From the rugby pitch to the baseball diamond, a riveting analysis of greatness in sport.
Following the end of one of the greatest streaks in history, the Connecticut women’s basketball team’s 111 consecutive wins, comes a timely study of what made sports’ most successful teams so dominant. Walker (Fantasyland: A Season on Baseball's Lunatic Fringe, 2006), the founding editor of the Wall Street Journal’s daily sports coverage, admits that what propelled him into “this all-consuming project” was witnessing the “transformation” of the 2004 Boston Red Sox “from a half-assed bunch of jokers to legitimate contenders,” as well as his lifelong “ache to be part of a great team.” Diligently establishing the parameters of what sports he would and would not consider and the objective criteria used to analyze a team’s success, Walker arrived at a short list of “the top 10 percent of the top 1 percent of teams” from across the globe since the 1880s. In this illustrious company, the author includes recognizable groups such as the 1949-1953 New York Yankees, the only team in history to win the World Series five consecutive times, but also some unknown to U.S. readers—e.g., Espectaculares Morenas del Caribe (1991-2000) from Cuba, who won “every major women’s international volleyball tournament for ten straight years.” Though having had no expectation of finding a common denominator when he began scrutinizing what enabled these disparate paragons of victory to dominate their respective sports, Walker reached an intriguing conclusion: “the most crucial ingredient in a team that achieves and sustains historic greatness is the character of the player who leads it”—not the coach, the management, a franchise’s wealth, or overall talent. Combining statistics with epic stories from the playing field, Walker compellingly makes his case that captains possessing traits not usually assumed as shared among leaders are what make empires.
A fascinating sports study with much wider-reaching application, featuring page-turning tales of personal triumph and cogent analysis.