42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story by Ed Henry. Thomas Nelson. 240 pages. 2017
This book was released on the 70th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s major league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first African American in Major League baseball. Many are already familiar with the key points of Robinson’s story through previous books and the 2013 film 42. What Henry’s book focuses on is the role of faith – of Robinson, his wife Rachel, Branch Rickey and Robinson’s and Rickey’s mothers – in Robinson’s story.
Henry looks at the unique relationship between Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson and how their respective Methodist faiths impacted them. The book is well-researched, as the author met with Robinson’s widow Rachel, teammate Carl Erskine, visited the site of the former Ebbets Field, pulled a lot of information from Robinson’s unpublished memoir, as well as his sermons and speeches, to show how Robinson was open about how his faith helped him to deal with all that came his way (verbal and physical abuse, death threats, etc.).
Juan Williams offers a lengthy introduction about race and faith in America. Henry includes biographical sketches of Rickey and Robinson’s lives up until they met each other on a warm August day in Rickey’s office in Brooklyn. Robinson wasn’t sure why he was there. He had been told that the Dodgers were starting a negro team, but that was just what he was told to get him to Rickey’s office.
Henry looks at the effect of Rickey’s faith (he was a Methodist, named after John Wesley) on his decision to move forward to bring Robinson to the major leagues. Henry writes that Rickey was impacted by discrimination against Charles Thomas, an African American on one of his Ohio Wesleyan teams, who was denied housing at a hotel when Ohio Wesleyan went to Indiana to play Notre Dame. That may have influenced him towards the action he took in making Robinson the first African American player in the major leagues.
Henry reveals that Rickey had doubts about his plans to bring Robinson to the Dodgers, and details Rickey’s secret visit to his pastor at Plymouth Church as he was struggling over the decision to sign Robinson. He said he had to talk to God about it.
In their initial three-hour meeting in August, 1945, Rickey asked Robinson to “turn the other cheek”. Robinson was known to have a temper. Rickey asked him if he could keep his temper in check knowing what was coming his way? Robinson’s faith helped him to do so and Robinson would keep his word to Rickey, though it was very difficult to do so. Rickey told Jackie that “God is with us”. Henry states that Robinson talked to his mother after his initial meeting with Rickey (who Jackie would come to see as a father figure).
Henry writes that Rickey and Robinson both had mothers who instilled a strong faith in them. Both also taught Sunday School in their respective churches.
Methodist pastor Karl Everitt Downs had a big impact on the young Jackie. The author states that Robinson felt a connection with the biblical character Job in the suffering he had to endure.
Jackie got four hits and a home run in his first minor league game. He was treated in a hateful and shameful manner his first year in the major leagues, including by Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman, which was depicted in the film 42. He would go on to be named 1947 Rookie of the Year, and the Dodgers would go to the World Series, where they would lose to the New York Yankees. The Dodgers would eventually win the World Series in 1955.
Rickey would leave the Dodgers for Pittsburgh in 1951, being succeeded by Walter O’Malley. Robinson would greatly miss Rickey. Rickey would die in 1965. The Dodgers would try to trade Robinson to the New York Giants in 1956, but he chose to retire instead, accepting a position as Vice President at Chock full o’Nuts. He would be elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1962.
The author touches on Robinson’s political views, his work for civil rights, his relationship with teammate and fellow African American Roy Campanella, and the tragic drug addiction and unrelated death of son Jackie Jr. at age 24 in 1971. Friends would say he was never the same again after the loss of his son. Robinson had diabetes and would die at the early age of 53 in 1972.
I enjoyed and appreciated Henry’s unique perspective on Jackie Robinson’s story.
Unscripted: The Unpredictable Moments That Make Life Extraordinary by Ernie Johnson Jr. Baker Books. 224 pages. 2017
The popular host of “Inside the NBA” shares unscripted moments in his life which he called “Blackberry Moments”. He encourages us to embrace these moments and the blessings in our lives. In this book, he includes some wonderful stories and memories from his personal and professional life and how God has worked in his life. Included in the book are excerpts from his writings (eulogy, poems, journals); his writing (and narration of the audiobook edition), is witty and humorous.
Family is extremely important to the author. He and his wife Cheryl have six children, including four that they have adopted, one that has special needs and two of whom who had endured the sex trafficking industry.
His father, Ernie Johnson Sr., was the best man in his wedding and his best friend. He was a pitcher in the major leagues and later the broadcaster of the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves. The two would work together in the booth for Braves games. Ernie Jr. gave the eulogy for his father in 2011. The text of that moving message is included here. His parents were married for 63 years. His father was the greatest influence on his life.
Ernie wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and play in the major leagues, but after getting cut from the University of Georgia baseball team as a sophomore, he pursued a career in the media. He would start doing the news, but would quickly move to sports.
He would meet his future wife Cheryl while she was working as a bank teller. She would later serve in a number of non-profit organizations in Atlanta. He includes touching stories about son Michael with Muscular Dystrophy, his fascination with cars and his significant health issues.
He writes about hosting “Inside the NBA” for 25 years with Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley, and more recently with Shaquille O’Neill. Of particular interest was his decision to choose to attend his son’s high school graduation rather than broadcast an important seventh game of an NBA postseason series.
Raised Roman Catholic, Ernie writes of his faith being dormant. He was drawn to Christ in 1997 at Crossroads Church in Georgia (now known as 12Stone Church). Wife Cheryl would be drawn to Christ a few years later.
Ernie noticed a bump on his face one day while shaving. He would wait six months to have it looked at by a doctor, and would be diagnosed with stage 2 Follicular Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He would eventually go through six cycles of chemotherapy. Afterwards, he would have a new appreciation for life.
It was a joy to read this book and hear about how God has worked in Ernie’s life.
The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life by Rick Ankiel and Tim Brown. Public Affairs. 307 pages. 2017
Many baseball fans will be aware of Rick Ankiel who was a top pitching prospect for the St. Louis Cardinals. In his rookie season at the age of 21, he started a playoff game for the Cardinals with great anticipation. His career had such promise. As a left-hander, he was being called the “next Sandy Koufax”. Then it happened. He writes that on a day when he asked his arm to be more special than ever, it deserted him. And for the next five years he chased the life he wanted, the one he believed he owed to himself, and the one he probably believed the world owed to him.
I was familiar with his story, but not the details that this honest book will give you. I came away with a new compassion for what he went through as he tried to understand what had happened to him and possible cures so that he could get back to being an elite pitcher with a great future. What happened to Ankiel is called “the Thing” because there’s no diagnosis and no cure. It is also called the monster, the yips and the phenomenon.
But there is much more to his story than what happened on the pitching mound in St. Louis on that fall afternoon. He writes of his volatile father, who was often drunk, in trouble with the law and abusive to Ankiel’s mother. They were never married and he never acted as though they were, which Ankiel writes explains his half-sister— a whole other family—across town as he was growing up.
He writes about the nightmares, awake in the dead of night, waiting for his heart to settle, cursing the thing that would not leave him alone, not even in his sleep. He tried to drink and medicate those nights away. He tried to pitch them away in the minor leagues for the better part of four years. But four and a half years after “the pitch”, a pitch that even all that time later seemed so innocent, he retired at age twenty-five. His career was over almost before it had started, and yet he was not at all unhappy about it. But within three hours of retiring as a pitcher, the Cardinals wanted him back – as an outfielder.
Ankiel returned to the major leagues as an outfielder on August 9, 2007, a game I remember watching. Incredibly, he hit a three-run home run in that game. Cardinal manager Tony La Russa stood by the dugout steps, applauding and smiling. Nobody could ever recall seeing that before. Years later, La Russa would recall it as one of the happiest days of his life. As a hitter, Ankiel was soon called “the Natural.”
Ankiel writes of Dr. Harvey Dorfman, a sports psychologist, who played a very important part of his life. They met in the spring of 2000, and Harvey became one of his best friends, in many ways replacing the real father he despised. Ankiel writes that Harvey saved careers, that he probably saved lives, or at least made them exceedingly more livable. He became what Ankiel had hoped for in a father and what his two boys should’ve had in a grandfather.
Ankiel retired for good after the summer of ’13, when the New York Mets released him. All in all, he played for six teams in six cities—St. Louis, Kansas City, Atlanta, Washington, Houston, and finally New York. Seven years a pitcher, seven years not. He then took a job with the Washington Nationals as their Life Skills Coordinator.
He states that he has written this book about his story for his two sons so that when they are old enough and curious enough they will hear it from his perspective. The book does include a fair amount of adult language and is certainly hard to read at times. Ankiel’s story is sad, tragic and ultimately triumphant. He is a survivor; his life story would make a great movie.
Sadly, he does not speak of having any faith. One wonders how that would have helped him in his times of darkness.
Shaken: Discovering Your True Identity in the Midst of Life’s Storms by Tim Tebow. WaterBrook. 224 pages. 2016
Much has happened in Tim Tebow’s life since the publication of his 2011 best-selling book Through My Eyes. As someone who has a lot of respect for him and what he stands for and does through his foundation, I have followed closely the highs, and the mostly lows, of his NFL career, and have even had the opportunity to hear him speak live. I’ve looked forward to a follow-up book in which he writes about those experiences. It’s easy to write a book after winning championships, but how does a former Heisman Trophy winner respond to being traded after leading the Denver Broncos to the playoffs, and then being cut by three NFL teams, plus all of the mean-spirited criticism he has received.
This book is not an autobiography, but about the truth Tebow has discovered along the path of life’s storms. Throughout the book he includes several moving stories about some of the people he has been inspired by in life as well as through his foundation’s outreach program. He writes that what he has learned in the process is not to allow either the highs or the lows in life to determine who you are. He writes that who he is has nothing to do with wins or losses, applause, or negative criticism. It has to do with whose he is.
The first seven chapters of the book covers some of those lows he has experienced, and glimpses into his life that have not previously been shared publicly. He also shares the lessons he’s learned through that time, like what it means to stay grounded in the face of doubt, fear, and criticism; why others matter; and how our objective in life is not to be like everyone else. The concluding three chapters focus on how we can all impact others in our journey of faith and purpose.
He writes that when who you are is grounded in whose you are, you realize it doesn’t matter what life throws your way. He states that God has created us for a reason and purpose. When your identity is grounded in God, when you trust in Him, you become part of a bigger picture. He writes that with Jesus, you have everything. With Him you have what it takes to fulfill a purpose. He writes that though we may or may not know it in this life, there is a plan. We can doubt. We can question. We can wonder. But there always is a purpose. Sometimes things happen for reasons we can’t explain, that don’t make sense, that seem unfair. If today you’re going through a tough time, know that it’s for a purpose.
He writes about “taking a stand” in life. He describes that as standing up for something or someone you believe in, and that it’s a way of life. We just need to find a need and fill it. Ask God to put something or someone on your heart. Do something different. He will use whatever you are able to offer for the greater good.
He challenges us by asking how we are leveraging for a greater purpose the person God created us to be. Are we impacting others through our kindness, our courage, our compassion? Are we sharing hope? Are we living a life of love? Are we taking a stand? Doing something that matters?
He states that when we know whose we are, we live differently. We are no longer the same. Our outlook changes. Our perspective shifts. We understand that some things we do on earth will last for eternity.
I really enjoyed this book. It offers helpful encouragement for believers to remember our foundation and whose we are when life does not go as we had hoped it would. You can go deeper with Tim in his four-session Bible study book Shaken Bible Study: Discovering Your True Identity in the Midst of Life’s Storms.
The 1997 Masters: My Story by Tiger Woods with Lorne Rubenstein. Grand Central Publishing. 256 pages. 2017
On this Masters weekend, I thought it would be good to share my review of Tiger Woods new book which commemorates the 20th anniversary of his record-breaking win at the 1997 Masters. Like I have the past few years, I spent some priceless time watching a part of yesterday’s second round with my Dad. But Tiger was not among the participants in this year’s Masters; injuries have once again kept him from participating in a tournament. At only 41 years of age the injuries have taken their toll: his first knee surgery occurred back in 1994 while at Stanford. Between 1994 and 2016, he went through four knee surgeries and three back surgeries, along with other procedures. He admits that he probably came back too early from some of the surgeries, due to his desire to compete and his need for competition. Perhaps prophetically, towards the end of this book he writes “Still, I don’t know how much longer I’ll play.”
Over the years I have had three favorite golfers – Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and Tiger. If they were playing in a tournament, that would be enough for me to tune in to the telecast. Yes, Tiger has had major moral failings – and he writes about the pain that caused his family in this reflective book – but his presence in a tournament will still cause me to take notice. Unfortunately, those instances are becoming fewer and fewer.
In this book he takes the reader through his record-breaking win at Augusta National in the 1997 Masters tournament in which he actually shot a 4 over par 40 on the front nine of his first round. At that time, Tiger’s caddy was Mike “Fluff” Cowan and his coach was Butch Harmon. But this book contains much more than a detailed look at the 1997 Masters.
He talks about his relationship with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. Palmer died in 2016. Tiger has won the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill eight times. He writes that he will never forget their friendship and Palmer’s counsel to him over the years.
He writes of his father Earl, “Pop”, who died in 2006. Earl had a triple bypass only a month and a half before the 1997 Masters. Despite that, he flew to Augusta to stay at the same house as Tiger during Masters week. Tiger writes that he had so many good times with his father on the course, just the two of them, when he was a kid.
Tiger writes of watching Jack Nicklaus win the 1986 Masters on television. After that, he made sure he watched the tournament every year. He first played the Masters in 1995 qualifying because he’d won the U.S. Amateur the year before. He writes about his first time playing in the tournament and his feelings about the tournament’s and the club’s history with blacks.
Tiger writes about stopping at an Arby’s on the way home from the course, a ritual he and his friends would superstitiously do each day of the tournament. He writes about greeting Lee Elder after he had signed his winning scorecard. He thanked him for his sacrifices, what he meant to the game, and how hard he fought to make it to the Masters as their first black player in 1975. Tiger told him that his win was all about the black golfers who had come before him, what they had done for him, and that he wasn’t a pioneer. They were the pioneers.
He writes that he had hoped his win would open some doors for minorities. His biggest hope was that we could one day see one another as people and people alone. He wanted us to be color-blind. Twenty years later, he sadly reflects that this has yet to happen.
He briefly writes about his career after the 1997 Masters, including changing his swing. He writes about the changes that have been made to Augusta National and what he thinks about them. Tiger had averaged 323.1 yards off the tee at the 1997 Masters, an amazing twenty-five yards longer than the next guy. He states that after major changes came along for the 2002 Masters it wasn’t as much fun to play the course anymore.
He writes about today’s golf equipment and how far today’s ball flies. He writes “It probably makes me sound like an old-timer saying things were better back in the day, but I don’t see how anybody could say it’s a good thing that the ball is going so far, and that it doesn’t curve as much because it doesn’t spin.”
He writes about his children and their mother Elin, stating that he betrayed her and that his dishonesty and selfishness caused her intense pain. He states that his regret will last a lifetime. He writes that he and Elin have become best friends now as they care for their children. He writes that not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about his father, who he admits would have been disappointed in his son’s poor personal decisions.
What are Christians to think of Tiger? He’s had serious moral failings, but writes of his regrets. He has been known to use adult language on the course. He doesn’t talk much about his beliefs in this book, but does write of going to the Buddhist temple where he learned how to meditate. Woods is also one of the greatest golfers of all time. It’s this that attracts me to him, and it’s why I hope that he’s able to get healthy enough to play competitively again. He states that “compete” remains his favorite word, and probably always will.
Lucky Bastard: My Life, My Dad, and the Things I’m Not Allowed to Say on TV by Joe Buck. Dutton. 304 pages. 2016
I listened to the audiobook version which was well-read by the author. As a St. Louis Cardinals fan and someone who grew up listening to Jack Buck broadcast the games on KMOX, I was looking forward to this book by Jack’s son, Joe. Yes, I stated that intentionally, as Joe mentions several times that people have said that he got the opportunities he did only because he was Jack’s son.
“Buck”, which was his father’s nickname for him, really does have an incredible story to tell, which starts with his father having an affair with his mother Carol, resulting in the birth of Joe and the end of his father’s first marriage. He mentions several times of the difficult relationship he had with his father’s six children from his first marriage. Later Joe’s own marriage to first wife Ann, which produced two daughters, would also end.
By far, my favorite parts of the book were the author’s remembrances of his father, who he calls his best friend. Joe was known as “Jack’s boy”. Joe grew up in the press box at Busch Stadium in St. Louis sitting next to his father, learning by watching and listening to his Dad. He would often get to travel with his Dad on road games during the summer. On his 18th birthday in 1987, after getting dumped by his prom date, his Dad put him on the spot, having him broadcast a half inning at a Cardinals/Mets game at Shea Stadium. He would later broadcast Cardinals games with his father and Mike Shannon on KMOX.
He writes of having to share his father with the rest of St. Louis, where Jack was much loved. Jack would be diagnosed with lung cancer and die in 2002, seven difficult months after the diagnosis.
Joe auditioned with Fox Sports to broadcast football at age 23. He had never broadcast a football game but was hired, and later would broadcast the Super Bowl and even later the U.S. Open Golf tournament.
Joe started broadcasting baseball on Fox with his partner Tim McCarver, who had been very critical of his father when the two were paired together on CBS, leading to Jack being fired. The two cleared the air, and would work together well for 18 years, and are friends to this day.
He would work his first World Series for Fox in 1996. His memorable “We’ll see you tomorrow night” after the Cardinals’ David Freese’s 11th inning in game 6 of the 2011 World Series, the same call he had made almost 20 years to the day after his Dad had made a similar call in the World Series.
His writes of his eight hair plug surgeries. The eighth in 2001, resulted in the loss of his voice, his livelihood; he lied about the cause, saying it was due to a virus. He was also going through a divorce and the unhappiness of his daughters about it.
He writes of meeting second wife Michelle in 2012. He surprisingly writes very little about his mother Carol, noting early in the book that she is a Christian who wishes that her son would go to church.
He writes about Steve Horn, who is very important to his career and life, his best friend at this time. He also writes about recurring rumors that he is gay and recently getting tattoos. He writes about the impact of Twitter on broadcasters, and the short-lived HBO show Joe Buck Live and his new program Undeniable.
I enjoyed this book a lot. It is bold and funny. But I was really disappointed by the author’s frequent use of vulgar and crude language, which adds nothing to the book. I recommend the book to Cardinal fans and those interested in Buck’s incredible sports broadcasting career.
The Legends Club: Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano, and an Epic College Basketball Rivalry by John Feinstein. Doubleday. 416 pages. 2016
I’ve read and enjoyed many of John Feinstein’s thirty-six books, and this one looks at the intense rivalry and relationships of three Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) basketball coaches. The book gives insight to the sometimes strained relationships between three coaches who won a total of eight national championships – North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith (2 titles), Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (5 titles) and North Carolina State’s Jim Valvano (1 title), and how those relationships evolved over time. Feinstein has been personally acquainted with all three, and also visited with friends, family and players for this entertaining book. One of his strengths is as a story teller, and there are many of them in this entertaining book.
Feinstein began as a reporter for the Duke student newspaper, the position he had when he first interviewed North Carolina’s Dean Smith in 1976. At that time North Carolina was dominant in the ACC. Valvano and Krzyzewski were hired at North Carolina State and Duke respectively in 1980.
Smith would win his first title in 1982 when Michael Jordan hit what would be the game-winning shot with seventeen seconds remaining. Valvano would win his only title in 1983 when Lorenzo Charles dunked a shot that had come up short as time expired. Krzyzewski won the first of his five championships (second only to John Wooden) in 1991.
Feinstein goes into much detail about Krzyzewski’s rivalry with Smith, but then gives a touching account of how their relationship changed near the end of Smith’s life (he died in 2015 after years of dementia).
A special part of the book was the detailing of Krzyzewski’s relationship with Valvano as he spent time at Duke University Medical Center before dying at age 47 in 1993. A chilling quote about Smith that Feinstein recounts from Valvano’s early days at North Carolina State was “I can’t outcoach him, but maybe I can outlive him”. Sadly, that would not be the case.
I enjoyed hearing stories about amazing ACC players such as Jordan, Ralph Sampson, Tim Duncan, Grant Hill, Christian Laettner, etc.
This book will be enjoyed by ACC basketball fans, college basketball fans in general and also those who enjoy leadership books.
A Life Well Played: My Stories by Arnold Palmer. St. Martin’s Press. 272 pages. 2016
This was Arnold Palmer’s 13th book, and the sequel to his 1999 autobiography A Golfer’s Life. The book, which was published shortly after his death on September 25 at age 87, features 75 short stories on a wide range of topics under the headings of Golf, Life and Business. As a bonus on the audiobook version of the book Arnie reads the beginning section of the book, be it in a very weak voice.
Arnie writes that the biggest influence in golf and life was his father, “Paps”. He taught him to be a sportsman along with good sportsmanship. He rode him hard and rarely complimented him. His parents taught him manners and respect. Other major influences on him were his first wife Winnie, agent Mark McCormack, and the game of golf.
Of the 75 stories Palmer includes here, I had many favorites. Among them were:
- His love of Latrobe Country Club (he considered Latrobe, PA to be home), Bay Hill, and Pebble Beach
- His thoughts about Jack Nicklaus
- Playing boldly, charging and going for broke
- Arnie’s Army
- His thoughts on civility, trust (sealing some of his most important business deals with just a handshake), and listening well
- Signing autographs (and doing a good job of it too)
- His love and devotion to first wife Winnie
- His love of flying. He wrote that had he not made a career of playing golf, he would have most likely been an airline pilot
- His heroes (his father, Bryon Nelson, Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones)
- His charity efforts, especially those related to children
- His relationship to Ike (Dwight D. Eisenhower)
- Golf course design. He still had plans to design the “ultimate course”
- The Golf Channel, which he co-founded
- The Arnold Palmer drink (iced tea and lemonade)
Arnie admits that he never really liked the nickname “The King”. As far as his legacy, he would like to be remembered as the caretaker of the game of golf and its integrity. He writes that he is the most thankful person because he got to live out his dream of playing golf for a living.
I enjoyed these stories from Arnie a great deal. There was no one that had a bigger impact on the game of golf than Arnie. I had the pleasure of seeing him at several tournaments, including many times at his tournament at Bay Hill, as well as when he played an opening round at a local course he designed. I highly recommend this book to all golf fans.
The Cardinals Way: How One Team Embrace Tradition and Moneyball at the Same Time by Howard Megdal. Thomas Dunne Books. 304 pages. 2016
Although most will see this as a sports book, it’s really more of a leadership book about how to run and transform an organization that happens to be a sports team. I was interested in it because I’m a big St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan. I was impressed at the access that the author had to key personnel, including the team’s managing partner and chairman (Bill DeWitt Jr.) and General Manager (John Mozeliak). Megdal’s writing style reminded me positively of the writing of John Feinstein, as he does an excellent job in helping you to get to know the characters involved. If I had a criticism, it would be that he sometimes goes into too much detail, especially leading up to and during the 2014 draft, that some readers may not care about. But that’s a minor criticism.
Although the Cardinals have been a very successful franchise over the past twenty years, the author shows that the values of the franchise have been in place for a much longer time. In fact, he states that the phrase “The Cardinals Way” comes from a manual, written originally by George Kissell, a coach whom the Cardinals employed from 1940 until his death in 2008. The author’s main point is that the Cardinals of today are both the manifestation of a vision Branch Rickey had a hundred years ago, and how much of the team’s current business model both fits what Rickey envisioned and is practiced by direct followers of Rickey himself. The book details how it happened – “from Rickey and DeWitt to DeWitt and Mozeliak. Here’s how it happened, from George Kissell’s insight and training to Jeff Luhnow’s, Sig Mejdal’s and Michael Girsch’s revolution to Dan Kantrovitz and Gary LaRocque’s implementation. And here’s how it works in practice, as seen through the eyes of players and coaches, scouts and analytics experts, operating the Cardinals Way at all levels of the farm system right now.” He writes that although “The Cardinals Way” is almost a hundred years old, both the deep connection with young players and reliance on new data doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.
The author begins by looking at Branch Rickey, best known for his role in bringing Jackie Robinson to the major leagues, as the inventor of the farm system. Rickey spent twenty-five years with the Cardinals from 1917 to 1942. Megdal states that the foundation for how the Cardinals, and ultimately, every major league team acquired and developed talent came from Rickey himself. During his time with the Browns, Rickey, in need of an administrative assistant, hired a thirteen-year-old peanut vendor at Sportsman’s Park to be his new assistant: Bill DeWitt Sr. He would ultimately become the first “farm director” in Major League Baseball history.
Another key figure in this story is George Kissell. Rickey signed Red Schoendienst and Kissell. The two men taught generations of Cardinals’ players and coaches who are helping the Cardinals win to this day.
Another key figure in the story is Jeff Luhnow, who was at the time hired by the Cardinals as a business-consulting specialist. The organizational change that he would bring to the club, supported by DeWitt, around the marriage of analytics and scouting would sharply conflict with the proven ways of General Manager Walt Jocketty. Luhnow, the General Manager of the Houston Astros, worked for the Cardinals in their scouting department from 2003 through 2011. The organizational conflict would eventually result in Jocketty being fired in 2007, after having just won the World Series in 2006, during which the organization was operating on parallel, often contradictory tracks.
The author briefly touches on an investigation by the F.B.I. and Justice Department into Cardinals’ personnel hacking into an internal network of the Houston Astros to steal information about players. The book went to press while that story was still developing.
The author points out the adaptability of the organization in that over the past twenty years, the Cardinals have had one owner, two general managers, and two managers. They don’t believe they’ve figured out anything that won’t require continual innovation to stay ahead of the competition. During that time they have won with the twentieth-century model, under Walt Jocketty, and the twenty-first-century model, under John Mozeliak. They won with an older, experienced field manager in Tony La Russa, and a young manager in Mike Matheny.
This book will most likely primarily be of interest to baseball fans, specifically Cardinal fans. But I would also recommend it to leadership interested in leading and transforming organizations.
Stephen Curry: The Incredible Story of One of Basketball’s Sharpest Shooters by Clayton Geoffreys. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 102 pages. 2014
My interest in this short unauthorized biography was not necessarily that Stephen Curry is the reigning National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Most Valuable Player, a member of the 2014-15 Championship team or the fact that that his team is currently an incredible 43-4 as I write this, with a real shot at beating the all-time record of 72-10 set by Michael Jordan’s Bulls in the 1995-96 season. What really attracted to me to Curry’s story, in addition to all of the above, is that he is known for his Christian beliefs.
Curry was born in 1988 in Akron, Ohio. His father Del was an NBA player and coach and his mother Sonya was an accomplished volleyball player. They met at Virginia Tech. His parents provided Stephen and his brother Seth (also a basketball player), the following priorities in life – faith, family and academics above everything else, including sports.
Curry attended Davidson University, where he played for three seasons before leaving for the NBA where he was drafted as the seventh overall pick by the Golden State Warriors in the 2009 draft. In his 104 games at Davidson, Curry finished with averages of 25.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 5.7 assists per game. His 2,635 total points and 414 total three-pointers are both Davidson records.
Curry’s early seasons were hampered by injuries (he spent the entire 2011-12 season recovering from ankle injuries and undergoing a season-ending surgery). He and teammate Klay Thompson, are nicknamed the “Splash Brothers” for their shooting abilities. The author states that even at this relatively early stage of Curry’s career, some are already considering him the greatest shooter in history.
The author takes us through Curry’s NBA career, through most of the 2014-15 season when the Warriors had a league-best record of 67-15, Curry was the top vote-getting in the All-Star Game, and was named the NBA Most Valuable Player. The book went to press before the end of the playoffs and the Warriors winning the NBA Championship.
Curry professed Christ while in the fourth grade at the Central Church of God in Charlotte. He writes bible verses on his basketball shoes. He is married to Ayesha and the couple has two daughters. He has a strong work ethic and though only 27 years old is a wonderful role model. The author tells us that Curry has stated in interviews he felt that God wanted to use him in the league to show that not all successful athletes live the celebrity lifestyle that comes with all the money and fame.
I enjoyed this short book about Steph Curry. The author sometimes goes overboard with superlatives and didn’t have any contact with Curry. Still, for those who want to know about this role model, this is an excellent book to check out.
Steve Williams: Out of the Rough by Steve Williams. Penguin. 288 pages. 2015
This book is the second by Williams following his 2005 book Golf at the Top with Steve Williams: Tips and Techniques from the Caddy to Raymond Floyd, Greg Norman, and Tiger Woods. That book included a Foreword from Woods. And while the new book includes contributions from Floyd, Norman, Ian Baker-Finch and Adam Scott, there are no contributions from Tiger, as the two have barely spoken since Woods fired him over the phone in 2011.
The book covers Williams’ 36 years as a caddy, which included carrying the bag for the aforementioned golfers, most notably Woods, which is why I decided to read it. I’m glad I did. As a golfer and golf fan, I found it to be a very interesting read.
Williams, who is now retired, lives in New Zealand with his wife Kirsty and son Jett. He writes that rugby was his first love and admits that he’s not a spiritual or religious person. In addition to golf, he also has a passion for motor racing. He writes of carrying his Dad’s golf bag around the Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club, one of New Zealand’s best links courses, as his first experience of caddying. Although Williams’ had potential as a professional golfer, he loved to caddy, which he states is one of the most under-appreciated roles in sport. He writes that a good caddy can make a huge difference to a player’s performance by offering guidance, decision-making and focus.
Williams writes of being fired by Norman, who he describes as definitely the hardest guy he ever caddied for. He states that if he made a mistake, Norman would have no hesitation in letting him know what an idiot he was. On the other hand, if Norman made a mistake, somehow that would also be Williams’ fault. He writes that off the course Norman was a wonderful guy and that they had probably become too close off the course.
He was then approached by Raymond Floyd, who he describes in stark contrast to Norman that nothing distracted him, nothing derailed his attention and he never got down on himself or blamed anyone or anything that conspired against him.
Later he was approached to caddy for Woods, younger than the 35 year old Williams at only 23. He states that Woods was like Norman in that all that mattered was winning, money wasn’t the primary focus. Woods expected to win, celebrations were non-existent. Woods’ focus intensified significantly when it came to major championships, with his lifetime ambition being to beat Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships.
Williams calls himself a perfectionist, in constant pursuit of the best possible performance. He writes that his commitment to Tiger was total. Woods’ obsession became his. He wholly bought into the chase for 18 majors. He wanted to be the guy who caddied for the man who broke Jack Nicklaus’s record.
He writes that while Woods is seen as completely self-obsessed, he could also be incredibly caring. It was Woods who told Williams that he should marry Kirsty, eventually serving as Best Man in their wedding.
He writes that Tiger taught him to strive to be better. He is grateful to have been around a person whose self-discipline and work ethic rubbed off on him. Williams writes that if you told Woods’ something he needed to work on he would work on it and improve.
He writes that a lot of people give Woods a bad rap for his tightness with money, though he states it’s true he’s the world’s worst tipper, but in his experience Woods was also generous in ways people never saw, and which he never made any fuss about.
He writes of Woods’ going through swing coaches beginning with Butch Harmon, then Hank Haney, Sean Foley and now Chris Como. Williams states that if Woods genuinely wants to break Nicklaus’s record, he needs to start over and go back to Butch, indicating that is the only way he can see him winning 19 majors.
He also tells about Woods’ obsession with becoming a Navy SEAL, and intense physical conditioning.
Everything changed with the revelations of Woods’ marital indiscretions in late 2009. Williams was completely unaware of them, and Woods’ failure to make that clear to the public was disappointing to Williams and caused him and his family pain, as everyone assumed he had to know about them. When Woods returned to golf, theirs was a player–caddy relationship rather than friends. And later, when Woods fired him over the phone for caddying for Adam Scott, the end of their professional relationship would spell the end of their personal relationship as well.
He writes of having absolutely no respect for Vijay Singh stating that he cannot forgive him for his dishonesty (Williams writes that Singh altered his scorecard to make the cut) at the Indonesia Open in 1985. He states that Singh is the least impressive character he ever came across in golf.
Williams writes that slow play is the biggest problem in golf, for professionals and amateurs alike. He states that there are well-known serial offenders out there and at the top of everyone’s list is Kevin Na.
He’s also not a fan of Phil Mickelson. He respects him as a player, but says he is a know it all, and rubs Williams the wrong way.
One thing that has gotten a lot of attention is Williams’ contention that Woods at times made him feel like a slave when Woods would flippantly toss a club in the general direction of the bag, expecting Williams to go over and pick it up. The use of that word, when Williams made a lot of money from his relationship with Woods doesn’t sit well with many.
Throughout the book Williams includes interesting lists:
- His top 10 courses
- Best shots he’s seen
- His top 10 holes
- His top 10 wins
To Williams’ credit, he discusses mistakes he’s made (comments he’s made, cameras he’s destroyed, etc.), but the only thing he regrets is an interview he gave on television after Adam Scott won the Bridgestone in 2011 when he stated that week was the greatest week of his life and the most satisfying win of his career (which wasn’t true).
He writes about his charitable activities, indicating that it was Greg Norman who first made me aware that it was possible to use fame to improve the lives of other people. He states that the highlight of his career is not something golf-related but the day they opened a new oncology unit – cutting the ribbon to a unit that bears his name.
The book does contain a good amount of adult language, so it wouldn’t be wouldn’t be appropriate for young readers.
Pitch by Pitch: My View of One Unforgettable Game by Bob Gibson & Lonnie Wheeler. Flatiron Books. 256 pages. 2015
Bob Gibson, who will turn 80 in early November, is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He played seventeen seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. During that time he won two Cy Young Awards and pitched for two World Series champs. In this book he takes the reader through each pitch of game one of the 1968 World Series against the Detroit Tigers.
Gibson was coming off of a record-setting season in which he had an earned run average of an incredible 1.12. His opponent in the October 2 game was Denny McLain, who won an unbelievable 31 games for the Tigers. So we had two pitchers at the top of their games going in game one on a warm October afternoon in St. Louis.
I really enjoyed Gibson’s insights on each pitch. He takes the reader through his thought process on what he was planning to throw and how it turned out. In between, he tells some very interesting stories about his Cardinal teammates and the Tigers he was facing. As a baseball fan and a Cardinal fan I loved every page of this book.
One story in particular was of personal interest. He tells of Cardinal Curt Simmons getting Hank Aaron out on change-up pitches. He writes “When Aaron finally timed one of Simmons’s slowballs and clubbed it over the fence, he was called out for stepping on the plate.” The fascinating thing about that story is that I was at that August 18, 1965 game in St. Louis as an 8 year old boy with my family when that took place.
Gibson writes in a confident manner about racial issues, his pitching “The slider was next; and it was perfect, if you don’t mind my saying so,” catcher McCarver “Tim has since confessed that he can’t think of a single intelligent thing he ever pointed out to me in our little mid-inning visits,” his roommate Curt Flood’s challenge of major league baseball’s reserve clause, and much, much more.
Gibson would break Sandy Koufax’s World Series strikeout record in the game and the Cardinals would win, but ultimately lose the series.
If you are a baseball fan, and in particular a Cardinals fan, you’ll love this book.
This book tells of the love story between father Pai, and oldest son Bengie Molina. It is an autobiography of Bengie as well as the incredible story of a family that produced three major league baseball catchers (José, Yadier and Bengie), who each have earned two World Series championships.
Pai was a very talented baseball player who had the potential but never made it to the major leagues. In fact, Bengie writes that people will tell you that Pai was a better player than any of his sons. Bengie does not reveal until late in the book why Pai didn’t play in the major leagues.
Pai taught and coached youth baseball, which was his passion. His rules were about the same thing: respect—for coaches, umpires, teammates, teachers, parents, the game, yourself. In addition to baseball, Pai enjoyed drinking beer and playing dominoes with his friends.
Mai (Bengie’s mother) was a good fit for Pai. She was lively and gregarious enough to fill Pai’s silences. And what luck to find a girl who loved baseball as much as he did.
As far as his faith, Bengie writes “My baptism and communion were pretty much the extent of my church experience. My parents weren’t even married in a church – church weddings cost too much. As a child, on the few occasions I found myself in the Vega Alta church, I didn’t feel that God would live in such a place. The door was thick and heavy, and when it closed behind me, I imagined being sealed inside an enormous crypt, cut off from everything alive.”
I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan and my favorite player is Yadier Molina. Bengie tells the story that Yadier was the only five-year-old in the history of Little League to infuriate an umpire enough to get tossed from a game (for calling the umpire an obscene name).
Bengie started his major league career with the California Angels, later playing for the Toronto Blue Jays, San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers. He retired in 2010 but stayed in the game as a coach.
Bengie writes of not being happy in his marriage, indicating that they were two unhappy strangers who shared two beautiful daughters and little else. He writes of being attracted to another girl named Jamie while married, who he would later marry. This did not go over well with Pai, who saw him as being disloyal and not putting his family first. That put a strain on Pai and Bengie’s relationship, something that was very painful for Bengie, as Pai would refuse to take Bengie’s phone calls.
Sadly, not long after the two were reconciled, Pai died at age 58 of a massive heart attack on his beloved field across the street from their home where he taught and coached baseball. That is where his wake was held, on the spot he had crossed a million times with his bags of balls and bats. Bengie writes that this was where he had lived, in the seam between baseball and family, and this was where he had taken his final steps.
Bengie writes about Pai’s wake: “A light rain fell as we carried Pai’s closed casket out of the tent and onto the baseball field. The baselines and batter’s boxes had been carefully chalked. We carried the casket to first base, then second and third. The mayor delivered a play-by-play of the action, as if Pai were rounding the bases. I picked up first base, Cheo second, and Yadier third. The mayor’s voice grew louder and more excited as we carried Pai toward home. His last trip around the diamond. A thousand people leapt to their feet.”
Bengie writes that playing in the Major Leagues was not Pai’s dream. His dream was to be a good father and husband and raise good sons. Through baseball, he taught his sons how to be men. That was his life’s work.
This is a very well written book and one that I couldn’t put down.
Mike Matheny is the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. He succeeded the legendary Tony La Russa in 2012, who retired after winning the 2011 World Series. Matheny, whose career as a catcher was cut short in 2006 at age 35 due to complications from numerous concussions, was at that time the youngest manager in the game. This book builds on a five-page letter that he sent to the Chesterfield (just outside of St. Louis) parents who had asked him to coach a youth baseball team. The letter would end up on the internet, go viral, and be referred to as the “Matheny Manifesto”. In the book Matheny shares his eight keys to success: leadership, confidence, teamwork, faith, class, character, toughness and humility.
Matheny’s letter begins:
“I always said that the only team that I would coach would be a team of orphans, and now here we are. The reason for me saying this is that I have found the biggest problem with youth sports has been the parents.”
Despite the letter, Matheny was asked by the parents to coach the team. He states: “They gave me the chance, and I put into practice what I believed was right. It wasn’t always easy, and not everyone was on board from the beginning. Not everyone lasted. But good values are good values for a reason, and in the end, they work.”
Matheny shares the lessons he and fellow coach John Mabry taught and the many they learned in the process, some painful but all valuable. He tells a lot of stories that I enjoyed along the way, from his childhood and upbringing, his days as a young ballplayer, a college player, a minor leaguer, and a big leaguer (as both a player and a manager). He also examines how the values he emphasizes apply to life beyond baseball, beyond sports, and can plant a seed of hope in the next generation.
He shares the core values that affected everything on and off the field:
The following were their nonnegotiables:
- A baseball experience focused on the boys
- Baseball played the right way—with class
- Attitude, concentration, and effort (ACE)—factors the boys can control (with excellence required)
- Biblical truths as our moral compass
- A culture of respect from players, parents, and coaches
- An emphasis on the mental aspect of the game
- The parent’s role as a silent source of support
- The players’ responsibility to make themselves better
Matheny states that in his personal life as well as his professional life, he has—without doubt—learned more from failure than from success.
He shares his appreciation of (as do I) legendary UCLA Men’s Basketball Coach John Wooden. He states that some refer to Wooden as the fountainhead of successful modern leadership, and they don’t even limit it to sports. He writes that Wooden is the coach to whom he owes the most, the one whose approach and philosophy he works hardest to imitate, though the two never met. He shares helpful maxims from Wooden in a number of categories.
I was particularly interested in the sections where Matheny discussed his faith, though that is unfair, because it’s clear that Matheny’s faith impacts all aspects of his life. I enjoyed hearing the story of his conversion. After hearing a revival speaker at his church one evening he was troubled about whether he was truly a believer, despite being a regular church attender. He couldn’t sleep that night and got out of bed to talk to his parents. He writes: “They got out their Bible, opened it to the New Testament book of Romans, and walked me through its Road to Salvation. Then they prayed with me, and I received Christ.”
About his faith he writes: “I have committed to my players and coaches that I will never force my faith down their throats or assume they see the world as I see it; however, neither will I cower from any question. My goal is to live in such a way that what I believe is obvious by how I go about my business and how I treat others.”
Respect is one of the values that he tried to instill in the boys on his youth team. He states: “It’s one thing to get kids to treat their opponents with respect—shake their hands and say, “Good game,” and mean it—win or lose. It’s quite another to get them to extend that courtesy to umpires.” It was a requirement that the boys would shake the hands of the umpire after each game, win or lose.
Matheny writes that his career was exceptional in only three ways: its longevity (especially for a catcher); that he got to play in the postseason four times, including a World Series; and because of his defense. Of his defense, Matheny won four Gold Gloves, and holds the Major League Baseball record for most consecutive games without an error.
I enjoyed Matheny discussion of his favorite teammates. About Yadier Molina, his current catcher on the Cardinals, he writes “I now manage the most valuable catcher in the game—maybe in history.”
Matheny states that “Character is forged not on the mountaintop but in the valley”. A moving part of the book is his recollection of how his career ended as a result of complications from a number (he doesn’t know how many) concussions. He writes that he went from an everyday starter, respected by teammates and peers as a no-nonsense competitor, to virtually an invalid almost overnight.
He discusses a topic near and dear to my heart – servant leadership. He states that the point of servant leadership is leading by serving. He writes about real estate investments that went bad during the economic downturn resulting in personal embarrassment when the news became public in St. Louis. Needing help like never before, he reached out to eight trusted men and asked if they would come alongside, counsel him and hold him accountable. These men would become what he refers to as his personal board. They are mostly business leaders, with one in ministry. They are leaders in their respective fields and follow the servant leadership model Matheny had been studying. They would later help him prepare for the interview with Cardinal General Manager John Mozeliak, which would result in Matheny being offered the job. In discussing his role as manager of the Cardinals, Matheny states: “My job is to show leadership and impact people. That’s what we were trying to accomplish with the youth-league team, and now I’m applying that same approach in a big-league clubhouse.”
Bob Costas writes a short “Afterword”. This is a well-written book that Matheny collaborated with Jerry B. Jenkins on.
Here’s a short video that gives an overview of Matheny’s philosophy on youth sports: https://vimeo.com/73468824. You can read his “manifesto” (not his word) that went viral here: http://www.mac-n-seitz.com/teams/mike-matheny-letter.html
As a St. Louis Cardinals fan I was aware of Matheny and that he was a Christian. After reading this book and getting to know more about him I appreciate him even more.
Chuck Pagano completed his third season as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts two weeks ago with a 45-7 loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game, in what is now clouded by the Deflate-Gate controversy. After seeing Pagano profiled in a pre-game segment I decided to read this book which focuses on his battle with acute promyelocytic leukemia early during his first (2012) season with the Colts. Tony Dungy, formerly head coach of the Colts, writes the Foreword to the book.
During training camp in 2012 Pagano noticed that he was unusually tired and that he had unexplained bruises on his body that would not go away. Three games into the regular season in the fall of 2012, he went to see a doctor, who ordered some tests to be run. He was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia — APL for short. A cancer of the blood cells. He was told that APL is very curable, but that he would have to be admitted to the hospital to begin treatment immediately.
Pagano speaks of the support he received (from his family, his doctor (Dr. Cripe), Colts owner (Jim Irsay), the fans, players, etc.), during his illness and recovery. Assistant coach Bruce Arians (now the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals) ran the team in Pagano’s absence. He guided the Colts to a 9–3 record over his tenure, which lasted from October 1 until Pagano’s return on December 24.
From the time Pagano arrived in Indianapolis, he constantly talked to the team about trust, loyalty, and respect. They became committed to these core values. Prior to his battle against leukemia, he had no idea just how important those values would be to him and to the team. He never expected to see them lived out in such amazing and bold ways. He never imagined being at the center of a movement called CHUCKSTRONG.
Pat McAfee, the Colts punter, tweeted several messages to his followers about Pagano’s condition and encouraged them to show support for him by joining the battle to fight cancer. He ended his tweet with #Chuckstrong. It caught on — in a big way. By midweek, a few days before the Colts home game against the Green Bay Packers, a CHUCKSTRONG campaign had started selling T-shirts, wristbands, and banners in the Colts’ pro shop, with proceeds going to leukemia research. Inspired by Lance Armstrong’s LIVESTRONG campaign, organizers of CHUCKSTRONG announced there would be huge CHUCKSTRONG banners with orange ribbons behind both goalposts. (Note: As the book went to press, the CHUCKSTRONG campaign had raised almost two million dollars in the fight against cancer).
Pagano writes that throughout his stay in the hospital, team owner Jim Irsay regularly stopped by to say hello and see how he was doing. His genuine concern went beyond Pagano simply being his head coach. He cared for Pagano as though he were a member of his family. Pagano was also in constant contact with general manager, Ryan Grigson. Having an iPad during his stay in the hospital kept him in touch with what was going on every day with the team.
After the Colts beat the Kansas City Chiefs, he returned to work on December 24 for the first time in three months. The light was still on in his office, just as Bruce Arians had left it while he was gone.
The Colts would travel to Baltimore to face Pagano’s former team, the Ravens, in the AFC wild-card game. They would lose that game 24 – 9, and the Ravens would go on to win Super Bowl XLVII against the San Francisco 49ers. The 2012 Colts became only the second team in NFL history to rebound by winning ten or more games in a season after losing fourteen or more the previous season.
On June 17, 2013, Pagano was selected by the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) as the 2013 George Halas Award winner. The Halas Award is given to the NFL player, coach, or staff member who overcomes the most adversity to succeed.
Pagano briefly covers the Colts’ 2013 season, in which they had a regular season record of 11 – 5, the same as in 2012. They would play the Kansas City Chiefs in their first playoff game, which was one for the ages. The Colts were down at one time 38 – 10, but would come back to rally for a 45 – 44 win. The Colts had overcome the second-largest deficit of any team in an NFL playoff game. The Colts would advance to play New England in the AFC Divisional playoff game, which they would lose 43-22, with New England advancing to play Denver in the AFC Championship game.
Pagano’s battle against leukemia was inspiring and worthy of a book. Throughout the book he includes encouraging notes that his friend Elks had sent him. Near the end of the book he repays the favor to let Elks know just how important his support had been throughout the entire process.
If I have one criticism of the book it is that I would have liked to hear more about Pagano’s faith. It comes across as a bit vague. We don’t really get to hear what he actually believes. I would have liked to have known more about his upbringing, what church he goes to, etc. For example, although Pagano received a lot of support from his family, the Colts leadership and players, fans, etc., I don’t recall hearing about his pastor or church supporting them.
Pagano closes the book with these words of encouragement: “This is the battle we’re all called to fight. Life takes us out of the game, and suddenly we’re sidelined. For me, it was the fight against cancer; for our team, it was the fight to make it to the playoffs. But this same process of perseverance can help you face whatever impossible challenge you might be facing. No matter how great the odds seem that are stacked against you, it’s never too late to put hope in action. You just have to take life as it comes, doing the next thing and then the next. Never be afraid to ask for help and to accept the support you’re given. Give it everything you’ve got, and trust God for the outcome.”
Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig by Jonathan Eig. Simon and Schuster. 432 pages. 2006
I started reading this book on July 4, looking for a “light read” for the holiday weekend. Little did I know that it was the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” speech that took place on “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day” at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939.
Eig gives us a well-researched biography of one of the best baseball players in history, and perhaps the greatest first baseman. Prior to reading this book, I knew little of the details of Gehrig’s life or career. You can check out his career statistics at his official website – http://www.lougehrig.com/index.html
Gehrig, who was nicknamed “The Iron Horse”, was very close to his mother; Christina lost a few other children, with Lou being the only one who would survive. Eig describes her as a muscular, unemotional figure. But with Lou’s father Heinrich so often gone, it was Christina who explained to Lou what would be expected of him. It was she who set the example. The family had little money when Lou was growing up. Lou Gehrig was picked on as a child—for his poverty, for his shyness, for his ethnicity, and not the least for his rather large rear end.
Gehrig is described as a worrier, obsessed with pleasing others. Later, even as one of the best players in the game he always approached his job with a grim determination and a deep fear of disappointing his employers, his teammates, and his fans.
Gehrig made a misstep by playing professional baseball while a student at Columbia University. As a result, he was suspended from collegiate competition for one year. When the Yankees offered him a contract the college sophomore left Columbia. Gehrig signed his first Yankee contract on April 30, 1923 meaning that his family would never be poor again.
Gehrig, who played in more interracial games than most, was one of the few white ballplayers of his era to go on record in support of integration. “There is no room in baseball for discrimination,” he said once. “It is our national pastime and a game for all.”
Eig writes a lot about Gehrig’s relationship with Babe Ruth. He writes that their relationship was a complicated one, and that perhaps what Gehrig loved in Ruth was his free spirit, his charisma, and his casual way of dealing with authority figures.
I found it interesting that the way the Yankees were assigned numbers on their jerseys (something that was introduced while Gehrig was playing), was for the most part, in the order in which they were expected to bat that year. For example, Ruth batted third and was assigned “3”, Gehrig fourth, and assigned “4”, etc.
Gehrig would continue to live with his parents even after becoming a star with the Yankees. No girlfriend that Lou brought by the home was good enough for her. Eventually, Lou would marry Eleanor, but Christina and Eleanor would never get along. Eig writes that Christina could be overbearing, but there appears to have been an especially explosive chemistry between the two women. They were battling for control, and almost everything Christina said and did irritated Eleanor.
Gehrig was known for his consecutive games played streak, which was broken 56 years later by Cal Ripkin Jr.
In 1934, Gehrig became the first athlete to appear on a box of Wheaties cereal. He also did ads for Camel cigarettes and Aqua Velva aftershave.
Gehrig was named the Yankees’ captain. The designation conferred no rights or privileges. But it was an honor, to be sure.
Eig writes that:
“Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) struck Lou Gehrig in 1938. It might have hit him as early as January, when he went to Hollywood to act in a Western called Rawhide. It might have happened a couple of months later, when he reported to Spring Training in St. Petersburg and developed bruises and blisters on his hands. It might have been around the time of his thirty-fifth birthday, when his wife noticed he was having trouble with his balance. Or it might have been a bit deeper into the summer, when his manager detected a change in the way his star slugger was swinging the bat. But it was almost certainly no later than that. As the baseball season ran its course, Gehrig’s strength and skill seemed to slip away like a ground ball through the legs. If he sensed that something wasn’t quite right, he certainly had no way to know he was dying”.
Since its discovery more than a century and a half ago, no one has been known to survive ALS.
About ALS, Eig writes:
“In a healthy person, messages travel in an instant from the brain to the fingers or toes. But the messages travel a long way—through motor nerves running from the base of the skull down the spine. In a person with ALS, these motor nerves begin to die, with no warning and for no apparent reason. Messages can’t get through. The disease begins shutting down the body’s functions one by one, like a night watchman switching off the factory-floor lights. Muscles waste away. The first symptoms are small and easy to miss—some weakness or cramping in the hands or feet, typically. Most people ignore the signs for a year or more. Soon, they start stumbling and dropping things. They have trouble buttoning their shirt or turning the key in the ignition of their car. Then walking becomes difficult. The disease moves up and down the spinal cord, killing more and more nerve cells. Within a few years, in most cases, the patient will be unable to walk, unable to sit up straight, unable to talk, unable to swallow and, finally, unable to breathe. Through it all, the patient remains awake, alert, and fully aware of what is happening. While ALS leaves the victim’s brain in perfect order, few diseases can so thoroughly bulldoze a person’s spirit”.
Gehrig struggled mightily during Spring Training in 1939 in a section of the book that was difficult to read. He had no idea that he had ALS. He said he should have been in better shape coming to Spring Training. In fact one doctor was sure it was a gall bladder problem, and he treated him for that. There were very few neurologists at the time.
He finally went to the Mayo Clinic for a series of examinations, where it was quickly identified that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Gehrig’s medical records have been permanently sealed despite frequent requests by doctors and journalists to have them opened.
Gehrig told reporters that he believed the disease had been checked and that his condition would get no worse. He continually said that the chances of beating it were 50-50. He would exchange more than two hundred letters with a doctor, which the author obtained access to. The doctor who surely knew that Gehrig was dying, continued to give him hope, rather than being honest with him.
The book opens and closes with an account of Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day at Yankee Stadium, July 4, 1939. In the weeks following his tearful speech, Gehrig received more fan mail than he had throughout his entire career. So many letters arrived at Yankee Stadium that he had to haul them home in boxes.
Gehrig would accept a city position from Mayor La Guardia in which he would be required to visit prisons, counsel inmates, and evaluate cases to decide whether criminals should be released.
On December 7, 1939, the Baseball Writers Association of America voted to waive its normal election process and immediately nominate Gehrig to the Baseball Hall of Fame. It was the first time that a player had been named to the Hall of Fame the same year he departed the game. Shortly thereafter the Yankees had retired Gehrig’s number. Never before had a player’s number been retired. Never again would a Yankee player wear Number 4 on his back. The Yankees also announced that Gehrig’s locker would never be used by another player.
Gehrig would die on June 2, 1941. His life would be brought to the big screen in The Pride of the Yankees, starring Gary Cooper as Gehrig. The film received nine Academy Award nominations.
Today, about five thousand Americans a year are diagnosed with ALS. Scientists still don’t know what causes the disease, and they still don’t have a cure. Most patients die within two or three years of diagnosis. In other words, not much has changed since 1941.
I found this to be a very interesting, but ultimately sad book to read.
Michael Jordan: The Life by Roland Lazenby. Little, Brown and Company. 720 pages. 2014. Audiobook read by Bob Souer
The Michael Jordan (MJ) years in Chicago were incredible. People who didn’t live through that time will never know what it was like. Tickets were incredibly hard to get. The excitement at the United Center in Chicago was unbelievable. It seemed like everyone was wearing Chicago Bulls clothing. I remember telling my brother that we were truly living through something that we’d not see again.
Roland Lazenby, who has written books on Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant and Jerry West, gives us a well-researched look at Jordan’s life, beginning with his family in North Carolina some 70 years before Michael’s birth.
He offers allegations from one of Jordan’s sisters that she was repeatedly sexually abused by James Jordan, Michael’s father. Unfortunately, Michael’s mother Deloris failed to do anything about the allegations. Michael’s sister would write about the abuse in her book In My Family’s Shadow: Sister of Sports Phenomenon Michael Jordan.
Lazenby writes that Jordan wanted to be taller, and even prayed for growth. He covers the famous story of Michael being cut from the basketball team at Laney High School in Wilmington, North Carolina his sophomore year.
Church was a part of Jordan’s family, especially his mother Deloris who is described as a devout Christian. Michael was a good student in school. But MJ shows no evidence of being a believer himself.
Jordan played three seasons for Dean Smith at North Carolina University, hitting the winning shot in the NCAA Championship game his freshman year. He played on two Olympic teams (including the “Dream Team” in 1982), the first of which was coached by Bob Knight, who Lazenby continually writes “bullied” Jordan. I’m certainly not a fan of the current overuse of that term.
After the Olympics, Nike offered Jordan a tremendous deal, and developed the Air Jordan basketball shoe, before he played his first NBA game with the Chicago Bulls. That was the beginning of Jordan’s incredible marketing career, which has earned him much more money than playing basketball ever did.
Lazenby writes of Jordan being frozen out by veteran stars like his childhood hero Magic Johnson and Isaiah Thomas in his first All-Star game. This was the beginning of a long feud with Thomas.
Jordan’s remarkable 15 year NBA career is covered in detail, including:
• 6 NBA Championships and 6 NBA Finals MVP awards
• 5 time Most Valuable Player
• 14 All-Star Game appearances, with 3 All-Star Game MVP awards
• NBA Defensive Player of the Year and 9 times a member of the All- Defensive Team
• 10 scoring titles
We see how the Bulls got better under Coach Doug Collins each year, but always fell short against the Detroit Pistons in the playoffs. Phil Jackson was hired as a Collins’ assistant and took over as Head Coach when Collins was surprisingly fired by Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause. Jackson would turn the offense over to Tex Winter, who would use his famous Triangle offense to lead the Bulls to six NBA titles.
Jordan married Juanita and they would have three children together before divorcing in 2006.
Lazenby writes a lot about Jordan’s excesses – golf, gambling, drinking, and womanizing.
After the Bulls third NBA Championship, Jordan’s father was murdered. That led to Jordan’s first retirement from the NBA and his experiment with baseball. Although he struggled in baseball, some were surprised that he was as good as he turned out to be, after having not played the game in so many years.
He would return to the NBA, and teamed with Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman win another three NBA titles before retiring for the second time in 1998. I found myself getting mad at Jerry Krause and owner Jerry Reinsdorf all over again, just like in 1997, for wanting to break up the Bulls to show that they could win a championship without Jackson, Jordan and Pippen. To that I ask the Jerrys, “How did that work out for you?”
Jordan, who said he would only play for Jackson, retired after Jackson didn’t come back for the 1998-1999 season. He would later tell some that he felt betrayed by Jackson. The Bulls would then trade Pippen to Houston.
Jordan, who may have expected to have an executive role with the Bulls was never offered such a position by Reinsdorf. Instead, he went to the Washington Wizards, first in the front office and part-owner, and then returned to playing. When he returned to the court he had to give up his ownership to comply with league rules. He did that with the full expectation that he would step back into an ownership position after he retired from playing, but the Washington owner Abe Pollin in effect fired Jordan after he retired from playing.
The two years that Jordan had played in Washington were difficult. Jordan had picked Doug Collins to be his coach. Both years the team finished 37-45 and missed the playoffs.
Jordan would later become the Chairman of the Charlotte Bobcats and now Hornets. The team was very bad, leading some to call him the worst owner ever. But Jordan has turned the team around, going 43-39 in 2013-2014.
Jordan is now remarried and has twins born in 2014.
I very much enjoyed this book, reliving a great period in Chicago sports history. All Bulls and basketball fans should enjoy it as well. It does contain a fair amount of adult language. It doesn’t appear that Jordan, Jackson or Pippen cooperated with Lazenby for the book.
The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter by Ian O’Connor. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 416 pages. 2011. Audiobook read by Nick Pollifrone
I recently attended a Yankees/Cubs game at Wrigley Field, which was celebrating its 100th birthday (and looks it, I should say). Other than the special time with my Dad and brother, I was most looking forward to seeing Yankee legend Derek Jeter, who had announced in Spring Training that this would be his final year. Here’s what I wrote about that day:
For the last several years my brother and I have celebrated Father’s Day with our Dad with a Peoria Charter bus trip to Wrigley Field. This year’s trip occurred on what would have been my parent’s 59th wedding anniversary. Also, in 2014 Wrigley is celebrating its 100th anniversary, and the game Dad chose was against the New York Yankees. In Spring Training, future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter announced that this would be his final season. This was his final game at Wrigley Field. The game would go 13 innings before the Yankees won. Jeter would bat seven times, getting one hit. Each time he came to the plate the crowd (including yours truly) would rise for a standing ovation and stay standing throughout the entire at bat. I’m glad I was able to see him before he retires.
After the Cubs series, Jeter’s Yankees headed across town to face the White Sox, before heading down I-55 to Busch Stadium where they faced the Cardinals. I caught several of Jeter’s at bats during these series and decided to read this 2011 book about him by Ian O’Connor. I had previously read O’Connor’s book Arnie and Jack: Palmer, Nicklaus, and Golf’s Greatest Rivalry and enjoyed it.
After reading (actually listening to the audiobook) the book, I got an even greater appreciation for Jeter, who as I read this has amassed an incredible 3,368 hits, putting him 9th on the all-time list, just 67 hits short of Cap Anson at #6.
O’Connor writes that Jeter chose not to participate in the book, indicating that his career wasn’t over yet.
Jeter is bi-racial, with his father being African American and his mother white. He did face some prejudice growing up. He comes across as the perfect kid, student, child and athlete, growing up in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In fact, despite a few criticisms in the book, O’Connor’s version of Jeter approaches sainthood, including how he treats people and his Turn 2 foundation. Despite playing during baseball’s steroid era, Jeter has never been accused of using performance enhancing drugs.
Growing up Jeter always told everyone that he would play shortstop for the Yankees. As a teen, he would tell friends that he would marry singer Mariah Carey. He was correct on one of these, and almost on the other.
He was drafted by the Yankees as the 6th overall pick and signed for $800,000. He was initially assigned to Tampa, where he struggled at first, barely eighteen years old. He would later move to Greensboro, where he was well-liked by his teammates and due to his good looks, women. Throughout the book, O’Connor talks about the models that Jeter dated.
He made the big leap from A to AAA ball in 1994 and made his major league debut with the Yankees in 1994.
He did date Mariah Carey, but eventually broke up with her. Both had African American fathers and white mothers. The attention the couple received from the media was significant. Carey enjoyed it, but Jeter didn’t.
As far as his faith, Jeter is described as a private Catholic. Weaknesses of Jeter’s that O’Connor points out are his inability to forgive and forget and being sensitive to criticism.
He won four World Series championships in his first five years and has won six overall (thus far).
A criticism I have about the book is how much time O’Connor devotes to Jeter’s relationship with Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod). Very early in their careers they were very good friends. When Rodriguez made a big deal in the media about getting a larger contract than Jeter, their relationship soured. Later, A-Rod was signed by the Yankees and Jeter was criticized by some by not publicly embracing him enough. A friend had told Jeter that he would never win a championship with Rodriguez, which didn’t turn out to be accurate. O’Connor writes a lot about A-Rod’s jealously of Jeter.
After the Yankees lost in the first round of the 2002 post-season, he was criticized by Yankee owner George Steinbrenner. Steinbrenner felt that Jeter was distracted by too many late nights in the New York City clubs and doing too many endorsements. They eventually reconciled and the two later did a parody VISA commercial.
One time Jeter looks bad in the book is not accepting the apology of a Toronto catcher who ran into him, resulting in Jeter missing several games. It does appear that Jeter showed the catcher grace when he should have.
Steinbrenner named Jeter Yankee captain in 2003. He was the team’s first captain since Don Mattingly. Jeter worked well and very much respected long-time Yankee Manager Joe Torre.
Jeter, like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus defines himself by the championships he has won.
When sabermetrics showed that Jeter was one of the worst fielding shortstops, Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman sat down with him to discuss it. Jeter agreed to work on his conditioning and significantly improved his performance at shortstop. Jeter’s production sharply declined in 2010, which set up a bitter contract dispute after the season.
The book does include a good amount of adult language as O’Connor quotes other players. A criticism I have with the audiobook is the significant amount of names that are badly mispronounced by the narrator, including well known players like Albert Pujols, CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Juan Marichal.
Overall I really enjoyed the book and it gave me an even greater appreciation for Jeter.
Mariano Rivera was the greatest closer in major league baseball history – with 652 saves in the regular season and 42 more in the postseason. He is a certain first ballot Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible in four more years. He is famous for his “cutter” pitch. He wrote this book with New York Daily News sportswriter Wayne Coffey. When he would come out of the bullpen at Yankee Stadium, they would play “Enter Sandman” by Metallica.
Rivera writes of his Panamanian hometown being dominated by the fishing trade. He would often smell of fish from working on his father’s boat, and would often get into fights with those who made fun of him for smelling like fish. He dropped out of school in the ninth grade. He recounts seeing his uncle suffer a fatal injury in a fishing mishap and almost dying himself when his father’s boat sunk. He writes that he was terrified of his father, who often beat him.
He played baseball for local teams, playing mostly shortstop. One day he was surprised when asked to pitch. He was even more surprised when he was invited to a tryout with the New York Yankees. They signed him for $2,000 in 1990 and he was assigned to Tampa.
Rivera met Derek Jeter, who he speaks very highly of, when both played for the Yankees’ farm system in Greensboro, North Carolina. Rivera made it to the Yankees in 1995 and Jeter in 1996. The two won five World Series titles together in their storied careers. Rivera retired after the 2013 season and Jeter will after the 2014 season. Rivera was named to the America League All-Star team thirteen times. He was the last player to wear uniform number 42, with the number having been retired in honor of Jackie Robinson.
Rivera writes about blowing the save, and as it turns out the 2001 World Series against Arizona and how that impacted him. That was the greatest disappointment of his career.
Rivera is married to his long-time girlfriend Clara. They have three sons. He is terrified of flying, and writes of clutching his Bible on plane rides.
Rivera speaks kindly of manager Joe Torre, whom he refers to as “Mr. T.”. This is despite Torre turning down his request to take a few games off to attend his son’s graduation. Torre refused the request, and Rivera did not appear in any of the games.
Throughout the book Rivera writes of his strong faith in Christ and how it informs his life. He became a believer at age 21. Rivera being a believer was what drew me to this book. In the Epilogue, Rivera writes that he and his wife Clara have started a church called Refuge of Hope, where Clara is the pastor – http://www.refugiodeesperanza.net/about-refuge-of-hope/
I listened to the audiobook version of the book, which was enthusiastically narrated by Michael Kay.
I recommend this book for baseball fans and those who like to read biographies of Christian athletes.
Recently, we watched the Golf Channel’s wonderful three part series Arnie. One of those interviewed for the series was James Dodson, who wrote this book with the now 84 year old Palmer. I have had this book for years, but never read it. I decided now was as good a time as any.
Palmer writes that wife Winnie had read Dodson’s excellent book Final Rounds, and thought that he would be the perfect person to work with him on the project.
Palmer’s father Deke was the head greenskeeper at Latrobe Country Club, which he’d helped build with his own hands in the years just prior to Arnie’s birth in September 1929. He would later be named the professional for the club until his death in 1976.
Deke first put Arnie’s hands around the shaft of a cut-down women’s golf club when Arnie was three. He showed him the classic overlap, or Vardon, grip. He also drank, and Palmer writes that the alcohol often brought out a side of him none of them liked to see.
Palmer’s mother, Doris, was a classic “people” person, interested in just about everyone and everything, always enthusiastic in her approach to life, and she never met a stranger she didn’t like. He writes that in some ways she was a complete and welcome contrast to his father. Where he was pure discipline, she was complete generosity; where he was hard work and almost no play, she was playful and life nurturing. Palmer writes that he burned inside to earn his father’s favor, but compliments rarely came from Deke.
Palmer went to Wake Forest University on a full scholarship as a result of his friendship with Bud Worsham. Palmer and Worsham grew to become very close friends until Worsham’s death driving back from a party in Durham. Bud’s death shook Palmer and led him to enlisting in the Coast Guard.
In speaking about his faith, Palmer writes that his faith is’ like my father’s, a strictly private matter between my Maker and me’. He writes that he did say prayers but never asked the Almighty to help him win a golf match or a tournament. His prayer was basically pretty simple and direct: “Please let me stay healthy enough to compete”.
Palmer goes into detail about his golf career in which he won 95 times, including 65 on the PGA Tour and 10 wins on the Senior (now Champions) Tour. He believes that his role in the creation of the Senior PGA Tour was one of his most significant accomplishments. He writes about the disappointment of never having won the PGA Championships, the only of golf’s four major tournaments that he didn’t win.
He also talks about his many endorsement deals as a result of his partnership with Mark McCormack, indicating that from the beginning, he didn’t feel comfortable pitching a product or service he wouldn’t use or didn’t think was very good.
In Ryder Cup competition, Arnie won 22 matches against 8 losses, with two ties and a total of 23 points. He believes that the Presidents Cup, modeled after the Ryder Cup, is a valuable contribution to the game.
He writes about his relationship with one of his chief rivals, Jack Nicklaus, his love for his Bay Hill Golf Club in Orlando and his disappointment over Isleworth, next to Bay Hill. Isleworth was a dream of Arnie’s; a golf club and residential community that he hoped would be the crowning touch of his career as a course designer. It was a dream that quickly turned into a nightmare. In 1987, a group of residents living adjacent to the new upscale golf community filed suit over environmental concerns stemming from runoff water from the golf course Arnie built there. A mountain of legal, engineering, and environmental studies grew over the next three years, until an Orlando court awarded the residents a $6.6 million judgment against the development.
Arnie writes that he is proud of Palmer Course Design and the work they do. Locally, The Den at Fox Creek, an Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Course, became the City of Bloomington’s third golf course when it opened on August 1, 1997.
Arnie writes that there’s no doubt in his mind that if professional golf hadn’t become his way of life, something to do with aviation would have. He writes about owning eight airplanes, beginning with a twin-prop Aero Commander, bought secondhand for $27,000 in 1962, and ending with (at that time), the Citation X, a $15 million wonder ship that is the fastest private jet of its class in the world.
Arnie writes about losing his father and then later his wife Winnie getting cancer. He states that it was Winnie’s idea to make the children’s hospital the principal beneficiary of the charity monies created by the Bay Hill tournament, a tie-in that has been a perpetual source of income to a project near and dear to both of their hearts.
Though this biography is fifteen years old, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know “the King”, who was my Dad’s favorite player. Count me as a loyal member of his Army.
In this loving tribute to a man that he has known, respected and worked for more than a quarter of a century, golf professional Brad Brewer shares 35 life lessons and principles for success that he has learned from Palmer. Brewer knows Palmer not only as one of the greatest golfers ever, but also as an employer, business partner, teacher, philanthropist, friend and mentor. He writes that Palmer has helped him become a better man, a more devoted husband, effective coach and successful business executive.
Brewer refers to Scripture passages and some of his favorite teachers throughout the book, and describes the 81 year old Palmer as a man with a strong faith, but one who tends to keep it relatively private.
Palmer indicates that many of the principles that he lives by were influenced by his father. These seemingly simple practices revolve around character, competiveness and a simple approach to life. As he goes over the lessons he has learned from Palmer, Brewer includes stories, anecdotes and observations from those who share a similar appreciation for Arnold Palmer. Although the stories revolve around golf, it is not a “golf book” as such, but could be enjoyed by anyone.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to others.
I had read Wooden’s 1973 book They Call Me Coach when I was in high school. Wooden, the legendary coach of the UCLA men’s basketball team was a Christian and has written books on leadership. This new biography of arguably the greatest coach in any sport takes a detailed a comprehensive look at UCLA Men’s Basketball Coach John Wooden, warts and all. Davis is critical of Wooden at times – not being close enough to his players, not standing up enough for his black players, and not distancing his program from UCLA booster Sam Gilbert.
Davis starts by looking at the influence of Wooden’s father Hugh. He states that: “For all the things that John Wooden accomplished—as player, a coach, and most of all, a teacher—he never forgot his roots, or the man who planted them.” Hugh would die of leukemia in 1950 at the age of sixty-eight.
The Wooden family moved to Martinsville, Indiana and was exposed to a growing local passion. It was a brand-new game called “basketball,” and though all the Wooden boys were quite good at it, Davis writes that Johnny was the best of them all.
Although baseball was Johnny’s favorite sport, Martinsville didn’t have a high school team. Wooden lettered for two years in track—he finished sixth in the state in the 100-yard dash as a senior—but he devoted most of his energy to basketball.
Wooden’s life-long love was Nell. She was, as he often described her, “the only girl I ever went with.” Davis writes that she was also everything he wasn’t.
Once basketball season started, Johnny and Nellie developed a private pregame ritual. As he emerged from Curtis’s huddle, he would find her in the stands, wink, and flash her the “okay” sign. They performed this ritual before every game he played and coached, right through his last at UCLA.
Wooden aspired to be a civil engineer, and one of the few state universities that had a civil engineering program was Purdue. That school also had an excellent basketball team, and though Wooden had never visited the campus, several of his friends who were Purdue students recommended that he go there. As the summer of 1928 concluded, he decided to head for West Lafayette.
To people of a certain era, Wooden is not known as a great coach, but the India Rubber Man, an electric flash who darted and dribbled his way around the court like no other, flinging his body to the floor and bouncing up.
On August 8, 1932 Johnny Wooden and Nellie Riley were married at a small church in Indianapolis.
After graduation, Wooden got an offer to teach at a high school in Dayton, Kentucky. Wooden had many responsibilities. On top of coaching football, basketball, track, and baseball, he was the athletic director and curriculum adviser for all physical education classes in grades one through twelve. He also taught five English classes a day. Wooden thought of himself as an English teacher who happened to coach, not the other way around.
During the summer of 1934, Nellie had given birth to a daughter, Nancy Anne, in nearby Covington, and they ached to get back to Indiana. Shortly after the start of the 1934–35 academic year, Wooden was offered a job in the South Bend school system. At South Bend’s Central High School, Wooden was again wearing many hats. Besides teaching English and serving as athletic director, he also coached baseball and tennis. In addition, he was the school’s comptroller, which was ironic since he was never very good with numbers.
Given Wooden’s credentials as a player, his ascension to the head spot was inevitable. The shift occurred in the spring of 1936. That was a milestone year for the Wooden family, as Nellie gave birth to a son, Jim, that fall.
He would go to Fort Wayne or Hammond or Indianapolis to play professional basketball games. Then he could come back that night and the next morning he would be teaching. Wooden played as many games as he could, but he never fully embraced life as a professional athlete. He gave up playing for good in 1939.
After World War II broke out, Wooden could have avoided being drafted because he was a married father and high school teacher, but eventually duty compelled him to enlist in the navy, a little more than a year after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Fortunately, Japan surrendered while Wooden was still anchored on Lake Michigan, and he was honorably discharged as a full lieutenant in January 1946. He had managed to serve for two and a half years without leaving the country.
Around that time, he received a surprise phone call from the president of Indiana State Teachers College in Terre Haute. The president called Wooden and offered him the head coaching job over the phone. Wooden, also served as Indiana State’s athletic director and baseball coach,
Besides coaching and teaching English, Wooden was also pursuing a master’s degree in education at Indiana State. He taught a course in coaching, and he made his Pyramid of Success part of the curriculum.
Wooden accepted the UCLA head coaching position for the 1948-1949 season.
Every morning before practice, Wooden spent two to three hours drafting his practice plan and then transferring it onto note cards. When practice was over, Wooden filed the cards away for safekeeping.
There was no playbook at UCLA because there were no plays. Wooden’s high-post offense allowed players two or three options for each exchange, but it was up to them to make those decisions. To Wooden, the games were just the final exams, the coach a proctor. Practice was where the real work got done.
The impression that most have of Wooden is that he was a very calm coach. But Davis talks about another side of Wooden as a player and in his early days as a coach. By the time he reached his fifties, Wooden had left most of his hot-headedness back in South Bend.
Wooden was a man of actions, not statements. Wooden told his players not to use profanity, so he never used it himself. He asked them to quit smoking, so he did the same.
Wooden had some incredible players at UCLA, including Gail Goodrich, Walt Hazard, Lew Alcindor, Sidney Wicks, Bill Walton, Henry Bibby, Curtis Rowe and many others. Davis goes into great detail of Wooden’s incredible years at UCLA.
Davis spends a good deal of time detailing the activities of UCLA booster Sam Gilbert, who allegedly had mob connections.
Wooden had a mild heart attack December 1972. For the first time in his coaching career, he would have to miss a game.
At the end of his career, in a twelve-year span, Wooden’s teams won ten NCAA titles and put together two epic streaks—seven straight national championships and eighty-eight consecutive wins. About this time Davis writes:
“Most important, Wooden had accomplished all of that during a period of immense social change. The pressure of being on top eventually got to him, but not nearly as viscerally as it did for so many other great coaches. The ten championships aside, John Wooden’s greatest victory may well have been his ability to emerge from all that tumult without losing sense of who he was—not a perfect man but a very good one, a teacher more than a coach, a Christian, a husband, a father, anything but a wizard. He was going out a winner, but what mattered more was that he had been successful, even if he was the only one who understood the difference.”
Davis covers the years after Wooden retired as UCLA men’s basketball coach, when several coaches – Gene Bartow, Gary Cunningham, Jim Harrick, Larry Brown, Larry Farmer, Walt Hazzard – tried to follow him.
As he moved into his seventies, Wooden remained in good physical shape for a man his age. He spent a lot of time doing public speaking. He still took his daily five-mile walk around his neighborhood, reciting poetry and Biblical verses. His active lifestyle and busy calendar kept his body strong and his mind sharp. However, he soon had to dial back his pace for the saddest of reasons. His Nellie was falling ill, and she wasn’t getting better. On Christmas morning in 1984, Nell fell ill and had to be rushed to the hospital. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Nell died on the first day of spring.
At the end, John Wooden’s greatest gift to his former players was that he was finally available—truly, emotionally available—in a way that he never was when he was coaching. Back then, their interactions were limited to basketball. Now, there was no basketball. There were only moments, memories, and the lessons they shared. To many of Wooden’s players, he didn’t start making sense until long after they had left his classroom.
The fact that Wooden lived so long was of particular benefit to the players who left UCLA feeling ambivalent, even bitter, about their time there. Fortunately for them, even into his nineties Wooden remained alive, sharp, and always just a phone call away. He was generous with his time because he loved hearing from them. He never made them feel that they were imposing.
Wooden died on June 4, 2010, a few months short of his 100th birthday. The below quote sums up what many think of him: “Wooden wasn’t the best coach who ever lived. He was the best teacher who ever lived.”
This is the latest book by John Feinstein, my favorite sports author. I have read several of Feinstein’s previous books, including A Good Walk Spoiled; Living on the Black: Two Pitchers, Two Teams, and One Season to Remember; Open: Inside the Ropes at Bethpage Black and The Majors.
In this book, Feinstein gives us an inside look at the top level (Triple A) of the minor leagues of baseball during the 2012 season. He follows the ups and downs of several players, managers, an umpire and even a broadcaster working in the International League. Some of the teams we hear about are the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, the Durham Bulls and the Norfolk Tides.
Feinstein tells us that these are stories of perseverance. We get to follow some players who have had successful major league careers (Brett Tomko, Scott Podsednik and Nate McLouth); some who have never been called up to the majors and some who get their first call up in 2012. We also get to know some who go from the major leagues to the minors multiple times in a given season, a continual revolving door. We hear about some players who know the end of their careers are approaching but aren’t ready to give it up just yet. We also hear about an umpire whose dream of making the majors is dashed when he is told that he ranks last among the league umpires and he realizes that his career in umpiring is over at age 30.
Feinstein writes that nobody wants to be in the minor leagues. The goal of everyone there – players, managers, umpires, broadcasters and even members of the grounds crew – is to get a promotion to the major leagues. Everything is different in the minor leagues – the pay, the ballparks, the size of the crowds, travel (mostly by bus), the hotels (not as nice), meals (not as much per diem), etc. – as compared to the major leagues.
Feinstein gives the reader a good feel of what life in the upper level of the minor leagues is like. There is always something going on between innings, and there are crazy promotions such as “Whack an Intern Night”. If you’ve been to a Peoria Chief’s game (lower minor leagues), you know what I’m talking about.
The Epilogue contains an update of where the players Feinstein followed in 2012 ended up. Some were released, and some were promoted to the major leagues (Ryne Sandberg, Nate McLouth, David Bell). Others were left to wait by their phones to see if another team would take a chance on them for the 2013 season.
This is a “must read” for baseball fans. The book contains a small amount of light adult language, and is well read by Feinstein, whose voice reminded me a lot of Billy Crystal.
This book is about a love story – a love story that includes Ben Zobrist, his now wife Julianna and the Lord. It’s an incredible story of how God has providentially worked in their lives to bring them together. The book is written by both of them, with the sections that each writes clearly identified.
In addition to being a book about a baseball player who is a Christian, the book had significance for me because Zobrist grew up in nearby Eureka, Illinois. His parents, Tom and the former Cynthia Calli, were in the Morton High School class of 1976. Tammy graduated in 1977, so when I started the book we went back to her high school yearbook and looked up Tom and Cynthia.
Ben grew up in Eureka and Julianna in Iowa City, Iowa. Both of them are pastors’ kids. Ben was a four sport star senior year for the Eureka Hornets. Basketball, not baseball, was his favorite sport. But he writes that sports had become his idol.
Julianna is a Christian music singer. She writes about being sexually molested at age 12 by several boys at a church youth camp. She kept that a secret for many years before telling Ben.
Ben was planning to go to Calvary Bible College to play basketball. They didn’t have a baseball team. He spent $50 of his own money to go to an open baseball tryout in Brimfield and got contacted by several schools. Olivet Nazarene University (ONU), located in Bourbonnais, Illinois offered him a full scholarship as a pitcher.
While at ONU, he was discipled by the star player on the team. When that player was getting married, Zobrist attended the wedding at a church in Iowa City, Iowa, where the girl’s father was pastor. It was there he first saw the bride’s younger sister, Julianna.
Ben and Julianna emailed and IM’d (these were pre-texting days), before meeting at a Passion Conference at NIU. But their relationship ended up cooling off after that first meeting.
After his freshman season at ONU, Ben worked at the Christian Center in Peoria during the day and played for Twin City Stars in Bloomington in the evenings. Ben and Julianna ran into each other and talked after a game in Decatur. The following year Ben played on a summer league team in Wisconsin. He roomed with Julianna’s brother Jeff.
Julianna went to Belmont College in Nashville. During the summer of her freshman year she got into a serious relationship with a Christian camp leader. She thought it was leading to marriage, but it turned out that everything the guy told her about himself was a lie.
Both Ben and Julianna read excerpts from their journals from those days, sharing their feelings as their relationship grew. The book details Ben and Julianna’s growing relationship, and eventually Ben’s proposal and their marriage.
Ben transferred to Dallas Baptist University for his senior season and was drafted in the 6th round by the Houston Astros upon graduation.
Ben was traded from the Houston Astros to the Tampa Bay Rays. He reported for a short time to their top minor league team in Durham, and then was promoted to the major leagues and into the starting lineup for Tampa Bay, just two and a half years after being drafted. He played OK during the remainder of the 2006 season, but was demoted to the minor leagues after a slow start in 2007.
That led to anxiety attacks, not eating or sleeping well and a period where he wasn’t trusting God for his life. He was still playing OK at the time and Tampa needed infield help so he was promoted back to the major league team.
Ben’s darkness and depression was significantly impacting their marriage. Julianna reached out to their pastor who met with Ben. He reminded Ben that he was just a man, not a superman. He had made success an idol. This was the first time (the demotion) that Ben had not been successful at something he had tried. The pastor accused Ben of being selfish and caring only about himself instead of Julianna.
Ben connected with a swing coach and his brother in law to make changes in his swing, giving him much more power than he had in the past. In 2008 Ben went up and down between the major league team and the minor leagues several times before coming up for good and contributing in the pennant race. The Rays appeared in the World Series for the first time, losing to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Zobrist’s also had their first child (Zion) and Julianna recorded her first album during this time.
2009 was Ben’s “break out” year. He made the All-Star team, and participated in the game played in St. Louis, a game Tammy and I were able to attend. He played multiple positions for Manager Joe Madden and hopes one day to play all nine positions in the same game. He was then signed to a long-term deal with Tampa Bay, giving him and Julianna some financial security. A daughter Kruse was born in 2011. Ben was also named to the American League All-Star team in 2013. In the past, he used “Ignition” by TobyMac as his walk-up music. He now uses one of Julianna’s songs.
Ben and Julianna do numerous speaking/singing engagements together, their version of a “Double Play”, trying to most effectively use the platform that the Lord has given them. They tell their story, and hope to encourage others who may be going through some of the same problems they have.
Some are picking the Tampa Bay Rays to win it all in 2014. After reading this book, I’ll be paying special attention to how Ben Zobrist and the Rays are doing this season.
To find out more about Ben and Julianna Zobrist check out their website at http://www.thezobrists.com/
With the promise of a new baseball season upon us, I wanted to share this review of this book by Rob Rains (he has written thirty-one, mostly on baseball and many about the St. Louis Cardinals). The book offers an exclusive look at life inside the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals clubhouse as the team attempted to defend its 2011 World Series championship led by a rookie manager and Christian Mike Matheny. Matheny explains: “I wanted to be consistent in how I handled myself on the baseball side, and I wanted them (the players) to see consistency on the personal side too. Part of my motivation as a manager is the same as it was as a player: that I don’t want to be somebody’s excuse not to find Christ. There’s enough of them out there right now, people who have been misled by Christians. I didn’t want there to be something in my life that would cause them not to find Christ.”
Each chapter begins with a Bible verse and focuses on the career and spiritual life of a member of the Cardinals organization who are Christians, including the equipment manager, a broadcaster, and players ranging from minor league prospects to stars such as Adam Wainright, Carlos Beltran, Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday. Each profile offers insights into remaining faithful to God through all of life’s successes and failures. Each chapter talks about how the individual being profiled became a Christian and offers their testimony about what it means for them to have God play such a prominent role in their lives. I particularly liked reading about the players that I didn’t know were Christians – former Cardinal David Freese, Matt Carpenter, Jason Motte, Trevor Rosenthal and Kolten Wong.
This is an enjoyable and easy read and will appeal most to fans of the Cardinals who are Christians.
Not related to the book, but related in subject matter, check out this video on Matt Holliday discussing his faith in Christ: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PiJ2zYGXxY0&feature=share
To stay in touch with Cardinal Manager Mike Matheny, go to his website at www.mikematheny.com
Impact Player: Leaving a Lasting Legacy On and Off the Field by Bobby Richardson. Tyndale House Books. 320 pages. 2012.
When I was growing up I was a New York Yankees fan. Their second baseman at the time was Bobby Richardson. Ironically, Richardson once roomed with my father-in-law in the minor leagues. This fast-moving book is a nice combination of a sports and spiritual autobiography.
Richardson played second baseman for the Yankees during their great 1955-1965 stretch of pennant and Word Series wins. He played in 1,412 games, selected to seven All-Star teams. To this day, he remains the only player from the losing team to ever be named the World Series MVP (in 1960 vs. Pittsburgh). The Yankees held a Bobby Richardson Day at Yankee Stadium, Richardson being only the tenth Yankee to be honored with an on field ceremony.
Richardson was born (and still lives with Betty, his wife of 56 years), in Sumter, South Carolina. He committed his life to Christ at age 12, and signed with the Yankees in June, 1953 after graduating from high school.
The book includes many interesting stories from Richardson’s time with the Yankees. He gives pleasant insights into the players, including his best friend on the team, Tony Kubek. There are two chapters devoted to his unlikely 40 year friendship with Mickey Mantle, who was known to be a heavy drinker and womanizer. After hearing Richardson deliver a recent message that included details about his relationship with Mantle, and how Mantle became a Christian just days before his death, I eagerly anticipated those sections of the book. Those chapters were powerful and moving.
Richardson retired from major league baseball early to spend more time with his family. He could have had many more productive years with the Yankees. After retiring, he became the baseball coach for the University of South Carolina and later Liberty University. He also unsuccessfully ran for the United States House of Representatives in 1976, when asked to do so by President Gerald Ford. He lost by 3.2%, or just 4,007 votes.
Richardson is open about his personal shortcomings and failures. He concludes the book with: My aim in both baseball and life has been simple: to make an impact by being used by God in the lives of others. When accounts of my life are written, I hope two things will be said of me. First, that I played baseball in a way that made my team better. Second, and more important, that I lived my life in a way that drew others to my Savior.
The book includes a foreword from current Yankee manager Joe Girardi. Recommended for baseball fans, regardless of who you cheer for.
My Dad gave me this book to read. Once I started, I didn’t want to put it down because it was thoroughly enjoyable.
The “match” took place in January, 1956 at the Cypress Point golf course on the Monterey Peninsula just before the annual Crosby Clambake. The exact date and some of the other details, including the exact scores of each player, are open for debate, but Frost has done his best to try to recreate the facts through interviews, review of letters from the participants, etc.
The match was set up when San Francisco car dealer Eddie Lowery told his friend and fellow millionaire George Coleman that two young amateurs who “worked” for him – Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward – could beat any other two golfers. So Coleman recruits Ben Hogan and Bryon Nelson. Even though Nelson had been retired from competitive golf for ten years and Hogan was toward the end of his brilliant career, this set up an incredible match of probably the two best amateur golfers against the two best professional golfers.
Frost is an excellent writer who takes the reader through each shot of the match, interspersed with biographical content on each of the participants. After the match, he looks at what happens to each of the golfers for the rest of their lives, including the redemption story of Ken Venturi, the only member of the foursome that is still alive at age 81. The strong Christian faith of Byron Nelson is mentioned often throughout the book. The “Appendix” he looks at the creation of the Cypress Point golf course on the beautiful Monterey Peninsula.
Highly recommended for golf fans.
In this book from my favorite sportswriter, John Feinstein takes a look back at the writing of his first ten nonfiction books giving the reader interesting insights about such best-selling books as A Season on the Brink and A Good Walk Spoiled.
In 1979, a young reporter for the Washington Post received career advice from journalist Bob Woodward, whose Watergate coverage brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon. Woodward, then a metro editor at the Post, counseled John Feinstein against sports writing for the paper. “You have a chance to become a great reporter,” Woodward advised. “Don’t blow it on sports. If you go back there, you’ll never be heard from again.” Fortunately, for sports fans around the world, Feinstein ignored the advice. After twenty-two sports-themed books later, including two of the bestselling nonfiction sports titles in history; Feinstein is perhaps the most recognized sports journalist of his generation.
The title of the book is confusing. Rather than a series of interviews that you might expect, the book reads more like a memoir. These are those “untold” stories from Feinstein’s previous books. He mentions in the “Introduction” that these are stories he didn’t tell before because he was a part of them. He states that this is a trip through the reporting of his first ten books, bringing himself and the reader up to the present day.
The book is a wonderful collection of his experiences writing books about Army-Navy football, college basketball, and pro tennis and golf. Feinstein takes the reader back through 25 years of encounters with some of the biggest names in sports, including Bob Knight, Mike Krzyzewski, Dean Smith, Ivan Lendl, Steve Kerr, Mary Carillo, David Duval, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods, Martina Navratilova, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, Rick Pitino, Bobby Valentine, Jim Valvano, and Tiger Woods. As always, Feinstein shares his opinions among subjects such as the state of professional tennis, and the names listed above.
Readers should be warned that there is a good amount of adult language included, especially, though not exclusively, in the sections of the book pertaining to Coach Knight.
The cover of this book is one of the best I’ve seen. It features the eleven championship rings (more than anyone else in the history of the National Basketball Association) that Phil Jackson won as head coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers.
The book covers in detail his seasons with the Bulls and Lakers. He won six NBA championships with the Bulls and five with the Lakers. He also writes about his two championships as a player with the New York Knicks. That is the majority of the book and basketball fans will really enjoy Jackson’s take on his years with the Bulls and Lakers, and his thoughts about Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. It is Bryant who gets the most ink in the book. Jackson shows him transforming from a self-centered player right out of high school, who eventually developed into a leader during Jackson’s second run with the Lakers.
Jackson was raised in a Christian home in which both parents were Pentecostal preachers. He rebelled against what he calls his fundamentalist upbringing and later went on a spiritual journey, which he covers in the book. I found that to be the least interesting part of the book, as he writes about studying Islam, Zen Buddhism, Christian Science, the Infinite Way and Apache tribal teachings. Throughout the book he shares quotes from spiritual leaders, how he uses meditation and Zen Buddhism in his coaching. He ends the book by saying that “the soul of success is surrendering to what is”. (whatever that means).
The book does include some adult language when Jackson quotes some of his players.
This autobiography of baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson was written in 1972, the year he died at age 52. I decided to read the book after having seen the film 42 about Robinson’s early life and first season with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Fully half of the book covers Robinson’s post- baseball career life, when he got involved in many political and social issues.
Robinson had a special relationship with Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who was executive responsible for bringing Robinson to the major leagues and breaking the color barrier. Robinson writes:
“Mr. Rickey stands out as the man who inspired me the most. He will always have my admiration and respect. But I also know what a big gamble he took. A bond developed between us that lasted long after I had left the game. In a way I feel I was the son he had lost and he was the father I had lost.”
Robinson also speaks well of his wife, Rachel, saying that she was critical to his success.
Robinson had strong opinions and he shares them in this book. He writes:
“I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.”
At UCLA Robinson became the university’s first four-letter man. He participated in basketball, baseball, football, and track, and received honorable mention in football and basketball.
In May, 1942, he was drafted and the Army sent him to Fort Riley, Kansas, for basic training and found himself in a cavalry outfit.
In a powerful scene that was depicted in 42, Robinson says: “Mr. Rickey,” I asked, “are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?” Robinson writes that he never forgot the way Rickey exploded. “Robinson,” he said, “I’m looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back.”
On the morning of April 9, 1947, history was made just before an exhibition game when reporters in the press box received a single sheet of paper with a one-line announcement. It read: “Brooklyn announces the purchase of the contract of Jack Roosevelt Robinson from Montreal. Signed, Branch Rickey.”
Robinson writes of a terrible situation, also depicted in 42. Abuse coming out of the Phillies dugout was being directed by the team’s manager, Ben Chapman, a Southerner. Robinson writes that he felt tortured and tried just to play ball and ignore the insults. But it was very difficult to do so. He was helped over crises by the courage and decency of a teammate who could easily have been his enemy rather than his friend. Pee Wee Reese, the successful Dodger shortstop, was one of the most highly respected players in the major leagues.
Robinson writes that the Dodgers were a championship team because all of them had learned something. He had learned how to exercise self-control—to answer insults, violence, and injustice with silence—and he had learned how to earn the respect of his teammates. They had learned that it’s not skin color but talent and ability that counts.
Robinson wrote about his faith:
“I am a religious man. Therefore I cherish America where I am free to worship as I please, a privilege which some countries do not give. And I suspect that nine hundred and ninety-nine out of almost any thousand colored Americans you meet will tell you the same thing.”
Robinson was named the Most Valuable Player of the National League by the sportswriters in 1949.
Throughout the book, Robinson is blunt about what he thinks of others. For example, he says of sportswriter Dick Young:
“The sportswriter who seemed to be doing his best to make me revert to the old cheek-turning, humble Robinson was Dick Young of the New York Daily News. Dick and I have had, for a number of years, a strange relationship. I used to think he was a nice guy personally, and I knew he was a good sportswriter. As time went by, Young became, in my book, a racial bigot.”
Of Dodger owner Walter O’Malley, he writes:
“But I knew what O’Malley’s problem was. To put it bluntly, I was one of those “uppity niggers” in O’Malley’s book. O’Malley’s attitude toward me was viciously antagonistic. I learned that he had a habit of calling me Mr. Rickey’s prima donna and giving Mr. Rickey a hard time about what kind of season I would have. I also learned that O’Malley and some of the other Dodger stockholders had squeezed Rickey out at the end of 1950. They wouldn’t sign a new contract for him, and they arranged it so he would have to sell his stock.”
Of Dodger Roy Campanella, he writes:
“I’ll never forget Campy’s answer to all of that. “I’m no crusader,” he said. That was the kind of attitude a Dick Young—and many other whites—approved of.”
By the end of the 1954 season Robinson was getting fed up and began to make preparations to leave baseball. He loved the game but his experience had not been typical—he was tired of fighting the press, the front office—and he knew that he was reaching the end of his peak years as an athlete.
Post-baseball, Robinson writes of being involved with the NAACP Freedom Fund Drive, campaigning for Richard Nixon for President in 1960 despite some reservations, and later Lyndon Johnson, working seven years for Chock Full O’Nuts, supporting Governor Rockefeller, working with the Freedom National Bank in Harlem, and his interactions with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.
He writes of his son Jackie’s drug addiction and other problems. Just when he began turning his life around, he died in a car accident.
Robinson ends the book with:
“I have always fought for what I believed in. I have had a great deal of support and I have tried to return that support with my best effort. However, there is one irrefutable fact of my life which has determined much of what happened to me: I was a black man in a white world. I never had it made.”
The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams by Ben Bradlee, Jr. Little, Brown and Company. 864 pages. Audiobook read by Dave Mallow
Ted Williams, the great Boston Red Sox left fielder was the author’s childhood hero. He tells us that he still has a baseball that Williams signed 50 years ago. This massive book took 10 plus years to write and Bradlee conducted in excess of 600 interviews in his research to complete the book, almost half of which is devoted to Williams’ life after baseball.
The book opens and closes with excruciating and troubling details about what was done with Williams’ body after he died. His son John-Henry chose to have his father’s body frozen at the Alcor cryonics facility in Scottsdale, Arizona, despite the fact that Ted had always indicated that he wanted to be cremated, with his ashes scattered over a favorite fishing spot in Florida. John-Henry and sister Claudia were in favor of cryonics while estranged sister Bobby Jo wanted her father’s long known desire to be cremated to be honored.
Williams was born in San Diego in 1918. His mother worked for the Salvation Army, spending more time on the streets evangelizing than with her two sons – Ted and Danny. Williams turned his back on religion because he said he couldn’t follow a God who had his Mom ministering to strangers on the streets of San Diego while ignoring her two sons at home. He did not believe in God, often profaning him in the most vile way, though he allegedly did accept Christ twice later in life.
His father operated a photography studio but drank a lot and pretty much ignored his sons. Williams’ parents separated on the day that Ted made his major league debut in 1939. Perhaps not surprisingly, Williams himself was not a very good parent or husband, divorcing three times.
Williams was half Mexican on his Mom’s side. This was not acknowledged by Williams until very late in his life. It embarrassed him. He thought that it would hurt his career because of discrimination against Mexicans. He didn’t treat that side of the family well at all, privately referring to them as “the Mexicans”.
Early as a player Williams was not a good fielder, nor did he care to improve that part of his game. He said that he was paid to be a hitter. He would spend hours in front of the mirror practicing his swing.
He started his professional career with San Diego in the Pacific Coast League. He then played in Minnesota, where he met his first wife Doris Soule, before moving to the Boston Red Sox, where he would spend the remainder of his career.
His feuding with the Boston sportswriters was legendary. Williams was unfiltered, once telling a sportswriter early in his career that he wanted to be traded from the Red Sox. He said he didn’t like the team, city or its fans.
Bradlee writes about Williams’ passion about hitting, including how he would dry and warm his bats. Williams always desired to be the greatest hitter who ever lived. My father in law, who faced Williams in a spring training game, told me that without a doubt he was the greatest hitter he ever saw.
Of his many statistical accomplishments, including 521 career home runs despite missing almost five seasons in his prime due to his service in World War II and the Korean War, Williams will most be remembered for hitting .406 in 1941, the last major league player to hit over .400. However the author states that his .388 average in 1957 at age 39 may have been an even greater accomplishment. Ted was a first ballot Hall of Famer, getting 93 percent of the vote.
Williams entered into a long-time contract with Sears after his playing days.
In 1942 he sought a deferment from entering WWII because he was the sole provider for his mother. This was controversial. He ended up signing up as a pilot in the Navy. Then was commissioned into the Marines and was assigned as an instructor. He married Doris the day after he was commissioned. Williams was not at all loyal to his wives or girlfriends, having women in each city as the Red Sox travelled. He eventually became estranged from Doris, who increasingly fell prey to alcoholism. Williams then married Lee Howard, a Chicago model. Lee left Williams after only two and a half years as his temper outbursts continued to escalate.
Bradlee details Williams’ crash landing after his plane was hit in the Korean War.
One of Williams’ regrets was that he only played in one World Series. For much of Williams’ career, he was the only reason for Red Sox fans to follow the team. But his Red Sox team lost the 1946 World Series to the Cardinals, and he only got five singles in the series. In addition to losing the 1946 World Series, Williams’ Red Sox would have disappointing losses late in some of the following seasons that would keep them from reaching the Fall Classic again.
Williams reached out to Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play in the major leagues in 1947, something that Robinson’s widow said meant a lot to him. Williams’ Red Sox however didn’t have a good record in this area, being the last team to add an African American player.
Daughter Bobby Jo was born in 1947. Williams wasn’t present for the birth of any of his three children. He said at the time that he wanted a son, and his relationship with Bobby Jo would eventually deteriorate to the point that he removed her from his will because he had supported her financially throughout her life. Bobby Jo became pregnant at 17. Throughout her life she sought her father’s approval. When he reacted poorly to the pregnancy, she attempted suicide. Her mom found her before it was too late. She was hospitalized and aborted the baby at her Dad’s direction. While in a mental hospital, she met Steve, who she would marry before turning 18.
Cleveland Indians Manager Lou Boudreau, who would later become Williams’ manager in Boston, implemented the famous Williams shift, which forced him to adjust his hitting, going to left field more often to beat the shift.
Williams’ greatest competitor during his playing days was the New York Yankee’s star Joe DiMaggio. Bradlee includes a lengthy comparison of the two. Ironically, after their playing days Williams became much more of an ambassador for the game, while DiMaggio seemed to care about how much money he could make in the memorabilia market.
Throughout his life Williams’ language was profane and his temper was explosive. He was also a very selfish individual. In addition to his feuds with the Boston sportswriters, he would often spit at the Boston fans and give them the finger. It leads one to believe that he may have suffered from mental illness. Like a Hollywood movie, Williams homered in his final at bat in the major leagues, but he still refused to acknowledge his fans, or tip his cap.
One of Williams’ only redeeming personal qualities was his care for sick children, whom he would often visit in the hospital and help pay for their medical expenses, all of which he wanted absolutely no publicity for. He became associated with the Jimmy Fund, and did some excellent work raising money for that organization.
Girlfriend Dolores Wettach became pregnant and they then got married. Williams felt that she had trapped him into getting married by getting pregnant. Bobby Jo meanwhile led a life of drug abuse and infidelity, eventually leading Steve to divorce her.
Son John-Henry was born and he became Ted’s favorite child. Claudia would be Delores and Ted’s second child and Ted’s third overall. John-Henry and Claudia had very little contact with Bobby Jo growing up, often hearing Ted curse her.
Ted wrote three books with John Underwood – his autobiography My Turn at Bat, The Science of Hitting and Ted Williams, Fishing the Big Three: Tarpon, Bonefish, Atlantic.
Williams managed the Washington Senators/Texas Rangers for three years, winning the American League Manager of the Year his first season. The third year was in Texas when the team moved there and became the Rangers.
Delores filed for divorce from Ted, indicating that he had been physically and verbally abusive to her. Ted then began living with Louise Kauffman, who had waited for him for a long time while he went after other women. Ted said that after three failed marriages, he would not remarry. Louise would die of complications from bowel obstruction surgery. Ted would then live with Lynette Siman, until she was thrown out by John-Henry.
Some said that despite his blasphemous rants against God, Williams was perhaps more open to religion than suspected, twice praying to receive Christ, but there was no change in his behavior.
Bradlee writes of the increasing influence of John-Henry in Ted’s life, especially as it related to Williams’ memorabilia sales. He would push Ted hard to sign bats and balls, even late in his life when he was in poor health.
Late in his life, Ted would have a number of health issues, three strokes, shingles, which limited his vision, surgery to install a pacemaker and to correct a mitral valve problem, several falls resulting in broken ribs and a broken shoulder. At the end he was confined to a wheelchair.
John-Henry does not come off good in this book. He was not a good businessman, but that didn’t stop him from using Ted’s money to enter new ventures, such as hitter.net an internet provider company, which was connected to porn, and several memorabilia ventures.
At age 33 John-Henry worked with coaches for eight months to try to get into baseball. The Red Sox agreed to give him a minor league contract, most likely as a favor to his father. He played a few games before being injured. Later, he would play with a few other low level professional teams.
A highlight of Williams’ life was the reception he was given by fans and players at the 1999 All-Star Game played in Boston. Unfortunately he wore a hitter.net hat at John-Henry’s request, rather than his Red Sox hat.
John Henry continually pressed Ted on the cryonics issue. Ted told him that he was crazy and that he wanted to be cremated with his ashes spread over where he had fished in Florida. That was Ted’s clear wish and it was documented in his will. But John-Henry proceeded, indicating that Ted had later agreed, even producing a highly questionable handwritten document that he said provided proof that Ted had changed his mind on the issue. John-Henry also told others that he planned to make money by selling his father’s DNA.
Ted felt trapped in his home by John-Henry. Near the end of his life he reached out to friends indicating that he wanted to see a lawyer, apparently because John Henry was not going to fulfill his wishes to be cremated. He also asked a friend if he could live with him in Detroit.
Bobby Jo challenged her siblings in court to get Ted out of Alcor and be cremated as he had wished. She eventually settled for a $211,000 lump sum payment. She died in 2010 from liver disease.
John-Henry died from leukemia in 2004, at age 35. Ted’s brother Danny had also died of leukemia. John-Henry had married Lisa about a month earlier. Sister Claudia got married and is still alive.
What should we think of Ted Williams after reading such a massive biography? As a baseball player, he may have been the best hitter that ever lived. He was kind to sick children, visiting them in the hospital and raising money for the Jimmy Fund. He served his country in two wars during the prime of his baseball career. On the other hand, he was a profane, selfish man with an explosive temper. He was not a good father, nor a loyal husband. As I read the book I couldn’t help thinking about the contrast between him and Stan Musial, the great St. Louis Cardinal outfielder, who is revered in St. Louis, a loyal husband and you never hear a bad thing about. The contrast is striking.
Robert Griffin III: Football, Faith and Leadership by Ted Kluck. Thomas Nelson, 256 pages. 2013. Audiobook read by Maurice England.
I had read and enjoyed “Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be” Ted Kluck’s 2008 book written with Kevin DeYoung. Kluck has also written a number of sports books. I was really looking forward to reading this book, but came away a bit disappointed.
Kluck mentions that he signed on to do the book in the third game of then 22 year old Robert Griffin III’s rookie season with the Washington Redskins, for which he was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Griffin won the 2011 Heisman Trophy while playing at Baylor University. As a rookie, his Redskins jersey was the top selling jersey among NFL players.
Kluck takes us through each game of Griffin’s rookie season in detail, culminating with his devastating injury in the Redskins playoff game with Seattle, which led to surgery. He includes some biographical information about Griffin inserted. For example, we are told that his disciplined military parents pushed him to excel and to be a person of strong character. We hear about his many endorsements and that he is suspected of being a Republican.
I found the book’s title is a bit misleading. We don’t get a lot of information about RG III’s faith. He is more private about his faith than Kurt Warner was or Tim Tebow is. Kluck goes out of his way to criticize Tim Tebow in the book – his passing mechanics and how he conducted himself as a Christian on the field. We do hear that Griffin attended a church (University Baptist) while at Baylor that was founded by musician David Crowder. And we don’t get a lot about Griffin’s leadership either, though he was named a captain as a rookie.
I found this to be less a biography of RG III, than it was a book about the NFL – quarterbacks, running quarterbacks in particular and the 2012 season in general. On a few occasions Kluck ranks the current NFL quarterbacks into different categories, beginning with future Hall of Famers and going down to those who will probably soon be out of a job.
I find that a biography of a living person has less value if the author has not spoken to the subject. I found no evidence that Kluck had ever talked to Griffin. Instead, Kluck quotes numerous articles or sports talk shows to get a lot of his material.
I would recommend this book for fans of RG III and the Washington Redskins.