A useful reference for diehard baseball historians; others can leave this one in the clubhouse.

BUT DIDN’T WE HAVE FUN?

AN INFORMAL HISTORY OF BASEBALL’S PIONEER ERA, 1843–1870

How America’s pastime got its swing.

In the three decades before the Civil War, baseball was in its infancy. There were no standardized rules for the game, much less a consensus on what to call it: Depending on location and the culture of its players, it might be known as wicket, town ball, round-town, the Massachusetts game or countless variations thereof. Using first-person recollections, recorded statistics and newspaper clippings, Morris (Level Playing Fields: How the Groundskeeping Murphy Brothers Shaped Baseball, 2007, etc.) identifies the era as crucial to baseball’s emergence as the national sport. Some facts about the early game—each presented in assiduous detail—will likely surprise modern enthusiasts: e.g., the procedures of the game before designated pitchers; players having to actually hit a player with the ball to record an out; and the traditional use of a single ball during the game, typically memorialized by shellacking and proudly displaying it. While Morris considers the official founding, in 1845, of the Knickerbockers as the first important baseball club, he also puts baseball’s far-flung evolution in context, jetting from town to town across the Eastern seaboard and the Midwest to illustrate how other locations began to adopt the game—or resist it via strict laws that prohibited public ball playing. The author also emphasizes the game’s origins as a courtly, gentlemanly pursuit, conveying the ethos of an era when the spirit of baseball was pure fun and social comity, not the profit-driven venture it is today. Morris also debunks the persistent legend of Abner Doubleday as the founder of baseball. Dedicated statistics geeks will revel in the seemingly inexhaustible supply of arcane facts and figures, but casual baseball fans may be overwhelmed.

A useful reference for diehard baseball historians; others can leave this one in the clubhouse.

Pub Date: March 7, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-56663-748-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Ivan Dee/Rowman & Littlefield

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2008

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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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