Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review of "The Men Who Made the Yankees"

When asked by the author if I would be interested in reviewing this book, I was a little hesitant at first as I usually don't read about baseball teams in the early days of the game.  However, I decided to accept his offer and I was glad I did.  I enjoyed this quick read on the mostly humble beginnings of the franchise we know as the New York Yankees.  Here is my review of this book.


Title/Author:
“The Men Who Made the Yankees: The Odyssey of the World’s Greatest Baseball Team From Baltimore to the Bronx” by W. Nikola-Lisa

Tags:
Baseball, history, Yankees

Published:
July 2, 2014

Length:
144 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
The origin of the New York Yankees is a story that is not often told as it has very humble beginnings and the franchise was lacking stability in not only the ownership, but also retaining its best players and even its home ball park.  It wasn’t until Babe Ruth was bought in 1920 and Yankee Stadium was erected in 1923 did they become the iconic sports team they are known as today.  This book by W. Nikola-Lisa describes those early days of not only the franchise, but also tells of the origins of early professional baseball leagues as a backdrop to the beginning of the Yankee empire.

The writing is compact as Nikola-Lisa does not describe the origins of the leagues (National League, American League, American Association, and Federal League to name a few) in great detail.  However, there is enough information in the book that readers who may not be familiar with the early history of professional baseball will enjoy learning some new information.

There are a lot of people who are an integral part of the story, from the founder of the American League, Ban Johnson, to John McGraw to the various owners of the Yankees.  At times it was hard to keep all of these people straight but the book does a good job of describing the importance of each man as he relates to the franchise.  There are sidebar stories that are just as informative as the main book.  Of course, the longest dissection is that of Babe Ruth and how he came to the Yankees.  Most people know of the story of how he was sold so the Red Sox owner could bankroll a show.  Nikola-Lisa explains that there was a lot more to the transaction than that. 

I enjoyed reading this short but informative book.  Readers who are looking for a more thorough dissertation of the early history of the team should pass on this, but for those who were like me and just wanted to learn a little bit about that time in baseball history, this should be put on the list of books to be read.

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

Did I skim?
No. 

Pace of the book: 
For a short book, it is actually a slow read as there was a lot of information and people with whom I was not familiar.  As a result, I slowed down from my usual reading pace in order to fully learn about the story.

Do I recommend? 
Baseball history buffs will enjoy this book, as will Yankee fans who want to learn a little more about the early history of the franchise.  It doesn’t dig too deep, but tells enough to give a good history lesson.

Book Format Read:
Paperback

Buying Links:


http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-men-who-made-the-yankees-w-nikola-lisa/1120012976?ean=9780991218301

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review of "Counterpunch"

I had heard of Ira Berkow back in college when studying journalism as he was a Pulitzer Prize winning sports writer.  When I was searching for a book on boxing, I came across this title and seeing he was the author, I immediately picked up and was glad I did as this was a great collection of his boxing columns.  Here is my review of "Counterpunch." 


Title/Author:
“Counterpunch: Ali, Tyson, the Brown Bomber and Other Stories of the Boxing Ring” by Ira Berkow

Tags:
Boxing, history, columns, collection

Published:
May 1, 2014

Length:
304 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Covering more than seven decades, this collection of columns from the New York Times by Ira Berkow tells readers about many of the greatest fighters in the history of boxing.  Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Joe Louis, Joe Frazier and Evander Holyfield are just a few of the many boxers who were the subject of this prize-winning author’s stories.

A nice touch to this book is that Berkow not only writes about the champions, but also some other boxers whose names will not be familiar to the casual fan, such as Charlie Nash and Marcel Cerdan.  No matter whom the boxer is, each column is written in a manner that when the reader finishes it, he or she will stop and pause to think about that boxer. Whether the story was about a particular fight, the journey of how he reached where he did in the sport, or a reflection on the life of a recently deceased fighter, Berkow’s writing does justice to each man he portrays.

While reading each column, I was impressed with the knowledge that Berkow had not only for the fighters but how he was able to capture the emotion of the fighter featured.  One very poignant column was about Du Koo Kim, the fighter who died from injuries suffered in a fight with Ray Mancini in 1982.  That was during the time many boxing matches were still featured on over-the-air television networks and was considered a fight that was too brutal to be shown on TV.  It was a controversial fight, but this story ignored that aspect and focused on the type of man Kim was and how he lived his life.  Stories like Kim’s made this book a fascinating and enjoyable read for me.

If there is anything that can be considered a negative, it would be that a reader may want to learn more about the fighters. It has to be remembered that most of these columns were written during the heyday of newspapers and this medium was the way to learn this information.   Space was at a premium and Berkow used every word to paint a wonderful picture of the fight or the people participating.

This book should be read by any boxing fan from any era.  A great collection of anecdotes about the sport of boxing, Ira Berkow shows why he was a Pulitzer Prize winner.


Did I skim?
No. 

Pace of the book: 
It reads quickly as each story is no longer than two to three pages.  Remembering that this is a collection of newspaper columns, each chapter should take no longer than a few minutes to read.

Do I recommend? 
Boxing fans and those who like to read about boxing history will enjoy this book. The variety of stories, fighters and eras that are mentioned in this book will ensure that there is something for everyone.  

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/counterpunch-ira-berkow/1117301298?ean=9781600789731

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Review of "Battery Brothers"

As my list of books to read continues to grow, this book was one that was sent to me earlier but put on the bottom as I worked through the pile.  When I recently took a trip to Philadelphia to meet up with a couple of friends at a ball game, one of them suggested I read this book. Remembering that I was sent a copy, I pulled it from the pile and started reading.  I am glad that my friend suggested this one as it was a terrific story of a troubled young man.  Here is my review of "Battery Brothers."   


Title/Author:
“Battery Brothers” by Steve Carman

Genre/topics: 
Baseball, fiction, Young Adult (YA), family

Published:
March 27, 2014

Length:
222 pages

Rating:
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Andy Lembo is a high school baseball catcher who is trying out for the team at a new high school in his senior year.  His younger brother Daniel is a pitcher who has caught the eye of scouts who hope to sign him when he completes school.  Andy and Daniel have shared a lot in their young lives – broken home, dysfunctional parents but baseball was their passion. They dreamed of winning a championship together. 

Their journey toward this goal and the awful detour that occurred is the basis of this terrific young adult novel by Steve Carman. The story is told from Andy’s point of view and it is one that is filled with trouble. Andy was abused by his mother when she applied a hot iron to his face when he was toddler. She soon left the boys and their father.  As for the father, he is shown to be a parent who favors one child, Daniel, because he has the talent to go far. Andy believes that his father doesn’t hold him in the same regard. Add anxiety attacks and self-doubt on his ability to obtain good grades and socialize and you have a good picture of most of the issues that trouble Andy.

Baseball is Andy’s escape from this, but even that didn’t go smoothly.  Andy was among the final cuts to the varsity team, but ended up on the team later when the starting catcher was injured.  Daniel continued to pitch well and also bond with his older brother. The love shared between the two of them is evident and when a freak accident occurs during a game, Andy’s world is shattered – both in baseball and more importantly, in his life. He doesn’t think he has the strength to continue either baseball or school.  What he eventually decides to do is a heartwarming story that will leave the reader cheering and maybe even in tears.  I had both emotions flowing through me as the story progressed.  Some parts were predictable, some weren’t but it is one that must be read by anyone who loves a good story about young adults who are learning what life will be like as a grown-up.

The baseball portions of the book are well-written and describe the action of the game in vivid detail.  These, along with the rest of the book, are accurately described as they would be by a 17 year old boy as there is youth slang and short sentences throughout the book.  Because the book is focused on Andy, we don’t know a lot about the other characters, including Daniel.  The reader will only know these characters through Andy’s vision. For me, that still gave me enough insight to get a feel for what these people were like and how they all helped shape Andy into the person he is.

Any reader who loves a good story of a young man coming of age, especially when that young man has to deal with many different issues, will want to read this book.  Baseball fans will enjoy the account of Andy’s exploits on the diamond.  Fans of the young adult genre will cheer on Andy throughout the book.  It is simply a book that I believe any reader will enjoy.

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

Did I skim?
No, because I wanted to make sure I enjoyed every word of this story.

Did I feel connected to the characters?
Yes.  I especially related to Andy’s anxiety when he took the mound during each game and the excitement as well as the nervousness that all players at that age feel when they are on the field.  It doesn’t matter the level of play or the type of field – all players feel this on the field.

Pace of the story:
Excellent – the reader is really connected to Andy and Daniel in the book without slowing down the pace of the story. Because it is written in Andy’s POV and language, I felt that kept the story moving as well.

Do I recommend?
Yes – for anyone, any age who simply enjoys a good book. While having knowledge of baseball helps with those passages, any reader who wants to read an uplifting story should grab this one.  

Book Format Read:
Paperback

Author Media Links:


Buying Links:


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Review of "Wrigley Field: 100 Stories for 100 Years"

Even though I had earlier reviewed a book on the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field, when the authors offered me a copy of this book, I was intrigued as it contained many different stories about the historic ballpark from many different viewpoints. I was looking forward to reading a variety of stories and I was not disappointed. Here is my review of "Wrigley Field: 100 Stories for 100 Years." 


Title/Author:
“Wrigley Field: 100 Stories for 100 Years” by Dan Campana and Rob Carroll

Tags:
Baseball, Cubs, ballparks, history

Publish date:
November 4, 2013

Length:
224 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
Just about every baseball fan has some type of story when the name “Wrigley Field” is uttered in a conversation.  Whether that person is a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan, has made a trip or two or many to the Friendly Confines (the park’s nickname) or wishes that he or she could see a game there, many have a story to share about one of the most storied stadiums in sports history. Dan Campana and Rob Carroll interviewed many fans, players, journalists and others to obtain their memories of the ball park. These stories are put together in a book that is fun to read and may even take the reader down memory lane if he or she has visited the park.

Most of the stories come from Cubs fans of all walks of life.  One is from a couple who have had season tickets to Cubs games for many decades.  One is from a Cubs fan who lives in Sweden and has never been to the park but wants to take a trip to see it.  Two of them are from “ballhawks” who catch home runs hit out of the park and onto Waveland Avenue.  

The players’ stories are just as interesting as those of the fans. Kerry Wood, the longtime Cubs pitcher, shares his favorite Wrigley memory.  For those who know about Wood’s career, his story will come as a surprise, as it is not the one that one would assume.  Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins and outfielder Cliff Floyd are among the other players who share their stories with the authors.  Well known baseball journalists and broadcasters such as Tim Kirkjian and Bob Costas have something to say as well as the Cubs beat writers and broadcasters.  All of these people make for a great variety of memories shared that is a fun collection to read.

It should also be pointed out that other sports are included in this book.  The Chicago Bears played many games in Wrigley Field so some football stories are also included.  A college football story is shared about a game between the University of Illinois and Northwestern University.  Stories about concerts by such artists like Paul McCartney are included. Even hockey stories are in this book as the 2009 NHL Winter Classic game took place in Wrigley when the Chicago Blackhawks faced off against the Detroit Red Wings.  I felt that this was a nice touch as it encompasses the entire history of the ballpark, not just the baseball games.

If there is a negative to be said about the book, it is that some of the stories seem to come to an abrupt end.  This isn’t the fault of the writers, as they are at the mercy of whatever information the storyteller gives, but for those that are very short and cut off at the end, it felt like there was something missing that would make the person’s special time at the park complete.

This book is a must read for any Cubs fans who has lived through the team’s highs and lows in the Friendly Confines.  Readers who also enjoy collections of stories or reading about the game’s history will also like this book.

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

Did I skim?
No

Pace of the book: 
Excellent as the stories are short and fairly easy to read.  Therefore, the book never drags and the reader will always be ready for the next story. 

Do I recommend? 
Cubs fans will especially enjoy this collection of stories from mostly fans just like themselves. Readers who are interested in baseball history or have enjoyed a trip to the historic ball park will also enjoy this book.

Book Format Read:
Paperback

Buying links:


http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/wrigley-field-dan-campana/1116340222?ean=9781626190344

Monday, August 18, 2014

Short review of "October 1964"

This review is much shorter than my usual review, but frankly there isn't much more that can be said about this classic baseball book that hasn't already been said by professional reviewers.  So, I just wanted to share my thoughts on this excellent book by David Halberstam:


Review

While David Halberstam is more noted for other books, his baseball books are among the best and October 1964 is no exception.  This book chronicles the two participants in that year's World Series, the New York Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals.  But despot the title, it's not just about those seven games in October but about the entire season.  Halberstam crafts some great tales about players from both teams - I especially liked the selections on Roger Maris of the Yankees and Bob Gibson of the Cardinals.  He wrote a wonderful anecdote on the Philadelphia Phillies epic collapse that season that allowed the Cardinals to win the National League pennant.  A great boom that any baseball fan who enjoys reading about that time will like.


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Review of "Nobody's Perfect"

Much like the last book reviewed, this is one I stumbled across while browsing library shelves. This time it was the New York Public Library's shelves of electronic books.  It didn't matter that it was a different format, however, as the end result was the same - a book on baseball that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.   Here is the review of "Nobody's Perfect".



Title/Author:
“Nobody’s Perfect: Two Men, One Call and a Game for Baseball History” by Armando Galarraga, Jim Joyce and Daniel Paisner

Tags:
Baseball, history, Tigers, umpires, memoir

Publish date:
June 2, 1011

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Most baseball fans will recall the game between the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians on June 2, 2010. Armando Galarraga, a relatively unknown pitcher who was trying to make an impression in his third organization, was mowing down Cleveland batters with relative ease.  He didn’t allow the first 26 batters to get on base.  Now with two out in the ninth inning, the last Indians hitter, Jason Donald, hits a grounder to first base.  Miguel Cabrera fields it cleanly, tosses to Galarraga who appears to beat Donald to the bag…but umpire Jim Joyce calls the runner safe. There is disbelief everywhere in the ballpark.  Cabrera is screaming that the runner is out, Tigers manager Jim Leyland is running out to discuss the play with Joyce, and the fans are letting Joyce have it for the bad call.  However, one of the lasting images of that play is Galarraga is actually SMILING when he is walking back to the mound to face the next batter.  

The story of that smile, the sadness in Joyce when he goes back to the locker room and realizes that he missed the call, and the background of both men involved are woven together in a terrific book that is put together by Daniel Paisner. It is well known that Joyce requested a meeting with Galarraga after the game when things calmed down to apologize and that Galarraga graciously accepted.  What isn’t as well known is that the two men, with very different backgrounds, actually took similar paths to get where they were in baseball at that time when fate brought them together.

The book is told in the first person of both men, with each chapter alternating between Galarraga and Joyce.  The different styles of the two men when speaking are quite clear.  Joyce’s sections read much like a conversation on the back porch, while Galarraga’s are more formal.  He often calls the umpire whose call cost him a chance at a perfect game as “Mr. Joyce.”   He also mentions that his English, while improving is still not great and while reading the book, I was hearing him speak in that accent while I was hearing Joyce just shooting the breeze while time passed by, even when he was in agony remembering the call. When I can hear the characters’ voices that clearly, I believe that is the mark of an outstanding piece of writing.

I was also surprised to see that the path both men took to the major leagues were just as similar as they were different.  Both of them worked their way to the major leagues over a long period of time.  Both men felt the urge to give up the dream at some point.  Both men met their future wives because of their baseball travels.  Both men expressed deep gratitude for making it this far.  And lastly, both men show humility and class throughout the book.  Not just in their roads traveled, but also in the manner in which they respected each other after the call when so many others were less flattering in their analysis of Joyce’s work that day.

This book will take the reader along the path of two men who seemed very different but because of one fateful incident, they will be intertwined forever.  An outstanding read that any baseball fan will want to pick up.

Did I skim?
No, the book was a very interesting tale of two men and wanted to enjoy every word.

Pace of the book: 
It read very quickly as both men shared their stories in their own style and Paisner put it together in a manner that was not only easy to read, but very compact yet informative.

Do I recommend? 
This book would be enjoyed by baseball fans and readers who like to read short but detailed biographies as this reads like a memoir for both men up to that game and its fallout.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying links:



Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Review of "Summer of '68"

It's always nice to walk into your local library and see a book that you have been wanting to read in a long time.  That was the case for me during a recent trip when I saw this book was on the cart waiting to be reshelved.  I checked it out and was glad I did.  Here is my review of "Summer of '68"


Title/Author:
“Summer of ’68: The Season That Changed Baseball, and America, Forever” by Tim Wendel

Tags:
Baseball, history, Tigers, Cardinals

Publish date:
March 12, 2013

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
1968 was a tumultuous year in America.  The Vietnam War was becoming unwinnable and many young men were dying in the jungles of that far-off land.   Riots and civil unrest was far too often a staple on the nightly news.  Two prominent leaders were assassinated. Riots marred the Democratic Convention of 1968.  But through it all, the American Pastime of baseball was still being played.  However, even the game that would supposedly take people’s minds off the news for a few hours had its own turbulence that season and was intertwined with some of the news.

This all comes together in this interesting book by Tim Wendel as he collected stories and interviews from many players and managers of that season.  He concentrated on the two teams that would end up playing each other in the World Series, the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals.  It is also fitting that a pitcher on each team would win the Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player for each league, Bob Gibson of the Cardinals and Denny McClain for the Tigers. After all, 1968 was the “Year of the Pitcher” which is stated many times in the book.  Gibson set the record for the lowest earned run average in the modern era of 1.12 and McClain won 31 games, the last pitcher who has won 30 games.

Of course, other teams were part of the book, but Wendel concentrates on these two and it works out well. Where some of the other teams are mentioned is when there is a major event that took place and baseball was somehow involved.  One such incident was the handling of cancellation or non-cancellation of games following the assassination of Robert Kennedy.   Wendel takes the reader back to the commissioner’s office and the confusion about who can cancel games and who has to play.  Some players and one team, the New York Mets, refuse to play in the aftermath of the tragedy.  One of the players who refused to play, Milt Pappas of the Cincinnati Reds, ended up being traded three days following his refusal.  Events like this are well chronicled in this book.

I found two minor issues with the book.  One was that there were a few typos missed in the editing process.  They didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book too much, but were still noticeable.  The other part that took me by surprise was the amount of words written about football.  This was about the time when football was about to surpass baseball as the most popular spectator sport in American, and the amount of stories written about that game in a baseball book seemed to illustrate that.

Nonetheless, I found this an entertaining and easy-to-read book that any baseball fan interested in the game during that time frame will enjoy.  

Did I skim?
No, every story was quite interesting

Pace of the book: 
It was a fast moving book with the politics and football talk woven into the baseball stories quite well. 

Do I recommend? 
All baseball fans who are interested in baseball history during that time will enjoy this recap of that season before major changes took place.

Book Format Read:
Hardcover

Buying links: