Veteran Presence Book Club I


(Originally posted 09/06/08. One update is that I did get around to reading Crazy ’08 and it is amazing. Ed might have read Next Man Up and you can never laugh too much at the Ravens or realize how How To Get Away With Murder should be about Ray Lewis’ live. – Rippa)

ED: We are old. Getting back into the swing of things without PEDS!!! is tough on us, so we’re going the easy route – recapping the best of the sport books we’ve read over the past couple of years. As you can see, I’m heavier on baseball books, while Phil’s heavier on the football side.

PR: We will do this a couple of more times too since I will probably torture myself and read the Tiki Barber and Michael Strahan bios. Clearly we will read anything too since I am probably the only person in America who read that Rich Eisen book. (Or as you will see in Vol. II – the Deadspin book.)

PR: Oh and we can all laugh as I try to link all these things to Amazon. Poor poor HTML.

 BC1The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game – Michael Lewis

ED: This is the Michael Lewis who is hated in baseball circles not the KR for the 49ers. Phil is the one who pimped this to me and we both essentially read this at the same time…like 2 years ago or something. Phil explained it to me as a story about left tackles, which of course left me pantsless. LEFT TACKLES REPRESENT!!!! Sadly, despite the Penthouse Letters premise that I envisioned/dreamed of, this was for the most part a feel good story about Michael Oher – a man whom we can all picture as a NFL flop. Obviously, he will end up playing right guard for the Raiders. Stupid Robert Gallery. Skip the Oher stuff and get to the other stuff about Bill Walsh developing the Left Tackle position. Recommended to check out of a library.

PR: The book starts of amazingly as the first chapter is dedicated to Lawrence Taylor crippling Joe Theisman and how scared Walsh was of LT. There is also a chapter on Jonathan Ogden that is great. Its more a fault of the way Lewis organized the book that Ogden’s chapter is almost an after thought as you have to trek your way through a ton of “Will this be the chapter that Lenny… err… Oher crushes a mouse?” The book – or at least the Oher stuff – is being made into a movie, directed by the guy who did the Alamo and the Rookie (the Dennis Quaid version, not the Charlie Sheen one). Ed also told me that Oher has declared for the NFL Draft. So I guess he will be calling Jeremy Brown to commiserate sooner rather than later.

ED: In my defense, I do not know if Oher is coming out or not. I just assumed that he would and would become a failed Raider.

PR: Okay – so Oher never declared for the draft. We are idiots… in case you forgot.

BC2Fantasy Land: A Season on Baseball’s Lunatic Fringe – Sam Walker

ED: I pimped this to Phil because I loved it a whole heap. Mostly, because I could see myself being that bat-crazy about a fantasy league team in my past…if I had the money and connections. Phil was cooler on it than me but we both ended up loving the author taking a hot chick to the draft with him just to distract stat nerds. I highly recommend it as an easy and fun read. Phil, probably not so much. Recommended to buy in soft cover.

PR: I’m overly sensitive to fantasy nerds… well I should clarify, fantasy nerds who just started playing who act like fantasy sports are the newest thing in the world and they HAVE UNLOCKED THE SECRET!!! I also hated parts for irrational reasons – the huge one being my irrational fantasy hate of Jacque Jones who Walker basically makes out with because Jones was nice to him in the locker room. Another flaw of the book is that you clearly can see that Walker is just doing goofy things so he has something to pad his book with. Though Troy Percival telling Walker to go F himself still makes me giggle. (And yes, I keep calling Percival Bryan Harvey for no good reason.)

BC3Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power, and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball – Howard Bryant

ED: This book flew incredibly under the radar while the Bonds hate was just bubbling and the Canseco charges were just coming out and I can’t understand why this is not pimped more. Every possible reason for the 90’s baseball offensive boom is explored – Questek, steroids, small parks, expansion, Fox’s apparent ADD w/r/t baseball, etc. Honestly, if you just want to read one book about ‘roids and the 90’s offensive explosion, this is it. And really, there may be nothing better written than the sections about the Questek bamboozle. Million billion stars.

BC4Juiced : Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big – Jose Canseco
Juicy: Confessions of a Former Baseball Wife – Jessica Canseco

ED: Oh, sweet bookstore bargain bins. I am certain I got these
both for like $5 combined. Everyone remember when Jose’s book came out and everyone pretended it was all lies? Oh, sweet naivety. Yeah, well neither of these books are what you would call good. But let’s face it, would you rather read a Mitch Albom book? Yeah, didn’t think so. Jose’s was surprisingly fun and it has all the dirt you could possibly expect. Jessica’s? Well, I’ll save you the time and let you know that Jose likes steroids and enjoys looking at himself while he’s…umm…hitting a homer. There. Now you can skip Jessica’s book. Pick Jose’s book up at the library and have a couple of hours of mindless fun.BC5

PR: I will admit I could have gotten Juiced for basically pennies at work but I really really really am tired of Jose Canseco. Instead I ended up just buying like 5 more Backyardigans DVDs for my son.

PR: OH!!! And FYI. If you ever have to search for the cover of Juicy, make sure your Google safe search is on. Whole lotta naked Jessica Canseco pictures. Now, I understand why A-Rod couldn’t control himself.

BC6The Bad Guys Won! A Season of Brawling, Boozing, Bimbo-chasing, and Championship Baseball with Straw, Doc, Mookie, Nails, The Kid, and the Rest of the 1986 Mets, the Rowdiest Team Ever to Put on a New York Uniform – and Maybe the Best – Jeff Pearlman

ED: Yes, that’s the fricking title. As a caveat, Pearlman is the guy who wrote that Sports Illustrated destruction piece on John Rocker a few years back. And Jeff Pearlman likes to be excessively cute when he writes. (Like we are people who can throw stones about that, I guess.) So you have been warned. That said; this is about the 86 Mets. I mean, it’s the 86 frickin’ Mets people. You know you wanna read this. Recommended to buy in soft cover.

BC7A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood’s Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports – Brad Snyder

ED: I’ll be honest with you; I basically paid no attention to high school government class so the workings of the Supreme Court were something I knew absolutely nothing about. Now, baseball I know. This intertwines the story of Curt Flood fighting MLB over the reserve clause and the workings of the legal system as the case advanced all the way to the highest court in the land. Oh yeah, and there’s a ton of Bowie Kuhn buffoonery in here too. If you love the legal stuff, this is up your alley. If you fear any sort of Latin phrase as I do, there’s enough baseball and Curt Flood life story to keep your attention. In short, Marvin Miller is a saint, Kuhn was a moron, Flood was a martyr and the Supreme Court was/is littered with ninny baseball fanboys…if’n you buy the story. Recommended to check out of a library.

BC8Scout’s Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team – Bill Shanks
Built to Win: Inside Stories and Leadership Strategies from Baseball’s Winningest GM – John Schuerholz and Larry Guest


ED: GRRR. The only book that has possibly been misread more than the Bible is Moneyball, apparently. And apparently no one in the Braves organization actually read Moneyball all the way through. I’ll be honest with you; I skimmed hard through both of these since I am old and have to watch the blood pressure and since none of these morons got the point of Moneyball other than Billy Beane should never have written that book. Since I can’t work blue, I’m just gonna tell you to avoid and move along. Stupid frickin’ Braves.

BC10Crazy ’08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads, and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History – Cait Murphy
Red Legs and Black Sox: Edd Roush and the Untold Story of the 1919 World Series – Susan Dellinger

ED: Baseball books written by women are as common as Pakistani hockey players. Before these two, I honestly can’t recall actually ever reading a baseball book written by a woman and they did just fine. I’ll also be honest with you here and let you in on the fact that I really have only the vaguest interest and knowledge of pre-WW II baseball, since seemingly every player was named Chief or Red or Irish or Dutch or some variation of their physical abnormality and my mind is too simple to keep them all straight. All that said, these are fine books. Murphy destroys all monsters covering the 1908 season and the strangeness involved with the pennant race and Merkle’s Boner and for the first time in possibly ever, I actually had an interest in a story about pre-WW I baseball (not having anything to do with Cobb and Ruth, I guess). Honestly, this was a tremendous book and it’s no shock that the SABR guys are jealous of her work – well, the fact that she’s talented and a woman probably being the biggest reasons, of course (I am certain she gets tired of having her hair pulled at the SABR conventions). Dellinger is the granddaughter of Edd Roush andBC11 she gets heel heat for the book for writing it in novel form. Which worked mostly fine by me, but I can understand the beef. The big revelation by Dellinger here is that the Reds possibly threw games in the 1919 WS too, which I had heard whispered but never even quasi-confirmed. So yeah, check these both out.

PR: I bought Crazy ’08 in paperback based on Ed’s review alone. Still haven’t read it but I am excited. I also discovered that the book has its own website – HEY! so does Red Legs and Black Sox –

The Pride and the Pressure: A Season Inside the New York Yankee Fishbowl – Michael Morrissey

BC12ED: Another bargain bin bonanza. Yeah, nothing really to see here other than Joe Torre’s hatred of ESPN and Carl Pavano and Hideki Matsui’s massive porn collection. Avoid. At. All. Costs.

PR: I could have told you that and I’m the Yankees fan. Of course, anything written by someone from the New York Post makes my Spidey Sense go off.


BC13The Gashouse Gang: How Dizzy Dean, Leo Durocher, Branch Rickey, Pepper Martin, and Their Colorful, Come-from-Behind Ball Club Won the World Series–and America’s Heart–During the Great Depression – John Heidenry

ED: I admit to having a weird interest in the Gashouse Gang Cardinals of the 40’s and was looking forward to this. Sadly, this was dull and uninspired and…god, if you can make the Dean brothers dull, you really-really-really suck. Recommended to avoid.

The Echoing Green: The Untold Story of Bobby Thomson, Ralph Branca and the Shot Heard Round the World – Joshua Prager

BC14ED: If you read far too many baseball books like me, you have bought into the sucker punch of reading a Roger Kahn book. And if you have, you know the hate that fills you when you go in looking for stories about baseball and beer and broads only to find a guy far too self-interested into making his story all literary. (Let’s just get it out into the open – The Boys of Summer sucked and you know it.) Prager walks the fine line into that hoity-toity Kahn territory, only managing to make you want to punch yourself in the face…occassionally. This is THE story about the 1951 season – the Dodger collapse, the Giants stealing signs and of course the Bobby Thomson home run. Sure, Prager overwrites throughout, but he lets the story tell itself, both up to the Thomson homer and the Ralph Branca bitterness that followed afterwards. Recommended to check out of a library.

BC15No More Mr. Nice Guy: A Life of Hardball – Dick Williams and Bill Plaschke

ED: Speaking of bitterness…mmmm. This may be the Ulysses of baseball bitterness. Long out of print but a lucky $1 flea market find this was the greatest spill of bitterness ever recorded. And the back cover picture of Plaschke only adds to the overall tremendousness. If you can find this; rob, cheat and steal to get the money to buy this. Million billion stars.

1927273Reggie: The Autobiography – Reggie Jackson and Mike Lupica

ED: Oh, sweet flea market finds. Oh, this is not any kind of a good book, mind you. And it was written in the mid-80’s so Reggie still had some bitterness to accumulate yet. But come on, just the thought of Reggie Jackson and Mike Lupica sitting in a room talking about themselves…mmmm. Best 50 cents I ever spent.

PR: Wow – that must have been one giant football stadium to get their two egos into the same building. Oh, this book is long out of print. You could order it from Alibris and wait 9 years for it to show up.

BC16Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig – Jonathan Eig
Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season – Jonathan Eig

ED: Ages ago, I read Ray Robinson’s bio on Gehrig and thought
– “Wow! Too bad this is so short! Someone really needs to write an in-depth Gehrig bio.” Sadly, the reason no one really wrote an in-depth Gehrig bio is discovered by Eig – Gehrig’s life, despite the famous ending is…well…pretty fricking dull. You want excitement seek out the Babe or Cobb. Gehrig was no Ruth or Cobb. So I gave Eig a pass since, you know, maybe it was the topic matter. But he follows that up with the Jackie Robinson book that is equally dull – despite the fact that Robinson’s story HAS to be infinitely more interesting. And honestly, I am certain it’s more Eig’s inability to tell an interesting story than anything else. If you want a Gehrig bio, pick up the Ray Robinson number. If you want a better back story on Robinson breaking in BC17with the Dodgers, pick up Nice Guy’s Finish Last – it may be fantasy but at least Dorucher was interesting.

PR: Eig did a book signing for Opening Day at my store and it was like a perfect storm since it was the Saturday in April that was the MLB Jackie Robinson day dealie. So we had a ton of people interested in his book. Of course, he also brought like 59 family members and they were all demanding food from the cafe. There is your retail insider moment… unless of course we somehow start reviewing a Rev. Run album.

BC18Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero – Leigh Montville
The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth – Leigh Montville

ED: Yeah, speaking of let downs. You’re writing a book on BC19Babe Ruth. Babe Fricking Ruth. The man was a treasure trove of great stories. And you mail it in? What? How the …WHAT? BAH!!! Avoid Montville’s Ruth bio and pick up Robert Creamer’s Babe: The Legend Comes to Life instead. And of course, the let down of Montville’s Ruth bio is magnified by the fact that his earlier bio of Ted Williams is so fricking great. This is the definitive Williams book – surpassing even the sublime Ed Linn number – that covers the entirety of Williams’ life and the strangeness of his frozen after life. So yeah, pick this up and avoid his Ruth snorefest. Come on, you know you want to giggle at John Henry Williams as much as I do.

BC20War Without Death: A Year of Extreme Competition in Pro Football – Mark Maske

PR: I am giant NFC East dork (product of being a Giants fan) and Maske spends a year following all 4 teams. Being the Washington Post’s beat reporter for the Skins, Maske’s hatred of Dan Snyder is right out there for all of us to giggle out. But, in truth, much like current New York Knicks reporters, as much as they complain about James Dolan and Isiah Thomas, they don’t want them going anywhere because of the unlimited material. Maske is the same way with Snyder. Plus, the Terrell Owens stuff is good – you get a good background of his departure from the Eagles and his joining the Cowboys. Maske hates on Tom Coughlin just like everyone else but for a real insight into the ’06 G-Men you will want to read the next book. The book tilts towards the Skins and Boys more than the Eagles and Giants but that is probably more a product of the easy access Maske was provided. This is newly out in paperback.

BC21The GM: The Inside Story of a Dream Job and the Nightmares that Go With It – Tom Callahan

PR: Callahan is the author of the very well received Johnny Unitas book who ended up writing this book solely because he was close friends with Ernie Acorsi. Most Giant fans who aren’t blind homers will get angrier with the franchise than they normally are as you get the confirmation that Acorsi was battier than you could have imagined (basically the Eli Manning trade could have been far far worse and apparently the only good football players come from Penn State and Notre Dame). You still want to read this as there are random stories through out (be on the look out for stories about the Colts fleeing Baltimore and the classic how Jim Fassel only get the coaching gig because George Young didn’t own a cell phone. Easily my favorite Giant story ever that doesn’t involve Lawrence Taylor and a narcotic.). Oh and Acorsi’s hate of Coughlin is off the charts – so it does have that going for it too. This too is newly out in paperback… well as of Tuesday. Mind you, by the time Pieman reads this it will be 2012.

BC22Next Man Up: A Year Behind the Lines in Today’s NFL – John Feinstein

PR: Apparently – I can only read things that cover full NFL Seasons. Anyway – Feinstein follows the Ravens for a year and its usual Feinstein fare. He is an apologist for the folks who are nice to him and talk to him a lot. And he hates Tiger Woods (well that might not be in this book but I have read enough of them to just assume.). Nothing really really shocking here – Brian Billick is a huge ego maniac. Ray Lewis loves Jesus and will stab you if you don’t. Ozzie Newsom is really really good at his job. You can definitely find this is bargain bins now so it’s worth it. Ed and I will talk about Feinstein’s newest book about Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina in Vol II.

BC23Total Access – Rich Eisen

PR: Oof… I actually read the Rich Eisen book. And yes its just as smarmy as you would imagine. Clearly one of the conditions of writing the book was that he had to mention his NFL Network show a minimum of 6 times a page. And apparently in the NFL Network world, everyone gets the station. It is also way too heavy on just posting transcripts from interviews from Total Access. Oh and on the name dropping, since there is an entire chapter that is just emails from various players around the league. There are still some bits of enjoyment, like how Eisen crippled himself not only at the Pro Bowl but at the Combine too. Perfectly acceptable bathroom reading.

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