Friday, May 25, 2018

Review of "Play On"

I often marvel at athletes, no matter the sport, who perform at championship or elite levels when older than most of his or her peers. Several examples are cited in this book, as well as the science and the training behind this accomplishment. Here is my review of "Play On."



Title/Author:
Play On: The New Science of Elite Performance at Any Age” by Jeff Bercovici
Tags:
Sports, training, records

Publish date:
May 1, 2018

Length:
288 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
Sports fans will marvel when an athlete can still perform at an elite level at an age where many of his or her contemporaries have either retired from the sport or are performing at a lower level.  Examples of these types of athletes abound in every sport, from football (Tom Brady) to hockey (Chris Chelios, Jaromir Jagr) to soccer (Carli Lloyd).  Reasons and explanations are varied, but most of them are covered in this book by Jeff Bercovici.  

The book starts off with the author’s experiences and at times, it can almost read like a kinesiology text book with explanations of what the athlete’s body is experiencing while competing or training.  Later the book talks about various types of training, how older athletes will “train smarter, not harder” and other breakthroughs that keep athletes going at peak performance.  Efficiency is an important topic in the book as no matter how much or exactly what types of exercises and drills are performed, nearly every example provided emphasizes efficiency

Just about every type of sport is covered in the book, whether it is a trainer from that sport or elite athletes.  Soccer, tennis (Roger Federer), basketball (the author marvels at the low injury rates of the San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns), running (Meb Keflezighi) and football (many stars) are just a few of the sports highlighted by Bercovici for their training and fitness.

Athletes have their own chicken-and-egg problem stated in the book: “Do they stay healthy because they are so fit, or are they so fit because they stay healthy enough to train so hard?”  While the question isn’t really answered, the stories shared in attempting to answer make for very good reading, although a very good working knowledge of kinesiology is helpful.

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

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Review of "Tom Yawkey"

This was a book that I really wanted to read right away when I received it soon after publication.  But the sheer size of it was intimidating -  some may know that feeling about wanting to read a book but after seeing the size, decide to wait.  I did that and while I wish I hadn't waited so long, I am glad to have gotten over that hump and finally read this wonderful book on Tom Yawkey. 



Title/Author:
Tom Yawkey: Patriarch of the Boston Red Sox” by Bill Nowlin

Tags:
Baseball, history, biography, Red Sox, race

Publish date:
February 1, 2018

Length:
560 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
From 1933 until his death in 1976, one man was the owner of the Boston Red Sox.  Some consider this man, Tom Yawkey, to be the savior of the franchise as they were in a dire financial situation due to the Great Depression when he bought the team from Bob Quinn for $1.25 million. Others considered him to be racist and holding back progress for minority players and employees because the team was the last team in Major League Baseball to integrate.  Yawkey’s team did not have an African American play in a game until Pumpsie Green made the team in 1959, 12 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.

Whether a reader believes one of these images of Yawkey to be true, there are many more aspects to the man and they are told in this very good book by long time Boston sportswriter Bill Nowlin. The issue of race is frequently mentioned in the book, but there is far more to the man that should be told and Nowlin does that in vivid detail 

This book could be considered more of a history book on the Red Sox than a biography, as there is little space dedicated to Yawkey’s life outside of the Red Sox. There is some information from his childhood and how he obtained his wealth, but the bulk of the book is dedicated to the team to which he dedicated his life. His relationship with his players is well-known to be warm, cordial and personable. Stories of interaction between Yawkey and his players are plentiful in the book.  These players include stars such as Carl Yastremski and Ted Williams, but there are plenty of warm exchanges shared in the book with other players not as well known, writers such as Al Hirshberg and even regular citizens. 

An example of this type of generosity with fans is a story in the book about a 13-year-old fan who ran away from his home in Nova Scotia, hoping to see the Red Sox in person. When the young man made it to Boston, the Red Sox were on the road.  But Yawkey brought him inside Fenway Park anyway, gave him a tour and a baseball. When the young man was flown home by the police, he received a letter from Yawkey inviting him back to Fenway – but the next time he had to bring his mother along with him.

This type of generosity and personality was also reflected in his leadership, which is where he drew most of the criticism he received.  He rewarded loyal employees and managers with continued employment and raises.  He hated to get rid of loyal employees in the front office, no matter the team’s record or their mistakes.  Men like Joe Cronin, Pinky Higgins and Eddie Collins were part of Yawkey’s front office for decades and when they were gone, others like Heywood Sullivan stepped in – and stayed.

This type of leadership style led to the most damaging criticism that he faced and still faces today, more than 40 years after his passing.  The charges of racism are addressed throughout the book and while Nowlin never comes out and says that Yawkey was a racist or ran an organization that blatantly discriminated against African Americans, he does point out that there was plenty of circumstantial evidence that made the charge of racism appear to be true.  Among the harshest critics of the Red Sox and Yawkey on the matter of race are Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays. The Red Sox had the opportunity to sign both men to the team but never did.  Robinson was especially negative toward the team after he and two other African American players were invited to a tryout for the team that many feel was a sham.  This event is covered quite well in the book and on the topic of racism, Nowlin is tough on Yawkey for his lack of leadership in addressing this with Cronin, Higgins and Collins but stops short of taking sides.  I believe this is a fair approach to this topic for the man and the book does this very well.

It should be noted that while it doesn’t cover as many pages as the question of racism does, Yawkey’s Red Sox were much more progress toward allowing women access to the press box and the players.  While their attempts were awkward at times, such as placing a flower on the table for female press members, many recognized that the team was at least recognizing that these women were simply doing the same job as the men.

There is also a lot of material in the book on the success and failures of the Red Sox on the field.  Of course the pennant winning years of 1946, 1967 and 1975 are covered extensively as these were the pennants won during Yawkey’s life, but plenty is written about other seasons and players as well.  There is enough baseball material in the book that a reader who wants more baseball and less business or social issues will be able to learn much about the Red Sox on the field as well. 

This was a very good book that despite its length, was one that was a relaxing one to read and one could easily escape into the world of Fenway Park and Tom Yawkey’s space in that park, as well as his off-season home in South Carolina and his hotel in New York where he conducted his non-baseball business.  It is an excellent source of information for both the man and his team. 

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:




Monday, May 14, 2018

Review of "The Integration of the Pacific Coast League"

Sometimes a rain delay can be a good thing when you are at the ballpark.  I was at the Oakland-Yankees game yesterday in which the start of the game was delayed by rain for 2 hours and 45 minutes.  It gave me time to read - which was a good thing because I read this entire book during that rain delay.  Here is my review of "The Integration of the Pacific Coast League"



Title/Author:
The Integration of the Pacific Coast League: Race and Baseball on the West Coast” by Amy Essington

Tags:
Baseball, professional, minor leagues, race

Publish date:
June 1, 2018

Length:
192 pages

Rating: 
3 of 5 stars (okay)

Review:
It is well known that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947, and that it took several years for the entire sport to become integrated. However, the pace of integration occurred earlier and faster in several minor leagues.  The Pacific Coast League (PCL), which at the time was the highest level of baseball west of the Mississippi River, did integrate faster and the story behind the integration of the league is told in this book by Amy Essington.

She notes that the PCL took only five seasons, from 1948 to 1952, to have all its teams integrated as opposed to the thirteen seasons it took Major League Baseball to accomplish the same feat. There is significant space devoted to John Ritchey, the first black player to play in the league when he appeared for the San Diego Padres in 1948, including an entire chapter.  His story is probably the closest to a “story” that is portrayed in the book as the book is more of a listing of facts about the integration of each team in the league and who the important people were – not just the players, but who the owners and managers were that allowed for the integration to take place.

While this may sound like the book is dry, it is not completely so.  In addition to Ritchey’s story, there are some other tidbits about the PCL’s integration that may pique a reader’s interest, especially if he or she is a baseball historian.  For example, in the PCL as well as many other minor leagues, exclusion was based primarily on the darkness of one’s skin, not necessarily race. There were players from Latin American or Hawaiian backgrounds who were not white, but because their skin tone was lighter, they were deemed acceptable to play. This is further muddied by the exclusion of others of the same background but because their skin was darker, they could not play.

Another fact mentioned in the book, albeit briefly, that can seem puzzling is the attitude of San Francisco Seals manager Lefty O’Doul.  At the time that integration was taking place in the PCL, O’Doul was becoming the unofficial American ambassador to Japanese baseball, with barnstorming tours to Japan with American teams. But when it came to allowing black players on his Seals teams, he supposedly was very adamant that they would not play for San Francisco.  While this only was mentioned briefly, I found it interesting because of O’Doul’s work with Japanese baseball.

 Because of these types of findings, the book saved itself from becoming simply a reference book or textbook of facts and was worth the time to read.  At 192 pages including endnotes and bibliography, it is a very quick read and one that baseball historians will want to consider adding to their libraries.

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

Book Format Read:
Paperback

Buying Links:


 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Review of "A Game of Their Own"

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms reading this. In honor of this day, it is only appropriate to post a review about a book on a women's baseball team that played in a world tournament in 2010 to absolutely no fanfare in the United States.  This book is more than just a baseball book - it is a tribute to those players who didn't listen to conventional thought and pursued their baseball dreams.  Here is my review of "A Game of Their Own"


Title/Author:
A Game of Their Own: Voices of Contemporary Women in Baseball” by Jennifer Ring

Tags:
Baseball, history women

Publish date:
April 1, 2015

Length:
304 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
In 2010, Japan defeated Australia 13-3 in the championship game of the  Women’s World Baseball Cup. If you don’t remember anything about that tourney or know the names of any players, including the team from the United States, you are not alone. Women’s baseball has not been as publicized as much as a small fraction of the men’s game. This doesn’t mean that there are not female baseball players, and the stories of eleven members of the US squad are captured in this excellent book by Jennifer Ring.

Ring tells the story of each player, one of which was her daughter, on a team that was largely ignored by the press.  Compounding the issue is something that each woman faced while pursuing their athletic dreams – they were told that baseball wasn’t the proper game for them to play, instead they should play softball. Ring’s writing beautifully illustrates the determination of these young women saying “no” to this belief and instead continuing on with their baseball careers.

No matter which player is telling her story, the reader will be captivated by their grit and persistence. The reader will also learn about the systemic exclusion of girls and women in baseball and why the belief that softball is an “equal” sport is wrong on so many levels.  It should be also mentioned that many of these players were excellent at the game, that many of them played with males in high school and college and more than held their own. The extra pressure many of them were under because they had to “prove” themselves will also be felt by readers as well.

More than just the content or message, what I really believe makes this book very good is Ring’s writing.  Her style captures the emotions and heart of each player instead of just reporting on what they did on the field.  If nothing else, for that reason alone everyone who reads baseball books should add this one to their libraries.

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

Book Format Read:
Paperback

Buying Links:






Thursday, May 10, 2018

Review of "Lombardi Dies, Orr Flies, Marshal Cries"

This book on sports and society in 1970 was one that was not only easy to read, it was a quick one as it was one of the rare books I read in one sitting, despite being over 300 pages long.  Of course it helped I was on vacation with little else to distract me, but it still is very rare that I do that.  Here is my review of "Lombardi Dies, Orr Flies and Marshal Cries".



Title/Author:
Lombardi Dies, Orr Flies, Marshall Cries: The Sports Legacy of 1970” by Brad Schultz

Tags:
Sports, politics, society, history

Publish date:
November 5, 2015

Length:
336 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
1970 was a year in which dramatic change was taking place in the United States. Protests about the war in Vietnam became more numerous and violent.  Many boundaries for minorities, women, hair length and other norms were being challenged. The world of sports reflected these changes as well as undergoing some changes of its own.  The connection between them is captured in this excellent book by Brad Schultz.

Three of the biggest sports stories of the year are named in the title, but the book covers much more than them.  Sports events are chronicled by month and the importance of them is captured in well-written paragraphs. From Curt Flood’s refusal to report to the Philadelphia Phillies thereby challenging baseball’s reserve clause to Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes keeping the peace at his school in the aftermath of the Kent State shootings that left four students dead, Schultz captures the mood of the sports community and the nation with his prose.


A reader doesn’t have to have been alive during these events to feel like he or she knows about them after reading this book. Even if one only knows about them through old news footage or in other media, a reader will enjoy these passages about the sports and social movements of 1970.  It is one that is highly recommended for readers who enjoy books on sports, politics or society.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:


Monday, May 7, 2018

Review of "The Bad Guys Won!"

As I usually do when we go on a cruise for vacation, I read several books.  We just returned from a cruise to Bermuda and I read four complete books (and started a fifth), three of which will be reviewed here.  The first one is a book that has been out for many years, and the topic has been covered by many other authors - the 1986 New York Mets - but Jeff Pearlman writes about the players on that team with such candor, I had to include it on my vacation reading list. The more books I read by him, the more he is becoming one of my favorite sports authors.  Here is my review of "The Bad Guys Won!"


Title/Author:
The Bad Guys Won!” by Jeff Pearlman

Tags:
Baseball, professional, history, Mets, championship

Publish date:
October 13, 2009

Length:
304 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Plenty has been written about the 1986 New York Mets, one of the most colorful teams to win a World Series in the past few decades.  Just HOW colorful they were is captured in this terrific book by award winning author Jeff Pearlman.

Because that particular team had so much talent, the belief was that they were going to win many championships.  Why they failed to do so as been discussed in many of the aforementioned books, but instead, Pearlman writes about the character (and characters) of the team instead of analyzing them. This is what sets this book apart from other books about this team.

It didn’t matter whether a player was a tough guy from a rough place (Kevin Mitchell) or a nice guy (Mookie Wilson), a superstar (Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden) or a bench player (Ed Hearn, Tim Teufel), no Mets player goes unnoticed by Pearlman.  While the title may seem to imply that there will be a lot of critical stories about the players and the team, the material is presented in a fair manner to all mentioned.  This material is also very entertaining and that makes the book a joy to read.

Whether the topic is the “Scum Bunch” of Jessie Orosco, Doug Sisk and Danny Heep having drinking contests, manager Davey Johnson running the team as he sees fit no matter what General Manager Frank Cashen and the press think, or George Foster becoming an outcast (something that wasn’t easy to do on that team, according to the author), the reader will either learn something new about this team or be thoroughly entertained by the story. 

The baseball sections are written just as well.  The National League Championship Series against the Houston Astros is covered in great depth, with a lot of space devoted to the Mets’ fear of facing Astros ace Mike Scott.  Many times, teams will psych themselves out of a win when doing that, but the Mets were able to avoid facing Scott for a game 7 in that series.  Then the writing about the World Series against the Boston Red Sox is just as good.  Everything from Jim Rice NOT scoring on a double in the first inning of the fateful game 6 to the elation when Orosco threw his glove in the air after the final out of game 7, the Series is covered in great detail.  The culmination of all those drunken parties and incidents is reached with a championship for the Mets and the reader feels like he or she is there in person.

Mets fans will especially enjoy this account of that magical season, but readers who are interested in learning about that team and its place in history will also want to add this book to their reading collection.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:



Saturday, April 28, 2018

Review of "Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy"

Until today, I was probably of one of the few readers of baseball books who had not read this book. I had started it numerous times, but never finished.  This time, since it was the monthly selection for the Goodreads Baseball Book Club, I was determined to finish it.  My only question now is what the heck took me so long.  Here is my review of "Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy"




Title/Author:
Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy” by Jane Leavy

Tags:
Baseball, Dodgers, biography

Publish date:
September 17, 2002

Length:
282 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Anyone who watched baseball in the five year period between 1962 and 1966 will tell you that the best pitcher during that stretch was Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers. There are so many stories about how good he was, and many of them are shared in this excellent biography of the pitcher written by Jane Leavy. 

The format of the book is not the typical format for a sports biography. The chapters alternate between Koufax stories and the innings of the most spectacular game of his career – a perfect game thrown against the Chicago Cubs on September 9, 1965.  That game was also marked by the fact that the Cubs pitcher, Bob Hendley, threw a great game as well, allowing only one hit, but ended up as the losing pitcher.  No matter whether the chapter is about that game, Koufax’s teenage years in Brooklyn, his struggles early in his career, his meteoric rise to greatness or his post-baseball life, the reader is sure to not only be engrossed in the material, but will also learn something new about the pitcher.

All of the legendary stories about Koufax are covered – his decision to not pitch on Yom Kippur when it fell on the same day as game 1 of the 1965 World Series is described in great detail and what it meant to Jewish people across the country is just one of them.  Later in that series, he shut out the Minnesota Twins in game 7 with just two days’ rest. 

Leavy covers the famous holdout against the Dodgers that he and fellow Los Angeles pitcher Don Drysdale executed in 1966.  She makes a case that this action was just as important to the eventual abolishment of baseball’s reserve clause as was Curt Flood’s legal case that was heard by the Supreme Court.  She states that had Koufax and Drysdale had not held out, then Flood’s case could not have happened.  While I agree with her argument, it is hard to see how they are connected.

Leavy writes about Koufax’s early troubles with the Dodgers as part of a bigger issue that all teams had with “bonus baby” players, which Koufax was.  If a player was offered a bonus to sign his first contract about a certain threshold, he had to remain on the major league roster for at least two years.  This rule was in effect until the amateur draft began in 1965, and many clubs let these players languish on the bench or only gave them sporadic game action.  The latter was the case for Koufax, as he didn’t get a lot of innings until the decade changed to the 1960’s.  Ironically, once it was seen how dominant a pitcher Koufax became, the same manager (Walter Alston) who used him so little early in his career now seemed to overuse Koufax.

The last topic this review will mention that the author wrote about in depth was the extent of his arm pain, which led to his retirement after the 1966 World Series when he was at the peak of his performance.  The description of his arm during off days, rubdowns on game day and the lotion used to relieve his pain runs the gamut from funny (the reaction of a kid who put on a game-used jersey by Koufax that still had the ointment on the sleeve was hilarious) to the grotesque (just about any description of the swelling of the arm after a game).

There is much more to this book but these are just a few snippets of the wonderful stories that Leavy weaves together to make this a book that every baseball fan, especially fans of the game in the 1960’s, will want to pick up.

Book Format Read:
Hardcover

Buying Links:


https://www.amazon.com/Sandy-Koufax-Leftys-Jane-Leavy-ebook/dp/B000UVBT4U/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr