Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

More reading materials

April 5, 2010

Will see if I can remember these all… no promises.

11. Dave Barry’s Money Secrets by, you guessed it, Dave Barry.

Every so often, I get an itch for a good Dave Barry book. They’re lightweight reading, generally a lot of fun, and just pleasant all around. “Money Secrets” can’t hold a candle to “Dave Barry Slept Here”, which is on the short list of books that ALWAYS crack me up. But it’s still a fun book. If you like Dave’s irreverent humor, you’ll dig it.

12. The Card by Michael O’Keefe and Terri Thompson

A confession here: I was a terrific baseball card nerd as a kid. I still have a few cards left over, but fortunately, I left the hobby at least mostly behind. This book talks about a particular card– a 1910 T-206 Honus Wagner card, which is apparently in the best condition of the few such cards in existence. This is the card that people have paid literally millions of dollars for now. The book goes on to look at the massive amounts of fraud and unethical card doctoring which occur in the hobby. The long and short of it is that cards aren’t worth much anymore unless they are professionally graded. But the grading companies appear to be somewhat crooked, and some people get around them. It’s an interesting story if you like to read about baseball cards and/or consumer fraud. If not, just skip on.

13. The Ultimate Book of Sports Movies by Ray Didinger and Glen Macnow.

Just what is says. This book ranks and discusses the top 100 sports movies. Think of your favorites– they’re all here, along with a few you’ve probably forgotten, a few you’ll wish you had forgotten, and a few that sound worth checking out. By way of a complaint, Rudy is WAAAAAY too low at 50-somethingeth. You don’t need to be a sports nerd to enjoy the book– but being a movie nerd probably would help.

14. Bluegrass by William Van Meter

Van Meter’s book is a chronicle of the murder, investigation and associated trial in the Katie Autry killing. Autry, a freshman student at my alma mater of Western Kentucky University, was raped, beaten, and set on fire in her dorm room. The book focuses on Autry and on the two suspects in her murder– Stephen Soules and Lucas Goodrum, one of whom is in prison for life, and one of whom walked free. Van Meter doesn’t unveil any novel theories of the crime, or even point fingers, so much as he raises possibilities, and writes of three young lives that intertwined in a hideous moment. I won’t say I enjoyed it, but it was a careful and thoughtful book, and is one worth reading.

Total Books: 13.7/50 (counting 1st book, which was mostly read in 2009, and two books in progress, mentioned below)
Total Pages:
Last count 3,770
Dave Barry– 240
The Card– 256
Sports Movies– 352
Bluegrass– 240
Two more in progress– one at 140 pages in, the other at 75.
TOTAL: 5,073

Pace needed to meet goals of 50 books/20,000 pages: 12.9 books/5,151 pages.

So there we are: almost a full book ahead, but still about 80 pages behind. One of the two in progress is a nice 600 plus page monster, which should help balance these out.

Stay tuned.

More Readings

March 11, 2010

Finished 9. Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs

I enjoyed the book. Jacobs’s biggest talent is making himself appear as some sort of “just plain folks” normal guy. Truth is, he went to an elite private high school, graduated from an Ivy League University and is the spawn of well-to-do New Englanders. And yet, he manages to paint himself as just a normal guy. Well, a normal guy who reads the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. A good trick.

10. Living on the Black by John Feinstein

Feinstein is an utterly unlikeable human being who happens to write some solid books. He’s most famous for spending a year with a 1980s vintage Bob Knight to produce “A Season on the Brink”. But this time, he spends a year catching up with late career Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina. He provides some interesting insight into the art of pitching. HIS trick was that he actually humanized Glavine to the extent that I felt BAD for him that the mean old Atlanta Braves only wanted to pay him $9 million per year to pitch, instead of the $11 million that he plainly deserved. It was a difficult trick, as I wanted to beat Glavine and Feinstein about the head with this 500+ page book when I figured the trick out. Ah, if only I could’ve pitched. I could’ve had four days to blog in between my starts.

So there we are.
As of yesterday, March 10th (day 69 of the year)
Books: 9.2 (thus resolving the “Magic in the Night” 2009/10 controversy
Page Count: 3,770
Pace needed to meet goals of 50 books/20,000 pages: 9.5 books/3,781 pages

So there we are. ALMOST on proper pace. Dave Barry is next up, so that promises both fun and a quick book (although a low page count).

#39- Committed: Confessions of a Fantasy Football Junkie by Mark St. Amant

December 7, 2009

Mark St. Amant quit his job and seemingly dedicated his life to trying to win his fantasy football league. If you think it sounds crazy, you’d be right. So the truth is that he quit his job to write this book about quitting his job to try to win his fantasy football league. Which is mildly more sane– if only by comparison.

Fantasy football, for the uninitiated, consists of “drafting” real (NFL) football players to imaginary teams. The statistics which said players compile in their actual NFL games are weighed against other players, and the team “owners” or “general managers” gain points for the statistical achievements of their particular players.

As a hobby, it’s slightly less nerdy than fighting each other with plastic light sabres or playing Dungeons & Dragons style fantasy card games.

It is, strangely, incredibly popular. I have been part of various and sundry fantasy football leagues for years. Mostly, they were an excuse for a group of my friends to make fun of each other. St. Amant means business, which is kind of amusing and, admittedly, kind of pathetic.

The book is a fun read, if rather light. I am torn on the end result. Part of me buys in to a live and let live sort of credo– if it makes people happy, no matter how nerdy it is, good for them. The other part of me realizes that if 2% of the energy used on fantasy football was instead diverted to something real and meaningful, the world would be a much better place. Of course, you could say the same thing about reading 50 new books in a year.

Joe

#35– We Would Have Played for Nothing (various)

November 11, 2009

The count for 50 continues, although regular posting has not. Anyway, the good news is that I have several books to list. This book is a second installment in the “Baseball Oral History Project”. I read and reviewed the first, which was called “The Only Game In Town”. In this volume, baseball players from the ’50s and ’60s discuss their game, life and times.

I didn’t find this volume as interesting. As with the first book, the interviewers talked with a handful of stars and minor stars. However, with the ’50s and ’60s, there’s not the same distance from the past. The title of this book aside, baseball players were starting to make insane money by the time of the last players in the book. Once baseball was integrated, which was before these players, it was integrated. Once baseball spread to California, it ceased to be a northeastern game as it had before. Frankly, 1950s and 1960s baseball isn’t THAT horribly different from today. And accordingly, it’s not all that interesting.

I’d much rather read stories about guys who sharpened their spikes to kick people, fought with fans and umpires, couldn’t write their own names, and generally were one step above hit men in the social hierarchy. Unfortunately, most of those guys are dead, but that book was already written… it’s called “The Glory of Their Times”, and I need to read it.

Joe

#32 Rich Tradition by Tom Leach

September 28, 2009

I picked this book up at Kroger, which is something of an oddity for me. Leach, the play-by-play voice of the Wildcats, chronicles the uptick in the fortunes of UK football, as led by Rich Brooks. The book was an interesting review of the last six years (wow, this really is his 7th year) of the life and (usually) hard times of UK football. While Brooks seems destined like Moses to not journey to the promised land of football greatness, he has done a fair job of setting the table for those to follow.

Extra props to Leach for a game-by-game review of all six seasons, including the first three, which I generally spent trying to forget that there was UK football, much less that I cared about it. The book is enjoyable, if a bit expensive for a paperback.

Joe

#31- Meat Market by Bruce Feldman

September 23, 2009

Not a chronicle of slaughterhouses or pornography, this book is about college football recruiting.

Feldman spent a year following Ed Orgeron, then coach of the Ole Miss Rebels, through the gamut of recruiting experiences. We go from Orgeron challenging his players to a fight, to him watching illegal rooster fights, to him recruiting some of the guys who have made Ole Miss a great team over the last two years. Of course, Orgeron didn’t survive to see that happen. Not literally. He’s alive, he’s just a defensive line coach at Tennessee. When his players didn’t deliver overnight, Coach O got canned. Probably best for everybody, as he certainly was not a master strategist or tactitian. That said, Orgeron is/was a tireless recruiter, and a guy who seems to love the thrill of the hunt as much as the victory of the catch.

This was a very interesting book. It chronicled the insane inner working of a college football program, the immaturity of young athletes, and the pressure cooker of SEC football. It told all about a Cajun wildman and his quest for glory, and the bedraggled assistant coaches, who sounded about as confused as I am on a normal day in my work. I liked it, and would recommend this one. It’s a quick read and is rather educational.

Joe

Book #28- The Only Game in Town

August 4, 2009

The Only Game in Town is an oral history of 1930s-1940s baseball, edited by former commissioner Fay Vincent. The book talks with around a dozen players– some great, the other good, about their reminiscences of major league baseball. The high point of the book is unquestionably the chapter about Buck O’Neil. O’Neil, who sadly passed away recently, was a great American. An African-American, deprived of the chance to ever play major league baseball, Buck O’Neil instead spent his life as the great ambassador of the Negro Leagues. He was, as they say, strong enough not to hate. Instead, he was a delight– funny, poignant, always worth listening to, whether on Ken Burns’s excellent “Baseball” series or in this book.

The other players have some good stories as well. Bob Feller talks about his World War II experiences, Dom DiMaggio speaks about living in the shadow of his brother, Joe, and generally, everybody has a Ted Williams story or three.

If you’re a baseball fan, it’s a nice read. If you’re not, search of Buck O’Neil’s autobiography or Joe Posnanski’s “The Soul of Baseball”, a story of his year traveling with and chronicling an aging O’Neil. Those are worth reading for anybody and everybody. It’s beecause they are stories about adversity and life, and baseball sometimes just happens to pop up. On the other hand, this book is mostly about baseball.

Book 26- Bragging Rights by Richard Ernsberger

July 14, 2009

Who would read a nine year old book chronicling a season of SEC football? Well, I would.

Ernsberger, who wrote for Newsweek, decided to chronicle the 1999 SEC football season. He has good stories of gameday atmosphere, recruiting chicanery, boosters manipulating whole universities to try to win another football game or two, and coaches eating, sleeping and drinking football.

Ernsberger’s book does a nice job of chronicling the energy that goes in to making SEC football the best college football in the nation, year in and year out. The 1999 season ended with Alabama winning the SEC championship. After the next season, Mike Dubose, their coach, was fired. It’s up and down and back up again, and it’s a game played by serious players, coaches, and boosters.

I wouldn’t go out of my way to find this book, but if you stumble on it for a couple dollars like I did, you might get some cheap entertainment.

Book #22- God Save the Fan by Will Leitch

June 5, 2009

To summarize– Irreverant discussion of sports and life. Leitch begins with the epic story of how Michael Vick was busy infecting some woman with STDs and meanwhile seeking treatment and testing under the worst pseudonym ever, Ron Mexico. It’s all uphill from there. Leitch hates ESPN, and writes a wonderfully brain numbing column about watching 24 consecutive hours of ESPN programing. Like the documentary filmmaker in “Super Size Me”, the results he elicits are horrifying.

Most instruing to me, Leitch had an incredibly thoughtful chapter about the knee-jerk reaction against athletes who invoke God or Jesus Christ after some sporting triumph. I was never totally comfortable with this myself, but Leitch articulates the issue more clearly than anyone else I’ve read or heard from.

I enjoyed this book, and I like Leitch’s underlying purpose of proving that covering sports shouldn’t be reserved for the deigned credentialled few. And obviously, I dig blogs, so we’re coming from kind of the same place, in that not at all way. The writing was a bit uneven here, but it was consistently funny and amusing. Nice book, and I hope to continue reading Will’s musings.

Joe

Book 18- Hello Everybody, This is Cawood Ledford by Cawood Ledford

May 5, 2009

Sports on the radio is one of those concepts that people either get or they don’t get. I get it. Love it. One of the best things about XM radio is being able to be out on a work trip on a summer afternoon and to dial in baseball from Chicago or New York or L.A. or wherever, and for an inning or two or three, just be able to drink it in. I like radio sports so much I amazed myself by listening to an entire round of golf at The Masters last year. And I don’t even PLAY golf.

Anyway, if there were a Mount Rushmore of radio, and maybe just of people in Kentucky, Cawood Leford would be on it. Cawood managed to be true to his Eastern Kentucky roots, but still exuded class and dignity in his radio work. He spent 39 years calling Kentucky basketball and football, and also took great pleasure in announcing numerous Kentucky Derbies.

His book is a very quick read, thin on his personal life and thick with remembrances of coaches and athletes of days past. There are some interesting moments, such as learning that Louisville tried to steal Cawood away in the early 1970s, or that after an argument with Charlie Bradshaw, Cawood feared that he would be fired from UK radio. Mostly, the book is Cawood’s attempt at putting his years behind the microphone into some sort of overall perspective. Unfortunately, there is little about announcing here. Like the craftsman he was, Cawood gave away few secrets.

An interesting supplement to the book are a couple of notes which Tom Leach, current UK broadcaster, has posted on his web page. These notes are critiques that Cawood sent Leach after he retired, on Leach’s request. The writing is direct and honest, and for every bit of wisdom he provided, it’s funny to note that both Cawood and Leach do exactly what he says to do. This is what is missing in Cawood’s book- a little bit of hints on the technique that made Cawood so fluid.

Anyway, I also should reveal that I met Cawood Ledford in 1998, six years after he retired, and a few years before he died. I was at the Harlan National Guard Armory to hear football coach Hal Mumme speak, and I walked in the door, and there, standing by the hospitality table covered with name tags was Cawood Ledford. I picked up a tag and filled my name in. “This guy,” I said to the lady at the table, “probably doesn’t need a tag.” Cawood smiled at that.

Joe