Monday, August 3, 2015

Review of "Brooks"

Hopefully many of you utilize your local public library like I do. Our library has an inter-library loan program with others in the region where a patron can request a book that is in the system but in the collection at another library.  I took advantage of that program when I saw this book was in our system but not at my local branch.  I am glad that I did so, because this was a terrific book on a legendary Orioles player.  Here is my review of "Brooks."


Title/Author:
“Brooks: The Biography of Brooks Robinson” by Doug Wilson

Tags:
Baseball, history, biography, Orioles

Publish date:
March 4, 2014

Length:
353 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Brooks Robinson is one of those rare celebrities who understand that while he or she didn’t ask to be a role model, just by being a famous athlete there will be those who look up to you.  Robinson upheld that duty by avoiding scandal or controversy and also became one of the best fielding third basemen in the history of baseball.  Robinson’s story is documented in this terrific book by Doug Wilson.

Since there is no controversy or hot topic in which one can immediately associate the name Brooks Robinson, Wilson instead focuses on his baseball career and Robinson’s personal life when appropriate to the story.  When reading biographies, I believe it is important to make stories about the subject’s childhood and early adult life relevant to how that shaped the person when he or she became a celebrity. That is certainly the case in this book, as every story will help the reader understand either Robinson the baseball player or Robinson the person.

Brooks Robinson the player became a legend with his fielding at third base.  In 1970, he was the World Series MVP as the Orioles defeated the Cincinnati Reds.  He earned the award mostly because of his fielding, but he also contributed with the bat.  By the time the book reaches the 1970 World Series, the reader won’t be surprised by this because Robinson has already achieved all-star status with his play on the field.

Off the field, the book portrays a man who lives his life by treating all others with respect, avoids the baseball life of drinking and carousing and is a loyal family man, both to his parents and to his wife and children.  This helped Robinson become one of the most revered sports figures in Baltimore, alongside Johnny Unitas and later Cal Ripken Jr.

The book also reflects how Robinson lived, as it is written without much profanity or adult situations that would not be appropriate for young readers.  Reading this, it felt like I knew men like Brooks Robinson and I would be proud of my children to wish to be like him when they grew up.  I highly recommend this for readers who wish to read about someone who not only embraced his celebrity but also respected everyone who did not achieve that same status.  

Pace of the book:
While I was initially reading this in small parts because of other books as well, once I settled on reading just this book in one sitting, it was a very quick read – completed in just a little over three hours. 

Do I recommend? 
Any reader who likes baseball biographies will enjoy this book.  With the ease of reading, the in-depth research and the character of Brooks Robinson, this book should appeal to a wide range of readers.

Book Format Read:
Hardcover

Buying links:


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Review of "Brady vs. Manning"

It's getting to be that time of year football fans are awaiting.  Training camps have opened, the games will be starting in a few weeks - and the new books are coming out soon as well.  One of the more eagerly anticipated books coming in September is about the two biggest stars of the game today.  I was fortunate enough to obtain an advance review copy and I couldn't wait to start it.  It is one that should be in a football fan's library once it is on sale.  Here is my review of "Brady vs. Manning"


Title/Author:
“Brady vs. Manning: The Untold Story of the Rivalry That Transformed the NFL” by Gary Myers

Tags:
Football (American), Patriots, Colts, Broncos

Publish date:
September 22, 2015

Length:
272 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are the two biggest names in professional football today.  They have matched up in some memorable games over the years, are fierce rivals on the field and have the utmost respect for each other.  Their careers took different paths.  Manning, after a stellar college career at Tennessee, was the first draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts and immediately was a professional starting quarterback.  Tom Brady, on the other hand, had limited time as a starting quarterback at Michigan, was a sixth round draft pick of the New England Patriots, and began his professional career as a backup to All-Pro quarterback Drew Bledsoe.

What happened before and afterward to both of these men is the subject of this excellent book written by well-respected football reporter Gary Myers.  Utilizing not only his access to Brady and Manning, but also his connections around the game, Myers covers the story of both men as only someone who knows football as well as he does.

Not only are the individual achievements and recaps of their NFL careers covered, both men are shown to have a playful side as their interactions with their family members and teammates reveal the true people both of them are.  It helps the reader to see their personalities beyond the accomplishments Brady and Manning have achieved.

Another aspect of the book that shows Myers’ knowledge and talent for writing is how well the book covers other issues that affected the two quarterbacks.  Whether it is talking to former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr on why Brady was not the starter during his entire time at Michigan, Colts owner Jim Irsay on the somber departure of Manning to the Denver Broncos, or the saga on how Manning could have been the quarterback of the New York Jets had he left Tennessee a year earlier, Myers writes in a manner that is both intelligent for hard-core football fans, yet simple enough so that non-fans or casual fans can easily understand what was happening.

The Brady-Manning era of football is compared to other eras in other sports where two legends would be rivals, such as Larry Bird – Magic Johnson, Joe Frazier – Muhammad Ali and Ted Williams – Joe DiMaggio.  Myers is careful not to tip his hand as to his opinion of who he believes is better and instead lets others talk up the one they prefer.  Seeing this balanced coverage and praise for both quarterbacks made the book an excellent source of information on both men and is one that I would highly recommend for any football fan, no matter his or her level of interest in the game.

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


Pace of the book:
It was a quick read, as it wasn’t too much about the intricacies of the game and read like a collection of stories that illustrated both men in a positive manner.

Do I recommend? 
This book would be enjoyed by readers who enjoy football as the two most recognizable players in the game are both portrayed in a manner that is easy to read and entertaining.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying links (pre-order at time of review):


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Review of "Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty"

From the recommendation of several of my friends in the Goodreads Baseball Book group, I decided to pick this book up when it became available at my local library.  I can see why my friends there were raving about this book - certainly one of the best sources of information on Ty Cobb that is backed up by solid research and sources.  Here is my review of "Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty."




Title/Author:
“Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty” By Charles Leerhsen

Tags:
Baseball, history, biography, Tigers

Publish date:
May 12, 2015

Length:
465 pages

Rating: 
4 ½ of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:
Ty Cobb the baseball player is unquestionably one of the finest players to have put on a uniform and he has the statistics to back that up.  He was in the first class of players to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and even got more votes than Babe Ruth.  However, Ty Cobb the person does not have as positive a reputation as it has long been accepted that he was purposely trying to injure other players and was also a racist who would pick a fight with anyone regardless of color.

The talent as a player is confirmed and the reputation is debunked in this extensively researched biography of the “Georgia Peach” by Charles Leerhsen.  Drawing upon numerous solid sources, Leerhsen lays out each of the assumptions about Cobb one by one and disputes the findings published in previous books and articles about Cobb by showing how his sources of information contradict the myths.  For example, twice Leerhsen describes fights between Cobb and another man that supposedly showed his bigotry.  But Leerhsen cites proof that either the other man was another white man or that the race of the combatant could not be proved.  Without this proof, how could one prove Cobb was bigoted? 

Not only does Leerhsen set out to show these character flaws were not proven, he also paints the picture of a very complex individual who endured much in his young life.  He entered professional baseball at a very young age, became fatherless when his mother killed her husband, and was also very self-conscious about his flaws and did not take to criticism kindly.  Add this information in with solid research and writing on Cobb’s on-field performance and it makes an excellent source of information for this baseball legend.  

While this didn’t make the book less enjoyable for me, when Leerhsen was questioning the validity of information in other books on Cobb (most notably those written by Charles Alexander and Al Stump) I found it a bit odd when he would call out those authors by name when doing so. I understood why he did this, as those authors had published the information he was disputing. That was something I had not seen done before in a book such as this one.  Nonetheless, this is the book that should be added to a baseball library for the best source of information on Ty Cobb.
  
Pace of the book:
This book was one that I had to read much slower than my usual speed as Leerhsen’s writing is more scholarly than most baseball books and also because it contained very detailed information, I wanted to make sure I absorbed all of it as it was important to understand this in order to understand Cobb. 

Do I recommend? 
While this certainly is the book I recommend for information on Ty Cobb, it should only be read by serious baseball fans or readers who will take the time to fully grasp the complexities of the man. It is not an easy read to undertake just to pass the time away.

Book Format Read:
Hardcover

Buying links:


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Review of "The Pine Tar Game"

Baseball fans like me who are old enough to remember this game will never forget the image of George Brett charging out of the dugout after he was called out for having too much pine tar on his bat in a 1983 game.  It has been remembered as "The Pine Tar Game" and when I saw that a book was written by an author whose work I enjoy, I eagerly awaited it.  Then when I saw that advance review copies were being offered and my request for one was granted, I was even MORE excited.  I wasn't disappointed as this was as entertaining as that day 32 years ago. Here is my review of Filip Bondy's book on that game.


Title/Author:
“The Pine Tar Game: The Kansas City Royals, the New York Yankees and Baseball’s Most Absurd and Entertaining Controversy” By Filip Bondy

Tags:
Baseball, history, Royals, Yankees, humor

Publish date:
July 21, 2015

Length:
256 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
The image is an iconic one in baseball lore. George Brett hits a two-run homer to put his Kansas City Royals ahead of the New York Yankees 5-4 in the ninth inning on July 24, 1983. Yankee manager Billy Martin wants home plate umpire Tim McClelland to measure the pine tar on Brett’s bat, claiming that it extends past the 18 inches allowed by an obscure rule.  Lacking a ruler to measure the offending substance, McClelland lays the bat across the 17-inch wide home plate, sees that the pine tar does indeed extend much farther than that width and calls Brett out. Brett then charges out of the dugout with anger, being restrained by another umpire. 

That moment when Brett was ready to attack the umpire crew has made what would have been another ordinary baseball game a memorable moment. Author Filip Bondy was able to take that moment and craft a decent full length book around it by sharing not only the events of that day, but the background of both teams and their owners, Ewing Kaufman of the Royals and George Steinbrenner of the Yankees. Add in recollections by other players that day and the almost comical attempts by the Yankees to not complete the game after the American League office upheld the Kansas City protest of the call and an entertaining book is produced. 

There is a lot of text that isn’t about the game, as you might expect. In addition to the history and biographies mentioned before, there is a good accounting of how the two teams built a bitter rivalry in the seven seasons before this game.  From 1976 to 1980, the Royals and Yankees met in the American League Championship series four times, and to say this was a rivalry with some bad blood would be an understatement.  So when they met in this mid-season game in 1983, it was understandable why there was still some tension even though neither team was a contender that season. It sets the stage for the actual game, which Bondy recalls with excellent detail, especially the home run and the madness that ensued.

Bondy doesn’t stop there, however, as his narrative of the events that took place after the game is easily the best part of the book. He covers everything from the overruling of the call by American League President Lee McPhail, the Royals’ glee at the decision and the many attempts by the Yankees to not complete the game. He writes about one maneuver by the Yankees with the humor it deserves. The Yankees asked a local court to order that the game not be resumed on August 18, 1983 for the safety of the fans.  Their argument was that because so many were angered by the decision to allow the home run to stand that there would be rioters at Yankee Stadium. With less than 2,000 fans showing up to attend the completion, which consisted of four outs and took about ten minutes, it was a comical move and Bondy treats it as such.

While I felt that there was much more written about the teams and owners than was needed to set the scene, it was interesting to read about Ewing Kaufman in such a manner.  I also felt that since Bondy is a New York writer, this book would be much more about the Yankees than the Royals, but that was not the case. He gave each team about equal space and wrote about both of them fairly without coming across as biased. This book will make a very good addition to anyone’s library on the game as it recaps a wacky moment in baseball history.

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

Pace of the book:
This was a fast read as the stories for both franchises flowed easily from chapter to chapter and were woven together quite well.  The reader never will feel that this book is choppy or skips around.

Do I recommend? 
Baseball fans who remember this event will enjoy this book for not only the game, but the stories about the two teams and the main people involved. Others who are not familiar with this story will also enjoy learning a little bit of baseball history that took a strange turn.

Book Format Read:
E-Book (Kindle)

Buying links:


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Review of "The Shababa Manifesto"

I love to head out to the local golf course on weekend and knock the ball around for a couple hours. Now I never have been all that good at the game and have no illusions that someday I will be on the level of Jordan Spieth or Jack Nicklaus. In the vernacular of this book, I am known as a "Shababa." This book about golfers like me who will always play at this level is a quick, entertaining and hilarious read that I highly recommend. Here is my review of "The Shababa Manifesto"


Title/Author:
“The Shababa Manifesto” by Hubba Costello

Tags:
Golf, humor, how-to

Publish date:
May 18, 2015

Length:
104 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
There are all levels of golfers and this book is dedicated to those who enjoy playing the game but will never achieve a level of play and skill that is above mediocre.   If a reader is one who fits this description, like I do, then “The Shababa Manifesto” is a book that person must read.

The book starts with a definition of a “Shababa”, or also Baba for short: “Shababas are nothing more, and nothing less, than roving nomads of golf; pathetic, hopeless thrashers of the ball who insist on playing the game in spite of their enduring mediocrity.”  The author, Hubba Costello, goes on to state that a Shababa will always stink at golf.  Now this may sound cruel, but it isn’t – it is stated as a simple fact, and there are nineteen chapters to explain why.  

If that definition wasn’t enough to make the reader realize that this is a light, humorous book, then keep reading.  The chapters are labeled as a hole on the course – 1 through 18, and of course, everyone’s favorite place for a drink, the 19th hole.  This can also be loosely called a how-to book for Shababas as well.  However, instead of lessons that will tell one how to grip a club or where the hands should be located on the follow through, this book will give tips on how a Shababa can actually win money on the course when playing with better golfers.

As an example of both the humor and the “lessons” in the book, take Hole number 2 and the topic of practice.  Many golf teachers will tell a student that he or she has to practice many hours and hundreds of shots on the range in order to improve.  That theory doesn’t work for Shababas in the book.  The theory goes that because there are no consequences on the range, how will a Shababa improve his chance of hitting that green out of a steep bunker because he achieved that on his fifth shot in a perfectly raked and level bunker?   As a card-carrying Shababa, this made sense to me. 

The other good (and hilarious) tip in the book is that the most helpful item in a Shababa’s bag is the pencil.  The author explains that the pencil is what is used to mark dots on the scorecard.  The dots represent the strokes allowed on holes for players with the higher handicap, thus making it easier for the Shababa to win a hole against a better golfer.  I was laughing very hard during these passages as they were quite funny on describing how that Baba will win those holes.

These are just a couple of examples of the context of the book.  It is not serious, very funny and has many situations where a Shababa will read about it and say to himself “I can relate to that!”  It was a line I certainly said many times while reading this book.

A very entertaining and funny read, this book is one that can be read by anyone who enjoys the game, whether a Shababa or an excellent golfer.  After reading this book, anyone who plays who doesn’t enjoy a day on the course a little more is one who takes the game very seriously.  That is something NOT recommended for a Shababa.

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

Pace of the book:
It was a very fast read, not only because of the humor and organization of the book, but also because the dialogue and vocabulary are fairly simple.  One doesn’t need to have a dictionary of golf terms on the nearby table in order to understand the stories.

Do I recommend? 
Most readers, even if they have never picked up a golf club in their life, will enjoy the humor and connection with the everyday person in this book.  For readers who are Shababas, it is a must-read.

Book Format Read:
E-Book (Kindle)

Buying links:

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Review of "Paint the Black"

I received this item from the author with the expectation that it would be a book on the life of a spoiled kid who received a large signing bonus and would go on to a great life.  It didn't exactly turn out to be that kind of story, and I was glad that it was different than I expected.  Here is my review of the fictional baseball book "Paint the Black."




Title/Author:
“Paint the Black” by J. D. Dudycha

Tags:
Baseball, fiction, young adult, minor league, faith, Christianity

Publish date:
June 2, 2015

Length:
314 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
Jack Burke was an eighteen-year-old high school pitching phenom who was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft.  He opted to sign a contract with a big signing bonus and what Jack encounters along the way are lessons that many young adults face when encountering difficult situations or even when hopes and dreams don’t work out the way they were planned.

J.D. Dudycha’s story of Jack is a very entertaining and compelling read because from the day that Jack is drafted, he has decisions to make.  However, a combination of immaturity, addiction and poor work ethics lead to some of those decisions having negative consequences.  While reading the book, I had a hard time connecting with Jack, something that is important to me while reading a fictional story, no matter what the topic.

He always seemed to make the wrong choice, even when he knew it would be wrong.  There is a teammate of his during his minor league baseball career who got him in trouble once, so when this same teammate was egging him on to participate in a prank that eventually cost Jack his career, I could not figure out why Jack followed this same person for a second time. 

Even when Jack realizes that chasing women is not his style and he has strong feelings for one particular woman, I had a hard time understanding why she kept taking his calls or kept trying to talk to him. While this can and does happen in real life, I still couldn’t relate to Jack’s constant self-destructive behavior, I had a hard time understanding why Sarah was still talking to him. By the end of the story when everything was coming together, it made sense but during the story, it felt a little far-fetched.  Not only the relationship between Sarah and Jack, but how so many bad things were happening at such a breakneck pace.

The baseball sections of the book are very good and any baseball fan will enjoy reading them.  Not only for the game action, but also the lifestyle of young minor league ballplayers who are chasing the dream. It helped put a proper perspective how why Jack acted like he did and also on how cruel the system can be on players who don’t make good on their dreams.

There are many aspects to Jack’s story that are good lessons for young people – how love of family is one of the strongest bonds that one has, how one’s faith (in Jack’s case, Christianity) can help guide a young person through trouble, the dangers of alcohol and drug addiction, and the grief of suffering the loss of a family member.

Despite the issues I had with Jack’s character, by the end of the book a reader will walk away feeling inspired and like he or she learned some valuable lessons. These lessons are aimed at young adults but some of the points made are good for people of all ages.  As a former baseball coach of players of Jack’s age, it is clear that Dudycha is drawing on experience in this story and the result is a good story of a young man coming of age and realizing what is important to him. 

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

Pace of the book:
I found this be a very fast paced book as Jack never seemed to have any calm moments, going from one crisis to the next.  While it certainly wasn’t easy on him, it seemed to make it easier for the reader to follow along.

Do I recommend? 
Yes on several fronts.  It is a great book for young adults, male or female, athlete or non-athlete, to illustrate how love and faith can help guide them.  It is a good sports book for a glimpse into the life of players in the lower minor leagues.  Finally, it is a good book to pick up if a reader just wants to escape for a brief time and see how much trouble a young man can get into, and how he pulls himself out.

Book Format Read:
E-Book (PDF)

Buying links:


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Review of "The Game Must Go On"

2015 has been a good year for baseball books - many have been published on a wide variety of topics.  This one about the state of the game during World War II and the many players, both stars and scrubs alike, is the best one I have read so far.  It will illustrate what both the game and the war were like at that time and is a must read.  Here is my review of "The Game Must Go On."


Title/Author:
“The Game Must Go On: Hank Greenburg, Pete Gray and the Great Days of Baseball on the Home Front” by John Klima

Tags:
Baseball, history, wartime, Tigers, St. Louis Browns

Publish date:
May 5, 2015

Length:
431 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, little did anyone see how much change would take place in the United States.  Not only did that event bring the country into the war, it also would affect the American Pastime as well.  How baseball was affected, in so many ways, is documented in this outstanding book by John Klima.

The book focuses on three distinct people who were significant people of the state of the game at that time.  Hank Greenberg was in the middle of a Hall of Fame-worthy career with the Detroit Tigers at the time of the bombing.  Putting his duties to his country ahead of his baseball career, he joined the Army to serve in the war.  He was one of many major league players who interrupted their time in the Major Leagues to answer the call.  

Pete Gray was a one-armed baseball player who lost his arm in a childhood accident.  Through hard work and perseverance, Gray worked his way up through the minor leagues until he was called up to the St. Louis Browns in 1945.  He was the prime example of the wartime major league ballplayer when most of the manpower available had other duties for the country that took precedence over baseball.

The third person highlighted in the book is Billy Southworth Jr, the son of the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals and a promising player in his own right.  He put aside major league dreams to fulfill other dreams he had – to be a fighter pilot in the war.  His story, and how his father dealt with the news that his son’s plane crashed in Flushing Bay after many successful sorties is one of the more poignant stories of the book.

These stories, along with many other war stories of players who served, make for a book that is not only well researched and written; it will also tug at the emotions of readers.  The story of Bert Shepherd, who returned to pitch in the major leagues after getting a wooden leg when he lost his real one, is one that is very inspiring.  So is that of Phil Marchildon, who served with the Canadian air force.  His plane was shot down, he ejected into the cold waters where the Dutch picked him up and he became a prisoner of war in a German camp.  He was eventually rescued and he too came back to pitch in a major league game.  There are so many inspiring war stories that the reader will be engrossed with each one of them.

The book is not just about the players, both abroad and who stayed behind to play the game.  The decision to continue playing baseball, made by President Franklin Roosevelt for the morale of the country, was explained as well. The roles that commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith and future commissioner Happy Chandler played in keeping the game going each year are described as well. 

The most notable aspect of how the war affected the game, however, is captured in Klima’s description of what became of baseball after the war.  Noting how the manpower shortage led to the breakdown of the refusal to integrate the game, Klima noted that “the war sparked baseball’s massive social, geographical and population changes in the following decade.”  While none these took place during the war years of 1941 to 1945, the need for manpower had owners looking high and low and these changes had their seeds planted during this time.  Like the rest of this book, these changes are described in excellent prose from a variety of sources.  This is a book that anyone interested in that era of baseball or military combat will enjoy reading.

I wish to thank St. Martin’s Press for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Pace of the book: 
This is not a book that can be read quickly.  In order to absorb the full impact of all of the history involved, whether on the diamond or in the cockpit of the fighter plane, this book was read slowly and deliberately.

Do I recommend? 
This book will be enjoyed by any reader, baseball fan or not, who reads about anything related to World War II.  Whether it is about the baseball, the war stories, or what was happening on the home front, this book will be hard for the reader to put down. 

Book Format Read:
Hardcover

Buying links:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-game-must-go-on-john-klima/1120684112?ean=9781250064790