Eisenberg examines one of baseball’s most venerated records while exploring what it all means, providing a compelling,...

THE STREAK

LOU GEHRIG, CAL RIPKEN, AND BASEBALL'S MOST HISTORIC RECORD

The story of baseball’s greatest iron men.

On Sept. 6, 1995, Cal Ripken broke Major League Baseball’s consecutive-game record, which had been held by the legendary New York Yankee Lou Gehrig. Once the game was official, the Baltimore Orioles unfurled a banner that read “2,131,” the number of games he had played without fail. As the roaring crowd (which included President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore) and a national audience watched, teammates pushed Ripken from the dugout onto the field, where the future Hall of Famer took an impromptu lap, slapping hands with fans around the perimeter of Camden Yards. It was an inspiring moment that many believed helped to save baseball after a labor stoppage had cancelled the end of the 1994 season, including the playoffs and World Series, and truncated the 1995 season. Ripken had broken a record once seen as untouchable, a record made all the more resonant because of Gehrig’s tragic death soon after due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosus, a disease that would come to carry his name. Former Baltimore Sun sports columnist Eisenberg (Ten-Gallon War: The NFL’s Cowboys, the AFL’s Texans, and the Feud for Dallas’s Pro Football Future, 2012, etc.) intertwines the stories of Gehrig and Ripken with chapters about baseball’s other iron men and the nature of consecutive-game streaks more generally. It would have been easy for the author to simply celebrate Ripken’s and Gehrig’s records and to couch them in terms of commitment, work ethic, and age-old virtues. But while he does not deny these positive attributes, he also thoughtfully explores why these records resonate, whether they really matter, and if, in some cases, they may be a bit selfish. After all, sometimes a player might serve his team best by taking the occasional day off. It is this aspect of the story that makes the book most valuable.

Eisenberg examines one of baseball’s most venerated records while exploring what it all means, providing a compelling, thought-provoking history for fans of America’s grand game.

Pub Date: July 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-544-10767-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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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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