Shows great love for the underdog, but doesn’t make a great case for the game’s larger importance.

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THE BEST GAME EVER

OCTOBER 13, 1960: PIRATES 10, YANKEES 9

Baseball writer Reisler (Black Writers/Black Baseball, 2007, etc.) analyzes one of the greatest upsets in World Series history.

The 1960 World Series was not expected to be much of a contest. The Yankees had won six championships in the 1950s and boasted one of the most impressive lineups in baseball, including Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. Pittsburgh, while fielding greats Roberto Clemente and Bill Mazeroski, did not approach that star power. After six games, the Yankees had outscored the Pirates 46-16. Relying on timely hits and exemplary defense to make up for their lack of home-run power, the Pirates managed to extend the series to a seventh and deciding game, which they won. But the Yankees came back to nail the Series in 1961 and 1962, while the Pirates only won two more titles over the next 47 years (and counting)—so the 1960 upset didn’t prompt a paradigm shift in how teams were made or managed. Lacking any compelling evidence that this game was especially significant to baseball or beyond, Reisler bulks up his chronicle by adding information already familiar to most baseball fans: Talented hitter Roger Maris was a private person who disdained big-city pleasures; Mickey Mantle liked the night life; Roberto Clemente was treated poorly by fans and the press despite his tremendous skills because he was a dark-skinned Latino, etc. Reisler also takes the conventional path in depicting the Yankees as a corporate behemoth and the Pirates as a group of misfits and rebels who wrested the top prize from a team often compared to U.S. Steel. The story of the game itself reads like an expanded box score.

Shows great love for the underdog, but doesn’t make a great case for the game’s larger importance.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-78671-943-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2007

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Like eavesdropping on the team bus, sports enthusiasts will enjoy reliving a time when college football was top national...

THE UNDEFEATED

THE OKLAHOMA SOONERS AND THE GREATEST WINNING STREAK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

A rousing look at the colorful coach and players who achieved an amazing 47-game winning streak for the Oklahoma Sooners.

In order to have present-day readers understand the true significance of the Sooners, Texas journalist Dent (The Junction Boys, 1999) gives helpful background information about the state where “Big Oil was a dream. But football was a religion.” Oklahomans, still suffering from effects of the Great Depression, also had to contend with the popular perception (perpetuated by Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath) of destitution and dispossession. In an attempt to fight the stereotypic Okie image, the University of Oklahoma decided to answer with a winning football team. And win they did. With coach Bud Wilkinson at the helm, from the second game of the 1948 season to the eighth game of the 1957 season, the Sooners compiled a staggering 94–4–2 record. They had winning streaks of 31 games and the fabled 47, which ended painfully at the hands of archrival Notre Dame. Dent avoids the potentially dry, statistical tone and instead provides atmosphere with snappy dialogue and by fleshing out the team, foibles and all. Wilkinson (dubbed “The Great White Father”) believed in a strong team of 22 “lean, fast, hard-boned country boys,” including a good group of second stringers. Besides their play on the field, the team, including the coach, played hard off of it, with women and drinking figuring prominently. Some players stand out, particularly quarterback Jimmy Harris, 1952 Heisman Trophy winner Billy Vessels, Gomer Jones, and the first black player, Prentice Gautt, whose personal struggles to be accepted by his teammates and his treatment under the Jim Crow laws provide some of the more poignant moments here. An epilogue reveals how many of the key people of those teams led, and still lead, productive, successful lives.

Like eavesdropping on the team bus, sports enthusiasts will enjoy reliving a time when college football was top national news. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-26656-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2001

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A must-read for Packer and Lombardi fans, and will interest most NFL fans as well.

THAT FIRST SEASON

HOW VINCE LOMBARDI TOOK THE WORST TEAM IN THE NFL AND SET IT ON THE PATH TO GLORY

The exciting chronicle of Vince Lombardi’s pivotal first season as head coach of the Green Bay Packers.

Former Baltimore Sun sports columnist Eisenberg (The Great Match Race: When North Met South in America’s First Sports Spectacle, 2006, etc.) looks back at 1959, a year that witnessed one of the more momentous turnarounds in NFL history. In his first season as a head coach, Lombardi took the one of the worst football teams ever and led it to its first winning season in more than a decade. Having sunk to 1-10-1 under Scooter McLean the year before, the 1959 Packers were expected to win no more than three or four games, but Lombardi righted the ship, steering them to a 7-5 record that year and initiating their run to six championships during his nine-year tenure as head coach. How the stout, brash Brooklyn native was able to transform a directionless assemblage of players into a gridiron behemoth is as much the subject of Eisenberg’s exhaustively researched account as his thrilling description of each game. Relying on period articles and interviews with key players from the Lombardi dynasty, the author convincingly shows that the coach’s fierce work ethic, militaristic-style training camps, perfectionist tendencies, belief in fitness and ability to instill confidence in his players were as central to the team’s metamorphosis as his brilliance as a game-play strategist. Though his “sarcastic, critical” coaching style didn’t always endear him to the players, when they saw the results of his simple, run-centered offense and powerful zone defense, he soon won their trust.

A must-read for Packer and Lombardi fans, and will interest most NFL fans as well.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-618-90499-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2009

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