Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

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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Book Review – Ron Santo A Perfect 10

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

Ron Santo’s longtime WGN Radio broadcast partner Pat Hughes teamed up with author Rich Wolfe to put together a great book on legendary third baseman Ron Santo, who played for the Cubs from 1960 to 1973 before spending his final season with the White Sox.

The title of the novel is Ron Santo A Perfect Ten, referring to the number that Ronnie sported for most of his career, which is now retired by the organization.  After speeding through the book in just three days, I would give it a perfect ten as well.

The forward, titled Namesakes are People Two, is by Ron Santo, Jr.  He describes what is was like to grow up around the ballpark with Ron Santo as a father.  Instead of simply writing about Ron themselves, Hughes and Wolfe talked to the people that knew him best and divided the book into sections with stories from different people.  The first chapter contains Pat’s memories about working with the Cubs legend for 15 years on WGN Radio.  He tells his favorite stories, including the burning hairpiece at Shea Stadium, the frozen yogurt machine in Arizona, the Brant Brown dropped fly ball and more.  In addition to all of the hilarious Pat & Ron stories that most of us have heard many times, Pat includes several new ones that will make you laugh.  The end of the first chapter includes a brief section by the only current Cub to contribute to the book, Kerry Wood.  He was always one of Santo’s favorite Cubs and the story about Jim Hendry and Wood talking about a deal at the funeral gives him even more of a connection to #10.  Wood writes about the phone call he made to Ron, who was in the hospital at the time, just after the Cubs won the NLDS in 2003.

The second chapter is stories from Ron’s family members.  His wife Vicki has a section titled “Living with a Legend,” while his son Jeff and daughter Kelly also share their stories.  Kelly wrote about how important Ronnie’s relationship with his grandsons (her two boys) was.  Jeff tells about the time he spent with his father gathering footage for his documentary “This Old Cub.”

The next chapter “Let’s Skedaddle to Seattle” focuses on Santo’s childhood.  His sister Adielene, high school sweetheart and ex-wife Judy and friends Frank Savelli and Bill Chatalas all contributed their memories.  Adielene’s section included some great stories of growing up in the same house as Ron Santo.  Savelli was one of Ronnie’s best friends, dating back to second grade.

Chapter four features Santo’s baseball friends.  Commissioner Bud Selig, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, former Cubs front office man John McDonough, Dodgers GM Ned Colletti and Cubs president Crane Kenney were all included in this chapter.  Colletti grew up as a huge fan of Ron.  McDonough came up with the idea to retire #10 in 2003.

Media members such as  radio personality Mike Murphy, Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune, Cubs beat writer Bruce Miles and TV/Radio host David Kaplan collaborated on a chapter.  Kaplan had some stories of pranks that he and John McDonough played on Ronnie in the 1990s when Kap served as the pregame show host on WGN Radio.  Murphy remembered the relationship that he and the bleacher bums had with Santo and the rest of the 1969 team.  Miles talked about how special Ron’s broadcast style was.

Speaking of broadcasting, one of the best chapters in the book included most of Ronnie’s ex-booth mates.  His first partner (1990-1995 on WGN Radio) Thom Brennaman told his favorite Santo story about how the first two words heard on the air at the start of their first season with the Cubs were profanity.  Bob Brenly, who is currently the Cubs TV color man, shared the booth with Thom and Ron on radio for two seasons.  Brenly and Santo were originally pitted against one another for the gig but the station decided to hire them both.  TV play-by-play man Len Kasper and producer Marc Brady also contributed to the chapter.  Ronnie’s trusty producer for ten seasons on 720-AM, Matt Boltz, wrote one of the best sections of the book.  Boltzy talked about how Ronnie was a father figure for him.  Andy Masur, Cory Provus and Judd Sirott, all of whom joined Pat, Matt and Ron in the booth at various times, all wrote sections.

The book also includes several great photos of the Cubs legend.  The final chapter, titled “Santopalooza,” included a unique section by Tom Lill, who played on the same men’s softball team as Ronnie for two years.  There is also a section in the final chapter filled with different stories about Ron’s hairpieces.

There were over 20 people who were interviewed for the novel whose stories did not make it, including teammates such as Ernie Banks, Randy Hundley, Glenn Beckert, Fergie Jenkins and Don Kessinger.  Their stories will be included in Rich Wolfe’s next book, For Cub Fans Only, Volume III.

Ron Santo A Perfect Ten is available on, at Chicagoland Jewel stores, and Binny’s Beverage Depot.  For any fan of Ron Santo, this book is a must read.  It is a great way to remember Ronnie with a smile on your face.

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Chicago Cubs Cookbook

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

The complete title of this book is “Chicago Cubs Cookbook – All-Star Recipes From Your Favorite Players”. It is edited by Carrie Muskat, and was published in 2010.

First let me say that proceeds from the sales of this book benefit the Dempster Family Foundation. That’s a good thing!

Secondly, I cannot tell a lie: I have not, as yet, tried to make any of these recipes. But I intend to!

Thirdly, I enjoyed reading this book. It’s easy to get too caught up in the wins vs. losses, analyses of the various statistics, etc. We sometimes forget that these are real people, with real lives. “Chicago Cubs Cookbook” reminds us that the Cubs are real people, who eat real food, and who sometimes cook, too. It was a nice change of pace.

Here are some specific observations:

– The first direction listed under “How to Build the PERFECT Chicago Dog” reads as follows: “Boil the hot dogs in 145 degree water per package instructions.” I thought water boiled at 212 degrees Fahrenheit.

– The discussion about Randy Wells’ Hot Wing Dip includes the following statement: “The way Randy sees it, most people eat chicken wings and have dip at their football parties. ‘This way,’ he says, ‘it combines both’.” I cannot argue with that logic.

– The “Cubs Clubhouse recipe for Yogurt Mashed Potatoes” comes from Tom “Otis” Heilman, his brother Tim, and Gary Stark, who run the Cubs home clubhouse. The ingredients include: 4 potatoes, 4 Tbsp. plain low-fat Greek yogurt, and 1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth. Those are my kinda ingredients!

– The discussion leading up to “John Grabow’s Loaded Mashed Potatoes” contains the following quote: “It’s pretty easy to make,” Grabow said, then cautions, “It’s not very good for you.” I’m all in favor of comfort food which is easy to make.

– Two recipes which especially grabbed my attention were provided by Jim Hendry’s friend Vickie Courville. They are “Crawfish Etouffee” (etouffee literally means “smothered” or “suffocated”), and “Chicken and Sausage Gumbo. I like crawdads and I make gumbo (or is it Jambalaya?) with chicken and sausage and shrimp, so these two are right up my alley.

– The “Build-Your-Own Steak Tacos” from Hub 51 with marinade, Tomato Salsa and Guacamole directions are very good looking.

– Brett Jackson contributed a gluten-free buffalo meat and spaghetti squash which looks interesting. I have dabbled in gluten-free eating. This recipe has potential, and Brett says: “…you can be creative with your protein base.”

– Theodore Roosevelt Lilly III contributed a simple recipe for a great breakfast dish which he calls “Egg In The Hole”. Gotta love it!

– Fergie Jenkins’ wife, Lydia, finally decided to try cooking wild game, (some of Fergie’s pheasants), in a manner that she thought would make them taste tolerable. Fergie gave her the recipe (“Fergie’s Bagged Pheasant”) and it turned out great! I’m a big believer in cooking bags.

– Ted Lilly also presents a chili recipe from Stanley’s Kitchen and Tap. The recipe for “Stanley’s King of Chilis” looks delicious, but I’m afraid I don’t have all of the many ingredients in my kitchen. I’ll have to visit Stanley’s on Lincoln Avenue, and let them do the preparation for me.

– Lou Piniella (you remember him) presents “Anita Piniella’s Layered Chicken Salad” and says: “If we’re winning, I go out a little more. If not, I tend to stay in.” The ingredients for Anita’s salad look tasty. I think this one is Dave-proof and doable.

– Mike Quade says “…once I get home for the winter, my time is consumed by two of my other passions – fishing and cooking. My home along the Florida Gulf Coast affords me with some of the best shallow saltwater fishing in the country, and the only thing better than the challenge of catching these fish is the fun of preparing them.”

“Q” likes to serve his “Pecan-Crusted Snook with Cajun Cream Sauce” with “roasted potatoes, sweet corn relish, and blue cheese and pear salad”. I gotta try this one.

– Ryne Sandberg’s wife, Margaret, contributed a recipe for Chicken Tacos, which looks delicious.

– Ryne also presents a recipe for “Harry Caray’s Rigatoni with Vodka Sauce”. There’s a winning trifecta right there.

– Ryan Theriot presents a Jambalaya recipe (“Chef John Folse’s Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya”), which, as I mentioned before, is right up my alley.

– Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol present a Dominican dish called “Mangu”, from Sobeida Minaya’s “Tropical Taste” restaurant near Humboldt Park (my old stomping grounds). It says here that “Mangu is eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and the only change is what you have on the side”. I can live with that.

– Micah Hoffpauir presented “Grandma Ernestine Adams’ Blonde Brownies”. I don’t usually get worked up about brownies because I don’t really care for most chocolate that much. But these “blonde” brownies don’t contain chocolate. Sign me up!!

– Len Kasper presents his mom’s Michigan “Apple Crisp” recipe, and Jeff Stevens presents a “Banana Nut Bread” recipe courtesy of his girlfriend, Christina. Both of these desserts look extremely tasty.

There are a lot of opportunities for “good eatin’” contained in the Chicago Cubs Cookbook.

I have to say I’m not a fan of the plastic binding system used on this book.

Nevertheless, I did especially enjoy the background stories behind the recipes. They put some very human faces on the members of the Chicago Cubs (past and present).

I recommend the “Chicago Cubs Cookbook – All-Star Recipes From Your Favorite Players” to anyone with an interest in cooking and/or eating, as well as to anyone who follows the Chicago Cubs.

It’s for a good cause.

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