Mathewson and McGraw may be the star attractions, but it’s Deford’s reach of baseball knowledge, its color and historical...



One of our more melodious sportswriters details the importance of Mathewson and McGraw in raising baseball to the status of a national pastime.

As the 19th century gave way to the 20th, baseball was undergoing a facelift, writes Deford (An American Summer, 2002, etc.). While brawling and whoring were once as common to the sport as hits and outs, civility and upstandingness now became critical, as did class and style: “Proficiency mattered so to a nation on the make.” Frank Merriwell met his real-life counterpart in Mathewson: golden, tall, handsome, kind, educated, the beau ideal and a pitcher whose statistics didn’t just speak but bellowed his dominance. At his side on the New York Giants was McGraw: pugnacious, hardscrabble, shanty Irish, tough, field-smart, and as rude as any ballplayer ever was, but a winner who was adored despite his old-school ways. Together, the two would bring the spotlight to both a sport and a city. As much as Mathewson was in command as a slabman, Deford is in command of this story, as much a piece of social as of sporting history. Characters are made real, but so too is New York City and the way sport came to reflect the muscular Christianity championed by the prep school and college establishment. That, too, would pass, but not before baseball had captured the public imagination. Deford writes with a cunning sparkle in his eye; he loves happy little ironies like fans having once been referred to as “cranks,” while he himself is indeed a droll fan, or crank. He’s ready to tip his hat to the Giants for the passions they stirred, the controversy of their manager, and the deserved popularity of their pitching ace.

Mathewson and McGraw may be the star attractions, but it’s Deford’s reach of baseball knowledge, its color and historical circumstance—all the minutiae that pile up into a grand and recognizable edifice—that sets this one apart.

Pub Date: April 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-87113-885-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2005

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Doesn’t dig as deep as it could, but offers a captivating look at the NBA’s greatest era.


NBA legends Bird and Johnson, fierce rivals during their playing days, team up on a mutual career retrospective.

With megastars LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and international superstars like China’s Yao Ming pushing it to ever-greater heights of popularity today, it’s difficult to imagine the NBA in 1979, when financial problems, drug scandals and racial issues threatened to destroy the fledgling league. Fortunately, that year marked the coming of two young saviors—one a flashy, charismatic African-American and the other a cocky, blond, self-described “hick.” Arriving fresh off a showdown in the NCAA championship game in which Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans defeated Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores—still the highest-rated college basketball game ever—the duo changed the course of history not just for the league, but the sport itself. While the pair’s on-court accomplishments have been exhaustively chronicled, the narrative hook here is unprecedented insight and commentary from the stars themselves on their unique relationship, a compelling mixture of bitter rivalry and mutual admiration. This snapshot of their respective careers delves with varying degrees of depth into the lives of each man and their on- and off-court achievements, including the historic championship games between Johnson’s Lakers and Bird’s Celtics, their trailblazing endorsement deals and Johnson’s stunning announcement in 1991 that he had tested positive for HIV. Ironically, this nostalgic chronicle about the two men who, along with Michael Jordan, turned more fans onto NBA basketball than any other players, will likely appeal primarily to a narrow cross-section of readers: Bird/Magic fans and hardcore hoop-heads.

Doesn’t dig as deep as it could, but offers a captivating look at the NBA’s greatest era.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-547-22547-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.


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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