Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Review of “The New Ballgame”

 January is always when I’m itching to find baseball books as I am impatiently awaiting for pitchers and catchers to report. This book did the trick. Here is my review of “A New Ballgame.”


“The New Ballgame” by Russell A. Carleton


4 of 5 stars (very good)


If I were to be told about a book on baseball analytics, I would think that it’s all graphs, spreadsheets numbers and acronyms for the various formulas used in modern statistics. This book by Russell A. Carleton does contain all of that - but it is not what I would think a book like this is all about.

Instead, Carleton uses his time as a clinical therapist to explain the thought process behind the shift to these statistics and their use by baseball teams.Something he refers to frequently throughout the  book is that there are 5 basic facts about every person and he connects that to the topic of the chapter. At first it felt annoying but it was better as the book went along.

That was also the case as he presented his baseball topics. While some seemed to make sense from the start, such as the changes in the use of the sacrifice bunt and the decline of its use age, there were other topics that I felt he went in various directions. The best example of that was the chapter that asks if analytics “ruined” baseball. The information is good, but it jumps all over the place. That goes from the length of games to bunts to stolen bases to the low pay and poor working conditions for minor league players. Until the en of the chapter I couldn’t see how it tied all up.

However, that didn’t take away what made this book enjoyable- it was a normally dry topic that thanks to Carleton’s writing, it was a much more palatable item to read about. I felt that a fan will understand a lot more about the reasons why teams hire these data analysts and make decisions based on this data. Overall a very good read. 


Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Review of “Watford Forever”

 While I had heard about Elton John owning a soccer team in the 1970’s, I never knew the details until I received this book as a Christmas gift. Thank you to my son for giving me this -mit was very good. 


“Watford Forever” by John Preston


4 of 5 stars (very good)


In 1976, the Watford soccer club and Elton John (Reggie Dwight) were at polar opposites in their respective worlds. As John was soaring to great popularity and fame with his music, Watford was languishing at the bottom of the standings in England’s Fourth Division - about as low as an English soccer club could go. However, those fortunes were about to change as Elton John purchased the club and soon thereafter hired Graham Taylor to run the team. How they changed Watford’s fortunes is told in this book by John Preston.

Both men are portrayed in great detail, which helps illustrate both the similarities and the differences between the two men. When they first met, Taylor was questioning both the level of commitment that John would put into the team aside from money and also just how much of a challenge did he want by taking over such a poorly funded and run club - at least they were before these two took over. It helps if the reader understands the inner workings of English soccer, both on and off the field to understand what Taylor was doing. But that isn’t required to thoroughly enjoy the book, especially with the character development of not only the two main figures in Watford’s rise to the First Division, but also many of the players on the pitch.

Speaking of the action there, Preston doesn’t spend a lot of time giving play by play details of games, but he does include accounts of all the important matches Watford played at all levels. This included both friendlies and league play. This was good writing as well - advanced enough that fans who know the sport well won’t be bored with reading these passages, but simple enough that casual or new fans will be able to easily understand the game.

Not only is there writing about the soccer, but there is also some very good material on John’s rise in the music industry and the demons that haunted him. Like many other musicians, dugs and alcohol were problems for him. But he never let that interfere with his love of the Watford club he had since his childhood. He often went to their games with his father, the only true bonding time they had. John also knew when to set aside his authority and let Taylor dictate what should be done when needed - right down to making sure the owner was properly dressed when making appearances with the team.

If a reader is either a soccer fan or an Elton John fan they should pick up this book. Entertaining and fast paced, it will make a great addition to the library of this type of reader.


Friday, January 19, 2024

Review of "88 and 1"

The timing for this review is perfect - it was exactly 50 years ago today that a historic winning streak ended.  This book tells the story of not only that thrilling basketball game but the inside stories of the two teams involved.  Here is my review of "88 and 1"



88 and 1: UCLA, Notre Dame and the Game That Ended the Longest Winning Streak in Men’s College Basketball History” by Timothy Bourret


4 of 5 stars (very good)


One of the longest winning streaks in all of sports occurred between 1971 and 1974 when the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) men’s basketball team won 88 consecutive games.  That streak ended on January 19, 1974 when Notre Dame upset the Bruins 71-70.  While this book about the game and the streak by Timothy Bourret is not meant to be a means to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that historic game, it is nonetheless timed well to be published when that game will be talked about on sports media.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is how Bourret brings fascinating tidbits into the dialogue that centers around the two schools’ basketball teams during that era.  The first, and a fact that is fairly well known, is that the streak started in 1971 when UCLA defeated Notre Dame.  One fact that might not be as well known is that in January 1974, Notre Dame became the first school to have three of its sports teams defeat the number one ranked team in that sport.  In addition to breaking UCLA’s streak in men’s basketball, the Fighting Irish defeated #1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and the hockey team, in only it’s third season of existence, defeated #1 Denver.  Items like this, which are interspersed throughout the book, make it one that a reader will absorb cover to cover so that they will not miss any more interesting items like this.

Both schools’ basketball seasons between 1971 and 1975 are covered extensively throughout the book as Bourret does a good job of not only writing about the historic game, but the ups and downs (in UCLA’s case, almost all “ups”) of the two basketball teams.  However, there are not a lot of player profiles in the book.  There are brief write ups of star players from both sides such as Bill Walton for UCLA and Adrian Dantley for Notre Dame but there is not a lot of human interest material.  The best profiles for that aspect are for the two coaches, John Wooden (UCLA) and Digger Phelps (Notre Dame).

But if a reader is looking for factual reporting on games, plays and seasons, then this book is a treasure trove of valuable information on these two programs during that time period.  Bourret also highlights many of the differences between that era and today and often will note how something that happened during that time would not occur today or vice versa.  Rule changes such as allowing freshmen to play on the varsity team and dunking are among the changes that are discussed and fans who have followed the sport over the decades will nod in agreement about how different the game was then compared to now.

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

Link: 88 and 1: UCLA, Notre Dame, and the Game That Ended the Longest Winning Streak in Men's College Basketball History: Bourret, Timothy: 9781493081219: Books

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Review of "Duel for the Crown"

It isn't often that a sports rivalry will not be between two teams or two people.  But this one, that thrilled fans in 1978, is one that goes down as one of the best sports rivalries as two fine horses battled each other in the Triple Crown races that year.  Here is my review of "Duel for the Crown."


Duel For the Crown: Affirmed, Alydar, and Racing’s Greatest Rivalry” by Linda Carroll and David Rosner 


5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:  After a 25-year drought in which no horse won the Triple Crown, the decade of the 1970’s saw this happen three times.  After fans watched in awe the feats of Secretariat (1973) and Seattle Slew (1977), they were absolutely enthralled by the races for the Triple Crown in 1978.  During that year, all three races – the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes – were decided by less than one length.  The same horse won – Affirmed – and the same horse finished second – Alydar – in all three races.  This book by Linda Carroll and David Rosner is a through account of this great rivalry.

 There is much more to the book than just the races.  Although the writing about all three Triple Crown races (and many others in which one or both horses participated), what makes this book stand out is the background information. To start, it was noted that both horses were conceived in the same breeding shed, with ties to another famous horse (Native Dancer) within a month of each other.  The breeding and training grounds of the famous Calumet Farms was described in rich detail.  Background information that was so detailed that they almost read like biographies of the owners was included. 

 It also helped these two great horses that they had two famous jockeys in the saddle.  For Alydar, that duty went to Jorge Velasquez, who did everything he was supposed to do with the horse but came up short seven times out of nine in duels with Affirmed.  Affirmed, in the meantime, was ridden by Steve Cauthen who at the time was the most recognizable person in the sport of horse racing. Riding Affirmed at the young age of 18, he had already smashed records for wins and earnings and was even named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated – the first person in horse racing to be so honored.  This helped hype up the media for these races – and again, the rich writing by Carroll and Rosner will bring the reader knowledge that they will enjoy, even if they are not fans of the sport.

 No matter your interest or knowledge of horse racing, this book is one that any sports fan will treasure.  Fans of any sport love a good rivalry.  Whether your favorite rivalry was Ali vs. Frazier, Yankees vs. Red Sox or Celtics vs. Lakers, Affirmed vs. Alydar is one that ranks right up there with the great rivalries and this is the best source for information on these two outstanding horses.

 Link: Duel for the Crown: Affirmed, Alydar, and Racing's Greatest Rivalry: Carroll, Linda, Rosner, David: 9781493080199: Books

Friday, January 5, 2024

First review of 2024 - "George Allen"

Happy New Year! For those who remember the "Over the Hill Gang" Washington Redskins, you'll recall their coach George Allen.  A very good biography of this legendary coach has been published - here is my review.


George Allen: A Football Life” by Michael Richman 


4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:  The subtitle of this book is a perfect description of its subject – George Allen’s life was all about football.  He was a highly successful coach at both the college and professional levels.  It was in the latter area where he earned the most fame, coaching the Los Angeles Rams and the then-Washington Redskins from poor seasons to the playoffs.  This biography of Allen by Michael Richman is a wonderful tribute to the coach. 

Through many interviews of Allen’s former players, family members and siblings, the reader can get an inside look at the man whose obsession with football seemed to have no boundaries.  When he was coaching, he was always searching for players who might help his team.  This is the case whether it was his first coaching jobs at Morningside and Wittier Colleges (Morningside is where he met his wife Etty), his goal of lifting the Rams and Redskins out of their doldrums, his tenure in the United States Football League with the Chicago Blitz/Arizona Wranglers franchise and even his tenure with Long Beach State in 1990, which ended with his death in that year.

Allen always felt older, experienced players would help his teams during his time in the NFL more than rookies and he developed a well-deserved reputation for trading draft choices for veteran players.  Between this practice and his requests for better equipment and facilities, he often clashed with the owners of his teams.  While he was successful on the field, he ended up getting fired twice by the Rams (the second coming after only two pre-season games in 1978) and having an unhappy departure from the Redskins. 

This provided a complete, contrasting picture of Allen with so many of his players speaking highly of him to be coupled with his critics in front offices and in the media – Allen never had a great relationship with the media.  The interviews with his sons also shed much light onto the inner workings of Allen.  While one must take into account these are family members, they still provide the reader with great information on one of the most successful football coaches in the second half of the 20th century.  Any football fan or historian of that era will enjoy this book.

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

Link: George Allen: A Football Life: Richman, Michael, Vermeil, Dick: 9780803249684: Books