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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Effectively sobering. Suffice it to say that Pop Warner parents will want to armor their kids from head to toe upon reading...

CONCUSSION

A maddening, well-constructed tale of medical discovery and corporate coverup, set in morgues, laboratories, courtrooms, and football fields.

Nigeria-born Bennet Omalu is perhaps an unlikely hero, a medical doctor board-certified in four areas of pathology, “anatomic, clinical, forensic, and neuropathology,” and a well-rounded specialist in death. When his boss, celebrity examiner Cyril Wecht (“in the autopsy business, Wecht was a rock star”), got into trouble for various specimens of publicity-hound overreach, Omalu was there to offer patient, stoical support. The student did not surpass the teacher in flashiness, but Omalu was a rock star all his own in studying the brain to determine a cause of death. Laskas’ (Creative Writing/Univ. of Pittsburgh; Hidden America, 2012, etc.) main topic is the horrific injuries wrought to the brains and bodies of football players on the field. Omalu’s study of the unfortunate brain of Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster, who died in 2002 at 50 of a supposed heart attack, brought new attention to the trauma of concussion. Laskas trades in sportwriter-ese, all staccato delivery full of tough guyisms and sports clichés: “He had played for fifteen seasons, a warrior’s warrior; he played in more games—two hundred twenty—than any other player in Steelers history. Undersized, tough, a big, burly white guy—a Pittsburgh kind of guy—the heart of the best team in history.” A little of that goes a long way, but Laskas, a Pittsburgher who first wrote of Omalu and his studies in a story in GQ, does sturdy work in keeping up with a grim story that the NFL most definitely did not want to see aired—not in Omalu’s professional publications in medical journals, nor, reportedly, on the big screen in the Will Smith vehicle based on this book.

Effectively sobering. Suffice it to say that Pop Warner parents will want to armor their kids from head to toe upon reading it.

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8757-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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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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