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An engaging journey through, as poet Merrill puts it, ``the enchanted lands of soccer.'' When, in 1990, the US team qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 40 years, Merrill (an avid amateur soccer player) followed the team through preliminary games stateside and then to Italy for the month-long tournament. The Americans were 500-1 underdogs, given little chance to do more than make a brave showing, especially with Bob Gansler at the helm, a coach so conservative and defense-oriented that his own players had sworn to scrap his game plan. In the opening game, Merrill says, Czechoslovakia ``outclassed'' the US in ``skill, speed, strength, tactics, and creativity,'' but in the second game—largely through the play of New Jersey goalie Tony Meola—the Americans scored a moral victory against heavily favored Italy, to whom they lost by only one goal. The third game, though, against Austria, was an ugly loss marred by ineptness and fighting. As Merrill progresses through the World Cup play (finally won by West Germany in a brutal match against defending champion Argentina, signaling the imminent downfall of superstar player Diego Maradona, whose drug and prostitution connections would bring him to disgrace and banishment), he offers lovely and knowing passages on the art, architecture, and ambience of Italy's cities and provides deep historical background and understanding of the game of soccer itself. Of particular interest are his insights into why ``the world's most popular game'' has never caught on in sports-mad America. The rarity of goals, Merrill contends, has ``doomed'' soccer in a country ``hooked on instant gratification'': Americans want to see lots of scoring but, ``like poetry and jazz, soccer is a subtle art, a game of nuance.'' An intelligent and literate work that could broaden American interest in soccer in time for our 1994 hosting—for the first time ever—of the World Cup.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 1993

ISBN: 0-8050-2771-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1993

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More than just a game book of college football, The Sweet Season at the innocent appeal of sports in everyday life.

Sports and human interest intertwine as a man rediscovers the pureness of amateur sports as well as the joys of family life.

Journalist Murphy spends a much-needed sabbatical from his stint at Sports Illustrated by taking his family to rural Collegeville, Minnesota, in order to interact with the coach and players at St. John’s, a small Benedictine college, which happens to have the best record in college football history. Through 2000, the Johnnies have won the conference title 23 times, advanced to the national playoffs 16 times, advanced to the title game 4 times, and have won it 3 times—thanks mainly to its head coach, John Gagliardi, the NCAA’s winningest active coach (second on the all-time list to the retired Eddie Robinson) and a regional celebrity. Gagliardi is a friendly and sometimes elusive, Yoda-like coach who insists that his quarterbacks call their own plays and who hides a strategist’s mind behind an unassuming style. But besides Gagliardi, and talented players such as Tom Linnemann, it is the atmosphere of the school itself that Murphy credits with the success of the Johnnies. At first experiencing some culture shock, Murphy and his family settle into life at this place where the Benedictine monks set the reflective tone and unhurried pace. And while Murphy gets involved with the team, he also reconnects with his wife, Laura, and his two young children. With appealing humor, Murphy recounts how he acquires newfound respect for what his wife goes through on a daily basis and how, in turn, Laura sees in her husband “more of the guy she fell in love with.” The epilogue gives a brief synopsis of the 2000–01 year, when the Johnnies lost to Mount Union in the Stagg Bowl.

More than just a game book of college football, The Sweet Season at the innocent appeal of sports in everyday life.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2001

ISBN: 0-06-019547-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

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New tales and golden oldies, all told with a touch of spicy mustard.

Sportswriter Lally (co-author, Long Balls, No Strikes, 1998, etc.) skillfully weaves together eyewitness accounts of famous moments in Yankee history.

World Series stories form the largest part of the narrative. Yankee shortstop Frank Crosetti and Cub third baseman Woody English witnessed Babe Ruth’s “called” shot against the Cubs in the 1933 Series: Surviving film is unclear as to whether Babe pointed to center field before hitting a home run there. English tells why Babe was angry with the Chicago team; “Crow” tells what he saw and how Babe shrewdly embellished the incident. Lou Gehrig’s rapid deterioration in health in 1939 stunned friends like Elden Auker, whose playful wrestling with the Iron Horse caused Gehrig real pain. Fans, who love or hate the Bronx Bombers for always getting the best players, will be amused to see how Tommy Heinrich slipped out of the Cleveland organization and joined the Yanks in 1937. In the ’50s, the Yankees recruited the best young talent for their minor leagues, before an equitable draft system was instituted in 1965. Casey Stengel led the team to 10 World Series in 12 years, and Lally focuses on the exciting final one against the Pirates in 1960. Jim Coates, Bobby Richardson, and Ralph Terry remain perplexed by Casey’s decision to start Art Ditmar in Game One instead of ace Whitey Ford; they suggest that Casey was showing signs of senility. Willie Randolph, Roy White, and Oscar Gamble paint a flattering portrait of hard-nosed manager Billy Martin, who improved any team he led. Clutch homerun hitters—Chambliss in ’76, Reggie Jackson in ’77, and Bucky Dent in ’78—recall their dramatic blasts. Lally wraps up with the 2000 Subway Series, and 14 Yankees and 8 Mets review the big moments (Clemens vs. Piazza, Jeter’s homeruns) of the Fall Classic that the Yanks won 4–1.

New tales and golden oldies, all told with a touch of spicy mustard.

Pub Date: April 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60895-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2002

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