Tuesday, March 31, 2015

TBR Tuesday - Review of "The Greatest Game Ever Pitched"

Continuing to slowly whittle away at the large pile of older books I have yet to read, I picked this one that I have had in my Nook library since 2012.  Just from the title, I was anxious to read this, as a good pitching duel is my favorite type of baseball game.  Here is my review of "The Greatest Game Ever Pitched."


Title/Author:
“The Greatest Game Ever Pitched: Juan Marichal, Warren Spahn and the Pitching Duel of the Century” by Jim Kaplan

Tags:
Baseball, history, Giants, Braves

Published:
February 1, 2011

Length:
256 pages

Stars: 
3 of 5 stars (okay)

Review:
On July 2, 1963 two future Hall of Fame pitchers, Juan Marichal of the San Francisco Giants and Warren Spahn of the Milwaukee Braves, took the mound at Candlestick Park in San Francisco for a regular season matchup that would become a historic game for many reasons.  Sixteen innings later, the Giants won the game 1-0 on a Willie Mays homer – hit off of Spahn.  He and Marichal pitched all 16 innings, each throwing over 200 innings.  There has not been a pitching duel quite like this before or after.  Given the status of pitchers in today’s game with relief specialists and pitch counts for starters, it is very unlikely we will see another game like this again.

Given this synopsis, I was very interested to read about such a historic game.  The accounts of the game are woven into a duel biography of both pitchers.  The information on Spahn and Marichal, while well-written, was not terribly in-depth as there are more complete biographies for both pitchers, as well as books on Marichal’s famous incident with Dodgers catcher John Roseboro.  In this book, Kaplan gives it some attention, but not as much as other books. 

There are also stories interwoven throughout the book about other famous games that featured great pitching performances on both teams, including game 7 of the 1991 World Series, a double no-hitter in 1917 and Harvey Haddix throwing 12 perfect innings in 1959 only to lose the game in the 13th inning.

While these and the biographies were interesting and showed good writing and research, I felt they took away from the main theme of the book and that was the terrific game on July 2, 1963.  There were times I had to go back to a previous chapter because there were long stretches between mention of the game accounts and what Spahn and Marichal did to get this far.  I don’t think it was a totally bad read, but I would have liked to have seen these each have their own section instead of interwoven like they were.  Especially the other game accounts – those would have been better listed after the main book in an addendum or appendix.  As a result, this book was at best three stars since it wasn’t a nice clean read. It did have good writing and as such, it doesn’t deserve an overall negative rating, but I believe it could have been organized better.  

Pace of the book:
Because of the jumping between the game, biographical information on the pitchers and the frequent stories of other pitching duels in baseball history, I felt that it was a slow read.  Had these all been placed in separate sections, I believe the flow of the book would have been much better.

Do I recommend?
Baseball fans who want to learn more about this game and its significance might want to read this.  Also those who want to learn more about the two pitchers, although there are more complete biographies on both of them available. 

Book Format Read:
Ebook (Nook)

Buying Links:



Friday, March 27, 2015

Review of "On the Clock"

Even though I am currently going through my bi-annual bout of bronchitis, it does mean I can catch up on some reading.  It gave me a chance to pick up this book on the NFL draft and it was not only interesting, it was a quick read and one that I enjoyed.  Here is my review of "On the Clock."


Title/Author:
“On the Clock: The Story of the NFL Draft” by Barry Wilner and Ken Rappoport

Tags:
Football (American), professional, draft

Published:
April 1, 2015

Length:
220 pages

Stars: 
4 of 5 stars (Very Good)

Review:
For some professional football fans, the day when all 32 pro teams hold the annual draft of college players is just as big a day as Super Bowl Sunday. The television ratings for the draft are higher than basketball and hockey playoff games on that day. The action is really non-existent – just men talking about the players interrupted by walks to the podium so a player just chosen can shake hands with the commissioner and show off his new team’s jersey.

So why is this event so popular?  The answer to this and other questions about the NFL draft is revealed in this entertaining book by Barry Wilner and Ken Rappaport. The book starts off with drama at the 2014 draft – who is going to select Johnny Manzeil?  What are the Cleveland Browns doing with these trades?   Not only did the authors take the reader inside this draft, they presented the comings and goings in a manner that would make the reader think he or she is reading about a reality TV show.  Which, later in the book, is a reason given for the huge popularity of the draft.

The book also gives the history of the draft, which was the brainchild of Bert Bell before he became commissioner of the NFL. There are stories about the best draft choices, the worst, and how some men used the draft to their advantage to build winning football teams.  As a reader, I enjoyed most of these stories. I felt that too much of the history section was devoted to the history of the Bell family that had little to do with the draft.  It is like when reading a fictional book that starts off exciting, gets a little boring in the middle, but later gets even better.

I make that comparison for this book because my favorite section was when the writers describe how the draft went from simply something to put on the air in the early days of ESPN to the glamorous, dramatic TV show it is today.  I also liked the short biographies on four men who are considered to be the best in analyzing the draft and the players taken:  Mike Mayock, Mel Kiper, Gil Brandt and Joel Buchsbaum – the “Gurus” as the chapter states. 

The only drawback to the book in my opinion is the best and worst picks for each team. Not because I disagree with many of them – any list of “best” or “worst” will be debated – but because I thought that there wasn’t enough reasons given why the authors believed this was so.  Take the San Diego Chargers – okay, it’s easy to see why Ryan Leaf was the worst player they ever selected, but give me more of a reason why Dan Fouts is the best other than he is in the Hall of Fame.  He is not the only player for the Chargers who has made it. 

Overall, this was a decent book with interesting and entertaining stories on some of the more famous players selected and the event itself.  Football fans will enjoy reading this book which is very good at the beginning and toward the end, with some softness in the middle.

I wish to thank NetGalley and Taylor Trade Publishing for an advance review copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Pace of the book:
This is a quick read as it took me less than two hours to finish the book.  The stories and reporting are all written in small segments, which made reading it quickly even easier.

Do I recommend?
Readers who are football fans will enjoy this book and those who are among the many who cheer just as loudly for a draft pick by their favorite team as a touchdown will especially enjoy this.

Book Format Read:
Ebook (Kindle)

Buying Links:



Sunday, March 22, 2015

Review of "In Pursuit of Pennants"

There are several good baseball books that will be published this spring.  I have been fortunate to be able to obtain advance copies of two of them.  One was previously reviewed, the biography of Twins great Tony Oliva.  This post is my review of the other one, which is an excellent dissection of methods used to build winning baseball teams.  This focuses on the front office and owners and is an entertaining, well-researched book.  Here is my review of "In Pursuit of Pennants." 


Title/Author:
“In Pursuit of Pennants: Baseball Operations From Deadball to Moneyball” by Mark L. Armour and Daniel R. Levitt

Tags:
Baseball, management, history, Yankees, Reds, Pirates Royals, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Giants

Published:
April 1, 2015

Length:
504 pages

Stars: 
5 of 5 stars (Outstanding)

Review:
In the synopsis of this book, this question is asked: why do some baseball teams win while others don’t?  It is a question that has been around as long as the game itself.  This well-researched and well-written book examines the method used by winning teams to not only put together that successful club but also what was done to either keep winning or why the success had to come to an end. 

Nearly the entire history of professional baseball is covered, from the early days of the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise to the current success of the San Francisco Giants.  The reader learns how different owners and general managers from Barney Dreyfuss (Pirates for 32 seasons in the early 20th century) to Colonel Ruppert for the New York Yankees in the 1930s and 1940s, to Branch Rickey, George Steinbrenner and Billy Beane, they are all covered in this book.

The stories from various baseball executives are entertaining, funny and keep the book light despite some of the heavy research material. It reads like a fun history book without worrying about the next assignment or essay that might be due. 

Nearly every type of strategy to build a winning baseball team that has had some degree of success is analyzed.  Whether a team was built through its farm system, by signing free agents, building through the first-year player draft, statistical analysis or any combination thereof, this book will discuss the way it is done  and the men behind that club’s success. 

Any reader who has even a passing interest in baseball will enjoy reading this book.  I especially enjoyed the sections on how the teams of the first half of the 20th century were able to build their winning clubs.  However, if more recent history is what the reader wants to learn, the stories from modern times are just as good.  This is an excellent source of baseball history through the lens of the front office.

I wish to thank NetGalley and the University of Nebraska Press for an advance review copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Did I skim?
No.  This was a very interesting baseball history lesson wrapped up in a book, so I wanted to make sure I read every word.

Pace of the book:
Very good – even with the extensive research required, it was a smooth easy read.

Do I recommend?
This is an absolute must-read for anyone who enjoys the game of baseball and is curious about why a winning team is so successful.

Book Format Read:
Ebook (Kindle)

Buying Links:

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

TBR Tuesday - Short review of "The Game"

If you are an avid reader like me, you probably have a lot of books either on your bookshelf or on your e-reader that have been sitting there a long time as you collect even more books.  We call that the TBR, or to-be-read, pile.   A fellow book blogger (http://deesbookblog.com/) came up with an idea to reduce this pile by creating "TBR Tuesday" in which she would review a book that has been on her TBR pile for at least one year and post that on Tuesday.  I decided to do the same thing with some of the book on my TBR list.  These reviews will be shorter, and not always contain all the information in my usual reviews, but it is still a great way to find some of those older books and finally get around to read them.

For my first TBR Tuesday review, this is one that I picked up way back in 2009, when I first recieved my Kindle. I explain the circumstances in the review why I took so long, but considering Jack London is one of my favorite all-time authors, it was worth the wait.  Here is my review of his short story about a boxer, "The Game"



Title/Author:
“The Game” by Jack London
Published:
1913
Rating:
5 of 5 stars (Outstanding)
Review:
I stumbled across this book by accident as Jack London is one of my favorite classic authors and I have read “Call of the Wild” multiple times.  When I received my first Kindle and saw that book was available, I jumped on the chance to pick it up.  However, I also saw that London also wrote a novella titled “The Game” about boxing.  Well, never one to miss the chance to pick up a free book on sports and add the fact that one of my favorite authors wrote it, I picked that up too. Then it sat in the TBR pile for almost 6 years until I decided to reduce this list of books. 
Originally published in 1913, this is a tale of a boxer named Joe who loves his job as a boxer.  He loves the competition in the ring and doesn’t ever stray from that.  Until the night his fiancĂ©e Genevieve attends one of his matches. She has loved Joe from the start, but never felt comfortable with his chosen profession. Nevertheless, she goes to his latest bout and the story of what both of them are feeling is a terrific short story. 
The boxing passages are well-written as London gets into the mind of the fighter.  That is why I enjoy books on the “sweet science”, whether fiction or non-fiction.  Good boxing writers will tell about a boxer’s mind and spirit and London does that well for Joe.  It doesn’t stop there, however, as Genevieve is also portrayed as a loyal and loving woman. The portion of the book that tells how they meet and fell in love is a passage any romance reader would enjoy. 

This is a wonderful story of two people in love and yet in deep conflict at the same time.  The language is appropriate for the early 20th century and is one that I would recommend to any reader.  It is a wonder addition to London’s more well-known works. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Review of "Tony Oliva"

Having been a Minnesota Twins fan since I was a little kid, I was as thrilled as a little kid at his first game when I saw that this biography of a Twins legend was available for review before the publication dated of April 1.  I requested a copy, was approved to download it the next day, and began reading.  Here is my review of a very enjoyable read on Tony Oliva.



Title/Author:
“Tony Oliva: The Life and Times of a Minnesota Twins Legend” by Thom Henniger

Tags:
Baseball, autobiography, Twins

Published:
April 1 2015

Length:
296 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
It is always interesting to read about baseball players who were able to leave Latin American countries like Cuba in order to pursue their dreams of playing major league baseball. Tony Oliva was one of those players, leaving Cuba just before the Bay of Pigs invasion by the United States in 1961. Three years later, he achieved that dream by starring for the Minnesota Twins.  Not only did he make it to the major leagues, he did so with a flourish by winning the first of his three batting titles in 1964 and winning the American League Rookie of the Year award. 

Even though he achieved fame early, he never let that success either distance himself from fans, nor did he ever not think about the family he left back in Cuba.  All of this and more is chronicled in this biography of Oliva written by Thom Henniger.  

The book takes the reader through Oliva’s life in Cuba, the decision to leave spurred by his father, the discrimination he and other Latin American ballplayers faced, and his career with the Twins. It was certainly a tale of two different times – before and after he hurt his knee diving for a fly ball in an otherwise ordinary game on June 26, 1971.  That would lead to extensive knee surgery which limited him to only 10 games the following year.  When the American League introduced the designated hitter in 1973, Oliva returned to playing most games, exclusively in this role.

While there is nothing that is truly groundbreaking or different about this book, since it follows the tried and true format of most sports biographies, it is an entertaining read.  Some of the stories are entertaining, some will tug at heartstrings.  One that did the latter was one that I knew about before reading the book, but the extra information was touching – Pedro, not “Tony”, is Oliva’s given first name.  It became that because lacking a passport when he was about to leave for the United States, he used the passport of his brother Antonio to gain entry. The stories about how he met, courted and married his wife Gordette are also a nice touch.

The baseball history, especially Twins history, is well-written and researched and as a Twins fan since the late 1960’s, it was great to read about some of the teams and players that I was too young to follow, as well as the later teams that took me down memory lane.  All Twins fans will appreciate this book.  Tony has spent most of his life working for the organization in some capacity, and the fans have shown their appreciation of that. This book captures that spirit as well. 


I wish to thank NetGalley and the University of Minnesota Press for providing an advanced review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Pace of the book: 
It was an easy read as the stories from other players and family members were all fairly short and to the point, yet woven together to make it an enjoyable book to read.  They also followed a chronological time line for the most part, which I always find to be a positive for a sports biography.

Do I recommend? 
This book is a must-read for Minnesota Twins fans and a good baseball biography that readers who enjoy baseball books or books on human interest will also enjoy.

Book Format Read:
Ebook (Kindle)

Buying Links:



Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Interview - Laura Vanderkam

I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Vanderkam, who recently published a book on the lives of the players from a fictional high school basketball team, "The Cortlandt Boys
(http://sportsbookguy.blogspot.com/2015/02/review-of-cortlandt-boys.html).  Here are her answers:


1. What gave you the idea to write about a high school basketball team from the past?
 
The seed of the idea came from something that happened. When I was a freshman in high school in South Bend, Indiana, our boys basketball team won the state championship. It was such a huge deal for everyone. This is the land of Hoosiers, after all! I moved away shortly thereafter, and ten years later my mom sent me an article the local paper did on what the players had done with their lives. A few had actually played in the NBA. It was a good team! Other boys, though, led more quiet existences. That got me wondering: what is life like when the biggest thing to happen to you happens when you are 17? The characters are nothing like anyone I went to school with, the rest of the plot is made up, and a small town in the Poconos is not much like the post-industrial Midwest. But that’s where the idea came from. 


2.  I thought it was interesting to get the viewpoints of females who were not part of the team.   How difficult was it to write about a boys team from a female POV?
 
As a woman, it’s probably easier for me to write from a female POV than from a male POV. The challenge for me was making the boys on the team seem believable, to have them behave as boys would behave. I try to study human nature as much as I can. I pay particular attention to people who react differently than I would. I’m raising three sons now (in addition to a daughter) so I’m starting to get a sense of the ways boys interact. 


3.  Tell us about your basketball experiences, whether as a player or as a fan.   Do you have any favorite current players or teams?  Do you prefer a level of the game (High School, College, NBA) over others?
 
I played basketball in a community program for one season when I was in sixth grade. I wasn’t any good at it. I managed to go the whole season without scoring a point. That said, I picked up the terms and the general sense of how it felt to move a ball around a court. I watched many of the games during that championship season back in Indiana as well, and saw how precocious athletes played. These days, I go to the occasional Sixers game in Philadelphia, though of late that’s generally been a depressing proposition. At least I try to get myself good seats.


4.  Will you be writing any other sports-based stories in the future?

I’m a runner, and I’m drawn to the idea of writing about a character who runs. The challenge is making running exciting from a plot perspective. A long run is a good way to clear my head and come up with ideas, but it probably doesn’t make for an exciting scene for anyone else! Perhaps I’ll create a character who’s a track coach, since a competition would have more zing to it. 

5.   Feel free to add anything else here that you wish.
   
I’ve built my writing career doing non-fiction, so writing a novel was something new for me. I learned a lot in the process. The biggest take-away is that truth is no excuse in fiction. In non-fiction, if something really happened, it really happened, and you can write about those details without giving it another thought. The fact that something happened doesn’t matter in fiction; the universe you create needs to make sense on its own.



Laura Vanderkam

Author, I Know How She Does It (2015), 168 Hours, and What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast -- a paperback compilation of the bestselling ebook series, all from Portfolio/Penguin. Please visit 
www.lauravanderkam.com.

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Monday, March 9, 2015

Review of "Every Day I Fight" - Stuart Scott memoir

When I learned of Stuart Scott's passing on January 4, I was saddened as I felt the sports world lost one of its best reporters far too soon.  So when I was offered an ARC of his memoirs before they would be published on March 10, I jumped at the chance to read the book. It was even better than I thought it would be.  I am very happy to be able to post this review of "Every Day I Fight" at the time of publication.


Title/Author:
“Every Day I Fight” by Stuart Scott with Larry Platt

Tags:
Sports broadcasting, autobiography, ESPN

Published:
March 10, 2015

Length:
311 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (Outstanding)

Review:
Like every other sports fan, I was saddened to hear of the passing of Stuart Scott on January 4, 2015 to cancer.  Since first being diagnosed with appendiceal cancer in 2007, Scott still lived life and was seen on ESPN for his work regularly. This memoir of his life is written in a manner that will make the reader think that he or she is watching an ESPN production about Scott – complete with some of his trademark catch phrases.

There is plenty of sports talk and recaps in the book, and the reader will even learn about a couple of those expressions that Scott made famous.  For example, he does talk about the origination of “Booyah!” and how he simply decided to be himself when he got his break by being an original broadcaster on ESPN2.  His rise in his career would be an inspiring story by itself.

However, the book gets even better after Scott learns about his diagnosis. It was a moving account of not only what he did to combat the disease (don’t talk about it as a fight, as he states he doesn’t particularly like that phrase), but the love he felt for his daughters Sydni and Taelor.  He never took any time with them for granted, from the time they were born until the end of the book.  That love for them also was what drove him. 

Scott still appeared on ESPN for various assignments after learning his diagnosis and through bouts of chemotherapy and multiple surgeries.  Like the love for his daughters, he loved his line of work and it showed in how he brought the same energy and compassion for his on-air work as well.  One of the more poignant passages that combined these two loves was when he admitted to doing something that a sports journalist never says – that he was openly rooting for a team. It came in the 2014 NBA Finals. Which team Scott cheered for and why is a wonderful story of love that will tug at the heartstrings of every reader.

No matter if the reader likes sports or couldn’t care less, or whether or not cancer has touched the reader’s life, this is a book that should be read by everyone as a message of inspiration, of the fight to enjoy life and as a story of love.  This was an outstanding memoir from a man that was taken from us far too soon. 

I wish to thank NetGalley and Penguin Group Blue Rider Press for providing an advanced review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Did I skim?
No. 

Pace of the book: 
Much like one of his SportsCenter newscasts, the book moves at a fast pace that the reader wants to keep up with.  It was a very quick read – one that I completed in less three hours.

Do I recommend? 
This book will touch everyone who has ever had to be part of that team that has faced cancer – whether as a patient, family member, friend, colleague or medical professional. Scott’s attitude and enthusiasm for life will leave the reader cheering – then heartbroken knowing that he has passed away.

Book Format Read:
Ebook (Kindle)

Buying Links:


http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/every-day-i-fight-stuart-scott/1120849685?ean=9780399174063