Sunday, September 14, 2014

Review of "A Well Paid Slave"

Some events that are historical for a sport are not made on the playing field.  In baseball, one of these was a Supreme Court decision filed by a player who had nothing to gain and everything to lose by doing so.  If you have not heard of Curt Flood, then by all means you should read this book.  If you have, you will enjoy reading this account of the man and his case against Major League Baseball.

Title/Author:
“A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood’s Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports” by Brad Snyder

Tags:
Baseball, history, legal, Cardinals

Publish date:
September 25, 2007

Length:
508 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
In early 1970, Curt Flood, an all-star outfielder, was part of a multi-player trade between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies. Having established himself in the city with both business and on the Cardinals, Flood refused to report to the Philles and wanted to remain with the Cardinals.  However, because of baseball’s reserve clause that tied a player to a team until he was traded, released or sold to another club, Flood had to report to Philadelphia if he wanted to play baseball in the 1970 season.

Instead of doing so, he sought legal advice and also financial backing from the players’ union and decided to sue Major League Baseball. By doing this, he knew he had little to gain ( he was giving up a $90,000 annual salary, one of the highest in baseball at that time) and a lot to lose. But he was willing to take that risk in order to stand up to a principle. 

The resulting legal case, which went all the way to the Supreme Court, and Flood’s life both in and out of baseball are portrayed in this excellent book by former attorney Brad Snyder.  Ironically, Snyder also quit HIS job in order to research and write this book.  While it is not known if Snyder had the same professional and financial difficulties that Flood faced after quitting baseball, his knowledge of the legal system aids in making this book a good detailed account without legal language or compound sentences making it harder. 

The book is at its best when it portrays Flood as a man with principles who just wants to end the practice of binding players to one team unless the owner sees fit to discard him in whatever manner is best for the owner. In addition to the court cases, Snyder recaps much of Flood’s baseball career and how it hardened him so that he was prepared to face the risks of suing Major League Baseball.  In one excellent chapter on Flood’s minor league playing days in the South, the prejudice Flood faces is not unlike that which Jackie Robinson endured when he broke the color barrier.  Robinson was an inspiration for Flood in both baseball and civil rights matters and it is stated so several times in the book.

Flood’s life falls to pieces after his baseball playing days are done and the Supreme Court rules against Flood.  His financial problems, drinking problems and relationship issues are documented well, but not too much in order to preserve the main focus of the book – how Flood opened the door toward the eventual demise of the reserve clause in 1975. 

Snyder’s legal expertise was also evident in his excellent coverage of the actual hearing in front of the Supreme Court. Snyder is especially critical of Flood’s attorney Arthur Goldberg’s presentation in front of the justices by basically saying that the true reason that the reserve clause should be abolished was never truly expressed by Goldberg.  That part is by far the best of the legal writing in the book.

This book should be read by not only fan, but modern-day baseball players in order for them to truly appreciate what Flood did and sacrificed for them.  The multi-million dollar contracts that are common for even regular players today would not have been possible without one man challenging the sport not for selfish reasons, but just because he felt it was the right thing to do.


Did I skim?
No, because skipping over any portion of this book would mean the reader would miss key facts or elements crucial to Flood’s case against baseball.

Pace of the book: 
I found the first third of the book rather slow and hard to concentrate as it mainly concentrates on Flood’s case in the lower court.  However, once it gets to the Supreme Court, the book reads much faster for all topics – the legal matter, Flood’s baseball career and his life.

Do I recommend? 
An absolute must-read for any sports fan who wants to understand the background of how players were able to obtain the freedom to go to any team – not just in baseball but for all team sports.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying links:



Sunday, September 7, 2014

Review of "NFL Football"

With a title like that, one might imagine this post is on a review of a book about the history of the game, right?  Well, that would be half right.  It is a book on the history of the NFL, but it is about the business side of the league and the media coverage as well.  It was a very informative and well-researched book.  Here is my review of "NFL Football."





Title/Author:
“NFL Football: A History of America’s New National Pastime” by Richard C. Crepeau

Tags:
Football (American), professional, history, business

Publish date:
August 1, 2014

Rating: 
4 ½ of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:
There is no doubt that professional football is the most popular sport in America now and the National Football League is one of the most successful enterprises in the world.  How the sport and the league arrived to this point is chronicled in this well-researched and well-written book by Richard C. Crepeau.  It is a wide ranging book that covers mostly the business of the league and related topics such as media coverage and labor relations.

The book mentions very little about the game itself. It could be considered more of a business book, but in a historical context. The references for the author’s research are both from academic and media sources, which leads to very interesting writing. It is mostly serious, but Crepeau shows some humor as well.  One of my favorite passages in the entire book is near the end in the chapter about how the Super Bowl has turned into a national holiday. When talking about the ever-growing popularity and hype of the event, he states that “there are only two things that can stop it: a massive economic collapse or a hysterical wave of sanity sweeping the country.” 

Crepeau is careful not to show opinions in the book, but he does make clear the strengths and weaknesses of the league’s commissioners during the period of exponential growth of the league, which is considered to be roughly the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st century as well.  The passages on labor relations under Pete Rozelle, during which there were three player strikes, and Roger Goddell, under whom there was a lockout in 2011, were especially balanced.  This was true not only about praise or criticism of the leadership, but also in the writing style. Crepeau wrote about this and other business matters in a way that the average fan who does not deal with business language would understand, but advanced enough so that those readers who do work in this field would not consider it too simple.

No topic related to the business of the NFL is ignored.  Franchise relocation, drug testing for both illegal substances and performance-enhancing drugs, pension benefits, and post-concussion health problems are all addressed in the book.  The sheer amount of topics that are covered in depth make this book worth reading for anyone interested in the business side of the NFL. Crepeau’s work makes that topic that sounds boring a very good read for football fans. 

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

Did I skim?
No as the book shows the fascinating history of the league, especially off the field as both a business and as an enterprise.

Pace of the book: 
It took awhile to get through the book.  It is not one that can be read quickly.  Reading it slowly and methodically is best to understand all the intricacies of the league.

Do I recommend? 
There are so many different aspects of the NFL that are covered, especially since the 1960’s, that any football fan should be able to enjoy the book. This is especially true for those readers who enjoy reading about non-football issues with the league.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying links:



Friday, September 5, 2014

Review of "Wire to Wire"

The 1984 Detroit Tigers are a team that I have always had a hunger to learn more about.  The start they had for the first 40 games of their season may never be duplicated.  So when I saw that I was able to read this book for free with my Kindle Unlimited account, I was very excited. Did this book live up to my expectations?  Read my review of "Wire to Wire." 


Title/Author:
“Wire to Wire: Inside the 1984 Detroit Tigers Championship Season” by George Cantor

Tags:
Baseball, Tigers, history

Publish date:
April 1, 2004

Length:
192 pages

Rating: 
3 of 5 stars (okay)

Review:
The 1984 Detroit Tigers got off to the best start in baseball history for the first 40 games.  They had an incredible 35-5 record at that time and went on to win the World Series in five games over the San Diego Padres. It was a special season for the Tigers and their fans.  George Cantor’s book “Wire to Wire” recaps that season by sharing stories from many of the players and relieves some of the best games of the season.

Cantor was a long-time Detroit sportswriter who covered the Tigers in two of their championship seasons, 1968 and 1984. The knowledge he gained by covering the team shows in his writing as he recaps some insights about the players and owner that only a writer who regularly covered the team would know. However, the book never goes deep into the sprit or details of that season. 

Most players on that team share some thoughts on that season for the book.  Not only the stars like Kirk Gibson and Willie Hernandez talk, but some reserves such as Rusty Kunz, Tom Brookens and Ruppert Jones also are interviewed. I was hoping to get some great insight on this historic team from these players, but the stories were fairly short and predictable.  The same could be said for the writing about the games on the field.  While Cantor does a decent job describing the highlights of the great start to the season, this portion also lacks the depth I was hoping to read.  After those first 40 games, the reader doesn’t learn much else about the season until the playoffs, when he again switches into more detail about the wins against Kansas City in the American League Championship Series and then the World Series win. 

He also compares the 1968 Tigers championship to this team and that made good fodder for debate. It reads much like those types of comparisons one would read in a newspaper.  There is also a good story on how Tom Monaghan, the Domino’s Pizza maverick, became owner of the Tigers.

Alas, in depth and entertaining stories like that are few and far between in this book. While it was a quick and decent read, if you are looking for a book on this team that covers a lot of ground, this isn’t that book.  

Did I skim?
No

Pace of the book: 
While hoping for more details about this team, the writing style did make this a quick read.  It read it in two sittings of about one to one and a half hours each.

Do I recommend? 
Tiger fans will certainly enjoy this recap of one of the single seasons in baseball history.  A casual baseball fan who has heard about this team may also like it. However, hard core fans who want to learn more about this historic season will be disappointed with the lack of depth.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying links:


http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/wire-to-wire-george-cantor/1112111369?ean=9781572435049

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