A WHOLE DIFFERENT BALL GAME

THE SPORT AND BUSINESS OF BASEBALL

July 1 (the pub date of the very special text at hand) will mark the 25th anniversary of the Major League Baseball Players Association. Miller, the first executive director of what became the first bona fide union in professional sports, takes the occasion to provide some brutally frank and immensely engrossing perspectives on the revolution he helped unleash in the national pastime. With an uncredited assist from Allen Barra (a Village Voice columnist), the author unsentimentally recalls a turbulent era during which club owners lost a protracted battle to retain the reserve rule (which effectively bound players to one team in perpetuity), thereby obliging them to bid for the services of erstwhile chattels as free agents or deal through impartial arbitrators. Without understating his own pivotal role, Miller attributes many gains won by players to the recalcitrant stupidity of owners and their minions, including commissioners. He provides an insider's insight on collective bargaining major-league style and settles old scores with friends as well as foes. High on the author's hit list are the likes of Bowie Kuhn, avaricious agents, uncritical journalists prepared to accept the front-office line, and latter-day players, many of whom (in his view) seem to have forgotten how their sky-high salaries and pension benefits were come by. Oddly, Miller has some kind, or at least sympathetic, words for such consensus pariahs as Pete Rose, George Steinbrenner, and the late Walter O'Malley. He scoffs, though, at any notion that the freer market in talent that produced multimillion-dollar contracts for superstars and journeymen alike has undermined the diamond game, arguing persuasively that the principals in what remains an unregulated monopoly have participated fully in the record growth of attendance, revenues, TV ratings—and the value of their franchises. Eye-opening judgments on an institution that's as much an intensely commercial enterprise as a competitive sport from a sometime mover and shaker who's still calling spades bloody shovels. (Sixteen pages of photos—not seen)

Pub Date: July 1, 1991

ISBN: 1-55972-067-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Birch Lane Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1991

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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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