Even so, La Russa turns up results, as readers will discover—and, of course, he took the Cards to the World Series in 2004....

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THREE NIGHTS IN AUGUST

STRATEGY, HEARTBREAK, AND JOY INSIDE THE MIND OF A MANAGER

Is baseball a game? Not by this first-rate account of a battle of titans, in which a pampered star player insists that he’s a “performer” and the manager-hero employs the strategic skills of a warlord.

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, writes Vanity Fair contributing editor Bissinger, is “a baseball man” who proudly owns the appellation even though it “has become increasingly pejorative today because of the very stodginess it suggests.” There’s nothing stodgy about La Russa, even though he has revealed some very old-fashioned leanings against the use of performance-enhancing steroids and for winning performances by free agents who play their own stats-racking games against the better interests of the team. Bissinger’s account ranges widely over La Russa’s four decades in baseball: He started off as a player but, realizing he wasn’t star material, began to badger his managers to tell him their secrets and took up the trade while still in his 20s. The bulk of his story, though, is devoted to a three-game series between the Cards and their nemesis, the Chicago Cubs, in August 2003, as the Cubs were racing their way to a long-awaited bid for the national championship. Bissinger takes care to analyze La Russa’s decisions as they’re being made on the field, drawing on La Russa’s storied command of baseball statistics and history and his uncanny ability to match batters to pitchers, figure out opposing managers’ signals, and such. Throughout, La Russa takes on the lonely countenance of a knight errant battling forces beyond his control, especially the unwillingness of players to exert themselves; as Bissinger writes, “La Russa calculates that, for today’s players, winning is ‘third or fourth on their list behind making money and having security and all that other BS.’ ”

Even so, La Russa turns up results, as readers will discover—and, of course, he took the Cards to the World Series in 2004. A real treat for scholarly baseball fans, and a better management book than most on the business shelves.

Pub Date: April 5, 2005

ISBN: 0-618-40544-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2005

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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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