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

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THE OLD BALL GAME

HOW JOHN MCGRAW, CHRISTY MATHEWSON, AND THE NEW YORK GIANTS CREATED MODERN BASEBALL

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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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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