Walsh manages only a broken-bat blooper in this disappointing plate appearance.

THE NIGHT CASEY WAS BORN

THE TRUE STORY BEHIND THE GREAT AMERICAN BALLAD: “CASEY AT THE BAT”

The 1888 birth and subsequent celebrity of the rollicking baseball ballad by Ernest L. Thayer.

This latest from prolific pop biographer/historian Walsh (Moonlight, 2000, etc.) explores the two contrasting worlds that combined to create the phenomenon of “Casey at the Bat”: Broadway light opera and professional baseball, which was still in its childhood but rapidly gaining popularity in the late-19th century. Never known for understatement, the author early on makes the preposterous claim that “Casey” is the equal of Robert Frost’s “Birches” or “Mending Wall.” Fortunately, he does much better when he turns from literary criticism to social history. Illustrated with numerous period photographs and quotations from contemporary newspapers, the text brings the period to life. Thayer was a journalist in San Francisco who periodically contributed topical ballads; “Casey” appeared in the San Francisco Examiner on June 3, 1888. Arch Gunter, a successful New York writer visiting his parents in California, clipped the poem and brought it home. When he learned that Wallack’s Theater was hosting a “Baseball Night” to take advantage of local enthusiasm for the first-place New York Giants, Gunter presented the clipping to Wallack’s manager, who promptly passed it on to his star, DeWolf Hopper. “Casey” was a smash from the first time this popular actor delivered it on August 14, 1888; Hopper performed the poem thousands of times during his career. He and Thayer eventually met, had lunch, made nice. Walsh ably describes this early intersection between entertainment and professional sport. He’s less effective in imagining the conversation between Thayer and Hopper, and yet less effective when he composes some clumsy lyrics of the sort that might have been included in one of Hopper’s shows. Readers may also wonder why the author neglects to consider any of Casey’s many reinterpretations in our own day, as did Frank Deford in Casey on the Loose (1989).

Walsh manages only a broken-bat blooper in this disappointing plate appearance.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2007

ISBN: 1-58567-893-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2006

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

WHEN THE GAME WAS OURS

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.

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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