Both a comprehensive and a focused look at how computer-recorded data are fundamentally altering America’s pastime.

READ REVIEW

BIG DATA BASEBALL

MATH, MIRACLES, AND THE END OF A 20-YEAR LOSING STREAK

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writer Sawchik debuts with a celebration of the Pirates’ recent return to glory with the help of some computer all-stars.

As the author notes in his subtitle, the Pirates had been pathetic for more than two decades. But their resurrection began, he writes, when manager Clint Hurdle, who was in danger of losing his job in 2013 after two disappointing seasons, decided to embrace “big data”—the vast amounts of information becoming available about everything from the positioning of infielders to the grips that pitchers use on their fastballs. Sawchik employs several techniques throughout, giving the back stories of the various principals in the drama, clearly explaining the technological advances in the game (Money Ball and beyond), recording the strategies and successes that management employed and enjoyed. We hear about Hurdle, pitcher Francisco Liriano, and catcher Russell Martin. But it’s not just the players. Computer whiz Dan Fox, for example, also gets his due. The story advances as the team—more or less willingly—accepts the necessity of listening to what the data are whispering. Shift infielders from their traditional positions, get pitchers who induce grounders from the hitters, find catchers who “frame” pitches for the umpires, measure the specific skills of outfielders—these and other topics fill most of the text, along with a few accounts of specific moments in games and some playoff game summaries. Sawchik, of course, is a “homer,” so he rarely describes any mutinous mumblings aboard the Pirate ship. At times, the story reads almost like a John R. Tunis baseball book for boys (The Kid from Tomkinsville, etc.): Tunis’ optimism, idealization of character, and overall enthusiasm all are here. Most important is Sawchik’s realization, however, that the diamond will never again be so rough—data-gatherers and -analysts are polishing assiduously.

Both a comprehensive and a focused look at how computer-recorded data are fundamentally altering America’s pastime.

Pub Date: May 19, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-06350-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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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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A broad and deep look at Japan’s medieval referents, and a capable illustration of a martial art form steeped in rich...

PERSIMMON WIND

A MARTIAL ARTIST'S JOURNEY IN JAPAN

A reflective and entertaining journey through Japan, as the author seeks to reconnect with his martial arts sensei.

Lowry is a student of koryu (not to be confused with kendo), a style of Japanese classical swordsmanship. Koryu is a medieval art, like Noh and the tea ceremony, a style of combat born on the battlefield–but more importantly, it’s a way to address the world (though an esoteric one: Lowry may well be the only American practicing the art in the United States). Indeed, present-day practitioners refrain from exercising its fatal possibilities. Lowry’s sensei left the U.S. to return to Japan, urging Lowry to follow. Though his life headed in a different direction, he never forgot his training–when the time was ripe, he journeyed to Japan to join his sensei. The narrative revolves around this pivotal decision, and it provides a warm center from which the author expounds on such topics as the glories of a Japanese bath; the evolution of the Samurai caste; the peculiarities of Japanese landscape architecture; the elements of proper sandal-tying; the custom of the premarital shenanigans called yobai; and the teachings of mikkyo Buddhism. He also includes the vital story of the sword–what it reveals about Japanese life and technology, social structure and aesthetic values, etiquette, apprenticeship and the process of education. Lowry’s seriousness lends an earnest cast to the proceedings, but he’s not without a sense of humor–commenting upon his accomplished slurping of noodles, a friend’s wife notes, “He really sucks!”

A broad and deep look at Japan’s medieval referents, and a capable illustration of a martial art form steeped in rich tradition.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2005

ISBN: 1-890536-10-5

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2010

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