A bit technical and statistics-oriented for the uninitiated, but sports buffs and bleacher bums will delight in Barra’s...

CLEARING THE BASES

THE GREATEST BASEBALL DEBATES OF THE LAST CENTURY

Opinionated pieces by Wall Street Journal and Salon.com columnist Barra (Inventing Wyatt Earp, 1998, etc.) lovingly examine baseball’s most enduring controversies.

The dozen or so long-standing arguments examined here, all now a part of baseball lore, are not squabbles over brushback pitchers, lost homerun balls, or pine-tar incidents, but involve our more or less permanent understanding of the stature of baseball’s greats. Barra ponders whether Babe Ruth truly deserves his legendary fame; compares Joe Dimaggio and Ted Williams; imagines how much greater Jackie Robinson would have been had he been allowed to compete in the Major League sooner; revives the debate about whether Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays was the greatest ballplayer of the ’50s; revisits the Maris/Mantle homerun derby of 1961; elevates the often underrated Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt to be a candidate for “Player of the Century”; and mourns the premature demise of the fluky, lovable 1986 New York Mets. Using statistics to bolster his arguments, he re-evaluates the scandal-brushed 1919 Chicago “Black Sox” and their leader, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson; draws favorable comparisons between pitcher Roger “The Rocket” Clemens and such legendary hurlers as “Lefty” Grove and Sandy Koufax; and champions the majors’ first Latin star, White Sox outfielder Minnie Minoso. Barra argues that while baseball fans like to think that today’s players can’t match up to the heroes of yesteryear, greater demographic and ethnic inclusion in the game at the highest levels and superior diet and training have actually created more consistently superb ballplayers. He also refuses to share the common view that expansion has thinned out Major League talent. A knowledgeable sportswriter and radio personality who strives to bring fresh perspectives to his criticism, Barra is in top form here, and his obvious passion for his material makes him unfailingly fun to read.

A bit technical and statistics-oriented for the uninitiated, but sports buffs and bleacher bums will delight in Barra’s unconventional essays.

Pub Date: April 23, 2002

ISBN: 0-312-26556-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2002

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Doesn’t dig as deep as it could, but offers a captivating look at the NBA’s greatest era.

WHEN THE GAME WAS OURS

NBA legends Bird and Johnson, fierce rivals during their playing days, team up on a mutual career retrospective.

With megastars LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and international superstars like China’s Yao Ming pushing it to ever-greater heights of popularity today, it’s difficult to imagine the NBA in 1979, when financial problems, drug scandals and racial issues threatened to destroy the fledgling league. Fortunately, that year marked the coming of two young saviors—one a flashy, charismatic African-American and the other a cocky, blond, self-described “hick.” Arriving fresh off a showdown in the NCAA championship game in which Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans defeated Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores—still the highest-rated college basketball game ever—the duo changed the course of history not just for the league, but the sport itself. While the pair’s on-court accomplishments have been exhaustively chronicled, the narrative hook here is unprecedented insight and commentary from the stars themselves on their unique relationship, a compelling mixture of bitter rivalry and mutual admiration. This snapshot of their respective careers delves with varying degrees of depth into the lives of each man and their on- and off-court achievements, including the historic championship games between Johnson’s Lakers and Bird’s Celtics, their trailblazing endorsement deals and Johnson’s stunning announcement in 1991 that he had tested positive for HIV. Ironically, this nostalgic chronicle about the two men who, along with Michael Jordan, turned more fans onto NBA basketball than any other players, will likely appeal primarily to a narrow cross-section of readers: Bird/Magic fans and hardcore hoop-heads.

Doesn’t dig as deep as it could, but offers a captivating look at the NBA’s greatest era.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-547-22547-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.

BACK FROM THE DEAD

A basketball legend reflects on his life in the game and a life lived in the “nightmare of endlessly repetitive and constant pain, agony, and guilt.”

Walton (Nothing but Net, 1994, etc.) begins this memoir on the floor—literally: “I have been living on the floor for most of the last two and a half years, unable to move.” In 2008, he suffered a catastrophic spinal collapse. “My spine will no longer hold me,” he writes. Thirty-seven orthopedic injuries, stemming from the fact that he had malformed feet, led to an endless string of stress fractures. As he notes, Walton is “the most injured athlete in the history of sports.” Over the years, he had ground his lower extremities “down to dust.” Walton’s memoir is two interwoven stories. The first is about his lifelong love of basketball, the second, his lifelong battle with injuries and pain. He had his first operation when he was 14, for a knee hurt in a basketball game. As he chronicles his distinguished career in the game, from high school to college to the NBA, he punctuates that story with a parallel one that chronicles at each juncture the injuries he suffered and overcame until he could no longer play, eventually turning to a successful broadcasting career (which helped his stuttering problem). Thanks to successful experimental spinal fusion surgery, he’s now pain-free. And then there’s the music he loves, especially the Grateful Dead’s; it accompanies both stories like a soundtrack playing off in the distance. Walton tends to get long-winded at times, but that won’t be news to anyone who watches his broadcasts, and those who have been afflicted with lifelong injuries will find the book uplifting and inspirational. Basketball fans will relish Walton’s acumen and insights into the game as well as his stories about players, coaches (especially John Wooden), and games, all told in Walton’s fervent, witty style.

One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4767-1686-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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