Monday, June 26, 2023

Review of "Sixty-One"

This is a book that has been on TBR for awhile but I wanted to wait until either close to or just after the publication date to read and review it so that more would know about the book and see the review - I certainly hope that is the case for this book as it was so good.  


“Sixty-One: Life Lessons from Papa, On and Off the Court” by Chris Paul with Michael Wilbom


5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: As much as I like to read memoirs from sports figures, the best aspect of this book by NBA star guard Chris Paul is that it DOESN’T read like a typical sports memoir or even a biography.  From the first pages, it is easy to tell that this is not only a book written from the heart, but it is a very moving tribute to a figure who was very important in Paul’s life.

His grandfather Nathaniel “Papa” Jones was a hard-working entrepreneur who overcame racial discrimination, naysayers and other obstacles to open his own service station in the Winston-Salem area of North Carolina.  This made a very huge impression on Paul and his brother and they both took away many valuable life lessons. Paul talks not only about items taught to him such as the value of hard work and to always follow your dreams but even tasks taught at the shop.  I loved when showed off his pride in being able to quickly rotate tires and change a car’s motor oil.  If nothing else, that shows that his success in basketball hasn’t changed his view of more menial tasks that some undertake to make a living.

The moments with “Papa” that Paul shares range from unbelievably joyous (when he announced he was going to go to Wake Forest and Papa gives him a Wake Forest cap) to immeasurable sadness (when Papa was beaten and murdered at age 61, hence the title).  Through them all, this is a loving tribute to a person that molded a future basketball all-star into the person that he has become today.  Don’t expect a lot about Paul’s basketball career or a lot about his view on the social issues of today.  There are significant passages on each of these, but the bulk of the book is a loving tribute to “Papa.”

I wish to thank St. Martin’s Press for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Link: Sixty-One: Life Lessons from Papa, On and Off the Court: Paul, Chris, Wilbon, Michael: 9781250276711: Books


Monday, June 19, 2023

Review of "The Final Call"

While I generally review newer books, this book from 2011 is one that I had been searching for in libraries and book stores for some time and finally got a chance to check out a digital copy.  When it became available I jumped on the chance and read it in two days, something that doesn't happen often.  Here is my review of "The Final Call."


“The Final Call: Hockey Stories from a Legend in Stripes” by Kerry Fraser


5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: Kerry Fraser was considered by many to be one of the better NHL referees during his 30 year career in the league.  When one considers how much travel he did, how many players and coaches he encountered and all of the events he saw during that time, one must imagine that he has plenty of stories to tell.  That is evident when reading his memoir, written in 2011, soon after his retirement.

Despite the title, the book isn’t completely stories from the rink or his personal life.  There are passages that describe the training, fitness requirements and other parts of a hockey official’s life.  It was clear from this that one of the things that Kerry didn’t like about the job was writing the reports after each game, especially if it was a game in which there were many penalties or other occurrences.  This would include incidents such as verbal altercations that may not have resulted in penalties but still warranted extra attention from the league offices.

What makes the book very entertaining, though, IS the variety of stories Fraser shares.  These are mainly divided by location, with chapters covering several NHL cities.  All of the Original Six cities are covered as well as others such as Philadelphia (where Fraser officiated his last game on the last day of the regular season in 2010) and Vancouver.  Players from Gordie Howe to Wayne Gretzky to Sidney Crosby are given time in the book.  Those are the greatest names mentioned (along with Mario Lemieux) but there is plenty of material on players that aren’t as famous well.

Some fans may remember certain games in which Fraser was part of the story, most notably the famous illegal stick call in game 2 of the 1993 Stanley Cup Final between Montreal and Los Angeles.18 years after the call, he still felt he made the right call – just as any proud official would do.  These stories about his officiating, as well as stories about outings and work with fellow officials are just as good as those about the players and coaches.

What really stood out in this book for me, however, is how gracious he was in paying tribute to everyone who made his career memorable.  Of course, like any good family man, there is plenty of praise for his wife Kathy and their children.  Hockey fans of any age will enjoy reading this memoir of a Hall of Fame referee.


Link: The Final Call: Hockey Stories from a Legend in Stripes: Fraser, Kerry: 9781551683539: Books



Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Review of "Penguin Power"

Even today, when I look back at the Los Angeles Dodgers infield of the 1970's and early 1980's, I am amazed that they played together as a unit as long as they did, considering it was the beginning of the age of free agency.  My latest review is of a memoir by one of those infielders, Ron Cey. 


“Penguin Power: Dodger Blue, Hollywood Lights and My One-in-a-Million Big League Journey” by Ron Cey with Ken Gurnick


4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: Ron Cey was part of the infield combination that played the most number of games together for one team.  With Cey at third base, Bill Russel at shortstop, Davey Lopes at second base and Steve Garvey at first base, this foursome played together nearly nine complete seasons for the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Each one of them was an all-star and Cey talks about his journey to the big leagues in this memoir.

The best part of this book was Cey’s candor.  He wasn’t afraid to drop some criticism or share bad experiences with teammates, especially the other three infielders mentioned above.  This is also true of his coaches, managers and front office personnel.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a book where he harps on the negatives – indeed, most of the stories are positive and at times funny.  It just was refreshing to see that when he sensed something wasn’t right, he wasn’t afraid to call it like he saw it.  The best example of this was his experience with former Dodger GM Al Campanis, whom Cey felt never was totally sold that Cey would be a key part of a winning Dodgers club, which he certainly became.

There are also times where Cey shows that he played in a different era than today as there is more analytical data in the decisions made by on-field managers as well as general managers.  I’ll stop short of calling it sounding like he is yelling at people to get off his lawn, but he clearly doesn’t agree with some of this process today.  To his credit, he gives counterarguments to what was done when he was a player.  For example, when he mentioned that today, players are shuffled in and out of a lineup because of data showing strengths and weaknesses, that was done by communication between players and managers during the 1970’s and 1980’s when Cey played.

Overall, the book does read like a typical memoir with some extra name dropping since after all, this was Los Angeles and Cey was able to rub elbows with many celebrities.  He also talks about his time with the Chicago Cubs, including their memorable 1984 season, but for the most part, both during and after his playing career, he certainly bleeds Dodger blue.  Any Los Angeles fan will enjoy reading this book.

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

Link: Penguin Power: Dodger Blue, Hollywood Lights, and My One-in-a-Million Big League Journey eBook : Cey, Ron, Gurnick, Ken: Kindle Store


Friday, June 2, 2023

Review of "62"

 It seems ironic to be posting a review of a book I enjoyed on the New York Yankees on the day before I take my first trip to Fenway Park in 30 years, but I guess that's just how the reading schedule played out.  Here is my review of a book on Aaron Judge's record setting season, "62."


“62: Aaron Judge, the New York Yankees and the Pursuit of Greatness” by Bryan Hoch


4 of 5 stars (Very good)

Review: 2022 saw one of the best individual seasons in recent baseball history as Aaron Judge set a new American League record with 62 home runs in the penultimate game of the season.  How Judge and his team, the New York Yankees, fared in that season both on and off the field is captured in this book written by veteran Yankee beat writer Bryan Hoch.

Hoch’s knowledge of the Yankees, both the players and the front office, is very clear in the writing as he provides details that only a Yankee insider would know.  This is especially true when he writes about Judge’s negotiations for a new contract both before the 2022 season and then afterward when he was a free agent but ended up re-signing with the Yankees.  His coverage of both the team’s performance on the field and Judge’s individual pursuit of the home run record are also very good.

At times, though, it did appear that objectivity was not a strong suit of this book.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not a “Yankee hater” and I don’t get upset when the team does well, but at times it feels like Hoch writes like a public relations employee for the team instead of a reporter.  One item that made me think like this was when he was giving a brief history of both the team and the previous record-setting seasons by Babe Ruth and Roger Maris.  This item talked about the institutional racism by the Boston Red Sox and their dubious distinction of being the last baseball team to integrate.  While everything Hoch wrote was true, it was never mentioned that the Yankees’ history in racial matters is not much better as they too were very slow to integrate.  A complete picture on items like this was my one issue with the book.

That doesn’t overshadow the many positives – the portrayal of Judge, the inserts of what Maris was going through in his record season of 1961, some great stories about the other 2022 Yankees like Josh Donaldson and Gerrit Cole.  Plus, of course, a description of each of the 62 home runs hit by Judge and some of the memorable calls by TV broadcaster Michael Kay and radio play-by-play man John Sterling.  This book should be part of every Yankee fan’s bookshelf.

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

Link: 62: Aaron Judge, the New York Yankees, and the Pursuit of Greatness eBook : Hoch, Bryan, Maris, Roger: Kindle Store