A delight for baseball lovers but also a useful parable about the power of habit and tradition, barriers to accepting...

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AHEAD OF THE CURVE

INSIDE THE BASEBALL REVOLUTION

From his many years at ESPN and his current perch at the MLB Network, the TV face of the “Baseball Age of Enlightenment” reflects on the rise of analytics and the torpedoing of decadeslong conventional baseball wisdom.

Today, virtually every team’s front office features an analytics department dedicated to evaluating player performance along lines promulgated as far back as the 1970s by the game’s original sabermetrician, “The Godfather,” Bill James. With a powerful assist from Michael Lewis’ Moneyball (and the subsequent Brad Pitt movie), James’ potent rethinking of the game—Kenny rates him among the seven most influential figures in baseball history—has penetrated a popular audience beyond baseball’s boundaries. It’s fair to ask, then, do we really need another book explaining why batting average, runs batted in, or errors mean less than we have previously supposed? Or why it’s pointless to assign a “win” or a “save” to a pitcher’s outing? If you answer “no,” then you’ve woefully underestimated the continued resistance of the old guard, particularly managers, narrative-driven baseball writers, and most fans, to see and properly analyze the game. In a casually friendly tone that occasionally turns marvelously cranky, Kenny deconstructs the gauzy nostalgia surrounding the Triple Crown, warns against mistaking appearance for reality—Jack Morris just looks like a better pitcher than Mickey Lolich—explains how MVP voting has gone awry, makes the numbers-based case for admitting Keith Hernandez, Dwight Evans, Alan Trammell, and Tim Raines to the Hall of Fame, and forecasts an even more radical, numbers-based baseball future. (Will we someday see an IT coach in the dugout?) A helpful glossary defines most of the new metrics applied to today’s game, and Kenny supplies plenty of flesh and blood anecdotes about players, baseball executives, and media colleagues to satisfy even the oldest, most computer-averse fan.

A delight for baseball lovers but also a useful parable about the power of habit and tradition, barriers to accepting answers hiding in plain sight for years.   

Pub Date: July 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-0633-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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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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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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