Sunday, June 30, 2024

Review of “The Umpire Is Out”

It is only fitting that on this last day of Pride Month that I share my review of an excellent memoir by Dale Scott, a very successful and openly gay major league umpire.  

 Title/Author: “The Umpire is Out: Calling the Game and Living My True Self” by Dale Scott with Rob Neyer


5 of 5 stars (very good)


Dale Scott worked as a MLB umpire between 1986 and 2017 when a concussion suffered in an early season game made him decide to retire. In 2014, he publicly announced that he was gay, becoming the first openly gay umpire in MLB. This memoir written with Rob Neyer tells Scott’s story of not only his umpiring career but also how he dealt with the need to hide his sexuality from becoming public. 

Given the title, I expected the bulk of the book to be mostly about his private life, but there is more about his life as an umpire than his personal life. That doesn’t mean the book was a disappointment - indeed, I felt that both topics were very interesting and no matter what part of his life Scott was sharing, I found the stories and the writing to be great. 

Scott didn’t set out to have a career in umpiring right away - he had a good gig at a radio station and was an official for basketball and football games as well as a baseball umpire. He decided to enroll in an umpire school and when he did well enough to be offered a minor league job, he took it. His description of life at the school and in the minor leagues is not unlike many of those stories of minor league players but there are unique elements of being an umpire versus being a player.

His stories, and there are many, of games, arguments and ejections during his time in the majors are excellent. As a Twins fan, my favorite story is one he shared about a time Tom Kelly, then manager of the Twins, was actually telling him he made a great call but was making it look like an argument to the fans. He devoted an entire chapter to “TK” and said he was one of the best managers when it came to temperament with umpires. Of course there are plenty of stories that were true arguments, including a great one with Billy Martin.

The reader will learn a lot about the life of an umpire and also some of the issues with their union and MLB. A particularly interesting piece in this area was the mass resignation plan by then-union head Richie Phillips in 1999. The actions taken and the fallout from that scheme read like a drama novel and Scott’s part in it made for very interesting reading.

Like the players, an umpire will spend a lot of time away from home. This took Scott away from his long time partner and now husband Mike. How the two of them met was one of my favorite passages where Scott talks about his personal life. It wasn’t so much of a “love at first sight” story that drew me in, but when describing that first encounter, Scott explained how the gay men community would signal that they are interested in a guy. I felt that was important for readers who are heterosexual to know so they get a better understanding of the LGBTQ+ community lives. 

It is important to note that when Scott realized his sexuality he was completely comfortable in who he was. He had concerns, like many LGBTQ+ individuals, about how he should hide this and when he could tell others. His stories about coming out to his family, to friends who may not have known and even fellow umpires were mostly positive. Some people thought so and this was a confirmation. Probably the most telling was when he came out to his father via a letter instead of a conversation or phone call. Reading about this was quite emotional and having his father eventually come to accept and love his son (after saying he needed time to process this, which Dale understood) was a very powerful passage.

This was a book that I started and finished in one sitting, something I rarely do. It is a terrific memoir of not only the life of a successful umpire but also one of the many hurdles a gay person may face until they, as the book’s subtitle says, can live their true self. 

I wish to thank the author and University of Nebraska Press for providing a review copy of the book. The opinions expressed in this review are strictly my own. 


Sunday, June 23, 2024

Review of “My Home Team”

 I was interested in this book mainly because of the author and recognition of the name - but it turned out to be something more powerful. Here is my review of “My Home Team.”


“My Home Team: A Sportswriter’s Life and the Redemptive Power of Small-Town Girls’ Basketball” by Dave Kindred


4 of 5 stars (very good)


Dave Kindred was a well-known and respected sportswriter in the late 20th century with his work in Washington and Atlanta being his most read articles and columns. When he wanted to stop writing and spend more time with his beloved wife Cheryl in their home state of Illinois, that plan was waylaid- sort of. 

That is the main topic of this book - Kindred’s writing about the Morton Potters, a girl’s basketball team that was very successful and often reached the Final Four of their state championship. Kindred was asked to do so to keep the twin’s fans updated - and he would be paid in Milk Duds. This “assignment” turned into a great match as the Kindreds became as much a part of Potters basketball as the players, coaches and parents. 

After the first section of the book that is a recap of Dave Kindred’s writing career - Act I - the story of the Potters and the Kindreds relationship really takes off. This section - Act II - is a basketball junkie’s dream as Kindred writes about many of the Potters games in great detail. This part of the book is far into the minutiae of the games, which felt like it was a little too much. This is true even for a reader like me, who normally loves reading this level of detail on the game. Here is it was good - almost too good. 

Where the book shines, and will tug at the heart of even the most hardened reader, is Dave’s passages about his love for wife Cheryl. It took a tragic event for this to really stand out - Cheryl suffering a debilitating stroke. During this time, which included the worst of the COVID pandemic, Dave did his best work on this book. His devotion to his wife during his visits when Cheryl had good and bad days are clearly evident here. When Cheryl finally passed away, the love expressed by both Dave Kindred and the girls basketball team the Kindreds adopted was quite touching. 

I admit to have been ready to mark this as a DNF early in Act II, but I am glad I stuck with it as it’s a book that is very touching and a different typ of love story, heavy on the basketball.

I wish to thank Public Affairs for providing a review copy of the book via NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are strictly my own. 


Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Review of "Just Add Water"

Just in time for the Paris Olympics, swimming champion Katie Ledecky has published her memoir.  For someone who is only 27, it contained a lot of memorable material.  Here is my review of "Just Add Water."



“Just Add Water: My Swimming Life” written and narrated by Katie Ledecky


5 of 5 stars (excellent)


It isn’t often that I want to get a book immediately on the date of publication as I usually prefer to wait at least a couple weeks and see what the initial reviews look like.  But when it came time to get this memoir by Olympic and world swimming champion Katie Ledecky, something told me that I needed to read or listen to this ASAP.  And I am glad I did as it was a very enjoyable listen.

Something to note is that this memoir follows the tried-and-true format of talking about the author’s youth, their family and those who inspire them and their rise to the top of their sport or profession.  Ledecky talks in great detail about her family, especially in the early chapters.  Her brother Michael and she were both attracted to swimming early and while Michael hit the proverbial “wall” in his teens, Katie kept on swimming.  There are also chapters about her parents and grandparents.  The story of her grandfather who was from the Czech Republic was especially inspiring.

What made this memoir so good was the positivity expressed by Ledecky throughout the book.  This was quite refreshing when she talked about her experiences during the worst of the COVID pandemic in 2020 that led to the postponement of that year’s Olympic games in Tokyo.  Any disruption like that will lead to issues for Olympic athletes but between good fortune, good luck and a positive attitude, Ledecky was able to continue her training.  No matter the subject, even when it is a very hard training session, she keeps an upbeat vibe to the book.  One part of this attitude that I really enjoyed is when she was questioning why so many reporters were asking her about “disappointed” she was when winning a sliver medal in Tokyo instead of gold.  She asks how can one be disappointed when you realize you are the second-best athlete in this race in the world? 

I am glad that I listened to the audio version of this book instead of reading the physical copy or the e-book.  Hearing Ledecky’s story in her own voice was powerful, energizing and meant a great deal more than simply reading the text.  One will even learn more about the sport of swimming – great material for those who only follow the sport during Olympic years.

Link: Just Add Water by Katie Ledecky - Audiobook -

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Review of "Macho Man"

This book was selected as me as part of a reading challenge - one person picks books for another person to read.  This one was selected for me to read from a list of various books, all on sports or entertainment.  I guess this one is good since it included both!  Here is my review of "Macho Man."  


“Macho Man: The Untamed, Unbelievable Life of Randy Savage” by Jon Finkel

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)


Any wrestling fan knows about Randy “Macho Man” Savage (real name Randy Poffo), who was one of the most popular figures in the business in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.  His legendary wrestling career, mostly with the then-World Wrestling Federation (WWF) is captured in great detail in this biography by Jon Finkel.

Through extensive research and interviews, the reader will be taken through Savage’s wrestling career, which was a humble beginning in a minor company in Kentucky.  When he, his brother Lanny and father Angelo Poffo created their own wrestling association to compete with the bigger, more reputable Continental Wrestling Association of Jerry Lawler, they failed to make much headway and had to fold the company.  This turned out to be a turning point for Randy as after sending a sincere letter to Lawler, Lawler referred him to Vince McMahon.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

As many know, Savage/Poffo was a professional baseball player before entering professional wrestling.  He played in the minor league systems of the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds (his favorite team as a kid) and Chicago White Sox.  While he never made the major leagues, no one questioned his work ethic or the length to which he went to show everyone what he would do to make the big leagues. This includes learning to throw left handed when an injury prevented him from throwing with his natural right side.

As glad as I was that Finkel covered Savage/Poffo’s baseball career as well as he did, the coverage of his wrestling career was excellent.  This includes his time before and during his height of popularity with WWF.  This section includes some excellent insight into the business and the dialogue between wrestlers during the show, even while performing. One specific exchange that was very enlightening to me was early in Savage’s time with WWF when he was concerned that one of his patented elbow drops and a subsequent blow to the neck of his opponent hurt that person.  The other wrestler quickly said that no, he was selling the injury.  This was just one small example of the complete writing done on both careers of Savage/Poffo.

 After his time with WWF was complete, he did some time with the WCW and reunited with some of the other stars at that time, but it was not as complete as the other areas of Poffo’s life. Which was fine as there was plenty of material to enjoy and absorb in this excellent biography of the man who told us to “step into a Slim Jim!”

I wish to thank ECW Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley.  The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

Link: Macho Man: The Untamed, Unbelievable Life of Randy Savage: 9781770417588: Finkel, Jon: Books

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Review of “Under Jackie’s Shadow”

This book’s synopsis intrigued me as it told a different side of the integration of baseball. It also has the feel of authenticity because these are stories of the players who experienced these hardships. Here is my review of “Under Jackie’s Shadow.”


“Under Jackie’s Shadow: Voices of Black Minor Leaguers Baseball Left Behind” by Mitchell Nathanson 


4 of 5 stars (very good)


When Jackie Robinson became the first Black player in the major leagues, it rightly created a path to the highest level of baseball for all. But the odds for any professional baseball player to make it to “the show” are slim. This book by Mitchell Nathanson reveals stories about Black players who either didn’t reach that lofty status or if they did, it was only for that proverbial cup of coffee.

Something that struck me as more shocking than the stories of racism and lack of opportunities for Black players is how many of the men who told Nathanson their story were related to Black men who did succeed. There was Ron Allen, brother of former Phillies and White Sox star Dick Allen. Ron felt that he was never given a fair chance with the Phillies because Dick (whom the Phillies always called “Richie”) left them with a bad feeling about anyone named Allen. 

Then there was Will Aaron, cousin of the legendary Hank Aaron. When Will was struggling to move up in the Baltimore Orioles’ organization during the early 1970’s, he decided to study the finer points of the game closely, including why his cousin became the home run king. However he also discovered a concept Will Aaron called “position displacement” which systematically excluded Black players from certain positions like catcher and placed them in the outfield.

There are many recollections of segregation in the southern cities that had minor league teams, coaches who were clearly prejudiced, and the broken promises after the young player passed up college scholarships to play professional baseball. Most of these stories will leave the reader sad, angry or both. But there was one more unusual aspect in the book: most of these men held no grudge toward the game and were satisfied that they tried their best. I found that to be a surprising aspect as given what they went through, one would believe they would have hard feelings toward the game they loved but didn’t love them back. Overall, a very good book as told by the who experienced this injustice. 

I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing a review copy of the book. The opinions expressed in this review are strictly my own. 


Monday, June 10, 2024

Review of "Men in White"

Upon reading the synopsis of this book when I learned that there was going to be another book on the Penn State scandal more than a decade ago, I wanted to pick it up as it looked to be a different perspective.  It certainly was that and more.  Here is my review of "Men in White" 

Title/Author: “Men in White: The Gutsy, Against-All-Odds Return of Penn State Football” by Chris Raymond


Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: November 5, 2011 is a day that will forever be etched in the minds of any person connected with the Penn State football program.  That was the day that a former coach, Jerry Sandusky, was charged with 40 counts of child molestation.  This led to the firing of legendary coach Joe Paterno (who died shortly thereafter) and later to sanctions against the program including a $60 million fine, four years of probation from postseason play, reduced scholarships and most shocking, every player on the football team at that time could transfer to any other school without waiting a year as all other transferred players had to do.

Which leads to why this book about the 5 seasons after that announcement is so good.  The first salvo fired to show that those who care about the Nittany Lions were not going to let this affect them was by two players on the team:  Michael Mauti and Michael Zordich. After deciding to stay at Penn State, despite many recruiters attempting to lure them to other schools, they made an announcement on national TV stating that “This program was not built by one man. And this program sure as hell is not going to be torn down by one man.” 

From there, author Chris Raymond gleans information from hundreds of interviews from people who had some kind of connection to the program.  People who spoke of the progress range from two head coaches who were important to keeping the team together and then bringing it back to success (Bill O’Brien and James Franklin) to the students who were the mascot through those years.  That is a big reason why I enjoyed this book so much.  This was not only a story of a football team and its coaches and players – this was about the entire program and what it meant to students, alumni and the state.

That doesn’t mean there wasn’t football in the book.  Many of the chapters and stories from players and coaches were about the games in those seasons between 2012 and 2016.  From ensuring the team played respectable football in the first two seasons (bowl eligible both years, even if there were some difficult losses) to winning the Big Ten championship in 2016, there is enough football described to make those who love the X’s and O’s of the game.  This is done through quotes by players and coaches involved. While a different way to write about games, it really works in this case because the reader can feel the emotions of the people involved.

There are also chapters on related topics such as Coach Paterno and one dedicated entirely to the students who camp out to get tickets. The dedication of the latter did not diminish during this dark period, which ended sooner than expected.  George Mitchell, the senator who also oversaw the investigation into the use of steroids in baseball, updated the NCAA on the subsequent actions by the school after the sanctions were handed down and gave glowing reports on the progress. As a result, all sanctions were lifted by 2014 and that gave the program even more of a boost, capped off by the 2016 conference championship.

This review really doesn’t do justice for this book – everything about it was top notch.  The writing, the honest reality of the subjects interviewed, and the storyline were all excellent.  For a glimpse into just how raw the honesty was, the interview with Silas Redd, a player who did leave Penn State when there were no restrictions, his talk about his decision and reasons for leaving are as honest and emotional as any of those by the players who stayed.  Just another small story in a collection that when put together is a great piece about one of the blue bloods of college football.

I wish to thank St. Martin’s Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley.  The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

Link: Men in White: The Gutsy, Against-All-Odds Return of Penn State Football: Raymond, Chris: 9781250280480: Books

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Review of "Two Ton"

I was looking for a decent audio book for a recent road trip to a conference and this one on the 1939 fight between Joe Louis and "Two Ton" Tony Galento was perfect - not only was it a good listen but also the perfect length in that I finished it about half an hour before I got home.  Here is my review. 


Title/Author: “Two Ton: One Night, One Fight – Tony Galento vs. Joe Louis” by Joseph Monniger, narrated by Kiff VandenHeuvel

Rating:  4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: Boxing is a sport in which an “everyman” type of boxer can go from being unknown to becoming famous because of one match.  This is true in both the movies (think “Rocky”) and in real life (Chuck Wepner, whose story was the inspiration for “Rocky”).  These examples show that the underdog doesn’t even have to win in order to become a household name.  This book by Joseph Monniger and narrated by Kiff VandenHeuvel is about another one of those underdogs, Tony “Two Ton” Galento.

Despite not having the chiseled body or any other typical features of a fighter, Galento did have a moderately successful career but was on the downside when he had the chance to face the world heavyweight champion, Joe Louis.  This was in 1939 and the book does a very good job of describing both the state of the country and the state of boxing. 

The text alternates between the description of the fight and important points in the careers of both Louis and Galento.  The narration of VandenHeuvel is very good for the fight action, especially in the moment when Galento became a household name with a knockdown of the champion in the third round.  Even though he eventually lost when Louis knocked him out in the next round, Galento was hailed for his accomplishment despite his weaknesses in the sport that allowed Louis to quickly recover. 

The format of the book, plus the information was very good, even if at times it felt incomplete and out of place.  Nonetheless, this was one of the better books on an individual boxing match in a short but enjoyable listen.

Link: Two Ton: One Night, One Fight - Tony Galento v. Joe Louis (Audible Audio Edition): Joseph Monninger, Kiff VandenHeuvel, steerforth press l.l.c.: Books