Author Archive

Video Book Review: “Moneyball”

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

A VFTB reader and commenter requested a video book review of “Moneyball” the other day. The CubbieDude was more’n happy to oblige

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Cubs Win! Cubs Win!…Or Do They?

Saturday, September 17th, 2011

The complete title of this book is “The Curse: Cubs Win! Cubs Win! … Or Do They?” It was published in 2010, and was written by Andy Van Slyke with Rob Rains.

I have had this book in my possession for over a year, and I didn’t get around to looking at it until now. I’d like to explain why. It’s because of the words “The Curse” in the title. I’m tired of hearing about “The Curse”, and that’s why I didn’t pick up this book until now.

I am, however, glad that I did pick it up. I enjoyed reading Mr. Van Slyke’s book.

First, a word about the authors. When I first picked up this book, I thought I might have heard the name Andy Van Slyke, but I really couldn’t place it. So I did some research. Andy Van Slyke was born (in 1960) and raised in New York State (Utica and New Hartford, respectively).

Andy Van Slyke was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1979. He played for the Cardinals from 1983 to 1986. He was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1987 and played for them from 1987 to 1994. In 1995 he played for the Baltimore Orioles and the Philadelphia Phillies.

During his playing years Mr. Van Slyke won five Gold Gloves and was a three-time All-Star selection.

He coached for the Detroit Tigers from 2006 to 2009, and co-authored “Tigers Confidential, The Untold Inside Story of the 2008 Season”.

Co-author Bob Rains is the sports editor of St.Louis Globe-Democrat.com, an online daily newspaper.

So, it is clear to me that neither author has any direct ties to Chicago or to the Chicago Cubs.

It has been said that Andy Van Slyke was as well known for his wit as for his baseball ability. With that in mind, here are a few quotes from and about Andy Van Slyke:

– “Every season has its peaks and valleys. What you have to try to do is eliminate the Grand Canyon.”

– “I have an Alka Seltzer bat. You know, plop plop fizz fizz. When the pitcher sees me walking up there they say, ‘Oh what a relief it is’.”

– “My biggest problem in the big leagues is that I can’t figure out how to spend forty-three dollars in meal money.”

– “They wanted me to play third like Brooks (Robinson) so I did play like Brooks – Mel Brooks.”

Without giving too much away, I could describe this book: “The Curse – Cubs Win! Cubs Win! … Or Do They?” as existing within the category of “sports fiction”, and as being about the Cubs finally breaking their 100+ year drought and playing in the World Series.

This might be a good book for the Ricketts family, Crane Kenney, The new GM, et al, to look at.

I do think it’s worth asking: Why would two guys with strong ties to St. Louis and no ties to Chicago, write a book about the Curse of the Chicago Cubs?

One thing I couldn’t help but notice as I was reading: All of the fictional bad guys in this book have Italian surnames. And none of the fictional good guys have Italian surnames.

Also, the authors attempt to establish a familiarity with Chicago by dropping the location names “Wrigleyville” and “Rush Street” repeatedly. As a fourth generation Chicagoan, my feeling is that this only establishes their “UNfamiliarity” with my home town.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

– “He grinned when he thought about the former owner of the Cincinnati Reds, Marge Schott, who wanted to know one time how come she was paying people – scouts – when all they did was watch baseball games.”

– “The players came and went, but the fans remained.”

– “It’s easy to cheer for a winning team. Try coming to games and finding a reason to cheer when the team is 30 games out in August. Let’s see who has the best fans then.”

– “I figured if they were younger than 25 and already in the majors, chances are they will be protected. If they are older than 32, chances are we don’t want them, or we will be able to look at them separately.”

I enjoyed reading “The Curse….”, even with the aforementioned reservations. And as I also mentioned previously, this might be a good one for the Ricketts family and Chicago Cubs organization to look at.

I thank Joe Aiello and Ascend Books for providing me with a copy of “The Curse…” to read and to review.

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Book Review: The Juice

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

The complete title of this book is “The Juice – The Real Story Of Baseball’s Drug Problems”. It was written by Will Carroll, with William L. Carroll, Ed.D., and Foreword by Alan Schwarz. It was published in 2005.

The following synopsis is located on the back cover: “…’The Juice’ offers a wide-ranging investigation of the drugs now being used or contemplated, the athletes who use them, their scientific effects and side effects, the testing procedures, and the impact of drugs on game performance. Will Carroll…also explores the grey area of legal supplements, reviews the law involved in the BALCO case, and speculates on the next generation of performance enhancers that may well include gene therapy. In exclusive interviews he profiles the motives and experiences of professional players, student athletes, and drug creators.”

That just about covers it.

In the Introduction author Will Carroll, in describing his motivation for writing “The Juice”, quotes Alan Schwarz: “’I wrote the book because I wanted to read it. It would have been much easier for me to have gone to the bookstore and bought it, but it wasn’t there.’ …the material that follows is something I could not find, yet wanted to see in print.”

There is information included in “The Juice” that I was not aware of, and didn’t even suspect.

Rob Neyer, of ESPN, is quoted on the front cover: “Don’t say another word about ‘steroids’ until you’ve read ‘The Juice’.” It’s time to treat the problem

Not too long ago I read an on line discussion about the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) in baseball. This was just as I was beginning to read “The Juice”. Gee, all of the points people were getting at in that discussion are presented, clarified &/or answered in “The Juice”.

Along those lines, Allen Barra is quoted on the back cover, thusly: “Everyone talks about steroids, but no one knows anything about them. Will Carroll’s ‘The Juice’ is the first step in our education.” I found Mr. Barra’s quote to be very accurate.

In the Foreword, Alan Schwarz opines: “What Will brings to the steroids issue is calm, measured analysis of a subject that too often drowns in sanctimonious pap.” Once again, a very accurate description of this book.

I found the chapters featuring profiles of various participants in this drama (the player, the tester, the student, and the creator) to be of particular interest. Very enlightening.

Similarly, the chapter titled: “Pre-trial Commotion: The Legal Issues of Steroids and Sports”, which was prepared with the help of Pat Cotter, a white-collar criminal defense attorney from Chicago, I found to be extremely enlightening.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes, from the book:

– “…the issue was never about science, it was about emotion.”

– “Assumption is the marshal of this parade. Fact is stuck somewhere in the back of the ranks.”

– “When does a lifesaving drug become an illegal performance-enhancing drug? That’s a question for the ethicists, but I’ll go as far as saying that the difference lies in intent.”

– “Framing a debate is often a matter of language. Entire books have been written about choosing words carefully, and most of the terms in this particular debate are loaded (no pun intended).”

– “Every son of a bitch in here is on something. Aspirin, Advil, Vioxx, whatever. I have to get spiked (injections of painkillers) just to get on the field.”

– “De Coubertin, who wrote the Olympic Oath, was an idealist who foresaw the Olympics as an apolitical gathering of pure athletes where the emphasis would be on competing rather than winning. ‘The important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle’ was probably his most famous saying. The Baron died in 1937, before the Olympics became the chemically enhanced, political, and commercial circus it has become today.”

– “…it is obvious that baseball players have been involved in chemical warfare…”

– “The first weapon in any battle is knowledge. Consider yourself armed.”

– “But for every good thing a performance-enhancing substance has to offer, it always seems to carry serious baggage.”

– “For Major League Baseball, the message should be loud and clear: Don’t clean up baseball for public relations reasons. Don’t clean it up for the fans. Clean up baseball for the game and for the health of its players.”

– “Used properly, there is a place for supplements. Used improperly, they are at best a waste, at worst a gateway to stronger, more dangerous drugs. This industry is ripe for regulation.”

– “The three greatest motivations are desire to excel, desire for glory, and money – not necessarily in that order.”

– “Remember that drug tests are not as omnipotent as the general public is led to believe.”

I enjoyed reading “The Juice”, because it is factual, rather than speculative.

I recommend “the Juice” to anyone with an interest in drugs, sports, human performance, or just in reading a well written book.

I thank Joe Aiello and Ivan R. Dee, Publisher, for making a copy of “The Juice” available to me for reading and for review.

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Book Review: “Find A Way” by Merril Hoge

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

The complete title of this book is “Find A Way – Three Words That Changed My Life”. The author is Merril Hoge, with Brent Cole. There is a foreword by Ron Jaworski. It was published in 2010.

Merril Hoge is a father, a cancer survivor, a former NFL player, and an ESPN sportscaster with whom I was not familiar. I did not know that he once wore the uniform of the Chicago Bears.

“Find A Way” is an inspirational and motivational book.

“Da Coach”, Mike Ditka, himself a pro football hall-of-famer, says: “The measure of a man’s success is not only what he achieves, but more importantly what he overcomes. When you can look adversity in the eyes and stare it down, you will become a greater success. FIND A WAY – make a way that’s pure Hoge.”

Some of the topics addressed by author Merril Hoge in “Find A Way” include:
– How to live a life with no regrets
– Maximizing your God-given tools
– How to see difficult circumstances as “opportunities”
– A behind-the-scenes look into the world of the NFL

In the first chapter Mr. Hoge advises the reader that:
– “…you are not defined by how many times you fall but by how many times you rise again. You might fall a thousand times, but if you rise a thousand times plus one you will be victorious. I carry this mindset with me wherever I go, in whatever I do. Victory is never the absence of failure. It is the will to be the last one standing.”

In the second chapter, Mr. Hoge recounts a conversation he had with his son:
– “My son, Beau, once asked me about what he had to do to be a winner. I explained the importance of physical and mental training. ‘That,’ I said, ‘is the baseline to play the game. But in the end,’ I continued, ‘resourcefulness is your greatest resource’.
‘No matter what skill set you have been blessed with, you must sharpen those skills like a razor blade and then exhaust yourself to become the very best player you can be.’ I told Beau this did not guarantee he would make it to the NFL or the Hall of Fame. It guaranteed something more important: he would live with no regrets.”

In describing Coach Chuck Noll, Mr. Hoge struck gold with this observation:
– “…his highest ideal of success was not victory but maximum effort. ‘A life of frustration is inevitable,’ he once told a reporter, ‘for any coach whose main enjoyment is winning’.”

Mr. Hoge also reminds us of a saying attributed to Coach John Wooden: “Be quick but don’t hurry.”

Another lesson which Mr. Hoge shares with the reader: “…respect is always a two-way street…”

I enjoyed reading “Find A Way – Three Words That Changed My Life”, and I recommend it to anyone seeking motivation &/or inspiration.

I thank Center Street Books of New York City for providing me with a copy of “Find A Way” to read and to review.

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Curse? There Ain’t No Stinking Cub Curse!

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

The complete title of this book is “Curse? There Ain’t No Stinking Chicago Cub Curse – And Other Stories About Sports And Gamesmanship”. The authors are James Wolfe and Mary Ann Presman. It was published in January 2010.

I have to admit, I misunderstood the concept when I first saw the cover of this book. I thought it was an entire book about “The Curse”. And actually, as it turns out, nothing could be further from the truth.

This book contains eleven short stories: four by James Wolfe, and seven by Mary Ann Presman. They are all good.

Author James Wolfe is an engineer, entrepreneur, and lifelong sports fan. He has authored six books, including “Little Balls, Big Dreams”, a novel about golf.

Author Mary Ann Presman has written advertising copy, newsletters and public relations materials prior to creating the seven short stories included in this book.

The first short story, the title story, is not ABOUT the curse, but it is built around the curse, peripherally. James Wolfe wrote it, it’s 40 pages long, and it’s funny as heck.

The other 10 short stories are peripherally about gambling, bocce ball, golf, basketball, tennis, etc. As I said, they’re all good.

Reviewing briefly each story:
– “Curse? There Ain’t No Stinking Chicago Cubs Curse”, by James Wolfe, is built around a fantasy which I truly wish would come true. As it is, there is a lot of truth in this story.

– “Gambling 101”,by Mary Ann Presman, involves blackjack and people. It contains an ending which I didn’t see coming, and with which I do not necessarily agree. But, hey, it’s about the journey, not the destination.

– “Backyard Bocce Ball” is about people, families, and bocce ball. This one struck a little close to home, but it was entertaining. Mary Ann Presman hit a home run with “Backyard Bocce Ball”.

– I’ve only golfed twice in my life (not counting hitting balls on the driving range and hitting whiffle golf balls in my yard), but from what I’ve seen, “Wine, Women & Golf”, by James Wolfe, is an accurate depiction of the game and of the people who play it. That’s why I never allowed myself to become obsessed with golf. This one also has an ending which I didn’t see coming, and with which I don’t necessarily agree.

– “Straight Shooter”, by Mary Ann Presman, while not the funniest of the short stories in this collection, might be the most honest. My jaw was dropping as I read it, because Ms. Presman kept hitting the nail on the head. It’s all true! Oh, did I mention it takes place while shooting pool?

– “Paper Airplanes”, by Mary Ann Presman, is possibly the shortest of the short stories in this book. I do not necessarily disagree with the ending, which I did not see coming.

– “Only Three More Outs”, about Little League baseball, almost brought a tear to my eye with its depiction of the perspective of a little guy. Once again, I did not see the ending coming.

– The story in “H-O-R-S-E” unfolds as two brothers play basketball. It is a sibling relationship which I enjoyed following. Families are really something. And, no, I did not see the twist of the ending coming.

– The setting in “Scrabble Date”, (somewhere between a nursing home and a retirement villa, depending upon your personal bias), has become a little too familiar to me lately, but author Mary Ann Presman handles it deftly. I believe this one deserves the descriptor “poignant”.

– The penultimate story, “If Profanity Improved The Golf Game, There’d Be More Good Golfers”, aside from being true and profound on the surface, is about the game of golf. And born-again Christians. Once again, a little close to home. But I enjoyed it.

– Last but not least, “Double Fault” takes place on the tennis courts, but it’s really the universality of humanity we’re exploring here. Not falling down funny, but definitely satisfying.

As I said before, this book turned out to be nothing like I expected at first glance. I really enjoyed it.

I recommend “”Curse? There Ain’t No Stinking Chicago Cub Curse” highly to anyone with an interest in sports &/or gamesmanship. It’s the human condition we’re looking at here, the human condition and the competitive spirit.

I thank Joe Aiello and the Rensselaer Publishing Group for providing me with a copy of “Curse? There Ain’t No Stinking Chicago Cubs Curse” to read and to review.

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