Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review of "The Slam"

Bobby Jones completed a remarkable feat in 1930 that had never been accomplished before, and has not been accomplished since - winning the four tournaments that make up golf's Grand Slam in one year.   This is a review of a book on that amazing run to the Grand Slam.


Title/Author:
“The Slam: Bobby Jones and the Price of Glory” by Curt Simpson

Tags:
 Golf, history, biography

Publish date:
July 14, 2014 (original publication date 2005)

Rating: 
3 of 5 stars (good)

Review:
In 1930, amateur golfer Bobby Jones did what no other golfer has done before or since – win the four major tournaments in one calendar year.  By winning the US Open, The Open (formerly known as the British Open), the US Amateur and British Amateur tourneys he became the first golfer to win what would come to be known as the Grand Slam.   Over the years, the “Slam” has changed to include the Masters (a tourney played on a course Jones later designed) and the PGA Championship as professional golfers now make up the bulk of players in the Opens.  This book by Curt Simpson has been re-published in digital format and follows Jones through that 1930 season and also illustrates society customs and golfing norms in that era.

The accounts of the four tournaments that Jones won illustrates Simpson’s detailed research as his recap of Jones’ rounds are full of details about not only shots taken by Jones, but by those of his opponents as well.  The reader will feel the drama of the matches in the two amateur opens as those were match play tourneys.   At times, I almost forgot who was taking which shot as the results of one hole were quickly forgotten as the drama of the next one played out.   It was gripping to read of shots onto the green and excellent putts.

Because I wasn’t familiar with Jones’ story of his personal demons, his drinking or his social life, I read those chapters a little more slowly and while they were written with the same detail and research, I had trouble following through these segments.  While the reader will be able to ascertain the issues Jones had off the golf course, it will be a little slower to be able to soak it in.  

Overall, I felt this was a good biography on a golfer whose legend has grown over the years as more years pass and no golfer can duplicate the feat.  Some golf historians hold Jones to a very high pedestal, which Simpson does not do here.  I appreciated that as it read to be a fairly balanced account of the man’s golf and his life.   It is a good read for anyone who is interested in golf history.

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


Did I skim?
I did skim through some parts that dealt with Jones’ personal life as I was more interested in his golf achievements.  I did read most of the book at a normal speed and was able to comprehend the main point of the book, which I felt was that Jones had a major accomplishment despite his personal demons.

Pace of the book: 
It read slowly for me, although because I wasn’t familiar with much of the information in the book, I did reread some sections as well to follow some of the chapters, such as the one on Bobby’s Open championship

Do I recommend? 
Yes, for hard core golf fans of the players of that era and for readers who are interested in stories about the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Epub)

Buying links:

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Review of "The Teammates"

Having been a fan of David Halberstam's writing - not only on baseball, but also on war - it was only appropriate that I finally review one of his books.   We lost a great writer too soon, and his excellent skills are in full display in this book on the enduring friendship of four Boston Red Sox teammates.  Here is my review of "The Teammates."  


Title/Author:
“The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship” by David Halberstam

Tags:
Baseball, biography, history, Red Sox

Published:
May 14, 2003

Length:
217 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Inspired by a trip in 2002 by former Red Sox teammates Dominic DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky to visit their old teammate and friend Ted Williams, award winning author David Halberstam recounts these three teammates along with fellow Red Sox great Bobby Doerr as they maintained friendships well beyond their baseball playing days.  

Halberstam displays his talents that won him a Pulitizer Prize as he takes each man’s stories and weaves them together in a collection that is at times inspiring, melancholy, uplifting and even humorous.  The reader will learn a lot about each man that wasn’t necessarily written by the sportswriters of the time when they were teammates on the Boston Red Sox.   Characteristics like Williams’ distance from his children, Doerr’s devotion to his wife Monica (he is unable to make the trip from Oregon because he is caring for her), Pesky’s willingness to be the “goat” of the famous 1946 World Series play in which Enos Slaughter raced home from first on a base hit that was scored as a single, and DiMaggio’s emergence as a player that stood on his own merit and not just that of his famous brother.

There is plenty of baseball in the book as well.  The best of these passages is Pesky’s recollection of the play in which Slaughter scored the winning run of game 6.  It is a very interesting take on the play, as it differs significantly than what is typically written.  Without giving away Pesky’s story, let’s just say that there were other events that took place or were embellished over time to give the play the romantic feel-good flavor it has today.

While all four men have excellent stories and passages, I was moved by Halberstam’s writing about Doerr.  Everything about the man, from the wooing and courtship of his wife to his playing career and his life after baseball is captured in a manner that shows the tenderness and lack of selfishness that makes up the character of Bobby Doerr.  His story is one that will stick with the reader for a long time after closing the book.

Halberstam has written several baseball books that have received well-deserved praise and “The Teammates” is one of them. This is a must-read for any baseball fan, young or old, who enjoys stories that show the human side of the players.   


Did I skim?
No. 

Pace of the book: 
The book is fairly short but reads very quickly as Halberstam gets each man to open up and reveal some very personal stories that they did not share with newspaper writers during their playing days. 

Do I recommend? 
Anyone who is inspired by accounts of friendship that has endured over many years, whether baseball fans or not, will be touched by this book.  I highly recommend for readers of baseball books, biographies or inspirational stories.

Book Format Read:
Ebook (Kindle)

Buying Links:


http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/teammates-david-halberstam/1100318092?ean=9780786888672

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Review of "One Girl, One Team, One City" and upcoming book tour

I am excited to announce that on August 1, I will be part of a virtual book tour promoting Caryn Rose's novel "A Whole New Ballgame."  It is a novel about a young woman who after getting her heart broken finds another love - that being a love of baseball and the adventures her and two friends share along the way to visiting several Major League ballparks.   I won't give any more about the book away.  On August 1, a review of the book along with more information on the author and book will be posted here.   

In the meantime, I had the pleasure to read her anthology of posts from her popular blog www.metsgrrl.com.   Here is my review of the book "One Girl, One Team, One City."


Title/Author:
“One Girl, One Team, One City” by Caryn Rose

Tags:
Baseball, Mets, blogging, memoir

Publish date:
March 29, 2014

Length:
177 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Posts from the popular www.metsgrrrl.com blog are the material in this anthology by Caryn Rose. She was the author of the blog, a huge Mets fan, and a darn good blog writer as well.  This book will have the reader laughing, pausing, reflecting, and just having fun while Rose muses about her team, the memories created and her various travels during the time frame 2006-2012. 

The Mets built a new ballpark during this time, and I believe Rose’s best work and posts came from the time the team played at the old park, Shea Stadium. She talks with fondness about her “Section 12” friends, the food, the struggles with clothing needed during rainy or cold nights and even the restrooms (though not in detail, thankfully!)   Through these blog posts, it is clear that she will always have a place in her heart for the old stadium. Reading these passages makes the reader feel like he or she is right there on the upper deck fighting the wind or trying to get into position for that perfect picture. 

There is plenty of baseball knowledge exhibited in this book as well. Each post will talk at least a little bit about the game at hand, whether it is frustration over the lack of hitting in the Mets lineup, a few lines about the starting pitcher, or maybe just an observation that many fans make every night at every game, no matter which teams are playing.   For good baseball writing, Rose’s best posts are those about the 2006 Mets postseason games and her memories of Johan Santana’s no-hitter in 2012. 

However, what I really enjoy about this book is that it is written by a fan, from a fan’s perspective and is meant to be read by fans.   Fans of any team will be able to read this book, substitute their team’s name for “Mets” and many of the same stories and emotions will come back to the reader.   Baseball fans who love to go to the games and cheer on their team will want to pick up this collection of great stories.

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

Did I skim?
No

Pace of the book: 
Excellent, as each chapter was a particular day’s blog post, which made it a quick read and the writing style was easy to read as well.

Do I recommend? 
Yes, especially for Mets fans, but any baseball fan who enjoys attending games will want to read this book. 

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying links:

http://www.amazon.com/One-Girl-Team-City-metsgrrl-com-ebook/dp/B00JCJDRSW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1405640735&sr=8-1&keywords=one+girl+one+team+one+city

Monday, July 14, 2014

Interview with Jon Hart

I recently had the pleasure to interview Jon Hart, author of "Man vs. Ball" about the book, some of the adventures he writes about in the book and writing in general.   Here is the interview:


What inspired you to write a book on your experiences in the sports world, aside from just recording them?

I genuinely enjoyed doing the activities for the most part – and some of them paid, which was nice. I got paid to work, sell wienies to be exact, in The House That Ruth Built. I got paid to fetch balls for some of the best tennis players at the U.S. Open. First and foremost, I’m a writer, and the adventures inspired me to write, and they gave me great material. After I finished writing something, I was often inspired to go after a new and unique adventure. Ultimately, I thought I brought a unique perspective to things. Writing the book was my ultimate reward. No trophies for writers, just books! 

Would you encourage others to participate or work in sports in a similar manner like you did?  If so, what advice would you give them?

The only advice I’m going to give is to not follow my advice. There are way too many advice books out there. If you put me in a corner though, my advice is to follow your instincts and tell a good, meaningful story with colorful characters. Write it down, then rewrite it until it’s a masterpiece or close to it. Lastly, try to have some fun, no easy task.


 If you watch any sports, either live on TV now, do you ever find yourself paying more attention to the people who do what you did?  For example, if you are watching a tennis match, do you watch the ball people more that the match given that you were once in their shoes?   And if you do, what types of thoughts run through your mind.

I’m always watching the ball people. I’m obsessed with them. I’m watching how hard they run. I’m studying how they hold the ball and toss it the server. I’m watching their form as they hold the umbrella during the breaks. I’m also examining their uniforms. Tennis will never be the same. Watching ball games, I find myself looking into the stands, attempting to find a hawker in a fluorescent shirt. I don’t miss hawking. Those stairs could be tough, and the games were not short.

If you were not writing down stories and notes while participating, what did you do to make sure that your writing was accurate?  For example, what did you do to recap your season of semi-pro football or the name of your co-workers at Yankee Stadium?

I took notes, copious notes – and I have a decent memory. I did my very best to make sure that everything is super accurate. However – and I find this kind of funny – certain people go out of their way to tell me that certain things are not accurate. Ball players have hecklers – and so do writers! I gotta deal with it and write on.


Are you currently working on any other projects and are there any other books that will soon come out?   Feel free to shamelessly plug your works here!

I’m always writing, always thinking. I got something in the pipeline. Frankly, I don’t want to jinx myself by talking about it too much. That’s a huge mistake: Talking about something before it’s done. Right now, I’m hawking – pun intended – Man versus Ball. I appreciate the opportunity to be interviewed and all the work you do. I look forward to reading your book! Some more advice, even though I don’t give it: Get just write it down and get it done. If it’s in your head, it doesn’t mean anything to the outside world. Put it on the page!  

Links:

http://www.amazon.com/Man-Versus-Ball-Jon-Hart-ebook/dp/B00DIFHVLU/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405377559&sr=1-1&keywords=man+versus+ball  

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/man-versus-ball-jon-hart/1114150176?ean=9781612344140 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Review of "Season of Saturdays"

College football is one of those sports that at times feels bigger than the game itself.  Many towns and schools seem to have their ups and downs in their lives and successes based on how well the football team succeeds.   This book that examines the history of college football looks into that as well as other moral and ethical questions about the sport as well as provide some facts about the history of the game.   Here is my review of Micheal Weinreb's excellent book "Season of Saturdays."


Title/Author:
“Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games” by Micheal Weinreb

Tags:
Football (American), college, history, ethics

Published:
August 19, 2014

Length:
272 pages

Rating: 
4 ½ of 5 stars (excellent) – rounded to 5 for Goodreads and Amazon

Review:
College football is a uniquely American institution that can bring out the best and worst of everyone involved – players, coaches, schools, students and fans, just to name a few.   The moral and ethical questions that can be raised by this passion are examined in this excellent book on the sport by Michael Weinreb.  He covers the history of the sport from its beginnings as an Ivy League activity to today’s system with a 4 team playoff in 14 chapters, each representing a Saturday, and each one titled with a game that symbolized the state of the game for that era.

Weinreb writes each chapter with a good balance of factual research, thoughts for the reader to contemplate and wonderful stories on some of the greatest moments of the game.   He writes each chapter in a manner that hard-core fans will enjoy because of some of the memories and strategic coaching mentioned, but at the same time, casual fans will also enjoy it because there isn’t a lot of complicated talk about plays and formations so they will be able to follow along as well.   As a fan in between these two extremes, I enjoyed the book for the history lessons of the early game as well as the references to the games that I still remember today and how they have impacted the sport as a whole.

The book is also written in a manner that when Weinreb expresses an opinion or emotion, it is not judgmental, but will make the reader stop and think.  He does this many times during the book. To illustrate this, in the chapter titled “Texas 41, USC 38” (the 2006 National Championship game) he ends each section with a thought provoking statement and will express his thoughts by saying that the statement will either “bother certain people more than it bothers me” (Reggie Bush considered a bust) or “this bothers me more than it bothers certain people” (that college football is a prelude to the “real thing” [NFL football] on Sunday afternoons).  

This type of writing, prevalent throughout the book, made it an enjoyable read and one that I would certainly recommend to any college football fan.  

I wish to thank NetGalley for providing an advance reading copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Did I skim?
No. 

Pace of the book: 
The book is a fast-paced read as each of the 14 chapters representing one week of the season is broken into segments that make reading each chapter easier.     

Do I recommend? 
All college football fans, from casual to hard-core will enjoy this book.   Also, readers who are looking to read about why the sport is so popular with all age groups and how much a team can become part of a town’s or campus’s psyche will find this book one that will address many of those questions.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:




(Note: links are for pre-orders before publication date of August 19, 2014)

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Review of "Great Stuff"

Here's hoping everyone who celebrate's the Fourth of July had a wonderful celebration.  I did by going to a baseball game - what is more American than that?   On the train ride to the park, I read a book on some of the most amazing pitching feats in the history of the game, and here is my review of that book.  




Title/Author:
“Great Stuff: Baseball’s Most Amazing Pitching Feats” by Rich Wescott

Tags:
Baseball, Pitching, History

Published:
May 6, 2014

Length:
336 pages

Rating: 
2 1/2 of 5 stars (okay)

Review:
The premise of this book grabbed my attention - while a fan may know about baseball’s greatest pitching feats like consecutive no-hitters by Johnny VanderMeer or the perfect game thrown by Don Larsen in the 1956 World Series, this book promised to deliver stories behind those accomplishments.  On that promise, this book by Rich Wescott delivers as there are some interesting stories on great pitching feats and accomplishment that span the entire history of Major League baseball.  Everything from Cy Young’s 511 wins to Mark Buehrle retiring 45 consecutive batters in a three game stretch (more on him in a minute) was covered.  

The stories will introduce the reader to the particular pitcher being discussed, details about the pitching feat that made him worthy of being included in this collection and then more details about his career before and after the accomplishment. This pattern made for easier reading of each story. Because there wasn’t too much detail in these stories – the reader would get stats and highlights but not much else – it made for an easy read.   Some readers may want more detail-oriented stories but for the theme of the book, the format was just right. 

There were some inaccuracies in the book that I noted in a few of the stories on pitchers from 1970 and later.  I will illustrate two of them here, plus two errors that appeared to be missed by the editors that a reader may quickly identify.      

The first inaccurate fact that caught my attention was on the chapter about Jim Palmer.  In that one, it is stated that “…Palmer beat the Kansas City Royals in Baltimore’s pennant clinching game.”   This was about the 1966 season when the Orioles won the World Series. However, that game was against the Kansas City Athletics, as the Kansas City Royals were not a major league franchise until 1969.  The second inaccurate fact was about Orel Hershiser’s win in the 1988 World Series. It is stated in the book that “In Game One, Hershiser pitched one of his best games of the season, a three hit-5-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics.”   Hershiser’s one win in that World Series was in fact Game Two, and it was a three-hit, 6-0 victory.   Game One of that World Series was won by the Dodgers on Kirk Gibson’s famous pinch-hit walk-off homer off Dennis Eckersley (who was the subject of another chapter in the book.)  These are just errors that caught my attention immediately before researching into them. They did raise a red flag for me as to what other errors may be found if the reader digs further, especially the statistics and details of the early history of the game.  

One of the editing errors was one that caught my attention because it would make a great feat even more astounding.  In the chapter on Dwight Gooden’s amazing sophomore season, it is stated that he had a “23-game scoreless streak” broken.  From the context, it was easy to see the author meant “23-inning scoreless streak,” so I believed that was an editing issue.  There was also a glaring editing error when the first page of the chapter on Mark Buehrle’s streak of retiring 45 consecutive batter was titled “Mike Buehrle.”  This was also in the table of contents and the first two times Buehrle’s full name was written.  It was corrected later in the chapter, but it was certainly a distraction to see the incorrect name. Again, I believed it was an editing error.  I will also note that the copy of this book that I read was an e-book that was borrowed from a public library so I do not know if an unedited version ended up in the library’s collection.  However, these were enough of a distraction for me to make me wonder about the validity of all the statistical information.

Nonetheless, I will give this book a passing grade because the stories were entertaining and it did contain information on old-time pitchers that is not easily found from other sources.  I am giving it 3 stars on the assumption that these errors and any others were found and a correct copy is available for purchase.

Did I skim?
No. 

Pace of the book: 
It was a fairly quick read – took me a little more than two hours.   None of the stories were extremely long and they moved along quickly enough that it is a decent read.

Do I recommend? 
Baseball fans will enjoy this book as long as they read it for the stories and admire the many outstanding pitching feats that have been accomplished over the course of the game’s history.   If the reader is looking for all facts, figures and statistics, he or she should look elsewhere. 

Book Format Read:
e-book (Kindle, borrowed from public library)

Buying Links:

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Review of "Saving Babe Ruth"

When I was provided a copy of this book by the author, I was expecting a biography given the title.  Boy, was I wrong - and in a good way as this is a terrific novel on youth baseball.  Here is my review of "Saving Babe Ruth." 


Title/Author:
“Saving Babe Ruth” by Tom Swyers

Tags:
Fiction, baseball, youth sports, politics, humor, drama

Published:
June 23, 2014

Length:
335 pages

Rating: 
4 ½ of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:
When I was provided a copy of this book to review by the author, the title made me think it was about Babe Ruth – another biography of the Great Bambino.  Then I saw the cover and was intrigued with the gun being held instead of a baseball bat.  After that, I started reading and was hooked from the opening passage.

In the upstate New York town of Indigo Valley, a lawyer who has had trouble finding cases to handle is the volunteer commissioner of the town’s Babe Ruth youth baseball league. David Thompson takes good care of his field and wants to ensure that kids of all abilities to wish to play baseball have a chance to do so in his league.  

However, the best players are drawn away from Babe Ruth baseball and are instead playing for the Elite Travel Baseball League, lured by the possibility of making the school baseball team, earning a college scholarship and possibly even becoming a professional ball player. It creates a conflict for not only the players and which league(s) they should play for, but also for use of the Babe Ruth league field. This conflict between the adults grows more bitter as the town board, school officials and parents of the players grow increasingly hostile toward each other for what they believe “is best for the kids.”

This is the setting and storyline of Tom Swyers debut novel about one town’s battle between the long established Babe Ruth league open to all young ballplayers and an elite travel league that is a baseball machine, grabbing the best players with promises of stardom.  The story takes us from the field to the town board and all of the small town politics that entails.   We meet the Thompson family – David, his wife Annie who is getting worn down with all the baseball activity and their son Christy.  Christy, who was named for David’s favorite baseball player Christy Mathewson, is a player in the Babe Ruth league but wants to play for the school as well.  All of these characters are easy to follow and cheer for during this story.

The story is also filled with drama and humor as the conflict grows and new revelations about just how deep some of the adults go to ensure that the travel league gets the best of everything are introduced.  Some of them are seemingly impossible to conceive.  Through these, Swyers does a terrific job of illustrating the darker side of youth sports today, showing how far some adults will go to get their way in a children’s game.

The writing style makes the book easy to read and the reader will be drawn into the story.  There is plenty of baseball as well, and these scenes are well written and describe a youth baseball game with very realistic detail.   Everything that one can recall about a ball game in town, whether player or spectator, from the cinder block dugouts to the concession stand, is included in these sections.  As for the ending, it is one that the reader will thoroughly enjoy as much as the rest of the story.

For baseball fans, this is a great book for recalling those days when playing or watching children play organized baseball.  For readers who like a good drama with characters you can easily cheer for or despise, this book will deliver.  This is a terrific first novel for this author and should be put on your must-read list.

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

Did I skim?
No

Were the characters realistic? 
Mostly yes.  David and his family were for the most part, although I thought David was a bit of an eccentric with the Civil War references.  Some of the other characters, especially the main antagonist Rob Barkus and the school principal Mr. Conway seemed a little too far-fetched.  I mean, really, an agent representing a superstar NFL running back can double as a school principal?  It was a nice touch to the story, but for a character it felt like overkill for what the author was trying to illustrate.

Pace of the story:
Excellent  

Do I recommend?  
Yes.  Baseball fans will enjoy this tale about the best and worst of youth baseball, as well as readers who like a good drama with a dash of humor.

Book Format Read:
Paperback

Buying Links: