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LSmith "L. Smith" RSS Feed (Upstate New York)

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From Triumph to Tragedy in the NHL
From Triumph to Tragedy in the NHL
Price: $3.49

2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed with the factual inaccuracies and the brevity of the stories, February 3, 2016
There has been one player who has died as a result of an on-ice incident in the history of the National Hockey League, Bill Masterton. He was playing for the Minnesota North Stars when the tragedy occurred and while I was not old enough to understand the game yet, I have always wanted to learn more about this incident as the North Stars were my favorite team while they were in Minnesota.

Therefore, when I saw there was a book that would provide information about Masterton’s death along with five other hockey players who died young (Terry Sawchuk, Tim Horton, Pelle Lindbergh, John Kordic, and Steve Chiasson), I believed that I would learn more about the lives and deaths of all six players. While that goal was achieved, I was left disappointed with all six stories.

I felt that all of the stories about each player were lacking depth in their playing careers, especially in the case of Sawchuk. While he was considered one of the best goalies of all time and the authors acknowledge this, it felt like the discussion was more about all the times he was dealt to another team or would retire instead of his excellence. For John Kordic’s story, the authors did discuss his addiction to performance enhancing drugs, but did not go into a lot of depth. While this type of writing would be good for people who just may want to know who these players were and how they died, they would not be helpful for readers who want to know details about their careers and their lives. That was my second biggest disappointment.

However, what I felt was the most disappointing aspect of the book was the inaccuracy of many facts presented about teams and other players. When I read a book and I know that a fact or statistic is incorrect without have to do a search to know that it is incorrect, it leaves my questioning the editing, proofreading and fact checking of the entire book. Here are three examples that caught my attention as soon as I read them:

- In the chapter on Masterton, the authors state that the last two years that the franchise played in Minnesota, the team dropped the “North” from the name and were known as the “Stars.” This is not correct. The team wore a new logo on their jerseys the last two years in Minnesota that spelled “Stars” across the chest that they continued to use in Dallas. However, the team was still known as the “North Stars” in those last two years and did not change to “Stars” until after the move.

- In the chapter on Sawchuk, it is mentioned that his record number of 103 shutouts was broken by New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur in 1990. While Brodeur did break the record and is one of the best goaltenders to ever play the game, it would have been awfully hard for him to break the record in 1990 considering he was drafted in the NHL draft in June 1990. For the record, he broke Sawchuk’s record in 2009.

- In the chapter on Tim Horton, it was noted correctly that the last team he played for, the Buffalo Sabres, made it to the Stanley Cup Finals the season after Horton was killed in a car crash. However, the book stated their opponents in that series were the Montreal Canadiens – the Sabres lost that series to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Those are just the ones that I caught right away. While I didn’t look for more errors that I did not know without researching, these along with some typos did detract from my enjoyment of the book. I did finish the entire book as I did want to read about each player, but my overall expectations for the book fell far short of how I felt when I finished. Readers who just want to know the very basics about these six players whose lives were cut short may enjoy this book, but serious hockey fans should pass on it.

Team Chemistry: The History of Drugs and Alcohol in Major League Baseball (Sport and Society)
Team Chemistry: The History of Drugs and Alcohol in Major League Baseball (Sport and Society)
by Nathan Michael Corzine
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.59
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Substance use in baseball - been going on a long time, January 31, 2016
While the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) has been a source of controversy in Major League Baseball for nearly two decades, this issue is not the first time that the sport has been engulfed in issues with drugs. This book by Nathan Michael Corzine makes the case that PEDs are simply the latest in a long list of uses and abuses of drugs, alcohol and tobacco products by baseball players.

Whether the use of the substances was for medical purposes, such as those used by Sandy Koufax, or for recreational use, such as the drinking of Mickey Mantle or the cocaine use by players in the 1980s like Tim Raines, Corzine writes of a long history of the use of many substances. The economics of the use of substances is also explored as fund from tobacco and alcohol advertising was a major source of revenue for the clubs in the first half of the twentieth century.

Much like how the sport has evolved through the years on the field, Corzine writes about the uses of the various substances as an evolution as well. From the alcohol and tobacco to marijuana and cocaine to PEDs, each era is chronicled for not only the use by players, but what was done by the game’s commissioners and owners to address the uses. That ranges from doing nothing to damage control due to bad publicity to proposing random testing. Each topic is described in great detail and through excellent research and writing, the reader will learn much about the history of substance use in the game.

Readers may be tempted to try to judge whether one era of substance use was worse than another, like I did, and that would be a mistake. The book makes it easy to try to judge each player described, the closest to a negative aspect in it. However, that doesn’t take anything away from the overall quality of the writing or the factual reporting. Any reader who is interested the history of baseball should read this one.

I wish to thank University of Illinois Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 11, 2016 6:28 PM PST

Fanaticus: Mischief and Madness in the Modern Sports Fan
Fanaticus: Mischief and Madness in the Modern Sports Fan
by Justine Gubar
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $35.00
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5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding book on fan behavior, January 27, 2016
While sports can be a relaxing form of entertainment, they also can elicit the worst behavior in people as well. What can cause otherwise well-behaved humans to act like this is explored in “Fanaticus”, a well-written and well-researched book by ESPN producer Justine Gubar.

Starting with Gubar’s experiences at dealing with this behavior while doing investigative work on the scandal that led to the removal of Jim Tressell as the football coach at Ohio State, the book explores the different aspects of fan behavior and the various settings in which it can take place.

From name-calling and threats that Gubar received from Ohio State fans to the riots in Vancouver after the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals to an interview with a “professional” European soccer hooligan, the scope and breadth of research done to illustrate the psychology and behavior of sports fans is thorough and informative. Nearly every level of sport is covered – from the poor behavior of parents at children’s sporting events to student sections at college games to riots during and after professional games. Just about every sport is covered as well – Gubar leaves nothing out in her expose of rowdy fan behavior.

What is also noteworthy about the book is that she concludes that the nature of this behavior is multifaceted and that there is no easy solution. Among the factors discussed in the book are alcohol, mob mentality and how much a team is part of a fan’s personal identity. Why there is no easy answer to any of these include economics (such as the profits from sales of alcoholic beverages), difficulty of enforcement and the growth of social media where people can express themselves instantly and with more anonymity. Every story, from the time Grubar confronts one of the people who were harassing her during her work on the Ohio State scandal to the tale of the Oregon student who played a cruel trick on a California basketball player, will grab the reader’s attention and won’t let go. This a book that all sports fans, no matter the level of fandom, should read.

I wish to thank Ms. Gubar for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Bench Bosses: The NHL's Coaching Elite
Bench Bosses: The NHL's Coaching Elite
by Matthew Dibiase
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $29.95
40 used & new from $13.09

5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding book on outstanding hockey coaches, January 24, 2016
Most sports books that are lists of the best or worst of something usually follow a tried and true format – countdown to the top spot, a brief biography or recap of the team or player and an explanation why the team or player is ranked at that spot.

Take that format and throw it out the window when picking up this book on the best coaches in the history of professional hockey. Hockey historian Matthew Dibiase devised a format that takes both positive and negative accomplishments by hockey coaches and ranked the best coaches from 1 to 50, with a few extra “honorable mention” coaches.

His methodology is simple in one respect – positive accomplishments such as playoff appearances and Stanley Cup wins are worth one point each while negative accomplishments such as a losing season or missing the playoffs lose one point each. Then a few tweaks to allow for items such as different requirements for these accomplishments through different eras and it makes for one of the best books about any sport for comparing eras.

Hockey fans and historians will appreciate the write ups for each coach, especially those about coaches from the early days of the sport like Pete Green, Art Ross, Frank and Lester Patrick and Ralph “Cooney” Weiland. Even if the reader has not heard of some of these coaches from many years ago, he or she will appreciate what that coach has meant to the game and what he accomplished after reading that coach’s passage.

Another reason that I believe that this is one of the best books about who is the best at what he does is that Dibiase includes accomplishments in other professional leagues – the Pacific Coast Hockey League and Western Canada Hockey League/Western Hockey League from the early 20th century and the World Hockey Association from the 1970’s. By including a coach’s accomplishments in these leagues as well, Dibiase gives a complete picture of what the coach achieved without shortchanging him because he coached in a different professional league.
Finally, the book doesn’t stop at just ranking these coaches. There are chapters describing who was the best coach in each decade, which coaches often came close to making the Stanley Cup finals but never made it, rivalries and separate short chapters on each of the aforementioned other professional leagues. That gives the book even more credibility as a complete comparison of these coaches over the history of professional hockey.

The book can be read for pleasure or can be used for reference as well. It is an outstanding record of the best coaches the game has known and should be on the bookshelf of every hockey fan and historian.

I wish to thank Mr. Dibiase for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Redskins: Insult and Brand
Redskins: Insult and Brand
by C. Richard King
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $24.95
27 used & new from $12.50

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book that makes the reader think about a nickname, January 21, 2016
For decades, the nickname of the team that represents Washington DC in the National Football League has been a source of controversy. The name is considered offensive by many people. They consider the term “Redskins” a racial slur against Native Americans. The team and the league continually defend the use of the name, citing history and tradition as well as claiming that the term and logo depicting a Native American honors those people.

These arguments are debunked in this excellent book by C. Richard King, a professor of comparative ethnic studies at Washington State University. He explores the use of the name by the team, the history behind it and the various protests over it through the years.

The book is not one that presents both sides of the issue and lets the reader draw his or her own conclusions. It is a scholarly work that decries the use of the nickname, exposes the flaws in the usual statements defending the history and honor of the name, and explains why it should be considered a racial insult to Native Americans. King makes compelling arguments on each point he makes and will leave the reader feeling angry, bewildered and disgusted at the callousness of those who believe the name should still be used by the team.

It is also not an easy or quick read. The reader will have to carefully review each anecdote from Native Americans and also those of the defenders of the name, such as George Marshall and current owner Daniel Snyder. The stories they share, while they don’t realize it, actually make King’s argument to abolish the name stronger. King does an excellent job of breaking down the hidden racism and condescending nature of these arguments.

This book is one that should be read by anyone who cares about the use of this name by the team, no matter on what side of the issue the reader currently sits. It is compelling, persuasive and will certainly make the reader think about what is truly meant by the name “Redskins.”

I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Hardball Retrospective: Evaluating Scouting and Development Outcomes for the Modern-Era Franchises
Hardball Retrospective: Evaluating Scouting and Development Outcomes for the Modern-Era Franchises
by Derek Bain
Edition: Paperback
Price: $19.99
15 used & new from $15.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Very good book that uses and explains advanced baseball statistics, January 19, 2016
Speculation about player trades and movement via free agency is always a popular topic of conversation between baseball fans. Often they wonder how their favorite teams would have done had they not traded away this player or if they had signed that one instead of letting him leave as a free agent.

This book by Derek Bain will help answer that question. He takes all thirty current major league franchises and using advanced statistical analysis, he ranks each team by evaluating players with their original teams. He then takes these revised rosters and determines their standings each season from 1901 to the present. It makes for fascinating comparisons between the “original” team of a certain year or era and the “actual” team.

This may sound complicated, but once a reader actually studies the charts and analysis of his or her team, it will begin to make sense. It took me a little while to catch on while reading about the Athletics, for example, but once I remembered that this analysis was done using players who originally signed with the Athletics, not the actual rosters for that season, then it began to make sense.

The statistical analysis uses primarily the advanced statistics of Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and Win-Shares for each player. This isn’t to say that the traditional statistics that many baseball fans are familiar with such as batting average, earned run average and runs batted in are not used. They are cited frequently in the narrative for each team. However, they are not the final determination for the rankings of each team – again, it is primarily WAR and Win-Shares.

One does not have to be familiar with these statistics to get the total value of the book. As long as a reader can follow the charts and narrative sections for the teams, then he or she will get the intended value of the book. I do not consider myself to be fluent or knowledgeable on WAR or Win Shares, but it was a lot of fun to see how my favorite team, the Minnesota Twins, did with their “original” players over the years, including their time as the Washington Senators. This book is recommended for any baseball fan who is interested to see how his or her team fared in finding talented players throughout the last century.

I wish to thank Mr. Bain for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

South of the NBA
South of the NBA
by Sean Kelly
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.95

4.0 out of 5 stars Fun read on US basketball players in Argentina, January 9, 2016
This review is from: South of the NBA (Paperback)
Joel Jefferson and Jesus Barbosa, two American basketball players who are playing professionally in Argentina circa 1982, are the principle characters in this fun-to-read novel by Sean Kelly. Jefferson and Barbosa, known in Argentina as “El Negro” and “Cubano” are hoping that this journey will lead to a second chance in the NBA. They are joined by freelance writer Craig Bailey, who went to the country to write about the “Dirty War” but instead was caught up in the basketball players’ adventures. It should be noted that Bailey was also a basketball player, but was cut from walk-on tryouts by Dean Smith at the University of North Carolina.

Because the story is set in 1982, there are many references to star players from this era. Both college (for example, Phil Ford from North Carolina) and professional (for example, Lloyd Free) players are name-dropped during the story, which is mostly about Jefferson and Barbosa but also has some backdrop with the military presence and even has some mentions of the Falkland Island war with England.

The characters of Jefferson and Barbosa are not too complex – after all, the reason they are in Argentina is to get another shot at the NBA – but yet their personalities and flaws are easy to pick up by the reader. Readers will enjoy the exploits of both of these characters. Kelly’s basketball knowledge shines throughout the book and his game writing is superb.

The storyline just seems to be about basketball throughout the book and I was having difficulty trying to figure out a plot to the story. However, by the end the reader will be able to see the final outcome and will still be left wanting to know what will become of the three main characters. That is not a bad thing, as there are times that the ending that has to be in the reader’s mind is the best ending and that is the case for this book. If one is looking for a quick and fun read, especially if a basketball fan, then this book is recommended.

I wish to thank Mr. Kelly for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

The Tao of Hockey (Vancouver Vice Book 1)
The Tao of Hockey (Vancouver Vice Book 1)
Price: $2.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent hockey romance, December 26, 2015
Eric Fairburn has been given a second chance for a professional hockey career in North America. Five years earlier he was involved in a drunk driving accident and after playing in Switzerland as well making himself stronger physically,mentally and emotionally he is ready for his tryout with the Vancouver Vice of the American Hockey League. During this training, he meets a mysterious beautiful woman who will change him in other ways as well.

That is the premise of this excellent hockey romance by Melanie Ting. Not only does she portray Eric as a man whom everyone wants to succeed, but she also shows her knowledge of the sport of hockey and the training involved to make a team. The scenes with Eric and his trainer Tony are great as well as the sequences during training camp.

The woman to whom Eric opens up, Josie, is a little more mysterious but also a well developed character as well. She has had her own issues and is now a successful stuntwoman on movie sets. Together she and Eric make an interesting pair that the reader can't help but cheer for both of them.

The story is written from Eric's point of view, something that impressed me with Ting's writing. I have felt that it is difficult to write a story from the point of view from a character the opposite gender of the author. To do so effectively the author has to have done his or her homework to know the thoughts and feelings of the other gender, something not easy to do. That, along with nearly everything else about this story, makes it a must read for those who enjoy sports romances.

I wish to thank Ms. Ting for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Doc: A Memoir
Doc: A Memoir
Price: $5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding memoir - brutally and refreshingly honest, December 23, 2015
This review is from: Doc: A Memoir (Kindle Edition)
By all accounts, Dwight “Doc” Gooden should have been riding atop the world of baseball in late October 1986. He was one of the most dominant pitchers in the game and he was the ace of the pitching staff for the New York Mets, who had just won the World Series in a tense seven game series. But instead of getting ready for a parade to celebrate the championship, he was in the low-income housing area getting high on drugs.

That is the beginning of this brutally honest memoir in which Gooden opens himself up about all of his substance abuse problems and how they affected his personal and professional life. This is not a happy book to read or listen to – at times it is very painful to hear what these substances have done to the man. The text and the narration bring this all to life for the reader or listener and it is easy to get mad at Gooden for living this type of life.

While the book concentrates more on Gooden’s battle with addiction, there is a good deal of baseball stories as well. They are not as deep or humorous as many other memoirs and biographies of baseball players. Indeed, there seems to be a condition attached to each teammate remembered. Gooden got along great with Keith Hernandez – but they would often have beers together. Darryl Strawberry was always linked with Doc – but that friendship turned out to be anything but cordial. Those are just two of the many people who Doc believes either hurt him or he hurt with his battle against addiction.

The road to recovery for Gooden is long, takes many turns including appearing on the reality show “Celebrity Rehab” and is painful. This is reflected in both the words and the narration and that is why this particular memoir was moving. Instead of reflecting on his baseball success and failure, Gooden realizes at this point in his life what he needs to do to not only stay clean but to be a good father for his seven children and be the man that he believes he can be.

Mets and Yankee fans who remember Gooden’s pitching and subsequent substance abuse problems will enjoy this book to see the recovery process Gooden had succeeded with to that point when the book was written. Others who wish to read about success after substance abuse will also want to read this excellent memoir.

Slim and None: My Wild Ride from the WHA to the NHL and All the Way to Hollywood
Slim and None: My Wild Ride from the WHA to the NHL and All the Way to Hollywood
by Howard Baldwin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $13.25
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent memoir of the orignal Whalers owner, December 21, 2015
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Even though he was a good athlete through high school and college, Howard Baldwin never thought to have a sports career as a player – instead he wanted to own a team. He achieved that dream at the young age of 28 as one of the partners of the New England Whalers of the fledgling World Hockey Association. How he got there and what he did with the team, as well as his future endeavors are captured in this wonder memoir that is entertaining, informative and full of great memories for hockey fans.

Baldwin doesn’t spend too much time talking about his childhood or his college days. After his time in the Marines, he dives immediately into his sports career, becoming a ticket manager for the expansion Philadelphia Flyers in 1967. When Gary Davidson had an idea to create a rival hockey league in 1972, Baldwin convinced two other men to become the owners of the brand new New England Whalers franchise. The team was one of four WHA teams to join the NHL in 1979 as the Hartford Whalers – a merger (although for business reasons it was called an “expansion”) between the two leagues in which Baldwin played a key role.

How Baldwin and the Whalers got there and their years in the NHL makes for great reading. How the team and the entire WHA league was able to make deals with players, negotiate rent for arena time and yet still provide excellent hockey is covered throughout the book. It is clear that Baldwin is very passionate about the Whalers and the city of Hartford even after he sold his shares in 1989 and the subsequent move of the franchise to Raleigh in 1996.

Life after the Whalers is discussed in depth as well in the same entertaining manner – Baldwin later moved to the West Coast after marrying his second wife Karen and was instrumental in making San Jose a viable NHL market. However, that lead to a very brief tenure as an owner of the Minnesota North Stars. He went from Minnesota to Pittsburgh and was able to celebrate the Penguins’ 1992 Stanley Cup championship with them. He also went on to become a successful movie producer with his wife, the most notable of his films being the hockey movie “Mystery, Alaska.”

Hockey fans will love the stories of the WHA and some of the wisecracks Baldwin makes. One of my favorites came during the discussion of the final season of the WHA, when it finished with six teams, only four of which would join the NHL. Baldwin stated that “the NHL had its Original Six and the WHA would have its Final Six.” His relationships with people like Jack Kelley, whom he hired from Boston University to become the first Whalers coach and GM, are told with reverence. It is clear that he feels that he should do right to people who help him or work for him and it is really no surprise he became such a successful team owner.

This was one of the few memoirs that I read in one sitting because I was riveted to the book’s hockey stories and Baldwin’s writing that was easy to read. It was entertaining, insightful and a book that is highly recommended for hockey fans. People who have fond memories of the Hartford Whalers will especially love this book.

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