Sunday, March 1, 2015

Review of "Gretzky's Tears"

There are dates that are significant in history - significant enough that one will remember what he or she was doing on that date when the historical event happened.  August 9, 1988 is one of those dates for hockey fans (I was on deployment in the US Navy, in the Atlantic Ocean on the way to Spain) as the Wayne Gretzky trade happened.  An excellent book about that trade was written by sportswriter Stephen Brunt, and this is my review of that book, "Gretzky's Tears." 


Title/Author:
“Gretzky’s Tears: Hockey, America and the Day Everything Changed” by Stephen Brunt

Tags:
Ice Hockey, professional, Oilers, Kings

Published:
November 1, 2009

Length:
304 pages

Rating:
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
August 9, 1988 is a date that has become famous in hockey history.  It was the date that Wayne Gretzky, considered by many to be the greatest hockey player to ever lace up skates, was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings.  At the time, the Oilers were a hockey dynasty, having won the Stanley Cup four of the past five seasons, while the Kings were barely a blip in Los Angeles and even in their own building, playing second fiddle to basketball’s Los Angeles Lakers. 

The trade left not only Edmonton, but the entire country of Canada in shock and despair.  Los Angeles suddenly became a hockey hotbed and Kings games were must-see events, complete with celebrity guests.  However, the burning question remained: why was this trade made?  Why was the face of an entire sport traded from a team in the country where hockey is the national sport to a franchise in a warm-weather city?  This question is covered from many different angles in this excellent book by Stephen Brunt.

Having read some of Brunt’s work earlier, I was looking forward to his writing on this event that stunned the entire sports world. The title of the book came from the fact that Gretzky was shedding tears at the press conference announcing the trade, stating that he was leaving Edmonton with a heavy heart and was sad to be going.  Brunt’s research reveals that there was much more to this press conference than simply Gretzky showing his emotions.  There is evidence that some, Brunt included, believe that this wasn’t the case at all, but instead something that Gretzky actually wanted.

The owners of the two teams and architects of the trade, Peter Pocklington of the Oilers and Bruce McNall of the Kings, are subjects that Brunt covered quite well in both his research and writing.  Neither man comes off looking very good in this book, and given the endings for both of them, especially McNall, I believed that this was an accurate portrayal of them.  McNall especially was portrayed as a complex figure, building his fortune in a Ponzi-type scheme and then have it come crashing down.  However, more than just acquiring Gretzky for his team, McNall has grandiose plans for the entire sport and had a more than willing accomplice in Commissioner Gary Bettman.  These were far-reaching plans that, as Brunt points out, are still being felt more than 20 years after the trade.

Not only does Brunt expose the roles of the three main people of the trade, he also dispels some myths about the trade, such as Gretzky was demanding the trade because his wife, Janet Jones, was an aspiring actress. This comparison to Yoko Ono was a popular tabloid topic in Canada, but Brunt dismisses that rumor as well as others and gets down to the real reason – the backroom discussions and dealings that all three men were involved in.

Stephen Brunt has written another winner with this book and is the most comprehensive account of not only the trade itself, but also what became of the Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers after the trade.  The research into Pocklington and McNall is also first-rate.  This is a must-read for any hockey fan interested in learning more about how this one transaction transformed the game.

Did I skim?
No

Pace of the book:
Excellent as I read this book very quickly.  It moved along seamlessly from Gretzky to Pocklington to McNall and then to all parties involved in the trade. 

Do I recommend?
All hockey fans should read this in-depth account of the trade that stunned the sports world and changed the culture of a sport, most likely for good

Book Format Read:
EBook (Nook)

Buying Links:



Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Review of "Play Their Hearts Out" - audio book

You know when you are enjoying one particular activity, food or other similar item that you keep on enjoying it for awhile?  That is the case for me with basketball books lately as that has been the sport of choice for my reading and listening as of late.  Here is the review of my latest basketball book, "Play Their Hearts Out." 


Title/Author:
“Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit and the Youth Basketball Machine” by George Dohrmann, narrated by Emily Rose Speer

Genre/topics: 
Basketball, youth sports, audio book

Published:
October 2, 2010

Length:
434 pages

Rating:
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
The world of youth basketball, also known as grass roots basketball, has produced some great players who had success in the professional game such as Tyson Chandler.  It has also produced stories of players who were expected to go far in their basketball careers at the age of 11 and 12 and buckled under the pressure of great expectations.  The story of one coach and his team of players in Los Angeles is told in this interesting book by George Dohrmann.  I was expecting stories like this about the players, but all of the main characters in this book were important to the story.

Coach Joe Keller is the main man of this tale, wanting to put together the best group of kids ages 10 and 11 and keep them together through high school in order to gain fame, fortune and to be the one to produce the next great player.  Keller thought he had that player in Demetrius Walker, a young impressionable boy who, like many other players, sees his coach as his father figure. What follows is a story that will make the reader cheer, laugh, but mostly shake his or her head when it is revealed just how far Keller goes to ensure that Walker is noticed and hyped as much as possible.

There is considerable discussion about the role that shoe companies such as Nike, Adidas and Reebok play in the grassroots game. There are rankings of players online, recruiting of these players as early as age 9, and deals made in order to bribe parents into allowing their children to play on these teams.  Keller paid rent for more than one of his player’s living accommodations – if that player wasn’t spending most of his time at Keller’s house.  He did that and more for Walker’s family.  Walker was good enough to have his picture on the cover of Sports Illustrated.  What happens eventually to him and some of his teammates made me keep on listening to the book.

The narration provide by Speer for the audio book was very good as she told the story of young men and their interactions in a manner that you didn’t realize the gender difference or that it was a woman speaking language and phrases that young men share only with other young men.  I felt that by listening to instead of reading this book, I was able to stay connected to the basketball players.  I was cheering for them to all have happy endings by the end – whether that happened is something that I will not give away here.  If one wants to learn more about the inner workings of youth basketball, this is an excellent source of information for that topic.

Pace of the book:
It moves along very well. The story stays on track as the author rarely veers off topic on side stories.  They are all about Coach Keller, his team, his players or their families.
 
Do I recommend?
Yes – although be prepared for some melancholy stories as not all of the boys have successful endings.  If the reader wants to learn more about grass roots basketball, both the good and the ugly, this book covers it all.

Book Format Read:
Audio book

Buying Links:



Sunday, February 22, 2015

Review of "The Cortlandt Boys"

While catching up on my reading, especially those that were sent to me by authors or publishers, I pulled this one out of the pile - and am very glad I picked this one.  It was written in a very different style than I have read in other books on sports.  It is one that nearly any reader will enjoy.  Here is my review of "The Cortlandt Boys." 


Title/Author:
“The Cortlandt Boys” by Laura Vanderkam

Genre/topics: 
Basketball, fiction, mystery, romance

Published:
December 18, 2014

Length:
291 pages

Rating:
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
In 1994, the Cortlandt Cavaliers won the Pennsylvania state boys basketball championship on a last second three point shot.  It was a thrilling moment for the small town in the northeastern part of the state. It not only was a watershed moment for the community, it had a profound effect on the lives of the players and others. How this affected the future of those young people is the story told in this terrific novel by Laura Vanderkam.

The book has stories from 1994, 2004 and 2013-14. The first is set in the time when the thrilling win happened and the immediate joy and celebration save for one student.  Max, who was at the game and a member of the school band, suffered an injury in the mayhem after the winning shot.  She then went on to become a sports journalist for a major magazine.  One of her assignments was to return to the town ten years later for a feature story. There, it is revealed what happened with some of the players and also a startling discovery is made in the town.

There is also a section in which the daughter of one of the players also attempts to recreate that special time by creating a scrapbook of that time 20 years later.  Her story, and how she becomes intertwined with other players, is also interesting.  However, this part of the story didn’t resonate with me as much as Max’s did.  What became of some of the other players range from success to tragedy and these are all woven together in a book that is hard to put down.

The writing style is crisp and easy to follow. The characters are well-developed and have a certain personality that the reader will easily recognize and have some type of emotional reaction.  The story will leave the reader running through the entire gamut of feelings and will not want the book to end.  A terrific read that anyone would enjoy.

The basketball portions were well written as well, as the author’s knowledge of the game is evident when writing about the action on the court and what the players and coaches not in the game were doing. I felt like I was in the stands for that championship game.

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

Did I skim?
No, as I was mesmerized by this story from the beginning with the boys winning the championship and then through the years and different views.

Did I feel connected to the characters?
For the most part, yes, as I really enjoyed the part of the book through Max’s point of view and I could relate to James and his life after the championship season.  I didn’t really like the character of his daughter Janie, especially when she was the lover of one of the players who was cheating on his wife.

Pace of the story:
It moves very well.  Unlike other stories and books I have read that change points of view, it transitioned to that time, place and point of view very well.

Do I recommend?
Yes – because this has elements of a good sports book, a murder mystery, some romance and also runs the range of emotions that a reader can feel.  I believe that because these have all been intertwined well in this complex story, fans of many different genres will enjoy this book.

Book Format Read:
E-book (PDF)

Buying Links:

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Review of "Irving Titans"

Most books on sports are very serious, whether fiction or non-fiction.  This one, however, is the total opposite as it is over-the-top, raunchy and VERY funny.  It was a good change of pace and I am glad I picked up a copy.  Here is my review of "Irving Titans."




Title/Author:
“Irving Titans” by Jeff Dawson

Genre/topics: 
Football (American), professional, fiction, Cowboys

Published:
January 24, 2015

Length:
246 pages

Rating:
3 1/2 of 5 stars (good)

Review:
It was 1989 and the Irving Titans were declining into oblivion after spending decades as one of the elite professional football teams.  Enter a new owner who is ready to tear everything apart and brand the franchise as he wants.  This includes firing a legendary coach and replacing him with a successful college coach whose ego is one of the few that can match the owners.

If the reader is a football fan from that era, this might sound very familiar. This fictional story about the Irving Titans is billed as a farce based on the exploits of the real Dallas Cowboys from that time. Just change the names and a reader would believe he or she was reading about Jerry Jones, Jimmy Johnson, Michael Irving and the rest of the Cowboys during their glory years in the early and mid 1990's.

The parallel universes of the Titans and the Cowboys are striking and I was impressed with how the author made the fictional team so much like the real one. Both fired a legendary coach, both traded the star running back to a team called the Vikings for many draft picks that would become key players (wonder if the fictional Vikings did better with that running back?) and in both cases, one of those star players, a wide receiver, found himself in trouble with the law over ladies and cocaine.

The "snow" that was in the possession of the Titans receiver was supplied by the backup quarterback Jimmy Stone, the protagonist of the novel.  His account of those seasons with the Titans reads like a trashy novel with lots of drugs and a LOT of sex.

That last part is important because one of the ladies who services the players, coaches, owner and even a sportscaster holds them all hostage because she holds the goods on all of them. Charlene Rivers fits the stereotype of the woman who sleeps her way to the top.

While the book is certainly raunchy and not for those readers who would be easily offended, it is EXTREMELY funny.  I was in tears at times especially when the author would describe Charlotte's antics. Her character and Jimmy's were both well developed and a reader can't help but like them even if their actions are less than honorable.

I did find the story hard to follow at times and it did read as a sleazy novel which is not my thing, at least when reading a book on sports. But for an entertaining and hilarious book, this fits the bill. Rated at three and a half stars, rounded up to four for Amazon and Goodreads.


Did I skim?
No – there were so many laughs in this book, I wanted to make sure I read all of them.

Pace of the story:
This book was a fast paced read, as the antics of Charlene and the owner were so outrageous and hilarious that it was never a chore to read the book and it would be leaving me wondering what else could happen.

Book Format Read:
Ebook (Kindle)

Buying Links:

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Review of "The Matheny Manifesto"

When looking for a new baseball book that would be a little different than a biography or a history book, I found this one on NetGalley.  I was surprised to see that the current manager of the Cardinals had written a book, but decided to give it a try and I was glad I did.  Here is my review of "The Matheny Manifesto." 


Title/Author:
“The Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager’s Old-School Views on Success in Sports and Life” by Mike Matheny and Jerry Jenkins

Tags:
Baseball, coaching, youth sports, Cardinals

Publish date:
February 3, 2015

Length:
226 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
Mike Matheny has enjoyed success in his baseball career, both as a player and as the current manager of the St. Louis Cardinals.  He holds many views about the game that would be considered “old-school” and has applied those thoughts to both baseball and life when he has coached youth baseball.  These beliefs and what he does with his young players has been communicated in a letter he gives all parents titled the “Matheny Manifesto.”   It has become an Internet sensation, but more importantly, it has become a code by which other coaches and parents of youth sports participants would be well to follow.

The book has many pieces of advice that nearly everyone involved in youth sports has heard, such as let the kids make mistakes without being overly critical and that the coach is always right, even if he or she is not. There are some topics that might be surprising, especially in today’s specialized youth sports culture. Matheny advises parents to let a kid try all the sports he or she wants to play instead of determining early which one would be “the one.”  He also speaks out against the culture of rewarding every participant for being present. On that topic, he simply says that this kind of reinforcement does not prepare the child for the inevitable failure that he or she will face in real life.

Matheny also talks about his faith in one chapter, but does not preach nor expect anyone else to also wear his or her faith on the sleeve. Instead, he simply explains how his Christian faith has helped shape his values and I thought this was one of the better written chapters in the book. His account of his playing and managing career in the major leagues was also very good and it tied in nicely with the points he was trying to make regarding youth sports.

This book is one that should be read by anyone involved in youth sports, no matter the role.  While some readers may not follow every bit of advice not wish to read about Matheny’s faith, the book as a whole is a good reminder that these athletes are still kids, and these games should be about them and not the adults. 

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

Did I skim?
No

Pace of the book: 
Very good – the breakdown of each chapter into smaller sections on a certain topic makes reading the book easier.  If the reader just wants to read certain parts for reference or review, this format makes that easier as well.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying links:



Sunday, February 8, 2015

Review of "The Franchise"

One week after the Super Bowl, I have completed the first of three football novels sent to my by the digital publisher Open House Media.  While they offered these to reviewers in conjunction with Super Bowl week, I wasn't able to finish the first one I read until after the game.  No matter - it was still a terrific read. Here is the review of that novel, "The Franchise."


Title/Author:
“The Franchise” by Peter Gent

Genre/topics: 
Football (American), professional, fiction, crime

Published:
June 28, 2011 (digital publication) – originally published 1983

Length:
423 pages

Rating:
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
While professional football is the most popular sport in the United States, there are always rumors about a darker side to the game and the business such as gambling, organized crime, performance enhancing drugs, and corruption.  All of these topics and more are addressed in this dark novel written by Peter Gent.

While Gent is more known for his other football novel “North Dallas Forty”, this one is well-written and leaves no stone unturned in the brief history of the fictional Texas Pistols franchise. Everything about the franchise, from how it was awarded to Cyrus Chandler, to the public financing of a new domed stadium to becoming Super Bowl champions in only its fifth year of existence, is explored and questioned in the book.

The main character around which the franchise revolves is not Chandler nor the coach or general manager, but quarterback Taylor Rusk.  Following the coach from college to the expansion Pistols, Rusk soon discovers the true nature of the business of running the Pistols and makes sure that he gets what he deserves, especially his desire for a Super Bowl championship.  During this time, he becomes involved with Chandler’s daughter Wendy and their relationship is just as complicated as the business of the franchise.

There are connections to organized crime and gambling, and as the Pistols improve on the field and the money involved grows exponentially, the danger for Taylor, Wendy and some other players grows as well.  There is a lot of blood and death in the book as some people meet untimely deaths.  The ulterior motives of so many people, some of whom the reader would not expect, makes the story very dark.

There is some football scenes and action, especially when the Pistols face Denver in the Super Bowl, but they are not very numerous and are secondary to the main story of Taylor and his personal mission to unearth the diabolical nature of the business of professional football.

While I was hoping for more football and less death than what was written, I felt that this was a very enjoyable book.  While football fans will enjoy this book, readers who enjoy crime novels in the style of James McElroy will also want to read this book. 

I wish to thank Open Road Media for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Did I skim?
No – there were so many twists and turns in this book that it was important to absorb every word.

Pace of the story:
This book was somewhat slow paced, especially toward the middle, as there were many side characters and stories around the main story of Taylor that required careful reading.  By the end of the story, however, I felt that the extra time was worth the effort.

Book Format Read:
Ebook (Epub )

Publisher site:


Buying Links:



Friday, February 6, 2015

Review of "Who's On Worst?" - audio book

While still recovering from the Super Bowl and the parties, and also working through a long novel on a football team (no spoilers - review to come soon!), I also wanted to listen to a book on my commute to work.  Since it's almost time for pitchers and catchers, why not get back into the baseball mood with a baseball audio book?  This one was entertaining and whether one reads it or listens to it, laughs will be emitted.  Here is my review of "Who's On Worst?"



Title/Author:

Who's on Worst?: The Lousiest Players, Biggest Cheaters, Saddest Goats and Other Antiheroes in Baseball History" by Filip Bondy, narrated by Scott Brick


Tags:
Baseball, history, lists

Publish date:
March 26, 2013

Length:
272 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
There are many sports books, especially baseball books, which are lists or compilations of the best or greatest of a certain topic.  One may find something about the greatest baseball teams of all time or the top hitters or pitchers.  New York sportswriter Filip Bondy decided to look at the other end of the spectrum by listing the worst players, managers and owners in the game.  Not just with statistics either – he ranks the worst cheaters and users of performance enhancing drugs as well. 

Each chapter is devoted to the worst of some type of category.  There are the worst hitters of all time; the worst fielders; the worst pitchers and so on. The section on overpaid players was separated into two chapters: "Most overpaid Yankees" and "...outside the Bronx." There are other categories as well, such as cheaters, worst managers and worst owners.  Even managers who were good as the skipper but not so good as a player, such as Tommy Lasorda and Sparky Anderson, had their own chapter. 

Because Bondy is a New York sportswriter, there is a tendency to lean toward New York stories which may make some readers question his objectivity.  The above referenced chapters on overpaid players are one example, but it is explained that because the New York Yankees have signed so many highly paid players over the years, they have their own “worst” list in this category. 

Most of the stories told are for players, teams and owners after 1970, so most readers will have heard of the subjects or maybe even heard the stories in the past.  Nonetheless, they are entertaining, and if one listens to the audio book as I did, that person will enjoy the voice of Scott Brook telling the stories of bad teammates, poor performances and bad behavior.

Like any book of lists, whether the best or the worst, a reader may not agree with the ten subjects listed.  For example, I would like to know why Tom Kelly, long-time manager for the Minnesota Twins who lead the team to two World Series victories, did not make the list for bad players who became good managers, as Kelly appeared in only 22 major league games as a player and hit less than .200.  But then, that is what a good book of lists does – it starts a debate. This was an entertaining book that a baseball fan, especially one who enjoys reading about recent baseball history, will enjoy reading or hearing. 

Pace of the book: 
Very good as Brick’s smooth delivery never got boring.  It was easy to follow and listen and Brick also delivered the humorous segments in a dry manner that made them even funnier.

Do I recommend? 
Baseball fans who love to have those debates at the bar or in the den with other fans about who’s the best or worst will want to read this one to give those discussions a new twist.

Book Format Read:
Audiobook

Buying links:


http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/whos-on-worst-filip-bondy/1111808901?ean=9780307950413