Careful, pointed writing shows us that professional sports should not be viewed in isolation from the society in which they...

ONE NATION UNDER BASEBALL

HOW THE 1960S COLLIDED WITH THE NATIONAL PASTIME

As social change roiled through the 1960s, Major League Baseball was sometimes a mirror, sometimes a window.

Freelance writer Florio (Blind Moon Alley, 2014, etc.) and documentary producer Shapiro focus on baseball throughout, but they don’t neglect other sports or popular culture. The authors, who co-wrote One Punch from the Promised Land: Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, and the Myth of the Heavyweight Title (2013), deal with Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali—his rise, his anti–Vietnam War stance—and, briefly, with the 1968 Summer Olympics and the protests by sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos. The Beatles continually pop up, as well, but the authors’ principal interest is in how professional baseball reacted to the social turmoil of the decade. Proceeding chronologically, they highlight certain athletes, using them to illustrate issues ranging from race (black players were growing increasingly unhappy—and vocal—about their status and treatment) to religion (Sandy Koufax would miss a World Series start because of Yom Kippur). We see players battling with management (men who do not come off at all well here), with the Jim Crow South, and with the rise of unionism in the sport. The authors spend some time with Curt Flood’s struggle with baseball’s reserve clause, and they continually remind us of the deep darkness of that decade: the political assassinations, the war, the clashes over civil rights. Sometimes, their focus drifts a bit when there are particularly engaging sports tales to tell—e.g., the amazing years for pitchers Bob Gibson and Denny McLain and the racial frustrations that often animated the performances of Ernie Banks and Dick Allen. The authors interviewed many of the principals and read numerous books written by them; they are especially strong on Jim Bouton’s transformative sports memoir, Ball Four (1970).

Careful, pointed writing shows us that professional sports should not be viewed in isolation from the society in which they function.

Pub Date: April 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8032-8690-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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