Not just sportswriting, but also graceful and gripping cultural history.

READ REVIEW

THE 34-TON BAT

THE STORY OF BASEBALL AS TOLD THROUGH BOBBLEHEADS, CRACKER JACKS, JOCKSTRAPS, EYE BLACK, AND 375 OTHER STRANGE AND UNFORGETTABLE OBJECTS

A veteran writer for Sports Illustrated takes us through baseball’s odd attic, pointing out and narrating the history of the quotidian and the curious.

Few objects escape the notice of Rushin (The Pint Man, 2010, etc.), who invests each not only with the skill of a career sportswriter, but also with the passion of a fan. He begins with some personal history (as a youth he prepared hotdogs at Minnesota Twins’ games) and then proceeds to the most significant object: the baseball. He offers some amusing (and even frightening) tales of players trying to catch balls dropped from great heights, as well as the story of Spalding and the slow move by clubs to let fans keep balls hit into the stands. Rushin then moves on to the story of bats, with Louisville sluggers and metal and the threat of the ash-borer all figuring prominently. He describes early spring training sites and then embarks on an enthusiastic history of the glove, noting that a 1938 X-ray of Lou Gehrig’s glove hand showed 17 breaks. Next come the uniforms and the slow evolution away from flannel (in which players baked for decades) to double-knit pieces. Rushin also relates the history of the baseball cap, noting how its design has spread around the world. He pauses to chat about eye black, the development of headgear for hitters, cups to protect the family jewels and sufficient urinal space in the ballpark (a necessity, he notes, due to the torrents of beer consumed). Owners offered salty food (to increase beer consumption) and then numerous other gimmicks and novelties to brand fans and make megabucks. The author rounds third with stories about ballpark seating and slides home with a return to his own story—with some comments about the construction of the bases themselves.

Not just sportswriting, but also graceful and gripping cultural history.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-316-20093-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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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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