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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An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

WHY WE SWIM

A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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