Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Review of "The Wizard of College Baseball"

When I saw the title of this book, I thought it was about the long-time coach of USC, Rod Dedeaux.  When I saw it was about Miami coach Ron Fraser instead, I thought that's fine, I'm still interested.  Glad I picked it up.  Here is my review of "The Wizard of College Baseball."


 Title/Author:

“The Wizard of College Baseball: How Ron Fraser Elevated Miami and an Entire Sport to National Prominence” by David Brauer

 

Rating: 

4 of 5 stars (Very good)

Review:  

College baseball, now a staple on sports networks like ESPN, has not always been a popular option for athletes, spectators or television viewers.  It was long considered to be a “non-revenue” sport and had to either raise its own funds or receive money from the revenue sports like football or men’s basketball.  Ron Fraser almost single-handedly changed that with the baseball program at the University of Miami and how he did so is captured in this book by David Brauer.

 If there was ever a person who could sell anyone on college baseball, it was Fraser. Whether it was cost-conscious athletic directors, skeptical business who were being wooed by Fraser for donations or fans who had limited entertainment dollars at their disposal, Fraser would work his magic and convince those people to provide the funds, support and/or backing the baseball program would need.  When Fraser took the job, he saw how run down the field and equipment were and instead of moping about the condition of the program he took over, he got to work.

That work not only lead to a revenue generating sport in baseball for the school, but it made Miami baseball the place to go for good family entertainment at affordable prices.  The newly renovated Mark Light Stadium (named for the biggest donor and supporter of Fraser’s program) had affordable food, games and other entertainment as well. It should also be mentioned that other sports at the school, most notably football, also benefited from the new notoriety that baseball gave the university.  This is especially true as ESPN

Success came not only on the financial side but also on the field as Miami became a powerhouse in the sport, going from very few wins to regular appearances in the NCAA Regional tournaments and the College World Series. Their championships in 1982 and 1985 were the best moments for Fraser’s tenure as the coach.  His coaching methods and motivation talks were the best parts of the book that concentrated on the on-field accomplishments of Hurricanes baseball.  Many of Fraser’s players were interviewed by Brauer and they all shared great stories of their time with the coach.

After Fraser retired from coaching Miami in 1992, he was named head coach of the 1992 US Baseball team.  However, his involvement in the game was not over after those Olympics as he provided guidance and assistance to many teams, including the Los Angeles Dodgers and his friend Tommy Lasorda.  The book covers all these topics quite well, but not in an organized manner and it was here, especially the last two chapters, where I found the book to be a little harder to follow and haphazard.

However, that doesn’t mean that this book is not a good read as I enjoyed learning more about Fraser and his work in building up the Miami baseball team from afterthought to powerhouse.  College baseball fans will be especially interested in this book as it is a good source of information of one of the most successful programs in the sport.

 I wish to thank the author and publisher for providing a review copy. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

 

Link: The Wizard of College Baseball : Nebraska Press (unl.edu)

Monday, April 8, 2024

Review of "Roberto Alomar"

Sometimes a book on a famous player will allow the reader to learn much more about that player than what they learned in the media or through fandom.  That was the case for me with this book about Roberto Alomar.  Here is my review.


 

Title/Author:

“Roberto Alomar: The Complicated Life and Legacy of a Baseball Hall of Famer” by David Ostrowsky

Rating: 

4 of 5 stars (Very good)

Review:  The subtitle of this book by David Ostrowsky is very accurate when discussing the baseball legacy of Roberto Alomar, a Hall of Fame second baseman who played for seven different major league teams but found his greatest success as a Toronto Blue Jay.  Alomar’s entire career, as well as his personal life and the controversies that surrounded him both on and off the field are captured here.

From the very beginning it is clear that Ostrowsky is not going to sugar coat Alomar’s life as the book begins with the infamous incident in 1996 when Alomar, then a member of the Baltimore Orioles, spit on umpire John Hirschbeck after a disputed called third strike. Alomar then further enraged fans and media when he mentioned that Hirschbeck had become more bitter since his son passed away.  While easily the most famous of the controversies involving Alomar, there are others that did not get as much attention but are noted by Ostrowsky.  These included allegations of sexual assault that led Major League Baseball to ban him from the game in 2021, although it would not change his Hall of Fame status.

Lest one thinks this book only covers this side of Alomar, it is also full of food writing about Alomar’s baseball career, from his excitement about the game as a child to his determination to keep playing late when his diminished skills in his mid-30’s would not allow him to hang on with a team.  His brief time with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox (twice) illustrate how much he had declined.

But when his star shone bright, it was brilliant as his accomplishments in Toronto made everyone who saw him believe he was one of the best, if not the best second baseman in the game.  His knowledge was considered to be off the charts, and he was always sharing it freely with teammates or anyone else who wanted to learn more about the game.

 In short, this book was a very fair, balanced, and informative account of Roberto Alomar.  A reader will come away from this agreeing that he certainly deserves to be considered a Hall of Fame player but will also understand why there are also detractors given the many controversies, justified or not, that surround his legacy.

 I wish to thank the author and publisher for providing a review copy. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

 Link: Roberto Alomar: The Complicated Life and Legacy of a Baseball Hall of Famer: Ostrowsky, David: 9781538158029: Amazon.com: Books

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Review of "Perfect Eloquence"

I never thought I could hear more good things about Vin Scully, nearly two years after his passing - but this book has many of them.  I learned a lot more about the legendary broadcaster by reading this book.  Here is my review of "Perfect Eloquence." 


Title/Author:

“Perfect Eloquence: An Appreciation of Vin Scully” by Tom Hoffarth

Rating: 

5 of 5 stars (Excellent)

Review:  It’s difficult to add any more praise and adulation for Vin Scully that hasn’t already been said, but this book by Tom Hoffrarth does just that.  Scully was the broadcasting voice of the Dodger, covering them both in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, for 67 years.  Imagine doing a job you love, with millions listening to you, for that long.  Whether you are a big fan of the Dodgers or know practically nothing about baseball, the chance to meet or talk to Scully was a memorable moment for those lucky enough to do so.  This book is a collection of stories from people of all walks of like who were able to do so.

That is why this book is not only such a joy to read but is also one that must be given credit for accomplishing a difficult task – namely to share insights into the man that were not already shared either during his last year of broadcasting in 2016 or after his death in 2022. By interviewing various people – from fans to baseball personnel to other celebrities – Hoffrath was able to compile a great selection of stories on many different aspects of Scully’s life. To a person, everyone that Hoffrath gathered information from said the same thing about Scully – that he treated them with kindness, listened to them and expressed sincere pleasure in meeting them.

This went well beyond his broadcasting excellence. Many of the stories were about Scully’s faith and how that shaped his personality and how he interacted with people.  While the book stayed away from politics unless the person sharing the Scully story mentioned it, his leanings in that topic were shown. But even then, if the person had a different viewpoint than Scully, it didn’t affect the kindness and grace they showed in their feelings on him. That was very refreshing given today’s landscape.

Of course, there is baseball and Scully broadcasting moments in the book as well, but they were not the biggest takeaways from the book.  Whether your favorite call of Scully’s was his description of the perfect game by Sandy Koufax in 1965, his description of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run (my personal favorite) or the miraculous home run by Kirk Gibson in the 1988 World Series, fans of the sport and of Scully will not only recall those great moments, but they may also learn more about the man himself.  Hoffrath deserves a lot of praise for being able to not only collect all these wonderful stories, but also weave them together in a great book that does justice to one of the greatest sports broadcasters of all time.

I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press and NetGalley for providing a review copy. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

Link: Amazon.com: Perfect Eloquence: An Appreciation of Vin Scully: 9781496238788: Hoffarth, Tom, Rapoport, Ron: Books