Monday, November 20, 2017

Review of "Game Face"

While some people may not remember Bernard King's prowess for scoring in the 1980s, many serious basketball fans will recall his career with fondness despite being overshadowed in the minds of many by Bird, Magic and Jordan.  He was known for his privacy and he has opened up with this very good memoir.  Here is my review of "Game Face."




Title/Author:
Game Face: A Lifetime of Hard – Earned Lessons On and Off the Basketball Court” by Bernard King with Jerome Preisler

Tags:
Basketball, professional, memoir, Nets, Warriors, Jazz, Knicks

Publish date:
November 7, 2017

Length:
360 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
Bernard King is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and was one of the most prolific scorers during his sixteen year career, with his best seasons occurring when he played for the New York Knicks.  He recovered from serious knee surgery at a time when that type of injury meant the end of a career.  In addition, he was known as an extremely private person during his playing days, rarely opening up to the media about any personal issues.

In this memoir written with Jerome Preisler, King opens up about his childhood and the feelings of self-doubt that were always present in his life, even when basketball took him to places he never thought he would reach, such as college (University of Tennessee) and back home to New York.  As a Brooklyn kid, he talks about his experiences in the schools and playgrounds in the area and how he vowed to do what he could to avoid the temptations of the streets.

He also opens up about problems that plagued him during his college and professional careers, namely alcoholism and its associated issues.  He thanks his first agent for assisting him in getting the help he needed to overcome those issues as well.  King’s openness about these matters is something that he would rarely do in the public spotlight, so a reader can only imagine how tough it must have been for him to talk about these subject.  He covers a lot of ground in these areas, but there is not a lot of detail or too much anger or self-pity. These sections came across as his account of what happened, what he did to address them and not much else.


The same can’t be said for when King writes about his basketball skills, however.  It is clear how much he still loves the game and the vivid memory he has for many of his career highlights. This is true from his time playing in high school to his days at Tennessee, when he teamed with Ernie Grunfeld to form the “Bernie and Ernie Show” to his NBA career. He was drafted by the New Jersey Nets where he became a scoring machine early.  He later played for the Golden State Warriors and Utah Jazz before joining the Knicks where his star shone the greatest.  At each stop, he has mostly kind words for teammates, coaches and front office people.  This is true even if his experience with the team was not so great, such as his time in Utah.  It matches the rest of the book because it has a very positive, upbeat feeling even when King is discussing low points in his life.

Serious basketball fans will love the detail with which King describes the action on the court.  Whether it is describing plays that coaches draw on the board, elbows thrown by opponents such as Bob Lanier and Maurice Lucas or the sweet jump shot that made him a scoring machine, the book is chock full of game action. Casual fans who have heard about him but wish to know more will also enjoy this book.


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

 
Book Format Read:
E-book (Paperback)

Buying Links:
https://www.amazon.com/Game-Face-Lifetime-Hard-Earned-Basketball/dp/0306825708/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=&dpID=51G2NkUNauL&preST=_SY291_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_&dpSrc=detail

Friday, November 17, 2017

Review of "Need One!"

This was a very different type of sports memoir that I had never heard about until the author sent me an email.  When I looked into this book, I thought that this would be a dream trip for any sports fan.  After reading this book, the dream may be wonderful or a nightmare, but it sure made for entertaining reading.  Here is my review of "Need One!"




Title/Author:
Need One! A Lunatic’s Attempt to Attend 365 Games in 365 Days” by Jamie Reidy

Tags:
Football (American), tennis, bowling, volleyball, baseball, memoir

Publish date:
February 25, 2017

Length:
226 pages

Rating: 
4 ½ of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:
Every sports fan has a sports bucket list, places and teams that the fan wants to see at least once in his or her lifetime.  Dubbed “Sports Year”, author Jamie Reidy set out to do just that by attending one sporting even each day for an entire year. He also wanted to align Sports Year with the Wounded Warrior Project and allow wounded veterans to attend games and events on their bucket lists. 

While Sports Year fell short of the goal of one event every day for a year, the book does a fine job of capturing the adventures Reidy encountered while attending events.  He had to do this on a very limited budget as his hopes of obtaining sponsors did not go as well as he hoped (but he did end up sending out some Sports Year koozies for donors as promised).  He talks often about his 10-year-old Saab and the less-than-prime condition it was in to make the long journey.  His tales about his car were quite funny as were many of the other stories he shared.  This humor is the best quality of the book as it is not only entertaining, it kept the book moving along at a good pace.


Another nice touch to not only the book, but also Sports Year, is the variety of sports he attends.  Not only the types of sports, but also the age level of the participants.  During this trip, he becomes a big fan of girls’/women’s indoor volleyball.  He realizes how trivial his troubles during the trip are when he sees a softball game in which all players have had at least one limb amputated.  He gets to take veterans to some of the biggest venues such as Cowboys Stadium and Lambeau Field.  Through it all he maintains not only his sense of humor but also his sanity – at least enough to be able to write a very different type of sports memoir that any sports fan will enjoy reading.   


Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Review of "The Natural"

While I have been a baseball lover for most of my life, I had never read this book nor saw the movie version made in the 1980's.  So, when the Goodreads Baseball Book Club made this one of the books to read for November, I thought it was about time that I did so.  I now understand why this is considered a classic baseball story.  Here is my review of "The Natural"


Title/Author:
The Natural” by Bernard Malamud, narrated by Christopher Hurt
Tags:
Baseball, Fiction, classic
Publish date:
June 1, 2007 (audio version – original novel published 1952)

Length:
231 pages (paperback version)

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)
Review:
This tale of a 35-year-old baseball player with extremely gifted talent for the game paints a mostly dark picture of a flawed man.  Bernard Malamud’s 1952 novel about Roy Hobbs and his time playing for the New York Knights is considered to be a classic baseball fictional story and was also adapted onto film in the 1980’s, with Robert Redford starring as Hobbs.  I will add a disclaimer that I have never seen the film, so this review and the opinions within are based only on this book.

I found Malamud’s development of the main characters in the story very good, even though there wasn’t a single character in the story that I could say I felt was a protagonist or a “good” guy or lady.  Hobbs has several character flaws which I believe portray him in a less-than-favorable light, such as always seeking out intimate relations with any woman with whom he is in contact.  One of these women, Memo, was taking a fancy to a teammate of Hobbs who died on the baseball field, Bump Bailey. 

Bailey’s untimely demise is the reason Hobbs became a started on the Knights and he immediately tries to court Memo, whose own character flaws are revealed later.  About the only character who seems be able to evoke sympathy from a reader is Iris, and the reason she is initially not Hobb’s type of lady is that she is a young grandmother.  This doesn’t sound like the typical baseball hero in a fictional story – but Roy and all the other main characters are well developed by Malamud.  Maybe the reader won’t like them, but the reader will believe that he or she knows them.

The story moves along well both on and off the diamond.  The baseball scenes are written well for the time depicted, which was when there was no night baseball and the game moved along at a quicker pace than today’s sport with many pitching changes.  There is one big leap of logic, however – how does Roy become such a great pitcher at 19 to strike out the mighty Whammer in a duel, yet later becomes such a great hitter and outfielder at 35?

I must also mention one other character that is baseball-centric, Wonderboy.  That is the name Roy has given to his bat, and he treats Wonderboy better than he treats the ladies, with special polishing and storing.  If there is any character who deserved pity - even though this character is an object – it is the ultimate demise of Wonderboy.  The fact that Roy made sure to bury Wonderboy on a baseball field says a lot about Roy’s relationship with his favorite bat.

The audio version of the book was narrated superbly by Christopher Hurt, who did his best to make the listener feel like he or she is on the field or in the hotel with Roy and company.  While the ending is dark and leaves the reader feeling down, the book certainly does earn a place in the library of classic baseball novels.

Book Format Read:
Audiobook
Buying Links:


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Review of "The California Golden Seals"

This franchise had a very colorful history and very poor record on the ice, yet it had one of the most memorable gimmicks in hockey - white skates for the players.  They had a colorful history that should be told and passed down to future generations of hockey fans, and this book by Steve Currier does just that.  Here is my review of "The California Golden Seals"

Title/Author:
“The California Golden Seals: A Tale of White Skates, Red Ink, and One of the NHL’s Most Outlandish Teams” by Steve Currier
Tags:
Ice Hockey, professional, history, Seals
Publish date:
November 1, 2017

Length:
496 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (Outstanding)
Review:
In 1967, the NHL doubled in size from six teams to twelve. Dubbed “The Great Expansion”, the league wanted to place teams in markets where they could be successful.  The San Francisco Bay area had supported its minor league Seals team in the Western Hockey League and as a result, the area was awarded one of the six expansion franchises.  The colorful history of this NHL franchise, with all of its ups and downs, is captured in this wonderful account by Steve Currier.

The Seals never had a winning record in their 11 years of existence, which includes the last two seasons as the Cleveland Barons. There were flashes of great play, such as in the team’s second season when they posted their best record, finishing second in the West Division (that consisted of all six expansion teams) with 69 points and making the playoffs. They followed that up with another trip to the playoffs in 1970, getting swept in the first round. The team was also in playoff contention for the 1971-72 season but failed to make the playoffs and never made it back. This lack of success on the ice translated into poor attendance, as the Seals were dead last in attendance every season of their existence.

The reasons for this lack of success are many and varied. Currier leaves no stone unturned when writing about why this happened, as he interviews former team officials, broadcasters, players and long-time suffering Seals fans. One theory for the club’s poor attendance is that they played their games in Oakland, which many in San Francisco considered a second class town. Poor marketing throughout the entire history of the team is also frequently mentioned.  The revolving door of ownership didn’t help either, but as many players and historians do, Currier saves the worst of his criticism for one particular owner, Charlie O. Finley.

After purchasing the floundering hockey team in 1970, he proceeded to try to use some of the same gimmicks that made his baseball team in Oakland a success. The Athletics had some of the most colorful uniforms in baseball and Finley tried to copy that formula over to the Seals. He had the players wear white skates, which was a disaster. Currier writes rich stories, especially from the players, about those skates.  It was noted that often the skates had to be painted white and each coat of additional paint added to the weight of the skate.  One player felt the skates weighed “fifty pounds.” 

The stories about the skates overshadowed the ultimate problem for the franchise – the lack of funds.  Finley was one of only several owners who had this issue but he received the most attention about this in the book as well as in the press.  His penny-pinching ways are blamed for the Seals losing 11 players to the new World Hockey Association in 1972, breaking up what was a promising team on the ice.  After Finley sold the team in 1974, the happier days were never found, as the team was run by the NHL for stretches at a time.  The days in the Bay Area ended in April 1976 as the Seals moved to Cleveland after George and Gordon Gund invested in the team but even in Cleveland, it was more of the same results – many losses and few fans.  The franchise ended its history by merging with the Minnesota North Stars in 1978.

Of course, Currier writes about many of the players who played for the Seals and Barons and many of whom are fondly remembered to this day by some of the team’s fans.  Players like Jay Johnstone, Denis Maruk, Gilles Meloche, Gary Simmons (nicknamed “Cobra” for his artistic goalie mask), Ted Hampson, and Bill Hicke are only a small fraction of the many players who wore the green and gold sweaters of the Seals. Their stories are a joy to read, mostly funny and always entertaining.  Most of them speak fondly of the few hearty fans who came out to the games, but speak not so well about owners, especially those who played for Finley.

While the Seals were not a success on the ice or on the business pages, they left their mark in hockey history and their story is one that should be told.  Currier does this in an entertaining manner and any hockey fan who wants to learn anything about this franchise should read 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:


Friday, November 10, 2017

Review of "The Backwards K"

Before baseball withdrawal sets in, I wanted to read a quick baseball book between all the requests that have been coming in for other sports.  I found this fictional story on Kindle Unlimited so I gave it a try and loved it!  It's a very good story about redemption.  Here is my review of "The Backwards K"




Title/Author:
The Backwards K” by J.J. Herbert

Tags:
Baseball, fiction

Publish date:
October 8, 2017

Length:
226 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Review:

It is the chance that every kid who has played whiffle ball in the back yard dreams about: bottom of the ninth inning in game 7 of the World Series, your team trails by one run and the fate of the team rests on your shoulders as you come to the plate. 

That chance came true for Jet Brine, the lead character in this terrific story by J.J. Herbert. Unfortunately for Jet, the title of the book describes what happened during that at-bat – he struck out on a called third strike – the backwards K.  What happened to Jet’s life after that fateful moment is a continuation of the misfortune of that plate appearance.  Jet’s wife dies, his only son blames his father for her death and cuts off all communication with Jet, he sells memorabilia to keep afloat and he still has an addiction to gambling.

When Jet decides to make changes in his life, this is when the story really gets good as the reader will learn the inner turmoil Jet is going through.  But Herbert doesn’t stop with his character development with Jet.  The reader will also feel the pain that Jet’s wife Janice felt as a baseball wife whose husband chose his career over his family, the pain that Jay Brine felt and the confusion felt by Jet’s current girlfriend Linda.  One other important character in the story is Boone, Jet’s sponsor when he decides he needs to do something about his gambling.  Jet also discovers that Jay is developing into a fine baseball player himself and goes out to make up for the time lost with his son. The reader will enjoy learning about these characters as the story takes many different twists while Jet addresses his issues.

While the story is fairly short on pages, it is heartily filled with emotional ups and downs, some baseball action and an ending that will leave the reader completely satisfied with having read a great tale of overcoming difficulties and enjoying what one has in life once again. 

 
Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

 
Buying Links:
https://www.amazon.com/Backwards-K-J-Hebert/dp/0999387243/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr

Monday, November 6, 2017

Review of "But Seriously"

The follow-up to John McEnroe's successful first book "You Cannot Be Serious" is reviewed here.  It didn't have that same excitement for me while reading this, but still has a few good stories.  Here is my review of "But Seriously."




Title/Author:
But Seriously: An Autobiography” by John McEnroe

Tags:
Tennis, professional, memoir

Publish date:
June 16, 2016

Length:
288 pages

Rating: 
3 of 5 stars (okay)

Review:
In this second memoir written by John McEnroe, “But Seriously” fails to meet the standard reached in his first book, “You Cannot Be Serious.”  Like the first one, “But Seriously” is a very quick read, has plenty of humor and covers a wide variety of topics in addition to tennis.

However, unlike the first book, “But Seriously” does not have any structure, theme or any concrete thoughts in which a reader can ponder.  This is done on purpose, and McEnroe states this to the reader in the introductory chapter.  However, it makes reading the book feel very choppy and the reader will wonder where he is going with certain thoughts and what does a story about hanging with Vitas Gerulaitis at Studio 54 in the 1970’s have to do with his current love of art or his concern about his children and what does the future hold for them? 

While reading this, there is a lot of name-dropping, which does make sense when one considers everything that McEnroe has done beyond tennis.  That is the overriding theme that I had while reading this book – that McEnroe wants everyone to know how many other famous people he has known and what he has done with them.  There is a very long passage about getting to play guitar for one song with Chrissy Hynde (one of his many “good friends” he talks about in the book) and the Pretenders.  Sometimes stories like these will connect with a reader, but for me they didn’t.

Sometimes a mish-mosh collection of personal stories can work for a memoir, but in the case of this book, it didn’t feel that way – that it was simply that – a mish-mosh of stories.  If this type of book appeals to a reader, then he or she should certainly pick this up and it isn’t necessary to have read McEnroe’s first memoir.  Because of the humor and some of the tennis stories, I give it a passing grade of three stars. 

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

Book Format Read:
Hardcover

Buying Links:

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Review of " The Black Bruins"

While I was sent an advance review copy of this book to be reviewed as a "sports" book, it is much more than just about sports, in this case college football.  Playing together at UCLA is the common bond among these five men, whose post-college football lives were even more important.  Here is my review of "The Black Bruins"



Title/Author:

“The Black Bruins: The Remarkable Lives of UCLA’s Jackie Robinson, Woody Strode, Tom Bradley, Kenny Washington, and Ray Bartlett” by James W. Johnson

Tags:

Football (American), baseball, college, professional, UCLA, Dodgers, Rams, politics

Publish date:

February 1, 2018



Length:

312 pages



Rating: 

4 of 5 stars (Very good)

Review:

During an era in which there were “gentleman” agreements between schools to not sign African-Americans to football scholarships, the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) broke that agreement in spectacular style, having five black players on the team in 1938 and 1939. The stories of these five men, whose impact would be felt much further than just in college football, is told in this well-researched book by James W. Johnson.



The five men, whose names are in the title, all had good playing careers for the Bruins and each left UCLA on good terms, but little did they realize that every one of them would be leaving their marks as ground-breaking pioneers in various industries.



Of course, the best known of these is Jackie Robinson, who broke major league baseball’s color barrier in 1947 when he suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers. His story and the many tribulations he went through during his time with first the Montreal Royals and then the Dodgers is well known and has been the subject of several books and even movies. Therefore, readers who have read other works on Robinson may not find anything new about him in this book, but because Robinson is such an important figure in not only sports, but in the civil rights movement, his story is worth reading.  Whether it was the meetings with Branch Rickey before appearing on the field, the way Jackie kept quiet when other players and managers were heaping abuse upon him, or his later distrust of Dodger owner Walter O’Malley; the author does a good job of writing about Robinson in a relatively limited amount of pages dedicated to his story.



The reason I say “relatively limited amount” is that Johnson also gives well-deserved pages and tributes to the other four men as well.  Kenny Washington and Woody Strode became the first black players to be signed by the NFL after World War II, each signing with the Rams.  Washington had several good years for the Rams, although it was believed that he was not signed right away not because of his race, but because he wasn’t as good on defense as many players in the league.  Remember, this was during the era of players who played both offense and defense.  One other note about Washington – many feel that he was a good enough baseball player that if he chose that route; he, not Robinson, would have been the man to break the baseball color barrier.  And conversely, many also felt Robinson would have made a fine NFL player had he chosen football instead of baseball.


Strode, on the other hand, appeared in few games and had little playing time during his stint with the Rams.  However, he made his mark in another sport – professional wrestling, where he was often cast as the opponent of Gorgeous George.  This exposure, during which he opened the doors to black performers in wrestling, led Strode to a very successful acting career, appearing in over 50 full-length feature films. More importantly, Strode landed mostly parts that broke the stereotype of roles that had previously been played by black actors, such as servants. Again, Johnson writes about these advancements for African-Americans in this industry with excellent detail and research.



Tom Bradley also broke barriers for blacks after his college football career was done, but not in sports or entertainment.  Instead, he became an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department.  Then after transitioning to politics, he became the first black mayor of Los Angeles. Elected in 1973, he went on to serve five terms in the office and dabbled in national politics as well.  Bradley attributed to his successful political career to his time at UCLA and playing sports – not just football but also his success in track running the 440-yard dash.  Ray Bartlett, the least known of the five, also had a successful career in the police force, becoming the second black officer for the Pasadena Police Department and also donating much time and energy to civil rights causes.


The book tells the stories and accomplishments of these five men in great detail, making sure the reader understands the contributions made about the men.  Of course, their college football careers are well chronicled as well, as that comprises the first quarter or so of the book.  But what happens after UCLA is what makes this book an important one to read for those readers who are interested in the civil rights movement and the integration of sports and entertainment.   



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



Book Format Read:

E-book (Kindle)



Buying Links:


Friday, November 3, 2017

Review of "The Big Chair" - audiobook

Now that the baseball season is over after an excellent World Series, it is only appropriate that the first book I review is a baseball one - and one of the major teams covered in the book was one of the teams in the World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Ned Colletti spent nine years as the GM of the team, and his years in Los Angeles, as well as those in San Francisco with the Giants and his hometown Chicago Cubs, are covered in this excellent memoir.  Here is my review of "The Big Chair."




Title/Author:
The Big Chair: The Smooth Hops and Bad Bounces from the Inside World of the Acclaimed Los Angeles Dodgers General Manager” by Ned Colletti and Joseph A. Reaves. Narrated by Ned Colletti

Tags:
Baseball, professional, memoir, management, Dodgers, Cubs, Giants, audio book

Publish date:
October 3, 2017

Length:
464 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
In the world of baseball general managers, Ned Collletti is well0-recognized name, having achieved success with three of the top franchises in the National League.  He began his career with his hometown Chicago Cubs for twelve years during which the team won two division titles.  He moved on to the San Francisco Giants, becoming assistant GM when they won the National League title in 2002, and then to the Los Angeles Dodgers for nine years.  Those nine years his teams compiled the best cumulative won-loss record despite not reaching the World Series and undergoing extreme turbulence as well. 

Colletti’s career in the game is captured, both the good and bad, in this very entertaining memoir co-written with Joseph A. Reaves.  Listening to the audio version narrated by Colletti gives the listener a very unique insight into the many stories shared by the former GM as he tells about not only the business of baseball, but the personal interactions he has had with nearly every type of person in the game, from the traveling secretary to scouts to players to agents and owners.  The narration is much like how he dealt with a variety of topics – even-keeled without too much drama but a lot of entertainment.

Stories he shares about people whose public persona is less than popular show this even-keeled and fair temperament that helped make him successful.  When Frank McCourt was dealing with a very public and bitter divorce that exposed his improper use of funds from the Dodgers and led to a takeover of the team by Major League Baseball and the eventual sale, not once did Colletti say a bad word about his boss.  Instead, he marveled at the eventual windfall McCourt would receive, praising the businessman side of the former Dodgers owner. 

Colletti has similar kind words for Scott Boras, an agent that makes many general managers and owners lose sleep.  Players who have had negative publicity for various reasons such as Yasiel Puig, Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire all receive nice words from Colletti in the book. These illustrate the man’s personality much better than any outside author or story could do.

These stories and so many others give the reader or listener excellent insight into the life of a baseball general manager. One will quickly realize that there is far more to the job than just evaluating players and making trades or signing players that will improve a team. So many of the stories tell of Colletti’s nights of only about three hours (or less) of sleep as he juggles many tasks and sometimes has as many as three cell phones on and in use.  The book is entertaining, enlightening and very informative and will be enjoyed by every baseball fan. 

Book Format Read:
Audiobook

Buying Links: