A good book for baseball fans who already know, or think they know, about the specific players named.

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INTANGIBALL

THE SUBTLE THINGS THAT WIN BASEBALL GAMES

Sportswriter Wheeler—co-author of memoirs by Hank Aaron and Mike Piazza, among others—makes the case that baseball statistics should be examined in tandem with the intangibles of a player's character when assembling a winning team.

The author does not reject the approach of Moneyball, but he does claim it requires supplementing. A former Cincinnati journalist, Wheeler focuses on the Cincinnati Reds more than any other team, but he provides examples of players with excellent character and less-desirable character from across Major League Baseball. In the author’s view, Derek Jeter, the recently retired shortstop for the New York Yankees, is exemplary: a player who leads through the example of physical dedication as well as verbal leadership among his teammates. MLB players must stick together in close quarters through a 162-game season, which means far more intense interactions than in other professional sports. When a team's stars fail to mesh well with other players on the field and in the clubhouse, that team might fail to claim the championships it has the talent to win. In the case of the Reds, Wheeler demonstrates how the additions of stars Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn backfired, while signing relative unknowns such as Joey Votto paid dividends. In addition to analyzing the characters of players, the author delves into the psyches of managers, general managers, and other team decision-makers, explaining how various philosophies about taking character into account have produced wildly varying results. Never does Wheeler make the case that the character factor on a team guarantees success, but he is convinced that signing players who mesh well significantly improves the odds of winning. His examples tend to become repetitious after he has stated his theme numerous times, and his writing style is often overly cute, with too much wordplay. However, the author is always clear and readable.

A good book for baseball fans who already know, or think they know, about the specific players named.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4516-9602-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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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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