Sunday, June 18, 2017

Happy Father's Day! Review of "My First Coach"

Here's a wish for a Happy Father's Day to all of the fathers reading this, including women who are doing both mother and father duties.  On this day, it is only appropriate to review this upcoming book written by a talented sportswriter about the relationships between several NFL quarterbacks and their fathers.  Here is my review of "My First Coach."


Title/Author:
My First Coach: Inspiring Stories of NFL Quarterbacks and Their Dads” by Gary Myers
Tags:
Football (American), professional, history, family
Publish date:
August 22, 2017
Length:
288 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Review:
There are many stories of fathers playing catch with their sons with either a baseball and mitts or tossing a football back and forth. Many of those catches with a football are mixed with fantasies by the son (and sometimes the father) of that youngster becoming an NFL quarterback.  This excellent book by Gary Myers tells the stories of some of those youngsters whose dreams of becoming a professional quarterback and the experiences they had with their fathers.

The quarterbacks selected for this book are not all Super Bowl winners or even stars in the game. There are plenty of the former (Phil Simms, John Elway and Eli Manning just to name a few) but there are also quarterbacks who are early in their professional careers (Jameis Winston, Derek Carr) or journeymen (Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jim Harbaugh). No matter the level of success or experience obtained, the stories of their relationships with their fathers made for fascinating reading.  Myers is considered to be one of the best football writers in the country and the manner in which he captures the stories shows why.

While the majority of the tales shared do reveal many of the traits expected, such as the many sacrifices and moves made by the fathers to help their sons achieve gridiron success, there are some that took a different path. Simms recalls that his relationship with his father was not a close one during his youth.  Winston tells how his father stressed academics over football, and Harbaugh’s story goes well into his coaching days as well as his playing days.  All of the chapters reveal heartfelt reflections by both the fathers and the sons about their relationships.

There is one more twist to the type of story told and that is the one on the chapter about Joe Montana.  This is because that chapter talks about Montana as the father to his two sons who both played high school and college football but did not play professionally. The pressure they felt as the son of a legend was extraordinary, enough to the point that they put their mother’s maiden names on the backs of their jerseys so they did not have to try to live up to their famous father’s performance. This chapter was my favorite one in the book.
Football fans of all levels, from casual to die-hard, will enjoy reading these personal stories about the most visible players in professional football.  Myers has once again scored a touchdown with a book about quarterbacks and it is one the comes highly recommended.

I wish to thank Grand Central Publishing for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:


Friday, June 16, 2017

Review of "From the Dugouts to the Trenches"

While the baseball season hasn't quite reached the "dog days" of summer, my sports reading reached that point this week. To snap out of the slump, I decided to choose this book that the publisher sent to me just before publication, but did not read yet.  This falls under the "better late than never" category.  Here is my review of a book on baseball during World War I, "From the Dugouts to the Trenches."


Title/Author:
From the Dugouts to the Trenches: Baseball During the Great War” by Jim Leeke
Tags:
Baseball, professional, history, war time
Publish date:
May 1, 2017
Length:
272 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)
Review:
When the United States entered World War I, the country was about to undergo a dramatic transformation. The sport and business of baseball was caught up in these changes as well, and what the game went through is captured in this interesting and well-written book by Jim Leeke.

Using his experience as both a veteran of the Navy and as a sportswriter, Leeke takes the reader onto both the baseball fields and the battlefields as he weaves the stories of the game, the players and the war itself seamlessly. The book begins with the details of each American League team (and some National League ones as well) learning military drill exercises using bats instead of rifles. This was done to show the patriotism of the players and owners and let people know the game supported the military.  This portion of the book was very captivating, writing from several viewpoints – those of the players, the drill instructors and American League President Ban Johnson, among others.

From there, the book weaves nicely between war stories about Major League players, the struggles of the game back home in the States with many minor leagues closing the 1918 season early, and what the Major Leagues had to do with the “work or fight” edict that was set down by the government.  What the sport did was to end the season early, play the World Series that was won by the Red Sox over the Cubs, and then disbanded the teams to either serve in the military or work in military-related jobs.

Lastly, Leeke writes about the armistice that ended the war and the return of the players from the war and the return of many of the minor leagues that struggled in 1918. Stories about players like Hank Gowdy, and Grover Cleveland Alexander were enjoyable reading, as were the stories about owners who supported the war effort as best as they could. Clark Griffith’s contribution of baseball equipment made for a great story, even if the good intentions fell short as the shipment did not make it to the doughboys overseas.

This is a book that is equal parts baseball, business and military history. Readers who enjoy any of these topics will enjoy reading this book.

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:


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Review of "The Diehard Football Fan's Bucket List Blitz"

While I cannot call myself a "diehard" football fan, this book was intriguing to me when I read the description, so I decided to accept the offer of a review copy.  Some of these sounded interesting enough that I have added them to my own bucket list - and those who are huge football fans will add even more.  Here is my review of "The Diehard Football Fan's Bucket List Blitz/"


Title/Author:
The Diehard Football Fan's Bucket List Blitz: 101 Rivalries, Tailgates, and Gridiron Traditions to See & Do Before You're Sacked” by Steve Greenberg
Tags:
Football (American), professional, college, high school
Publish date:
August 1, 2017
Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)
Review:
No matter what sport one enjoys, there are teams, stadiums and experience that every fan wants to experience at least once in his or her life. For football fans, this book is a guide to which ones to add to that list.  The Diehard Football Fan's Bucket List Blitz” is an all-encompassing list of places, teams and traditions that has been compiled by sportswriter Steve Greenberg.

This book covers all levels of football – from the Texas school that inspired “Friday Night Lights” to the Big House at the University of Michigan and the mammoth AT&T Stadium where the Dallas Cowboys play home games, this book covers everything.  Want to know the best place for a tailgate party?  How about the best bands for college football halftime shows?  Or how about great traditions like the Lambeau Leap or rubbing Howard’s Rock at Clemson?  These are all included as well.

The best part of the book talks about must-see college football rivalries.  Of course there are some that are well-known (Army vs. Navy, Michigan vs. Ohio State, Alabama vs. Auburn), but this includes some lesser known rivalries as well such as Lafayette vs. Lehigh.  This is not a surprise as Greenburg was a writer on college football for several years and mentions in the book that he is a proud Wisconsin graduate who spent much time at Camp Randall Stadium. 

Because he covers so many areas in all levels of the game, this book is one that football fans will want to review to time and time again to mark items off their bucket lists. What I liked best about this book is that even though I am not a “diehard” fan, I am interested in several of these items and just may have to add them to my own personal list.  A book that can do that and make me aware of many of these treasures is certainly one to read.

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

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)
Buying Links:


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Review of "The Streak: Cal Ripken, Lou Gehrig and Baseball's Most Historic Record"

Most baseball fans  will recall the moment that Cal Ripken passed Lou Gehrig and became baseball's "ironman."  It was a celebration of both men and what they meant not only to baseball but to the honorable action of showing up to work every day.  This book is a wonderful tribute to both men and others who have had similar streaks of playing in many consecutive games.  Here is my review of "The Streak."


Title/Author:
“The Streak: Cal Ripken, Lou Gehrig and Baseball’s Most Historic Record” by John Eisenberg
Tags:
Baseball, history, Orioles, Yankees
Publish date:
July 4, 2017
Length:
320 pages
Rating: 
4 ½  of 5 stars (excellent)
Review:
On September 6, 1995, Cal Ripken broke the record for consecutive major league baseball games played. The moment provided the sport with a much-needed boost after a strike wiped out the last six weeks and all of the postseason the previous season. The road to this moment for Ripken, as well as the streak that Lou Gehrig had to set the record broken by Ripken, is chronicled in this well written and well researched book.

John Eisenberg, a well-respected sportswriter who covered the Orioles for the Baltimore Sun, provides insight into Ripken that only one who covered him for most of career would know. Some of the details can give insight into Ripken’s competitive streak and fury - such as his not-so-sterling reputation among umpires - and his unwillingness to keep the streak alive through actions such as pinch-hitting or starting a game in the field and being removed for a pinch hitter before his first at-bat. 

These two actions are ways that some other players kept similar streaks alive and many of those players who had such streaks are discussed in the book as well.  While not as lengthy as the sections on the two main players of Ripken and Gehrig, the information that the reader will gain on other players who had long streaks such as Everett Scott, Billy Williams and Steve Garvey will be valuable as well.  Also, the sections on Gehrig illustrate the detail with which Eisenberg writes as the reader will believe that he covered Gehrig for a newspaper beat as well as Ripken.  Those passages were just as informative for a reader as those on Ripken.

Overall, this book was a very interesting one to read. The chapters alternated between Ripken, Gehrig and the other “ironmen” which made it a bit of challenge to read for me as that resulted in choppiness for me. But that issue was very minor in the overall appraisal of the book and it was one that any baseball fan will enjoy reading.

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

Book Format Read:
E-book (PDF)
Buying Links:
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-streak-john-eisenberg/1126178888?ean=9780544107670


Monday, June 5, 2017

Winner of "Pride of the Yankees"

I wish to thank everyone who checked out the review of the book about the making of the classic movie "Pride of the Yankees" and left a comment to have a chance to win a copy of the book. 

Each commenter was assigned a number corresponding to the order of the comments. The random sorting software used selected #1. So congratulations to Gregory, who submitted the first comment. An email has been sent to him to notify and congratulate him. Again, I thank everyone who entered.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Review of "Fastball John"

This book is one that falls into the category of being much better than I expected.  It was provided to me by the publisher a few months ago and it was tossed on the TBR (To Be Read) pile. It was then picked for me to read in May for a group challenge and I was dreading it.  BUT...it turned out to be one of the best sports memoirs I have read.  So, the only regret is that I expected so much less.  Below is my review of "Fastball John"

Also, don't forget, there are still three days to enter the giveaway drawing for a copy of "Pride of the Yankees."  Go to the review of that book (the previous review on this blog) and leave a comment before June 4.  The winner will be picked at random from all commenters on June 5.


Title/Author:
“Fastball John” by John D’Acquisto and Dave Jordan
Tags:
Baseball, memoir, Giants, Padres, Angels, Expos
Publish date:
September 13, 2016
Length:
558 pages
Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Review:
John D’Acquisto didn’t have a memorable major league baseball career – as a journeyman pitcher, he compiled a 34-51 record with a 4.52 ERA.  However, many of his experiences in the game were memorable to him, and he recalls them, along with what happened to him after baseball, in this terrific memoir co-written with Dave Jordan.

D’Acquisto was a first round draft choice of the San Francisco Giants and he took a typical route through the minor leagues to reach San Francisco.  He writes about his growing pains, his puppy love feelings for women, especially one he called “Katie” (he kept the real names of women he encountered out of the book), and his chance encounters with major league stars such as Richard “Goose” Gossage.

He keeps up the excellent storytelling through his time in the major leagues, through his surgery, the trades, his release from the California Angels which he attributed to being a player representative during the 1981 players’ strike and even the thrill of being in a pennant race when he pitched for the Montreal Expos during their run to the National League East title, in which they ultimately finished second behind the Philadelphia Phillies.

D’Acquisto brings this same level of great writing when talking about his life after baseball. Whether it was his marital issues (he was married three times), his success and subsequent trouble with a career in finance and the legal issues he faced that earned him prison time for fraud, he spoke with the same candor and humor that he did when talking baseball.  I thought that was quite impressive that he could relieve his time in prison or the double crossing done to him by a former Giants teammate without sounding bitter or angry.

Throughout the book, D’Acquisto uses music of the times to also express how he is feeling or what he is doing at the time. One of the most clever connections to music was the chapter when he wrote about his surgery by Dr. Frank Jobe.  It is now known as Tommy John surgery, but it wasn’t at that time. D’Acquisto compared his negative feeling about needing surgery to the sad thoughts he had about “a new song from a legendary rock group on the cab radio, a sweet ballad, very trendy for the time period. You think it’s sad that this amazing band, who authored so many hard-charging, fantastic tunes during your high school years, is now throwing this soft slop at the pop charts.  You wonder what happened to their fastball.”  He was talking about the song “Miracles” by Jefferson Starship, formerly Jefferson Airplane.  While if the song reference was left at that it would be great, the final line of the chapter about his surgery when he steps back on the field for the first time afterward makes the chapter my favorite in the book.  “If only you believe like I believe.”

Because there are so many musical references like this that fit his story, that makes this book very different than the typical sports memoir.  Between the vivid detail, all of clever use of popular music and his frequent sprinkles of humor, this book is certainly one that all baseball fans should read.  It would be easy to compare this book to “Ball Four”, but that really isn’t fair because they project entirely different messages.  This one is quite upbeat despite all the trouble D’Acquisto encounters.  This was a highly entertaining, highly satisfying read.

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

Book Format Read:
E-book (PDF)
Buying Links:


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Giveaway and review of "Pride of the Yankees"

Long considered one of the best baseball movies ever made, "Pride of the Yankees", the story of Lou Gehrig, is celebrating the 75th anniversary of its release this summer. A book has been written about the making of the movie and I was fortunate to receive two copies of the book - one of which was earmarked for a giveaway.  So, that is what I will do to one lucky person. To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment below with an email address or some other contact information in order to contact you in case you are selected as the winner.  This will run for one week - leave the comment by June 4 in order to be included in the random drawing.

As for the book, it was just as good as the movie as the reader will learn a lot of inside information about the making of the film. Below is my review of "Pride of the Yankees."



Title/Author:
“The Pride of the Yankees Lou Gehrig, Gary Cooper and the Making of a Classic” by Richard Sandomir
Tags:
Baseball, Yankees, movies
Publish date:
June 13, 2017
Length:
293 pages
Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Review:
When there is a celebration for the 75th anniversary of the release of a movie, it shows that the film has stood the test of time. 2017 marks the 75th anniversary of the release of the movie “Pride of the Yankees” and not only the movie, but both Lou Gehrig (the movie’s subject) and Gary Cooper (the movie’s lead actor) are still remembered fondly. 

This book by Richard Sandomir is an excellent one to commemorate this anniversary. Rich with detail about not only the movie itself, the book mainly revolves around three of the most important people involved in the film – Gary Cooper, Eleanor Gehrig, and Samuel Goldwyn. 

Mrs. Gehrig was important because she had a lot of influence on what the final picture would look like.  Her opinions were needed in order to fulfill Goldwyn’s vision of the film, which he wanted to promote as a romantic picture, not a baseball one.  Both the story of Gehrig dying as a young man in the prime of his life and his change from being a “mama’s boy” to a loving and devoted husband made a great script in Goldwyn’s mind. That is the message the book delivers – and it is delivered in a well-researched and graceful manner.  The writing is smooth and graceful as the stories of these people, as well as those of other important figures such as Teresa Wright and Babe Ruth (who was unusually subdued in his role).

Many of the myths about the move are addressed in the book, such as whether Gehrig’s farewell speech at Yankee Stadium in the movie is truly the same as what Gehrig actually said on July 4, 1939.  Because of the lack of newsreel footage, that question may never be completely answered. The other big issue about the movie that the book addresses is about Cooper’s baseball scenes as it was well known that he was not an athlete, and that he was right handed while Gehrig was left handed. Through coaching by former National League batting champion Lefty O’Doul, Cooper was able to do some of the scenes, but there was also some backup work done by Babe Dahlgren. Also, the question of whether these scenes were shown as a reverse of the film’s negatives, resulting in Cooper appearing to be left-handed when he would have performed the scenes right-handed, was addressed.  That myth is debunked.

All of these, plus more in-depth insight into all aspects of the film make this book required reading for baseball fans, movie fans, romance fans and anyone else who has been touched by this movie, the speech that the movie helped make famous or by the story of Lou Gehrig.  This book is a worthy to become a part of the legend that this movie has become. 

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

Book Format Read:
Hardcover
Buying Links:



Thursday, May 25, 2017

Review of "The Perfect Game"

While most books I read are very good, as any avid reader knows, every now and again there will be a book that didn't live up to expectations.  This was one of those books.  I remembered watching this game and was amazed at how well Villanova played in winning one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history. When I saw there was a book about that game, I was hoping it would be as good as the game was.  Unfortunately, for me this book didn't come close.  Here is my review of "The Perfect Game."


Title/Author:
“The Perfect Game: How Villanova’s Shocking 1985 Upset of Mighty Georgetown Changed the Landscape of College Hoops Forever” by Frank Fitzpatrick
Tags:
Basketball, college, history, upsets
Publish date:
January 22, 2013
Length:
320 pages
Rating: 
2 ½  of 5 stars (fair)
Review:
It is considered one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history during a year when the sport was undergoing significant changes. 1985 was the year that the NCAA basketball tournament was expanded to 64 games and had the regional brackets that are familiar to even non-basketball fans. Several conferences experimented with a shot clock, which was to become a permanent rule the next year – it was not used during this tourney, which was important to this game.

Which game is this? It was the thrilling 66-64 win by the Villanova Wildcats over the Georgetown Hoyas in the finals of the 1985 NCAA basketball tournament.  This book by veteran Philadelphia writer Frank Fitzpatrick claims to show the reader how this one game changed the sport.  But that is misleading for several reasons and as a result I was disappointed with this book.

The first disappointment for me is that there was very little mention of the game itself, save for some short references, until page 231 when Chapter 13 was about the game day experience for the players and the historical contest.  That is a long time to wait for the main subject of the book.  The information before that chapter is also not all about the season and tournament games that led up to their mighty clash.  While there is some good basketball writing, especially in the previous chapter when the previous tourney games for the Wildcats and Hoyas are discussed, there is much more about the racial overtones of the Hoyas.

While one cannot ignore the role that race played in the sport at that time, especially centered around Georgetown, I felt that there was far too much of the book that dealt with that subject and that the author tried to force the topic to be the reason for something when there could be other factors. The author felt that race played a role in how many Americans would root for a team in this game, and that many felt Villanova was the “good” team and Georgetown was the “bad” team due to race.  While that may have had some role, it is indisputable that many sports fans love to cheer for an underdog. Because Georgetown was such a prohibitive favorite, it is very possible that many simply wanted to cheer for the underdog – a possibility not discussed in the book.

The other aspect that I felt was misleading was that this game alone “changed the landscape of college hoops forever.”  While the game was to undergo major changes that I mentioned earlier, they were going to happen regardless of the outcome of this game. It could be historic because it was the last game without the shot clock and Villanova took advantage of this, but that was already approved to add a shot clock in all NCAA games for the following season.  Teams didn’t change to mimic the Wildcats to copy their success.  While the championship game was held in a regular sized college arena (Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky), it wasn’t the last one to be held in a non-dome setting as that would not take effect until 1997, as mentioned in the book.

Those are just a few examples of how this book was a letdown for me after the title grabbed my attention.  The stories on the two schools are not even complete – for Villanova, Ed Pickney’s book on the team gives a more complete picture, while there are several books on this era of Georgetown basketball and the two main men for the Hoyas that year, Patrick Ewing and coach John Thompson.  If a reader wants to read on these two schools or this game, those are better options.

Book Format Read:
Hardcover
Buying Links:


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Review of "A Deadly Game"

It isn't too often that I have the chance to review fictional stories with a sports theme, but that was the case with this book. It took a little different twist in that the baseball theme was less about the game on the field and more about fantasy baseball - a game that is intriguing and has a world all its own.  Here is my review of a thriller about fantasy baseball, "A Deadly Game."


Title/Author:
“A Deadly Game” by Gary M. Lepper
Tags:
Baseball, fiction, fantasy, murder, mystery
Publish date:
December 6, 2016
Length:
299 pages
Rating: 
4 ½  of 5 stars (excellent)
Review:
When six Major League baseball players in various cities are injured and two of them died as a result of their injuries, it felt like more than just coincidence.  It raised the curiosity of former police detective David Kenmuir and what he finds while investigating these cases is the storyline for this very entertaining novel by Gary M. Lepper.

Set in the 1980’s, when computers were still primitive but useful for vast amounts of information and statistics, Kenmuir discovers the world of fantasy baseball and how one can get easily caught up in the high stakes at which some fantasy leagues operate.  While he was a baseball fan, Kenmuir did not play fantasy baseball.  However, with the help of a computer nerd, he learns not only about the game, but also starts to understand how the star players each became victims of an organized crime operation.

Baseball fans will enjoy the references to the games and also to baseball card collecting as well as the fantasy game. There are settings in major league ballparks, such as the Oakland Coliseum, in which Kenmuir and a Don from organized crime watch ball games. The story did start a little slow as it was not apparent how the injuries were connected, but once the concept of fantasy baseball was fully ingrained into the story, it took off from there. 

The characters were well-developed, and Kenmuir develops into a troubled hero with his experiences in the Vietnam war and the loss of a partner while on the police force playing a key role in the book. The antagonists are well developed as well, and the usual stereotyped behavior of the leaders of organized crime are not obvious in this novel, a welcome relief.   

This is a novel that will be enjoyed by fans of book on baseball, mysteries or organized crime. It was a very good read that only bogged down once, but once one gets past that portion of the book, it is one that will be hard to put down.

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

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)
Buying Links:


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review of "Mad Dog: The Maurice Vachon Story"

I mention this in the book review, but when I saw this book was available for review, I jumped on the chance because I saw Mad Dog Vachon perform at many wrestling events when I was growing up in Minnesota, both live and on television. I enjoyed watching his antics in the ring, and I enjoyed this book.  Here is my review of "Mad Dog."


Title/Author:
“Mad Dog: The Maurice Vachon Story” by Bertrand Hebert and Patric Laprade
Tags:
Wrestling, professional, biography
Publish date:
September 5, 2017
Length:
320 pages
Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)
Review:
Growing up in the Twin Cities, I would watch wrestling every weekend on television and would occasionally attend wrestling cards in the old Minneapolis Auditorium. One of the big stars in the business at the time was Mad Dog Vachon.  So when I saw a biography of the man was available for review, I jumped at the chance to do so. 

Starting with his childhood in Quebec in which he was considered a trouble-maker, the book follows Maurice’s venture into wrestling, from his amateur performance that earned him a trip to the Olympics to his somewhat nomadic life as a professional wrestler to his life afterward. There are many interesting stories along the way about Vachon’s professional and personal life. At times it seemed amazing that with all the travel and all the issues in his personal life that he became such a star in wrestling. 

But it was Vachon’s work ethic and willingness to help other wrestlers to succeed that helped make him the successful heel (villain) that he became. He put on a great show for the fans, while remembering that it was them who were the most important people in the business. The reader will get a glimpse into what Maurice was like through his interactions with wrestlers, promoters and his brother Paul, who under the name “Butcher” became Maurice’s partner in the ring and later in the business.

What made this book a good read was the research and writing about the inner workings of the professional wrestling circuit.  There are many more smaller organizations than the big ones with which many people are familiar.  Much like real estate, one’s location can determine the success of a wrestler.  This was certainly the case for Mad Dog as his career took off when Vern Gagne brought him to Minneapolis. Reading about his matches in the Twin Cities brought back a lot of memories and made the book a fun one to read.  

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:
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/mad-dog-bertrand-hebert/


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Review of "The Pitch That Killed"

This book is one that has been on my radar for several years, but I just never thought about picking it up.  Then in an online baseball book club to which I belong, it was selected as the book for this month.  Decided to read it on the train to and from a baseball game and my only complaint is that I waited so long to read it.  Here is my review of "The Pitch That Killed."


Title/Author:
“The Pitch That Killed: Carl Mays, Ray Chapman and the Pennant Race of 1920” by Mike Sowell
Tags:
Baseball, professional, history, Yankees, Indians, tragedy
Publish date:
September 1, 1989
Length:
330 pages
Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Review:
Most baseball fans know about Ray Chapman being the only player to die because of an on-the-field incident when he was beaned by Carl Mays. These same fans may also know that he was very popular, not just with the fans of the Cleveland Indians but also is teammates. Then they may also be aware that Mays was not very popular, even before this tragedy, with the players, teammates and opponents alike. 

Just these topics would make a good book, but author Mike Sowell takes these and crafts an even better book by giving readers a complete picture of not only Mays and Chapman and that fateful day of August 16, 1920, but by including so many other key baseball men such as Tris Speaker (the Indians manager), Babe Ruth and Miller Huggins, the reader gets the complete picture of the men involved and the lead-up to that fateful pitch.

Mays was known as a trouble maker before arriving to the Yankees from his days with the Boston Red Sox.  It didn’t affect his pitching as he had success with both teams and was a key member of the Yankees staff as they were involved in a three team pennant race with the Indians and the Chicago White Sox.  His pitching was affected, however by a new rule that was enacted to disallow trick pitches.  Mays’ underhanded delivery was deemed to be this, but he still threw in that manner that was effective and hard for a batter to pick up, as would be horribly on display during an at bat by Ray Chapman.

Chapman, on the other hand, was a young player on the rise with the Indians.  A gifted shortstop, he was becoming a better player and gaining the confidence of his teammates.  Newly married and expecting his first child, the young man seemed to have the world in his hands when he stepped up to the plate during a game against the Yankees. A pitch from Mays was coming in high and tight on Chapman, who never saw it coming.  It hit him in the left temple and he was knocked to the ground bleeding and unconscious.  He was able to make if off the field with help from his teammates, but died the next day in the hospital.

Just this alone would make a good book, but Sowell turns it into fascinating reading by including many details on both Mays and Chapman, such as when Mays told his wife in 1918 that he may have needed to do something “out of the ordinary” to get his name in the papers, or that Chapman may have retired after the 1920 season after promising his father-in-law to consider giving up the game to run their successful family business. Sowell also weaves the tight American League pennant race into the story along with other people that makes story of Chapman’s death even more completing.  Little items such as Speaker getting involved in the decision on where to bury Chapman, a New York writer who tried to implicate Mays in throwing games during the 1921 World Series and the talk of players boycotting any game in which Mays was the pitcher.

All of this and more makes this book one that every baseball fan and historian must read. Even though I had known about this book for many years, I never picked it up until it was selected as a book of the month in an online baseball book club.  My only problem with that is that now I am kicking myself for waiting so long to read it. 

Book Format Read:
Paperback

Buying Links:




Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review of "Eyes Within the Diamond"

If you have ever picked up a book expecting it to be written in a certain style or on a specific topic, but it turned out to not be that way, you will adjust your expectations for what to get out of the book.  That was the case for me as when I started "Eyes Within the Diamond", I expected a collection of essays.  While there were essays there was so much more to this book.  Here is my review of "Eyes Within the Diamond."


Title/Author:
“Eyes Within the Diamond: Inside the Game, Outside the Box” by Stacey Marc Goldman
Tags:
Baseball, professional, lists, statistics, race
Publish date:
November 19, 2016
Length:
270 pages
Rating: 
3 ½ of 5 stars (good)
Review:
This book doesn’t really fit neatly into a common baseball book category.  While there is advanced statistical analysis of many great players, it isn’t a sabermetrics book in the same manner as Bill James. There are essays about many of the players listed, but it isn’t the type of book to curl up on your favorite piece of furniture and read for hours.  There are many lists of the greatest player in many different categories and positions.

This was problematic for me at first, as I was confused as to why the author would start creating lists of the greatest players with no explanation of how he graded these players. But as I kept on looking at lists and reading essays on the Negro Leagues, the book got better. There are also essays on players from every era and an interesting comparison of the two Canadian franchises in Major League Baseball history, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Montreal Expos.

What really settled my mind, however, was at the end of the book when Goldman gave the formula for how he graded both hitters and pitchers and that helped explain his rankings and comparisons. The comparisons were of great players – to settle the argument of who was better between the two.  Many different parings were compared, such as Barry Bonds vs. Ty Cobb and of course Joe DiMaggio vs. Ted Williams.

Goldman also tackles a tough subject – the institutional racism of the game before integration and much of the writing and listings give much credit to the Negro Leagues. He believes Josh Gibson is the greatest baseball player ever and he makes a compelling argument.  Other stars from the Negro Leagues such as Cool Papa Bell and Satchel Paige also are prominent in the book.

This book is best read in small doses or used as a reference book to look for the best players at certain positons. It’s also a great reference to settle a bet or argument about the best players.  Many books with lists are useful for that purpose and this one follows in that mold.

I wish to thank Summer Game Books for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)
Buying Links:
https://www.amazon.com/Eyes-Within-Diamond-Inside-Outside-ebook/dp/B01N971KM4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1494466065&sr=8-1&keywords=eyes+within+the+diamond