Sunday, October 15, 2017

Review of "Defying Expecations"

A confession: I hardly paid attention to Major League Soccer until I attended my first game this summer, watching the new expansion club Minnesota United face DC United.  The atmosphere was great and the fans were some of the noisiest I have ever heard at a sporting event that I attended.  When I heard about this book and the same type of environment that is present for another fairly new MLS club, I decided to take a look at the book - that was a good choice.  Here is my review of "Defying Expectations."


Title/Author:
“Defying Expectations: Phil Rawlins and the Orlando City Soccer Story” by Simon Veness and Susan Veness
Tags:
Football (European), soccer, professional, biography, business
Publish date:
November 1, 2017

Length:
304 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)
Review:
No matter the sport, league or level of play, one of the more difficult tasks in the business side of sports is to build a franchise from scratch.  Phil Rawlins, his wife Kay and their team of investors and executives did this in Major League Soccer, building the Orlando City Soccer Club from the ground up.  Their success, starting with Phil’s success in both business and football in England, is captured in this book by Simon Veness and Susan Veness. 

The origins of Orlando City can be traced back to another soccer club, Stoke City who is currently a club in the English Barclay’s Premier League.  This team was the one Phil Rawlins followed from childhood and when they had been playing poorly enough to be relegated out of the Premier League, Rawlins felt it was time to do something about that and he became an influential member of Stoke’s board. His innovation put Stoke back on track, but the lure of building a soccer team in the United States brought him to Austin, Texas.  There, with his then-wife Wendy (Rawlins would have three wives, Kay being his most recent) they put together a success team in the heart of American football territory, piling up wins and drawing fans to Austin’s minor league team.

However, Phil’s ultimate goal was to build a team in the largest American league for soccer, Major League Soccer (MLS). The league wanted to expand to the southeastern part of the country and Orlando was considered to be one of the markets in which a franchise could be viable.  By then, Phil realized he had gone as far as he could in Austin, so he and his new wife decided to make the plunge and go for it in Orlando.

Using Six Core Values the couple developed at the kitchen table, they set out to find investors and other key personnel required to build a team.  Like in Austin, the franchise in Orlando started in the United Soccer League, winning the title in their first year, 2011.  But unlike Austin, they saw much more potential. Through hard work, perseverance even after setbacks such as denial for stadium funding from the Florida legislature and a very large and loyal fan following, the club became an MLS expansion team in 2015.  They made the league sit up and take notice by not only signing Brazillian superstar Kaka, but also for selling over 60,000 tickets for the very first game. Orlando City has been one of the more successful MLS franchises since then and they hope to continue this into the future.

This entire story is told in an easy to read manner by Simon and Susan Veness and covers much of Phil Rawlins’ life successes in both business and soccer. The story of how he went from a hustling salesman to earning $259 million on an initial IPO is just as interesting a tale as is the success of Orlando City.  The book is part business, part soccer and part biography of a man who never let setbacks stop him from achieving his visions.  It is an inspiring story that readers will enjoy, even if they are not soccer fans.

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

Book Format Read:
Hardcover

Buying Links:
https://www.amazon.com/Defying-Expectations-Rawlins-Orlando-Soccer/dp/1496201760/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Review of "Violated"

This book needs no explanation about the content or the topic. This is an issue that is saddening and maddening at the same time. It is a book that needs to be read and then those that read it should do what they can to correct the current climate of sexual assault on college campuses.  This is my review of "Violated."


Title/Author:
“Violated: Exposing Rape at Baylor University Amid College Football’s Sexual Assault Crisis” by Paula Lavigne and Mark Schlabach
Tags:
Football (American), college, rape, Baylor, crime
Publish date:
August 22, 2017

Length:
368 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Review:
Sexual assaults on college campuses have been a problem that has gained more notoriety in recent years as universities have been held responsible to create a safe environment for women. The institutions have been accused of protecting athletes accused of assault, especially football players.  Baylor University, a Baptist school in Waco, Texas was exposed to enhancing this culture and the investigation into this culture is the topic of this excellent book by investigative reporters Paula Lavigne and Mark Schlabach.

The book begins with stories of unwanted advances, rape and even gang rape of female students by various football players on the Baylor team. The victims are from various backgrounds, races and interests.  The accounts of these attacks are difficult to read – detailed enough to make the reader uncomfortable, but necessary to illustrate the magnitude of the crimes. These victims are followed through most of the book as their lives are changed forever.  Those that were brave enough to come forward then faced more problems on several fronts. Whether it was Baylor officials not believing the victims, assailants being protected by coaches and other school officials, or investigations that ranged from incomplete to poor, the book shows the lack of compassion the university gave these young women.

As for the players, they are not given any slack by the authors – they are held responsible for their actions and the excuses or protection provided by the university’s athletic department are exposed for the obstruction of justice that they are.  The football coach and athletic director eventually lose their jobs over this issue.  Other players who are not accused or took part in any of these assaults for the most part are not affected, but those who would protect teammates or accuse the victims of lying or consenting are criticized just as much as those who assaulted the women.

Even more than the players, however, is the harsh criticism that Baylor University took by the authors and it was well-deserved.  In addition to the aforementioned lack of sympathy for the victims, the compliance with Title IX, the federal law that promotes gender equality on college campuses, was poor as well. The authors expose Baylor’s reporting of sexual assaults and subsequent interviews and closing of cases that left a lot to be desired. The people responsible are many and not just those in the football program.  Like most scandals, the responsibility comes from the top, as college president Ken Starr (yes, THAT Ken Starr) had to give up the position. 

While this was a very difficult book to read on all fronts and in all chapters, it is one that is necessary to read in order for one to comprehend the scope and horror of the sexual assault crisis. The reader will not only be angry at the men who assaulted these women, it will be clear to the reader that the university must bear the ultimate responsibility for the victims and must work to change their culture. 

I wish to thank Center Street for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:


Monday, October 9, 2017

Review of "S is for the Stanley Cup" - children's book

I was thrilled to receive a request to review a children's hockey book.  Last spring, I took my grandson to his first hockey game and he had a blast.  I am visiting him again in a couple weeks and I plan on going to another one with him.  Thanks to this request, I now have a book to help him learn more about the game as well.  Here is my review of "S is for the Stanley Cup."


Title/Author:
“S is for the Stanley Cup: A Hockey Championship Alphabet” by Mike Ulmer, illustrated by Chris Lyons
Tags:
Ice Hockey, championship, children’s book
Publish date:
August 15, 2017

Length:
32 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Review:
The Stanley Cup is one of the best known and much loved championship trophies in sports.  It has a colorful history and many interesting tales outside of the hockey rink.  In this book written for children ages 6 to 9, Mike Ulmer tells this history and some other related hockey poems in poems that start with each letter alphabetically.  To go with each poem, a short story consisting of one or two paragraphs will further explain the word used to start the poem and its importance to hockey. 

While most of the letters are devoted to the Stanley Cup, there are poems and stories about players, funny events with the trophy such as baptizing babies and even a parade of Zambonis. The latter is the last page of the book and describes the 1997 Zamboni parade in St. Paul, Minnesota to celebrate being awarded a franchise before a new arena was built.

While the stories and poems make for fun reading by themselves, the illustrations by Chris Lyons are the best features of this book.  The drawings of famous players such as Jacques Plante, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier are especially impressive as Lyons is able to capture their facial features in good detail so that adults who are reading along with the child will be able to easily recognize these players. 

If a child is interested in hockey, then this book is one that he or she should read. The child will learn a lot about the game and smile at some of the funny stories and have that learning enhanced by the wonderful illustration.

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

Book Format Read:
Hardcover

Buying Links:


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Review of "Dennis Maruk"

Every now and then, a book comes out that will bring back some good sports memories even before I read it.  That was the case with this book, as I remembered Dennis Maruk during his seasons with the Minnesota North Stars, the team I loved growing up and later as a young adult before they left for Dallas.  Even though Maruk had his best season with the Washington Capitals, I was eager to read his memoir.  This is my review of that story. 


Title/Author:
“Dennis Maruk: The Unforgettable Story of Hockey’s Forgotten 60-Goal Man” by Dennis Maruk with Ken Reid
Tags:
Ice Hockey, professional, memoir, Seals, Barons, North Stars, Capitals
Publish date:
October 17, 2017

Length:
320 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)
Review:
There have been only 20 players who have scored at least 60 goals in one season during the 100 year history of the National Hockey League.  Most of them are well known stars such as Wayne Gretzky, Mike Bossy and Phil Esposito.  There was also a player who was considered too short to be successful in the game and often toiled for poor teams who was the seventh player to scored 60 goals.  That player is Dennis Maruk.  His memoir, co-written with hockey scribe Ken Reid, tells of the story of a player who always had to prove he belonged in the game and lived just as obscure a life after hockey.

The consistent theme throughout the book for Maruk is that he always would do what he felt needed to be done.  Whether it was on the ice during his days in junior hockey or the NHL, he would always believe he had to prove himself.  Whether it was to show his junior coaches he could play, to prove in NHL training camp that he didn’t need to go to the minor leagues (the only time he played in the minor leagues was well into his career when he did a rehab stint in the minors) or to gain more ice time, Maruk’s stories about his career sounded like he played with a constant chip on his shoulder. 

Even during his amazing season in 1981-82, when he scored 60 goals for the Washington Capitals, he felt responsible for the fact the team did not make the playoffs.  In those days, that was not easy as 16 of the 21 teams in the league would do so.  Also, that season is when Wayne Gretzky set the all-time record for goals scored with 92 and points with 212.  In comparison, Maruk’s 60 goals seem small potatoes and because so much attention was given to Gretzky’s accomplishments, this was barely noticed, even in Washington.  While Maruk doesn’t express any bitterness toward this, the overall tone set in the book will make the reader wonder whether deep down, he does.

This also the case with his teams – his first professional team, the California Golden Seals, was a lost soul among NHL clubs, first struggling in the Bay Area, then moving to Cleveland and playing in a large empty arena and finally merging with the Minnesota North Stars.  After the merger, the North Stars traded Maruk to the Capitals, where he had that magical season.  Later, he headed back to Minnesota and played there for a few more seasons before retiring in 1989.  His life after hockey was filled with many encounters with celebrities.  Maruk talks most about his interaction with Kurt Russell, who played Herb Brooks in the movie “Miracle.”  Maruk played for Brooks for one season with the North Stars, and was the coach with whom he had the most pleasant memories in the book. 

Maruk also talks about the problems he had in his personal life, including his two divorces and his depression in which his daughter talked him out of a dark place in his life.  He held various jobs after hockey, including working on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico. These stories made this memoir a little different than many.  Also, another unusual aspect of this sports memoir is that Maruk often states that he didn’t remember many of his career milestones, such as his first NHL goal, although at least that wasn’t the case for his 60th in 1982.  It wasn’t because he was in a fog, hung over (although he does talk about alcoholism) or high – he simply states he doesn’t remember.  Aside from some drinks, he wasn’t a hard partier or seen with many women – he just did the work that he felt needed to be done.

This book was a very quick read – it took me less than a two hour sitting to complete it, another rarity in sports memoirs.  It is one that is recommended for hockey fans who either remember him and his play, as I did, or for readers who want to learn more about the forgotten 60-goal man.

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

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:
https://www.amazon.com/Dennis-Maruk-Unforgettable-Hockeys-Forgotten-ebook/dp/B06ZYJR5F8/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1507508658&sr=1-1&keywords=dennis+maruk+book


Saturday, October 7, 2017

Review of "Golden Days"

Having been in a bit of a reading slump, the best way to get out of it is to pick up a book by an author whom I like.  This book is written by Jack McCallum, considered to be one of the best basketball authors today.  This did the trick - it was a great book on two legendary teams.  Here is my review of "Golden Days." 


Title/Author:
“Golden Days: West’s Lakers, Steph’s Warriors and the California Dreamers Who Reinvented Basketball” by Jack McCallum
Tags:
Basketball, professional, Lakers, Warriors, championship
Publish date:
October 24, 2017

Length:
336 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Review:
Two of the best teams in the history of professional basketball are the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers and the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors.  Both teams had lengthy winning streaks – Golden State had a 24 game streak and the Lakers had a 33 game streak that still stands as the longest winning streak by a professional team in the four major sports.  Both teams won their respective championships.  Both teams had several all-star players on the roster.  The comparison between the two teams is captured in this wonderfully written book by Jack McCallum, considered one of the better basketball authors in the business.

There is one link between the two teams from different eras – Jerry West.  West was one of those all-star players on that Lakers team, and was relieved to finally win a championship after many years of finishing second to either the Boston Celtics or New York Knicks.  After his playing career, he worked in the front office for several teams, but his best work was with the Warriors in putting together the team that includes Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Drayman Green. 

The book is fast paced, has many humorous passages and is a wonderful looks back at both teams’ construction and the championship seasons.  One chapter is dedicated to each game of the Lakers’ historic winning streak – this was my favorite section of the book as a reader will either have great memories of the team or, if too young to have seen this team, will learn what the culture of professional basketball was at the time and the colorful characters that made up the Los Angeles Lakers.

This doesn’t mean McCallum shorts changes his quality work for the Warriors either.  The reader will learn how the Warriors went from laughing stock to domination through the hard work of new-thinking owners, sheer luck on draft night in 2009 that allowed them to draft Curry and how they have become the hip team of the current basketball culture.  I enjoyed reading about this team as well, mainly because McCallum writes in such a manner that he shows great respect for both teams without the book coming off as a love fest for either one of them.  It is simply a lot of great information and stories about two legendary teams. This book is highly recommended for all basketball fans of all ages.

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

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Review of "The Chicago Cubs: Story of a Curse"

It is common to find many books about a popular team in any sport after it wins a championship.  The 2016 Chicago Cubs are no different, and this book not only looks back at that team, but also the entire history of the franchise through the eyes of a lifetime fan trying to figure out how the recently-broken "curse" started.  Here is my review of Rich Cohen's book on the Cubs.


Title/Author:
“The Chicago Cubs: Story of a Curse” by Rich Cohen
Tags:
Baseball, professional, Cubs, championship, memoir
Publish date:
October 3, 2017

Length:
288 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)
Review:
Nearly every person, baseball fan or not, knows about the Chicago Cubs ending their 108-year “curse” by winning the 2016 World Series.  Much has been written and said about the curse, the team and their magical season. Now comes a book that not only talks about 2016, but the author’s odyssey into discovering why there was such a curse and why he, as a Cubs fan, was so engrossed in finding the cause.

Rich Cohen’s fandom for the Cubs began when he was eight years old and continued strong. In this book that is part memoir, part storytelling and part reporter, he tells of his times at Wrigley Field, about the history of the Cubs from their very successful early years to the various experiences that proved the franchise was cursed (the billy goat in 1945, the black cat at Shea Stadium in 1969, the ground ball through Leon Durham’s legs in 1984, Steve Bartman in 2003 and so on…) and just what it is like to be a Cubs fan.

The book is chock full of humorous lines and passages.  He compares the current general manager, Theo Epstein, to a mountain climber.  After Epstein led the Cubs to the championship after leading the Boston Red Sox to end their own curse in 2004, Cohen said that Epstein moved to Chicago “as a climber will move from Everest to K2.” Also, the new video boards at Wrigley Field that tamed the famous swirling winds are “Thorazine for Wrigley’s schizophrenia.” Lines like these kept me chuckling through the book.

As for fandom, he states that being a Cubs fan makes one “different, special, better” and that other teams’ fans were “shallow.”  He also doesn’t believe a Cubs fan will only talk about 1908 or 2016.  He states that the typical Cubs’ fan experience is illustrated in a game during the 1979 season in which the Philadelphia Phillies defeated the Cubs 23-22 on a windy May afternoon.  There was a throw that hit a batboy, who was knocked out, or so the legend states.  Whether or not it was true, Cohen uses that game and story to illustrate what it is like to be a fan.

Of course, the book’s high point for the reader is the 2016 World Series and this section is written much like how an excited fan (albeit a fan with a press pass and who is writing a separate article on the actor Chris Pratt) would write.  The reader who wants just the facts and highlights of the games will come away less than satisfied, but the reader who wants to “feel” the experience will enjoy this portion the best.  Especially if that reader is a Cubs fan.

This is an entertaining book that any Cubs fan will want to add to his or her library.  Even if the reader is a fan of one of the other 29 teams, or even not a baseball fan, it is worth the time to read for entertainment purposes as the book will do that as well.

I wish to thank Farrar, Straus and Giraux for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-chicago-cubs-rich-cohen/1125461029?ean=9780374120924#/


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Review of "Sad Riddance"

I was in the mood for a baseball book, and realizing that I have not read a non-fiction baseball book in awhile, I picked this one out of the TBR, even though it hasn't been there too long.  It was a long, detailed read about the last season of the Milwaukee Braves. It is well worth the time to invest in reading. Here is my review of "Sad Riddance." 


Title/Author:
“Sad Riddance: The Milwaukee Braves’ 1965 Season Amid a Sport and World in Turmoil” by Chuck Hildebrand
Tags:
Baseball, professional, Braves, politics, race
Publish date:
November 27, 2016

Length:
468 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)
Review:
After moving to Milwaukee from Boston after the 1952 season, the Braves franchise saw instant success on both the field and at the box office. It felt like the perfect marriage between a struggling baseball franchise and a city looking to achieve “major league” status.  However, that initial euphoria didn’t last as by 1965, the team announced they planned to move to Atlanta, but the city of Milwaukee would not let the team out of its stadium lease. If the marriage between team and city was perfect at the start, it ended in an acrimonious divorce. The last season saw small crowds, court actions and no less than three attempts by the team to leave for the Deep South in the middle of the season.  All of this and more is captured in this well-researched and thoroughly written book by Chuck Hildebrand.

The team won the World Series in 1957 and nearly duplicated that feat in 1958. They shattered attendance records in those years and while the fans didn’t continue to turn out in those record numbers as the 1960’s evolved, the team continued to perform well on the field. Then the team was sold to a group based out of Chicago, led by Bill Bartholomay, repeatedly assured Milwaukee that the team would stay put – only to do an about face and apply for the team to move to Atlanta in 1965. The city would not allow the team out of its lease, so the team had to play a “lame duck” season in 1965.

Hildebrand weaves stories from Braves players on that team with anecdotes from fans, team officials and city officials to paint a complete picture of what took place on and off the field during that 1965 season.   For the on-field exploits, he covers each game and notes the attendance at each home game, most of which drew less than 10,000 fans – a precipitous decline from the previous 12 seasons.  While these sections are not all detailed play-by-play for each game, the reader will get a good sense of how the team performed, which was admirably given the circumstances – they were contenders for the National League pennant until the last week of the season and did finish fourth with a winning record.

As for the off-the-field accounts of the struggle between the ownership group and the city, these are well documented as well.  Not only does Hildebrand explain about the city’s insistence that the team honor its County Stadium lease, he delves into the politics of baseball at the time regarding franchise moves and Milwaukee’s challenge to baseball’s exemption from anti-trust laws.  Each of these topics were addressed in enough detail that readers will understand exactly what was happening. 

There are also plenty of passages about non-baseball events of the time, not only on a national level but also local as well.  The struggles for civil rights in Milwaukee, city council politics and the push for public funding for sports arenas are covered as well as national topics like the Vietnam War and the Watts riots in Los Angeles.  Connecting these with the baseball team was tricky, but Hildebrand pulled it off.  Readers will have to read these sections carefully if they were not familiar with the local politics of Milwaukee.

Nonetheless, this book is a wonderful account of the last season of the Milwaukee Braves.  No matter what a reader looks for in his or her baseball books, there will be something for everyone in this one.  It is a long, detailed read so be prepared to spend a significant amount of time with this one.  It will be worth the investment.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/sad-riddance-chuck-hildebrand/1125183492?ean=9781539475712