Monday, October 30, 2023

Review of "Black Ball"

As I very slowly work my way through older titles, this one is one that any basketball fan might want to take a look at.  Here is my review of "Black Ball." 



Black Ball: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Spencer Haywood, and the Generation that Saved the Soul of the NBA” by Theresa Runstedtler


4½ of 5 stars (very good)


The decade of the 1970’s was a decade of both progressive change and a decline in the interest of mostly white fans of professional basketball.  Some call it the “dark age” of the sport, but this book by Theresa Runstedtler tells why that is not necessarily the case.

The book has some great prose and well-written sections.  One example is when she is writing about the American Basketball Association (ABA), a short-lived but very important professional league that directly competed for players against the more established NBA.  She writes that the red, white and blue basketball the league used was not the only example of a change of color.  This passage is typical of the language used in the book: “Little did ABA team owners realize that their upstart league would change the color of the game in more ways than one. It would soon be the incubator for a new style of pro ball - black ball - and its existence would help spur black players to lead a more forceful push for higher compensation, better contract terms, and more control over their careers."

This prose is not the only excellent feature of this book as it is well-researched and the arguments presented are backed up well with factual evidence.  More than just basketball, issues that either are directly part of civil rights and racial justice or tangentially related such as labor relations are discussed in great detail.  While that is the main focus of the book, it also describes how the game itself changed.  With more Black players gaining jobs in both leagues, especially the ABA, the game changed from set plays and jump shots to a more freewheeling style with dunks and creativity. 

All of this is told with racial integration and justice as a key theme and for the most part, Runstedtler is very convincing and will make a reader think, no matter their race.  The only downfall of this argument was the last section about a punch thrown by Kermit Washington, a Black player, on a white player, Rudy Tomjanovich. Having seen that game and also having read other sources about the two men and the incident, there isn’t much agreement about the racial aspects of this and sadly, this isn’t of the same high quality as the rest of the book.  However, don’t let that one chapter discourage you from reading this one.  Anyone interested in civil rights or basketball from that era will enjoy it.

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

Link: Black Ball: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Spencer Haywood, and the Generation that Saved the Soul of the NBA: Runstedtler, Theresa: 9781645036951: Books

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Review of "1923: The Mystery of Lot 212 and a Tour de France Obsession"

"Obsession" is a good word to describe the author's passion for this writing after he found the film clip that is the subject of this book.  Here is my review:


1923: The Mystery of Lot 212 and a Tour de France Obsession” by Ned Boulting


3 of 5 stars (good)

Review:  During the height of the COVID pandemic in 2020, author Ned Boulting bought a spool of film that featured a clip from stage 4 of the 1923 Tour de France.  This book could be considered a dedication to the obsession that Boulting soon had to find out as much information as he could about the people in the film clip and the events surrounding that race.

Boulting does a yeoman’s job of research, interviews (as best he could during lockdowns) and writing in order to gain this material.  The book itself covers a lot of material and that is both good and bad. The bad: Boulting diverges a lot from the film and the race and writes much about French and German history and important figures.  It is interesting, but it takes a lot of attention away from the main topic – the race and the stage 4 winner, Theofile Beekman.

Beekman is the lone rider who crosses a bridge (which had its own history, covered by Boulting, of course) on the film and he won stages but the overall winner was Henri PĂ©lissier.  The stories of Beekman, Pelissier and others in the race were really interesting as were the writings about the Tour itself.  Had the book concentrated on the riders, the pieces in the film and the riders, it would have been a much better read.  

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

Link: 1923: The Mystery of Lot 212 and a Tour de France Obsession: Boulting, Ned: 9781399401548: Books

Friday, October 13, 2023

Review of "Suds Series"

This book is not one that was on my radar, was not one that I requested nor did I receive a request to review.  It was one that was just sent by the publisher when I requested an ARC of a different book.  I am glad this one was thrown in, as it turned out to be better than I expected. 


Suds Series: Baseball, Beer Wars and the Summer of ‘82” by J. Daniel


4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:  The 1982 baseball season had some interesting twists and turns.  There were the usual player movements, especially when free agency was still relatively new.  This was the first season after a disastrous player strike that wiped out about a third of the 1981 season.  There were ups and downs for all teams, some managerial firings and an exciting postseason, capped off by the St. Louis Cardinals downing the Milwaukee Brewers in 7 games.  This book by J. Daniel recaps that season.

The book has some characteristics that are typical of books that review one particular season and also has some that are different.  Like many other books on one year in baseball, the teams that received the most pages of text were those that were the most successful on the field.  There was a lot of good material on teams like the California Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Philadelphia Phillies.  The first two were also in the postseason during 1982 and the third was battling the Cardinals to the wire for the National League East title. 

However, what I did like about this is that these were not the only teams covered – all 26 teams in MLB that year were covered.  Even the one team with more than 100 losses, the Minnesota Twins, has some coverage.  This was helped because they were the one team who played in a brand-new stadium that year.  But the comings and goings of all teams were covered throughout the season in chapters broken up by month.  Then comes October and a complete review of the postseason games and series.

The other commonality for this book with others is the frequent pop culture references at the time, which are great for those who were experiencing them at the time.  Of course, since the subtitle references it, beer is a frequent topic as well.  It only makes sense given the two World Series participants had connections to beer.

The one drawback for the book was the lack of personal interviews.  Just from the sheer number of endnotes, it is clear that Daniel did extensive research to compose the book.  There are quotes from players, managers and others in the game liberally spread throughout the book.  These came from news articles and while good to show viewpoints from those involved in the sport, it just didn’t have that insight that actual interviews will bring.

While at times, probably because of this, the book reads like one very long news recap of the season, it is a fine book for fans of the sport from this time period.  One doesn’t have to be a fan of the Cardinals or Brewers to enjoy the book.  I am one – even though I am a Twins fan and 1982 was one of the worst seasons in their history, I thought the book was very good and well worth the time to read.

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

Link: Suds Series: Baseball, Beer Wars, and the Summer of '82 (Sports and American Culture): Daniel, J.: 9780826222800: Books

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Review of "Pretend the Ball Is Named Jim Crow"

I rarely read poetry books, but the title of this one caught my attention and when I read the description, I had to give it a try.  It is NOT your typical collection of poems - it is one that is powerful and worth the short time to read. Here is my review.


Pretend the Ball Is Named Jim Crow: The Story of Josh Gibsonby Dorian Hairston


5 of 5 stars (excellent)


Josh Gibson is undoubtedly one of the best players who toiled in the Negro Leagues before Black players were integrated into Major League baseball. There have been books and other publications illustrating Gibson’s life and career, but none of them do so as eloquently as this book by Dorian Hairston.

Instead of writing in regular text, Hairston tells Gibson’s story through poetry and it is powerful.  There are several people who are telling the story.  Gibson himself is of course the primary character, but his wife Helen (who sadly died while giving birth to their twin children Josh Jr and Helen) and the man credited with discovering Gibson, Hooks Tinker, are also voices heard in the book.

It is also a book about much more than baseball.  That is why I used the word “voices” as while Gibson’s baseball career is described, this collection of poems will tell the reader about the struggles of Black people, both on the diamond and elsewhere.  The introduction by Hairston is also powerful in its description of not only the struggles of Blacks in society but also the role baseball’s color barrier played in this period. This is one of the best collections of poetry I have ever read and is one that whether one is interested in baseball, the history of racial relations in the United States, or poetry, it is one to add to a reader’s library.

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

Link: Pretend the Ball Is Named Jim Crow: The Story of Josh Gibson: 9780813198880: Hairston, Dorian: Books

Monday, October 2, 2023

Review of "The Game That Saved the NHL"

I read most of this book on a train ride to a baseball game.  Now, I usually like to read about the sport I am going to see on those trips, but this book had me intrigued, so I had to do so then.  It didn't disappoint as I really enjoyed it.  Here is my review of "The Game That Saved the NHL"


The Game That Saved the NHL: The Broad Street Bullies, the Soviet Red Machine and Super Series ‘76” by Ed Gruver


5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:  In the 1970’s, professional hockey in North America (two leagues at that time, the NHL and the WHA) was undergoing an identity crisis.  Long believed to have the most superior players and teams, Canada had barely won the Summit Series in 1972 against the best in Russia after being overconfident early in the series.  Nearly four years later, after some growling by NHL officials that the Russians had never faced the best teams instead of a group of all-stars, it was decided to have the two best squads in Russia, the Red Army team and the Wings, face eight of the best NHL teams at that time. This book by Ed Gruver focuses on the last of these matchups that pitted the Red Army team against the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Flyers earned the nickname the “Broad Street Bullies” due to the location of their arena and their very physical style of play.  They were very popular with the fans and apparently with the author as he refers to them as the Bullies instead of the Flyers much more frequently throughout the book.  Nonetheless, the book as a whole is more of a look at that Flyers team with the actual game being the climax of the story – even though it does finish when the Flyers lost the Stanley Cup finals later in 1976 to the Montreal Canadiens.

The stories of the players and of head coach Fred Shero are the best aspect of the book and they are interspersed throughout.  Whether it was a superstar such as Bobby Clarke, a fighter like Dave Schultz or a player not so well known such as Ed Van Impe, Gruver will give the reader a mini-biography on each one profiled and connect it back to the story.  The best example of this was during the most famous part of the Flyers, er, Bullies game against the Red Army.

Van Impe laid a check into the best offensive player on the Red Army team, Valeri Kharlamov, that left the Russian star down on the ice for 10 minutes.  When coach Konstantin Loktev protested for a penalty to be called and none was whistled, he pulled his team off the ice.  This incident is probably the most remembered moment, but the game did showcase the hockey skills of the Flyers, er, Bullies as well as their physicality.  That they won by the score of 4-1 is less important than the fact that they were given notice by officials that they had to win the game for political reasons as well as proving that NHL hockey was just as good as Russian hockey.

That Gruver was able to cover all this ground is a tribute to the work he put into this project. He will come across as pro-Bullies and NHL here, but that fits the mood at the time since this was at the height of the Cold War.  Fans of that era of hockey, whether they favored the NHL style or the Russian style, should pick up this book.

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

Link: The Game That Saved the NHL: The Broad Street Bullies, the Soviet Red Machine, and Super Series '76: Gruver, Ed, Watson, Joe: 9781493074976: Books