Thorough research, crackerjack reporting, pinpoint control.

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AS THEY SEE ’EM

A FAN’S TRAVELS IN THE LAND OF UMPIRES

The largely untold story of professional baseball umpires, perhaps the most secretive sect in the most sectarian of sports.

New York Times reporter Weber, who initially became interested in umpires when he wrote some articles on the subject, tried entering the umpires’ mysterious world through every wardrobe he could imagine. He attended a five-week umpire training program at one of the two sanctioned schools. He interviewed every umpire who would talk with him; few were candid, some refused, most offered only platitudes. He attended countless games and watched hours of video, especially those with controversial plays (e.g., Robby Alomar spitting on an ump). He spoke with players, managers and owners, some current, some retired. He umpired some amateur games and called some innings at an intrasquad Major League spring-training contest. It was all part of a largely successful attempt to chart one of the last frontiers in sports reporting. One of the author’s most appealing qualities is self-deprecation. He continually makes fun of his clumsiness as an umpire, twice comparing his called-strike gesture to an awkward girl’s ball-throwing motion. His text proceeds somewhat like a baseball game. There is organization, a beginning and an end, but things can drift along for awhile without much apparently happening. Then, suddenly, action erupts, the unexpected occurs and people are screaming. The text evokes a gamut of emotions: hilarity (a pregame encounter at home plate between manager Ralph Houk and umpire Jim Evans); outrage (a crackling chapter on the 1999 umpire labor dispute); excitement (thoughts and worries pinballing around Weber’s head the night before he works behind the plate at spring training); frustration (the refusal of hotheaded, umpire-baiting former manager Earl Weaver to speak on or off the record). It’s educational too. We learn the rules for player-ejection, the history of the rulebook, the choreography required of an umpiring crew as a play unfolds and so much more.

Thorough research, crackerjack reporting, pinpoint control.

Pub Date: March 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-7432-9411-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2009

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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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