BASEBALL AND BILLIONS

A PROBING LOOK INSIDE THE BIG BUSINESS OF OUR NATIONAL PASTIME

During the baseball strike of 1990, Zimbalist's disillusioned 11-year-old son suggested that his dad write a book on the economics of baseball. The happy result is this grand-slam study of America's only ``self-governing, unregulated monopoly,'' standing head-and-shoulders above Neil J. Sullivan's similar The Diamond Revolution (p. 661). Although baseball is booming (revenues doubled to $1.4 billion from 1985 to 1990), Zimbalist believes that danger looms, the result of a shrinking TV audience, ballooning salaries, and other woes brought on by ``commercialism, greed, and poor management.'' He points a well-aimed finger at team owners as the major culprits; while George Steinbrenner ``stands out in his zaniness and mismanagement,'' few owners escape Zimbalist's acid remarks. The sport's commissioners also take their lumps: Zimbalist doubts current boss Fay Vincent's claim that many teams are losing money, and he notes that franchise values are skyrocketing. The author explores hidden sources of revenue (like luxury boxes, some with marble-and-gold bathrooms) and the inflated salaries of superstars as clues to baseball's hidden economy, and he slams the treatment of minor leaguers, subject to pitiful pay and no job protection, as ``scandalous.'' Leapfrogging of teams from city to city also draws fire. As to how to heal our national pastime, Zimbalist offers no panaceas, although he returns time and again to the idea of expansion to 35 or 40 teams, a move that will relieve a number of problems, including an underused labor pool. A ``minimalist'' fix- up might also include guaranteed free access to special games like the World Series, revenue sharing among teams, and a baseball labor act. A ``maximalist'' cure would mean government regulation through the creation of a federal commission. A near-miracle—a nimble, exciting unknotting of a horribly tangled business—that's also a public service, as Zimbalist presents workable proposals that put the fan's interests first.

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 1992

ISBN: 0-465-00614-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1992

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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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