use.

It is more of a coffee table book and while the information is good, the pictures really make this book stand out.  The photos of the early years in which the biggest races were held in the sands of Daytona Beach, before the construction of Daytona International Speedway. However, the book is not just a compilation of the construction and listing of tracks, races, drivers and other data.  There are stories about the sport that cover each era of racing.

The book is organized by decade, with each one getting equal treatment and coverage in both text and pictures.  Of course, some of the early pictures are in black and white, but that is offset by the excellent writing and research by Pearce and team. Whether a reader wants to learn more about Lee or Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt (Senior and Junior) or Jimmie Johnson, there will be excellent information on them.  Nothing is in great detail but it is still comprehensive and makes for great reading.  The writing is also easy to understand and not too technical so that fans of all levels can enjoy this comprehensive history of NASCAR.

I wish to thank Quatro Publishing Group for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.  The opinions expressed are strictly mine.

Link: NASCAR 75 Years: Pearce, Al, Hembree, Mike, Crandall, Kelly, Creed, Jimmy: 9780760380055: Books


Friday, April 7, 2023

Review of "High Flying Birds"

 When I received a book review request from this publisher, the University of Missouri, it was actually for a different book (that I have yet to review - it is coming, I promise!) and I asked about this one since I like reading about baseball during the World War II era.  While I was hoping for a bit more about the war and its effect on this team, it is still a very good recap of the 1942 season for the St. Louis Cardinals.  Here is my review of "High Flying Birds"

Title/Author: High-Flying Birds: The 1942 St. Louis Cardinals” by Jerome Mileur

Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: In 1942, the United States was entering World War II and that war proved to be a pivotal time for not only the country, but for its most popular sport at the time, baseball.  The biggest impact the war had on the game was the drafting of many players for military service.  While in 1942, this impacted the minor leagues more than the majors (they would feel it in later years), there were still teams that had to play either mostly younger or mostly older players.  The St. Louis Cardinals fell under the former category and their championship season is captured in great detail in this book by Jerome Mileur.

From a pure baseball viewpoint, a reader can’t get much more detail than they will get in this book.  Every series that the Cardinals played that year, from Opening Day to the World Series (won in 5 games over the New York Yankees) is covered in excellent recaps.  There is more attention paid to those games against the Brooklyn Dodgers, with whom the Cardinals fought all season to capture the National League pennant.

Maybe “fought” isn’t the best word to use to describe this as of course, there was real fighting between nations in the war, and Mileur has details on the progress of the war and the American communication with civilians back home in both the European and Pacific theatres.  While these are good and make good connections to baseball and the Cardinals, they are short compared to the game-by-game recaps of the 1942 season.  Also lacking, or at least was very minimal, were profiles of the players and the manager, Billy Southworth.  This doesn’t mean that there were none, but they were short and always had a connection to the current game Mileur was writing about. 

Some baseball historians, including Mileur, believe the 1942 Cardinals were the best team in the history of the franchise and he makes the case in the last section of the book.  Despite their youth and the large gap they had to make up in the last month of the season on the Dodgers, they ended the season with 106 victories and a win over the dominant team in baseball in the World Series.  Fans of the Cardinals, especially those who like their books filled with descriptions of the actions on the field, will enjoy this book.

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

Link: High-Flying Birds: The 1942 St. Louis Cardinals (Volume 1) (Sports and American Culture): Mileur, Jerome M.: 9780826218346: Books

Review of "Soccer Grannies"

 If you have ever picked up a book, discovered it was not what you expected, but it blew you away with how good it was, then you know how I felt when I read this book on some very inspiring ladies in South Africa.  Here is my review of "Soccer Grannies"

Title/Author: Soccer Grannies: The South African Women Who Inspire the World” by Jean Duffy

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: In many instances, a sports team will inspire others and not because of their excellent play, their championships or even the accomplishments of some of the athletes.  Sometimes just the fact that the athletes are playing their sport and enjoying themselves is enough to inspire people and this book by Jean Duffy tells of a group of women in South Africa who do just that.

Started by Rebecca (“Beka”) Ntsanwisi to get women to exercise more after the own diagnosis of colon cancer, the group of ladies aged 40 to 80+ went from an exercise group to soccer players who enjoyed the friendship, camaraderie and exercise that improved both their physical and mental health.

The author, who is a soccer player herself, found out about the Soccer Grannies through a video that a teammate shared and from there, she was determined to get them to the United States to play in a tournament.  The obstacles faced were daunting and numerous – financially, politically, and culturally. The spirt of both the author and Beka never let those problems stop them, however.  It is hard to determine what was more inspiring – the ladies who didn’t bother following patriarchal and discriminatory social norms to play soccer or the sheer joy when everything came together and the Soccer Grannies made it to Massachusetts to play in the tournament.

Duffy worked tirelessly not only to get them to the United States but also to learn more about the ladies and wrote terrific stories about many of them.  In the risk of overusing this word, it didn’t matter whose story was told, they were an inspiration to anyone who reads the book.  It should also be noted that Duffy and a few teammates made a journey to South Africa to visit the Grannies in their native land as well and while it didn’t evoke the same awe as the Grannies’ play (and celebrations) in the United States, it was clear that the women on both continents cherished their friendships and their time together.

Whether one is a soccer fan or not, this book is one that any reader will enjoy and will also learn about some of the culture of South Africa, both the good and the bad. The story of Beka and the rest of the Soccer Grannies is one that every person, athlete or not, should enjoy.

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