Opinionated, rambling, occasionally arbitrary, and always biased by its author’s roots—in other words, everything a baseball...

THE HEAD GAME

BASEBALL SEEN FROM THE PITCHER’S MOUND

A hot-stove league ramble, well lubricated with fine wines, on the subject of pitching, by a baseball writer who has seen it all.

Kahn’s 1972 masterpiece The Boys of Summer is the finest baseball book ever written. This one falls considerably short, but it’s as warm and comforting as a twilight doubleheader crackling out of the car radio on a long summer road trip. Kahn (A Flame of Pure Fire, 1999, etc.) drifts through the history of pitching, from the 19th-century star “Ol’ Hoss” Radbourn to today’s Atlanta Braves—but unlike most baseball schmoozers, he has actually known most of the players of whom he speaks, and he seems to have gone for drinks with more than a few of them. The subject being baseball, much of the fun is in noting the inclusions and exclusions. One quickly realizes that the sketched biographies that structure the book are mostly of National Leaguers: Radbourn, Christy Mathewson, Warren Spahn, Johnny Sain, Don Drysdale, Bruce Sutter, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, and Leo Mazzone get reverential treatment, while Cy Young, Walter Johnson, and the great Yankee, Indian, and Oriole staffs of the past 60 years get little more than a tip of the hat. Woven in with the mini-portraits is a pitch-by-pitch account of the trade, and the stories of the curve, the slider, the spitter, the brush-back, and the splitter drop into the narrative as gracefully as a big Dwight Gooden bender. The book only occasionally transcends its genre, though, and when it does it’s in familiar territory: there’s unquestionably an extra bit of hop to Kahn’s fastball when he goes back to the Dodgers and Giants of the 1950s and ’60s, and when the topic turns to Sal Maglie or Jackie Robinson or Sandy Koufax his prose gleams like the grass at Ebbets Field in October.

Opinionated, rambling, occasionally arbitrary, and always biased by its author’s roots—in other words, everything a baseball book should be.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-15-100441-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2000

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An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

WHY WE SWIM

A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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