For baseball fans, Law offers a smooth combination of erudition and his obvious love of the sport.

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SMART BASEBALL

THE STORY BEHIND THE OLD STATS THAT ARE RUINING THE GAME, THE NEW ONES THAT ARE RUNNING IT, AND THE RIGHT WAY TO THINK ABOUT BASEBALL

A former Major League Baseball statistical analyst who now writes for ESPN shatters myths about how to accurately measure a baseball player’s ability and then explains modern criteria that offer better results.

Law—who served as a special assistant to the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays and now is a senior baseball writer for ESPN Insider and an analyst for the network’s show Baseball Tonight—provides a spirited exploration of statistics sure to start arguments among devoted baseball fans. Not all the explanations of statistical measurements, computer programming, and sophisticated technology developments are easily understandable, but the author’s detailed explanations are as jargon-free as possible; readers need not comprehend everything to enjoy the book. In the chapter likely to cause the most passionate debate, Law relies on extensive statistical analysis to examine the Baseball Hall of Fame. The author names worthy players who were never voted in and calls out less-worthy players who achieved entrance. Law clearly explains the reasons for the poor decision-making by eligible voters. For position players, there is an overreliance on outmoded metrics such as batting average, runs batted in, and stolen bases as well as the lack of an effective method for measuring defensive prowess. For starting pitchers, voters focus too much on games won and earned run averages; for relief pitchers, it’s games saved. For all pitchers, the author stresses the lack of criteria regarding the nature of the stadiums when they enter games and the quality of their team’s defense. Law also shatters the conventional wisdom regarding “clutch hitters.” Rather than leaving readers with utter negativity, the author explains persuasively how and why the new analytics are likely to improve the performances of individual players and entire teams.

For baseball fans, Law offers a smooth combination of erudition and his obvious love of the sport.

Pub Date: April 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-249022-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 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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