Tag Archives: sports books

Where Nobody Knows Your Name

Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball by John Feinstein (Anchor, $16.95, 384 pages)

where nobody knows your name

AAA: Where baseball and purgatory collide…

John Feinstein, known for his many appearances on ESPN’s The Sports Reporters, has authored 24 books.  He is most noted for his debut A Season on the Brink: Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers and his books on golf (most notably, A Good Walk Spoiled).  His latest, Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball, is simply excellent.

Many have attempted to write about baseball, but as much as the sport lends itself to great writing, truly capturing the essence of the game is a far from easy thing to accomplish.  Roger Angell and Thomas Boswell are probably the best of the lot, and there are others that have done quite well.  Feinstein’s latest is not only a must for baseball fans, it’s well worth the time of any sports fan.

Triple A baseball is the top level of the minor leagues.  The goal for most players is to make it to AA ball because then the organization you play for thinks you have a chance to play in the big leagues.  Most of the players in AA are young up and comers.  Once a player is elevated to that level, they set their sights on the major leagues – or what is commonly referred to as “the show.”  The next level, AAA, becomes a place for additional seasoning of top prospects or a holding ground for more experienced players (who may be called up at any time).  Some players who are shuttled back and forth are labeled “4A” players; too good for AAA but not good enough for major league play.

The players at the AAA level have dreamed the dream from their early childhood on.  They’ve worked extremely hard, have often endured setbacks, and are just an eyelash away from the ultimate prize: playing in big league stadium parks.

In Where Nobody Knows Your Name, Feinstein follows the plight of several AAA characters throughout the 2012 season.  He successfully hits on all the little things — the letter inviting a player to either a big league or minor league camp for spring training; the deadlines when players learn of their fate; the tragedy of players who have been to the “bigs” but get sent back to the minors; and the dreaded or hoped for calls to the manager’s office (almost always signifying bad news, but sometimes good).  The young ballplayers are quite human, but they are often treated like objects.

While many players and managers are profiled, the major characters in this book are Scott Elarton, Ron Johnson, Jon Lindsey, Mark Lollo, Charlie Montoyo, Scott Podesdnik, Chris Schwinden, and Brett Tomko.  Along the way Feinstein tells of the endless travel, the ridiculous promotions, front office personnel, announcers, and the players’ families. He also touches on the umpires and groundskeepers, who have their own dreams of being promoted to the bigs.

As for the primary characters, Elarton went 17-7 with the Astros in 2000, but finished with a record under .500 in his 10-year major league career.  Johnson was a career minor league manager.  Lindsey was drafted by the Rockies in 1995.  Although he was a big hitter in the minors, he managed just one brief stint in the majors.  Lindsey was called up by the Dodgers at the age of 33, going one for 12 in 11 big league games.  Lollo dreamed of umpiring in the major leagues.

McLouth, an outfielder, showed promise early on in his career with the Pirates, was traded to Atlanta where he gradually lost his hitting touch, and had begun to fight his way back.  Montoyo was another career minor league manager.  Though not a power hitter, Podsednik, also an outfielder, hit a big home run in the 2005 World Series for the victorious White Sox.  A player with speed, Podsednik’s career was shortened by a rash of injuries.

Schwinden was a pitcher who fought for eight years to get to the majors.  Tomko, who won exactly 100 major league games – but had not thrown a pitch since the 2009 season, fights to throw another pitch in the bigs at the age of 39.  Elarton, Schwinden, and Tomko never make it back to the majors.  The same is true for Johnson, Lollo, and Montoyo.

Podsednik was called up by the Red Sox in 2012 and hit .302 but was released at the end of the year.  He was 36 and never played in the big leagues again.  McLouth was called up by Baltimore and played in the post-season.  His final big league season was 2014, during which he appeared in 79 games for Washington.

All of these individuals have a story, and Feinstein tells them in a masterful fashion.  What resonates is a love of the game felt by each of these individuals.  Each is grateful for what they have, while finding it hard to let go of the game that defined their existence.

nobody knows your name 2

None of the characters in this account decide to voluntarily walk away from baseball.  They each fight to the end, knowing the odds of success fall between slim and none.  Why?  Feinstein answers that for readers when he concludes the book with a quote from Jim Bouton’s memoir Ball Four:  “You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

A copy of this book was provided to the reviewer.

Dave Moyer is an educator and the author of a story about baseball, love, and Bob Dylan: Life and Life Only: A Novel.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

There Used to Be a Ballpark

The Closer Amazon

The Closer: A Baseball Love Story by Alan Mindell (Sunberry Press, $14.95, 188 pages)

Alan Mindell’s debut novel mostly satisfies.

Knuckleballer Terry Landers makes his improbable major league debut in his 30’s after toiling in the minors for 15 seasons when Oakland manager Rick Gonzalez arranges for a trade. Landers was on the verge of being released by the Phillies organization, but with the proper tender loving care from Gonzalez, he takes over the closer role and becomes an integral part of an unlikely playoff run.

Muscular superstar left fielder Elston Murdoch, in his contract year leading to free agency, perseveres through the personal turmoil of a drug-addled daughter to miraculously fall one game short of tying Joe DiMaggio’s record 56-game hitting streak.

Terry and Murdoch, as they are called throughout the novel, form a bond and support each other through Murdoch’s improbable search for his daughter and Terry’s burgeoning romance with single mom, Lauren.

Though told in third person, the book reads as if it is told through Terry. In a line near the end of the story Terry thinks, “Five months. Is that all the time that has passed? It seems more like five years.” That line came shortly after I was thinking to myself, “Man, a lot has happened in three months.”

Five months span 184 pages, and there are some spots where things feel a little rushed. Though there are times that more character or plot development is warranted, Mindell is best when he gets inside the head of Terry, who – like all players at one point or another – is at the crossroads of the end of his career and the rest of his life.

A few unusual events test the reader’s patience. For example, baseball managers don’t really run through the streets of impoverished urban areas to monitor the movements of their star players.

the closer back side

The Closer is one of those hokey baseball books with a happy ending, and as we baseball fans are desperately holding on to the end of one more long but all-too-short season, there are a lot worse ways to pass the time.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the author.

Dave Moyer is an education administrator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

On The Dunes

Loopers (nook book)

Caddyshack

Loopers: A Caddie’s Twenty-Year Golf Odyssey by John Dunn (Broadway Books, $15.00, 279 pages)

He dug into his golf bag, pulled out a little rolled-up zip-lock sandwich bag, and handed it to me. Then he pulled out a pair of glow-in-the-dark golf balls and four fresh light sticks. I opened the ziplock bag and peered inside. It contained two big, perfectly formed magic mushrooms – powdery white with purple veins running down the stems. Carlo smiled. “Psychedelic night golf!”

I had hoped that this book would provide some interesting and inspirational insights into the maddening and fascinating sport of golf. I had found such insights in two earlier published books, Paper Tiger: An Obsessed Golfer’s Quest to Play with the Pros by Tom Coyne, and Moment of Glory: The Year Underdogs Ruled Golf by John Feinstein. Unfortunately, John Dunn’s work falls quite a bit short of the standard set by Coyne and Feinstein. (He fails to make par.)

Loopers is basically a lightweight diversion by a man who seems to have never matured. And instead of being a tribute to the traditional game of golf, Dunn tries to convince the reader that strange and amateur variations of the sport are to be admired. Believe it or not, he advocates the virtues of golfing, alone, in the overly heated deserts of Utah and Nevada, and of playing golf at night while high on alcohol and drugs. You might think he’s joking but he’s not: “…backcountry golf and mushroom night golf are as true to the nature of the game as any stuffy country club championship.” Nonsense. (The statement sounds dumb and dumber.)

Dunn has apparently read a bit too much of Hunter S. Thompson (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) – who appears to be one of his key role models, and he loves to use the word psychedelic. He does tell a few interesting tales based on his work as a caddie all over the United States but they simply do not go anywhere. The book has no theme, no structure, and no “feel”. And yet it’s Dunn who writes: “This is the part of the game (of golf) that is hard for nongolfers to see. You have to play it to feel it.”

Far better to spend one’s time tackling the classic and challenging game of golf than attempting to read this confused collection of meandering, trippy stories.

Joseph Arellano

A complimentary copy of this book was received in exchange for an honest review from Blogging for Books ( http://www.bloggingforbooks.org/ ).

You can read reviews of the books by Tom Coyne and John Feinstein here:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2010/08/02/the-ragged-tiger/

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2010/06/18/glorious-golf/

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

I Am… I Said

One Last Strike: 50 Years in Baseball, 10 and a Half Games Back, and One Final Championship Season by Tony La Russa (William Morrow Paperbacks, $15.99, 432 pages)

Tony La Russa’s One Last Strike chronicles his final season as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals — a season in which the team came back from a large deficit, overcoming injuries and other adversity, to make the playoffs as a wild card team and eventually win the World Series.

Cardinals fans will likely enjoy the book a great deal, and some baseball fans at large might find the book interesting, but other baseball fans, sports fans, or general readers may not be so keen on it.

La Russa’s writing is as icy as his personality, and although he does not come across as stoic as one might have expected, the writing does not require the reader to make any connection to the quest or comeback of the team or the swan song of one of baseball’s most successful managers, or the players who played for him.

One Last Strike (close up)

La Russa had a chance to perhaps sway some in the middle who are neither lovers nor haters of his career and methods, but he really doesn’t do anything to engage anybody who already didn’t either a) like the Cardinals, or b) like him prior to the unlikely championship season.

Putting aside some minor irritants such as the continuous referrals to Cris Carpenter and Dave Duncan as Carp and Dunc (I mean, if you are on a team and that’s what they go by, I guess that’s what you call them), the writing seems to truly mirror the way the author’s mind processes the world.

If La Russa is the genius who all but invented the game, then it would seem that this final goodbye might include a bit more of the baseball decisions and technicalities that were part of his final run. Since the book doesn’t go there, it would seem appropriate to focus on the relationships of players, managers, and families that comprised this winning club. La Russa’s attempt at this is to convince us that this is so — that he and Dunc are tight; Carp is a big game pitcher; he sticks up for his players; he cares about them, the local organization, and the game, etc. Less telling and more showing would go a long way to help the reader who didn’t already follow this team be drawn into the storyline and the characters who made it happen.

La Russa’s attempt to explain how he is the sole arbiter of which hitters deserve to get thrown in a baseball game and which ones don’t, only reinforces that he is the “Omniscient” manager — it does not convince anyone that he has the scoop on proper baseball protocol. His telling of why he chose to start certain pitchers leading up to an in the World Series is much more enlightening. His admission of a mistake in a big game is humanizing and honest. But on the whole, the book is just there. It doesn’t move anybody in any direction unless they just happen to want to enjoy and relive the unique and fine 2011 World Series.

Recommended.

Dave Moyer

This book was purchased for the reviewer. Dave Moyer is an educator, a musician and the author of Life and Life Only, a novel about baseball and Bob Dylan.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Coming Up Next…

We release Santa’s list of books that are perfect for gift giving!Santa's reindeer

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

My Book Review Rules

I first posted my Lucky 13 book review rules and policies on July 31, 2009.   I am now reposting them with a few revisions and applicable updates.

The Lucky 13 Rules

1.   I am interested in receiving review copies on most subjects but especially biographies and memoirs; music; poetry; sports; science fiction; business books; nonfiction survery books; inspirational books (but not directly tied to religion); popular fiction; crime dramas; mysteries and suspense thrillers; family novels; Young Adult (YA) novels; children’s books and stories involving animals.

2.   I am not interested in vampire or zombie books; conspiracy theory books; political tracts; books promoting racism or hatred; books laden with philosophy or religion (been there, done that); overly simplistic self-help books (of which there are many); or books in which the author says the same thing on every page!

3.   If the reference to popular fiction was too vague, let me be clear:  yes, I will and have read “chick lit” (distinct from bodice rippers or old-fashioned romance) books.

4.   Whenever possible, I like to receive early stage review copies – paper bound galleys or ARCs, even if they are subject to final review, editing and corrections.   No one wants to write the last review of a new book.

5.   Yes, I do want to review books that are being re-released in paperback – especially in trade paperback form.   In this economy, paperbacks are often the only books on the radar screen of economy-minded readers.

6.   I finish around 80 percent of the books I start, but if I can’t finish it – meaning that attempting to do so is  more painful than dental work, I’m not writing the review.

7.   I’m a speed reader but it nevertheless takes me forever to read pages that have not been editing by someone in the world!

8.   Send an e-mail to me at Josephsreviews@gmail.com if you want to know if I’d like a copy of your book.   My receipt of your book does not equate with an automatic positive review (I simply try to be honest) nor a guarantee that I can or will finish it.   Again, I cannot guarantee that I will post a review of your book because you have sent it to me.   Also, please do not send me follow-up e-mails asking when I will be reading/reviewing your book.

9.   Some authors want me to not only review their book but to include a link to their website, or their Twitter account or other online address.   Sorry, I don’t do that.   Readers who have seen my review(s) and are interested in more information on an author can do a Google search.

10.  I do not read/review digital or e-books or pdf files.   (I have nothing against technology, it’s simply a matter of eye strain.)

11.  I love audiobooks on CDs, so if your book is available in this format and you or your publisher can supply me with an audiobook copy, it’s a big plus.

12.  Publishers, if you send me a book, please do include a P. R. sheet with some background information on the book and the contact information for the assigned in-house publicist or contact P. R. staff person.   If I post a review, I will be sure to let the contact know when it is posted.

13.  New authors – especially of nonfiction or self-published books, please have an experienced editor vet your work before submitting it for review.

That’s it.   Good reading to all!

Joseph Arellano

Note:   Some self-published books are reviewed on this site, although they remain the exception to the rule.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Easy as 1-2-3

Reviewing the Nonfiction Book (as simple as 1-2-3)

The typical nonfiction book is going to deal with either history, or sports, or functions as a survey book.   The term survey book refers to one that covers a field in a technical and sometimes textbook-like fashion.   In most cases, survey book authors who seek to appeal to a broad audience will keep their language as non-technical as possible, but there are exceptions.

The reader or reviewer encountering a survey book may want to consider at least three questions in judging its success.   The first is, “Does this book tell me anything I do not already know?”   We may enjoy learning new things, but the typical reader selects a survey book touching on a subject that he/she knows something about (and, in some cases, a lot about).

Let’s say, hypothetically, that all during my life I have been extremely fascinated by the Edsel automobile.   I’ve read every newspaper article about the car, every car magazine article I can find, and everything I can find on the web.   Now let’s presume that one Joseph Von Schmoewinkle has released a book entitled, The Absolutely, Definitely, Complete Edsel Book.   If everything in the book repeats things I’ve read, I am going to be disappointed.   Very, very disappointed.   This is when a reviewer says – quite fairly – that this book could have been put together by a college student.   For such is not writing, it’s compiling.

The second question is, “Are the items covered in the survey book actually related to each other?”   The authors of survey books tend to view themselves as Big Picture figures.   They want to cover many developments on the subject at hand, past and present, and tell you that they’re all somehow related.   Except that sometimes they are not.   I refer to this as the “Connections” virus.

Some of you may remember the “Connections” show on public television in which the viewer was told that virtually everything was related (no matter how tenuously) to everything else.   In this series, if a kindergartener missed school one day it was somehow connected to Man’s successful landing on the moon.

Yes, it was entertaining.   The only problem being that life is not like this…  At least not usually.

If you find yourself reading a book that makes such outlandish stretches, you will likely find yourself shaking your head as if to say, “Not likely.”

The third question is, “Did this book make me think about the subject in a new way?”   Some people call this the “a-ha” phenomenon.   A really good survey book will cause you to re-think how you think about things.   When you do, it will seem perfectly logical, but only the very best nonfiction writers are able to get you to that destination.

If you read a very good nonfiction book and you experience just one, two or three “a-ha” moments, you will know that your money has been well spent.   The reviewer who experiences those moments before you do will, no doubt, recommend the book without reservation.

This article is the third in a continuing series.   Note:  The comments about the Edsel survey book in this article do not refer to the actual nonfiction book Disaster in Dearborn: The Story of the Edsel, which sounds  like an interesting read.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Number 9

The book Roger Maris: Baseball’s Reluctant Hero was released on March 16, 2010.   Here is an excerpt from this book written by Tom Clavin and Danny Peary (Touchstone, $26.99, 432 pages).

October 1, 1961

The savviest photographers got the two money shots.   The first, taken from behind and near the Yankee dugout, was of Roger Maris making solid contact over the plate on a 2-0 fastball by Tracy Stallard.   The left-handed pull hitter is exhibiting his much praised swing with extended bat and arms parallel to the ground, his left hand turning over, his right leg straight and left leg flexed, his right foot pointing toward third base and his left one perpendicular to the ground, his muscles in his face, neck, and upper arms tense, and his hips rotating.

The second picture, taken from the front, was of Maris, one breath later.   With, surprisingly, still-seated fans behind him, he is completing his pivot, releasing the bat with his left hand, and watching with hopeful eyes the flight of his historic home run into Yankee Stadium’s parked right-field stands.   But even the award winners among them missed something quite extraordinary that took place seconds later.   Fortunately, one of the greatest, if most neglected, visual metaphors in sports history would be preserved on celluloid.

Having completed what his bedridden Yankee teammate Mickey Mantle always called the “greatest sports feat I ever saw,” the new single-season home run champion dropped his bat and ran down the baseline.   He rounded first at the same time nineteen-year-old Sal Durante held up the 61st home run ball in his right hand; another ecstatic young male fan leaped into the field; and the clearly dejected Red Sox pitcher concocted an upbeat postgame response to the media (“I’ll now make some money on the banquet circuit!”).

As he neared second base, Maris suddenly escaped dark shadows and moved into the bright, warm sunlight.   Just like that, he had finally found a slice of heaven after a long season he’d sum up as “sheer hell.”   In Roger Maris’s version of hell, he was the prey in a daily media feeding frenzy, lost his privacy, shed some hair, received hate mail by the bundle, experienced vicious heckling from even home fans, and having arrived in New York from Kansas City only twenty-two months before, was treated by the Yankees organization like an outsider, an ugly duckling in a pond of swans.   His blow on the last day of the season was a telling response to all that nonsense.

Maris ran as he always did after a home run – head down and at a measured pace, exhibiting nothing offensively ostentatious or celebratory, nothing to indicate he was circling the bases one time more in a season than anyone else in history.   He was pounded on the back by joyous third-base coach Frank Crosetti as he came down the homestretch.   Crossing home plate, he was greeted by on-deck batter Yogi Berra, then bat boy Frank Prudenti, and, finally, the anonymous Zelig-like fan.   Then he made his way into the dugout – at least he tried to.   Several Yankees formed a barricade and turned Maris around and pushed him upward so he could acknowledge the standing ovation.

He reluctantly inched back up the steps, stretching his neck as if he were a turtle warily emerging from its shell.   He dutifully waved his cap and gave his teammates a pleading look, hoping they would agree that he had been out there too long already.   They urged him to stay put and allow the fans to shower him with the adulation that had been missing all year.   So he waved his hat some more and smiled sheepishly.

The television camera zoomed in, and everyone could see that during his sunlit jaunt around the bases, he had, amazingly, been transformed.   With the burden of unreasonable expectations suddenly lifted and the knowledge that not one more dopey reporter would ask, “Are you going to break Babe Ruth’s record, Rog?”  the strain in his face and haunted look in his eyes had vanished.   He no longer looked double his twenty-seven years and on the verge of a meltdown.

Baseball fans would, in their mind’s eye, freeze-frame forever this image of the young, cheery innocent with the trademark blond crew cut who had just claimed sports’ most revered record.   For that one moment Maris believed all the bad stuff was behind him.   For that one brief moment, he felt free.   In reality, it was the calm before an even more vicious storm…

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Notre Dame Resurrected

Resurrection: The Miracle Season That Saved Notre Dame by Jim Dent

“Parseghian had taught them how to win.   All Notre Dame needed was someone to remind them of just how great they could be.”

Resurrection covers the 1964 “miracle season” for Notre Dame football, during which the new non-Catholic coach Ara Parseghian steered them to a share of the national championship.   This was also the year that the so-called “Touchdown Jesus” mural appeared on a building adjoining the football stadium.   It was the beginning of the Era of Ara.

Jim Dent provides us with what initially appears to be a fine overview of a team’s season in college football.   It’s more interesting than most such accounts, as he focuses on a handful of players who were unable to play for the Fighting Irish prior to ’64 due to suspensions, injuries or personality conflicts with the former head coach.   It gives the feeling of a real-life Bad News Bears aspect that’s entertaining.

This was a season in which the Irish lost only their final game, played at USC.   Dent seems to obsess about this “heartbreaking loss…” during which “Notre Dame was defeated by a far inferior team.”   He spends far too many pages claiming that the game was stolen by the referees, although Parseghian himself said: “I am not going to blame the officials.”

The ND-USC game in question occurred over 45 years ago.   Let it be.

Thomas Dunne Books, $25.99, 306 pages

Reprinted courtesy of San Francisco Book Review

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized