A well-crafted story that will appeal most strongly to baseball aficionados.



Parallel tales of two of baseball’s greatest lions in the winters of their careers.

By the late 1950s, writes Shapiro (Journalism/Columbia Univ.; The Last Good Season: Brooklyn, the Dodgers, and Their Final Pennant Race Together, 2003, etc.), baseball, though still popular, was in trouble. Attendance had fallen precipitously since the ’40s, and the game was being supplanted by football as America’s favorite professional sport. Enter veteran baseball executive Branch Rickey, who at age 74 attempted to save baseball by creating a third major league, the Continental League. This new league, envisioned Rickey, would be free of the self-interested and self-destructive myopia of the current major-league owners and would share resources, prospective players and the ever more lucrative revenue from television. In short, the new league would be competitive, which the previous leagues were not. The impetus was the New York Yankees and their wizened manager Casey Stengel, who had made an art of mangling the English language while proving to be a master baseball tactician. Under Stengel, the Yankees had won seven World Series, with consistently dominating performances that made baseball boring. With the “reserve clause” in place, in which players were tied to a team for life, not much promised to change. While Rickey pushed for such change, Stengel, approaching 70, was under pressure to continue the Yankees’ winning ways. Both men, each nursing an oversized ego, believed they would succeed because they willed it; in 1960, both men failed. Rickey would find the likely owners for the new league franchises no more open to innovation than the established league owners, and the Continental League would die with the expansion of the National and American Leagues. To save his job, Stengel had to win the 1960 World Series; he did not and was promptly fired. Eventually Rickey and Stengel, both of whom loved the limelight, faded from public awareness. Shapiro expertly enlivens these two larger-than-life characters and captures in fine detail an important era in baseball history.

A well-crafted story that will appeal most strongly to baseball aficionados.

Pub Date: May 12, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-8050-8247-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2009

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One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.


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...


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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