Decent baseball book; mediocre inspirational book.

STARTING AND CLOSING

PERSEVERANCE, FAITH, AND ONE MORE YEAR

Passable baseball memoir by retired pitching ace Smoltz, centered around his efforts, at age 41 and after major shoulder surgery, to pitch just one more year.

The author knew at an early age he would find his fortune as a professional ball player. For 20 years he was a stellar pitcher, both starting and relieving for the Atlanta Braves as they won 14 straight division championships and a World Series. In 2009, however, age and injury seemed to catch up to him, and he moved on from the Braves to the Red Sox and then briefly to the Cardinals. While he enjoyed mixed success in his final year, Smoltz has more in mind than simply talking about success in baseball. He uses his success as a metaphor for how to succeed in life. While he overcame many injuries and obstacles to stay in the big leagues as long as he did, his advice is too often expressed in sincere but hoary bromides (“I always looked at [failure] as an opportunity to grow”) that do little to inspire. Similarly, his deep and honest profession of Christian faith (“I truly accepted Jesus Christ as my savior in 1995”) gets lost in odd juxtapositions. For example, at one point he writes, “the two things I can point to that kept me persevering year after year for so many years were my faith in God and golf.” Smoltz seems not to mean to give the two equal billing, but some readers may find it odd nonetheless. When Smoltz talks about baseball, the book comes alive. Whether he’s discussing the differences between starting pitching and relief pitching and the difficulties of switching from one to the other, as Smoltz did more than once, or why power pitching wins in the postseason, or why the Braves won only one World Series, it all has the ring of authenticity and wisdom.

Decent baseball book; mediocre inspirational book.

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-212054-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2012

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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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