A compelling look at a legend and an era.

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CONNIE MACK AND THE EARLY YEARS OF BASEBALL

Comprehensive and interesting portrait of one of baseball’s most successful managers.

Born Cornelius McGillicuddy in East Brookfield, Mass., Connie Mack (1862–1956) devoted his life to the fledgling sport of professional baseball. Despite a slender frame, Mack excelled as a catcher, his defensive skills more than compensating for his less-than-stellar abilities with the bat. He was capable enough to move from a local amateur team to a salaried spot with the Meriden team in the Connecticut State League. He played for the Washington Nationals of the National League and experimented with a Player’s League before taking his first executive post as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Fired by the Pirates, he moved to the Milwaukee Brewers and assumed a leadership role in every level of club management, from scouting to scheduling to in-game decisions, experience that would aid him later in his career. Hailed as an innovator, Mack employed such revolutionary tactics as the use of multiple pitchers during a game. His skills eventually took him to the Philadelphia Athletics, a team he led to five World Series victories. (In all of baseball history, only the Yankees, Red Sox and Cardinals have ever surpassed this total.) Veteran baseball historian Macht (Roberto Clemente, 2001, etc.) paints an interesting portrait of the sport at the turn of the 20th century, dispelling the myth that players endured the season’s marathon length and frequent, potentially crippling injuries only because they so loved the game. Then as now, he points out, money motivated them as much as anything else. Macht capably traces the evolution of baseball’s rules and customs over the years, while also revealing that the players’ behavior (for better or worse) closely approximated that of the athletes today. Some 700 pages take us only to 1914, but the book is so detailed that it makes fascinating reading despite its length.

A compelling look at a legend and an era.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-8032-3263-1

Page Count: 736

Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2007

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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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