John Feinstein’s reputation is based on his excellent reporting and the 45 books he has written.  His approach is multi-faceted whether books or articles that cover baseball, golf, tennis, college and pro football, basketball, college and professional.  Feinstein’s writing is clear and insightful, and these characteristics are evident in his latest book, and perhaps his most important, RAISE A FIST, TAKE A KNEE: RACE AND THE ILLUSION OF PROGRESS IN MODERN SPORTS.  At a time highlighted by a former racist president, the Black Lives Matter movement, the death of George Floyd and too many others Feinstein effectively explores the issue of racial inequality in sports, a microcosm of our larger society which should open the eyes of its readers.

After reading the introduction by former NFL quarterback Doug Williams and Feinstein’s opening chapter it brought me back to my own experiences with racism.  In my early twenties I joined a group of friends in a softball tournament in Staten Island, NY.  When the games where completed, a teammate came up to me and said, “for a Jew, you are a pretty good guy,” I was dumb founded.  Earlier, I had undergone basic training in the army at Fort Lost in the Woods Misery, better known as Ft. Leonard Wood and the first thing I heard at reception station was “Freiberger, Jew boy we gonna whoop your fucking ass.” This was 1969 and being in a company where the majority of recruits were from Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama I should not have been surprised.  Needless to say, things went downhill from then on. 

After reading Feinstein’s work and revisiting my own experiences which go beyond the two experiences I describe one would think that almost fifty years later as a society we would have made greater progress, including sports.  However, as Feinstein clearly shows in football where the vast majority of players are black, there are only three head coaches and two general managers.  In baseball, as of May 2021 according to USA Today, “just under 8% of the league’s players are Black. Dave Roberts of the Dodgers and Dusty Baker of the Astros remain the only Black managers. There are currently no Black general managers in Major League baseball.  If this is not an indicator of the current trends in sports then nothing is.”

John Thompson
(Georgetown coach, the late John Thompson)

Feinstein has conducted a prolific amount of research which is reflected in his discussion of numerous topics germane to his thesis.  A case in point is the number of black quarterbacks in the NFL and what it takes to become a quarterback if you are black.  Interestingly today there are a number of exceptional young quarterbacks in the NFL, but if the past is prologue many black players who aspire to stand behind a center have been steered in the direction of wide receiver, cornerback or safety because of course they were fast, and if we include racial tropes hinted by coaches like Mike Shanahan they are not able to grasp the intricacies of running the offense of a professional football team.  This is out and out racism and Feinstein provides examples to support his argument including the likes of Donavan McNabb, Colin Kaepernick and Marlin Briscoe. In Kaepernick’s high profile case he took a knee during the national anthem to protest the lack of racial justice in America, resulting in being blackballed by all 32 NFL teams.

As one reads Feinstein’s work a number of extremely important points emerge. First, the NFL is 75% black but if you are a white coach who has been dismissed one or two times the odds are you will get another opportunity to be a head coach.  If you are a black under the same circumstances you will most likely spend your career as an offensive or defensive coordinator, never given the opportunity to become a head coach.  Again, Feinstein points to a number of individuals to support his conclusions, Marvin Lewis, Jim Caldwell, and Lovie Smith.  Further, he asks the question many others have; why hasn’t Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy been hired as a head coach based on his career resume and success?  Football is not the only sport that exhibits these discrepancies.  In college basketball there are 332 coaching jobs, 82 of which are held by blacks – a sport where 50% of the players are black. (161)

Doc Rivers Clippers
(Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers coach Doc Rivers)

Second, why are black quarterbacks in college expected to change positions in order to play in the NFL?  Feinstein takes us inside the Baltimore Ravens 2018 draft room where it took a black General Manager, Ozzie Newsome to choose a black quarterback.  To understand this process and the choice of Lamar Jackson in addition to the cadre of young black quarterbacks in the league who are a success, we must ask, is the process changing?  Interestingly, in 2017 the Chicago Bears drafted Mitch Trubisky with their second round draft pick while Patrick Mahomes went in the 10th round and Deshaun Watson was chosen in the 12th.  Today Trubisky is a backup QB and not even with the Bears, but he is white and the others black.  The situation for blacks who aspire to become general managers face the same obstacles. The numbers do not lie. 

Third, when blacks peacefully protest they are usually stigmatized for life – exemplified by John Carlos and Tommie Smith of 1968 Mexico City fame and Colin Kaepernick.

Lastly, something Pittsburgh Steeler coach Mike Tomlin refers to as “the talk,” how you engage white police officers when you are pulled over if you have black sons whose only transgression is “driving while black.”  This has nothing to do with sports, but it provides a lens into how black parents try and protect their children in the larger society.  “The talk” is a result of the experiences of black fathers who for generations have been treated poorly by police.

A closeup of Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

(PITTSBURGH, PA – DECEMBER 17: Head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on from the sidelines in the third quarter during the game against the New England Patriots at Heinz Field on December 17, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)

Feinstein does an excellent job providing the personal background for each of the sports figures he discusses.  Whether it is John Carlos, Tony Dungy or a host of other we get to see the world through their eyes and are exposed to an important perspective when it comes to race based on what they have been through leading to their professional careers. 

Perhaps Feinstein’s most entertaining and insightful chapter, “Pathfinders” focuses on the life and career of Georgetown coach John Thompson.  Thompson was a man with a tough exterior and took an exceptionally weak program and turned it into a national powerhouse.  But beyond the façade, Thompson was a wonderful person who took care of his players and was “thoughtful and eloquent and never ducked a question, once you got the chance to ask one.”  What is clear in college basketball most head coaching offers to Blacks are given by programs that are in poor shape.  According to Thompson, “there have been plenty of Black coaches capable of winning a national championship.  Only a handful have been given a realistic chance to do so.”

Feinstein’s discussion of the NBA, a league that is the most progressive and places itself at the center of society’s ills with protests by players and its commissioner are eye opening.  Focusing on Doc Rivers whose commentary encapsulates the plight of blacks in the larger society as opposed to zeroing in on the NBA is important because it shows how racial attitudes are intertwined between sports and the “real” world.  For Rivers, the deaths of George Floyd, Jacob Blake, Ahmaud Arbery, Breanna Taylor and so many others are too much as is the constant experience of Black While Driving.  The NBA may be more progressive, but it too has some key issues that must be addressed.

Feinstein finds the same issues that plague football and basketball in baseball.  Though he does not dig down as deep as he did with other sports the problems that exist sound familiar.  For example, why has Willie Randolph who had a successful career as a player, coach, and even as a manager of the New York Mets been out of baseball since 2011 and has not had the opportunity to manage another team since the Mets fired him.  Jeff Torborg has been a manager five times and his record is not as strong as Randolph.  If we are to examine this example and others it is clear, Randolph is black, Torborg is white.  Why did A.J. Hinch, the manager of the Houston Astros who was fired and suspended by Major League baseball for the illegalities in winning the 2017 World Series, get rehired by the Detroit Tigers immediately after he served his suspension?  He was white! 

  • Baseball MLB 1990 Bowman #449 Dave Stewart #449 NM Athletics

If we follow the path of Dave Stewart, an all-star pitcher and World Series champion to become a general manager the pattern is the same, and of course he is black therefore he missed out on the executive position with the Toronto Blue Jays who hired a “white” person whose resume did not hold a candle to Stewart’s.  If one follows Black men with executive positions in baseball we see Derek Jeter, part owner of the Florida Marlins and Kenny Williams as executive vice-president after being a GM of the Chicago White Sox, but it took twenty-one years – obviously, the pattern remains clear.

Feinstein has authored an important book, made even better with his sense of humor and sarcasm.  With the death of George Floyd and the events of last year hovering over each sentence Feinstein must be commended for his impeccable research, easy writing style, and the importance of his topic which makes the book difficult to put the book down.  If there is one area that Feinstein could have improved upon is that he can get repetitive at times, but this is probably nit-picking.

Image: Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid

(San Francisco 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick, right, and Eric Reid protest during the national anthem before an NFL game against the Carolina) 


Yogi Berra during the 1960 World Series - photo Marvin E. Newman

(Lawrence Peter Berra ….”Yogi”)

Growing up in Brooklyn, NY I had had ample opportunity to sit in the bleachers in the old Yankee Stadium or watch the “Bronx Bombers” on WPIX.  If I could not watch the team in person or watch them on television, I could listen to my Sony transistor radio and learn of the exploits of my heroes.   The names of the players are embedded in my memory; Mantle, Ford, Skowron, Richardson, Kubek and of course Berra.  The Yankee catcher, sometimes outfielder was a sight to behold.  His awkward swing that paid no attention to the strike zone or his bowl legged stride did not detract from his baseball grace.  Be it jumping into Don Larsen’s arms following the 1956 World Series perfect game or turning his back on Bill Mazeroski’s game winning homerun to win the 1960 World Series, Berra always stood out as a leader among his teammates.  All of the wonderful stories  and career memories surrounding Berra are again brought to life in Jon Pessah’s new biography, YOGI: A LIFE BEHIND THE MASK which allows me to relive many important memories from my childhood.

Pessah’s prodigious research including interviews, culling newspapers, and other materials have produced a masterful biography as he places Berra’s story in the context of race relations, socio-economic issues, ethnic conflict, and other important aspects of American history during his lifetime.  A good example of the scope of Pessah’s effort is his discussion of the impact of World War II on American society, prejudice against Italian immigrants, and the obstinacy of baseball owners in integrating their sport.

Yogi Berra (left) won 10 World Series championships with the Yankees. (Courtesy Dale Berra)

        (Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle)

Pessah’s points out a number of interesting aspects of Berra’s life.  I was completely unaware that as a member of the US Navy during World War II, Berra volunteered for service on “Rocket Boats” which were designed to cross the English Channel on D Day and soften German targets for allied bombers.  Berra witnessed a great deal of carnage and death during the war which he never really went public with.  Another important aspect of Berra’s life and career was the abuse he suffered because of his facial features and stature.  Constantly the victim of crude and ugly remarks growing up he also had to deal with them when he stepped on to the baseball diamond.  Berra would become philosophical about the abuse and he was able to cope and put it behind him through a series of rationalizations.

Placing Berra’s career in the context of post war events is a key for Pessah.  Whether discussing the role of baseball during World War II, the GI bill of 1947, postwar American growth as Americans experienced discretionary spending to visit ball parks, the arrival of Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby to integrate both major leagues, racial unrest in the 1950s and 60s, all reflect the author’s strong command of history and provides insights into Berra’s views and career.

Yogi Berra relaxed on the field during Yogi Berra Day at Yankee Stadium in 1959.

(Yogi Berra Day at Yankee Stadium in 1959)

I would imagine that most people are aware of the many “Yogisms” that exist that are still referred to on a daily basis.  Yogis’ commentary endeared him to the American people as it seemed he “can do everything so wrong but have them all turn out so right.”  Comments like “the future ain’t what it used to be,” “when you come to a fork in the road take it,” “ninety percent of baseball is mental; the other half is physical, “or when a reporter asked him if the comments he had to endure about his looks he responded, “I haven’t seen anyone who hits with their face,” are still amusing today.  Many have painted Berra as inarticulate and not highly intelligent.  Nothing could be further from the truth as Berra was a shrewd businessman who built Yoo Hoo soft drinks into a national brand, partnered with Phil Rizzuto buying a bowling alley and selling it for a $1 million profit, acting in a few movies, and earning the highest salary for a catcher in baseball history.

Pessah does a marvelous job presenting the watersheds in Berra’s life and career.  The role of Dr. Bobby Brown, an infielder with the Yankees before he turned to medicine played an important role in taking care of Berra his first few years introducing him to life in the city, smoothed his rough edges, and preached patience.  Berra’s marriage to Carmen Short provided him a family life and a partner who helped make important decisions.  Lastly, the work Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey who worked with Berra and turned his raw skills into the best defensive catcher in baseball.

The first two thirds of the book covers Berra’s career with the Yankees which includes the standard statistics that most baseball books offer, Berra’s relationship with his teammates especially Joe DiMaggio, and his sidekicks Mickey Mantle, and Whitey Ford, along with the difficulties of transitioning to managing the Yankees and his firing.  What sets Pessah’s biography apart is that he delves into Berra’s post playing career and later life after baseball in great detail offering numerous insights into his personality and what made him so successful.

What is clear from Pessah’s biography is the importance of family and the role of his wife Carmen.  If you want insight into the type of person Berra was off the baseball field all you need to explore is how he dealt with his son Dale’s cocaine habit which began when he played for the Pittsburgh Pirates..  His addiction became public knowledge during a federal investigation.  The relationship between father and son is strong further highlighted by Dale’s reaction when his father was fired by George Steinbrenner in 1985 leading to Yogis boycott of Yankee Stadium until July 18, 1999 when Berra returned to the stadium to witness David Cone’s perfect game against the Montreal Expos (a game I attended!!!)  Berra’s boycott was fostered by Carmen’s anger and reflects her role as a dominating and protective force in their marriage.

All of the traditional aspects of a baseball biography are present in YOGI: A LIFE BEHIND THE MASK, and it is to Pessah ‘s credit that he has written a study of an important American icon that allows the reader to really get to know the man. Pessah writes with a passion about Berra in part because he was his father’s favorite player and would inherit his dad’s love of the Yankees. For me, the book was a stroll down memory lane, but it raised my level of understanding what Berra endured at times during his career and how he overcame his shy and quiet nature to become a strong, capable, person and a wonderful family man.  If you have missed baseball because of Covid-19 this book can really help fill the void.

Yogi Berra


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(Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, and Andy Pettitte, the “Core Four”)

Bill Pennington describes his new book as a story of “resurrection and rebirth.”  It is the story of a once proud dynasty, the envy of sports franchises worldwide, so why use the terms just mentioned.  Pennington’s book, CHUMPS TO CHAMPS: HOW THE WORST TEAM IN YANKEE HISTORY LED TO THE 90S DYNASTY begins with a bad omen.  Yankee pitcher, Andy Hawkins, a career journeyman who was about to be released pitches a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox.  However, an asterisk is called for because he lost the game 4-0, an occurrence that had never occurred in baseball history.  Such was the plight of the Yankees; attendance was down 35%, the farm system was bare, from 1989-1992 they had the worst record in team history, and the owner, the bombastic George Steinbrenner was banned from baseball.  At a time when the gloried franchise has returned as a major force it is interesting to turn the clock back and see how it emerged from its doldrums to become the last dynasty of the 20th century.

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(Gene Michael)

Pennington is on the top of his “game” throughout the narrative.  A former beat writer who covered the Yankees, and sportswriter for the New York Times he had unparalleled access to the organizations executives as well as the players.  He engaged in hundreds of interviews including the major characters including George Steinbrenner, Gene Michael, Buck Showalter, Don Mattingly, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, and Andy Pettitte.  Pennington takes the reader on a year by year journey in Yankee history culminating in their resurgence winning the World Series in 1996 against the Atlanta Braves.  During that journey the major issues that confronted the franchise are presented in detail concentrating on how the team fell into the abyss of the 1980s and early 90s.

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(Buck Showalter on Seinfeld)

Pennington does a great job setting the scene of how far the resurgence traveled by exploring the depths of the 1980s.  It seemed the Yankees did well in the 1980s, but in reality they were on a slow decline as its petulant owner, George Steinbrenner constantly interfered in “baseball” decisions; signing over the hill expensive free agents, trading away numerous prospects, and firing managers at the rate of one per year, in addition to rehiring and firing the same people multiple times.  Pennington provides biographical sketches of the important individuals involved including Major League baseball officials, executives of the Yankee organization, and numerous players.  In so doing the reader acquires insights from all points of view and gains an understanding as to what went wrong, and later what went right.

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(George Stiernbrenner)

The key factor in the Yankee resurgence involves the arrogance and stupidity of George Steinbrenner.  The Yankee owner who had previously been suspended from baseball because of illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon found himself in hot water once again in the early 90s.  Steinbrenner had been at war with one of his high-priced free agents, David Winfield who he felt had lied about his contract and did not measure up to the standards that the Yankee owner expected.  The disagreement involved donations to the Winfield Foundation, the paying of hush money to a convicted felon that Steinbrenner hired, and in the end Baseball Commissioner, Faye Vincent banned the Yankee owner for life, though it would be reduced to a two-year suspension after a year.  During that time Steinbrenner was prohibited from being involved with major decisions involving the team.  This allowed General Manager Gene Michael, Manager Buck Showalter, and the rest of the organization to set the Yankees on a new path.

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(Paul O’Neill)

The change in strategy including the early use of analytics, keeping their own prospects as the farm system began to blossom, creating a new culture in the clubhouse by acquiring certain types of players, and developing a consistent organizational philosophy that would be implemented  throughout their minor league system up through the major league level.  As Brian Cashman, then Assistant General Manager has pointed out, the success the Yankees would achieve in 1993 and 1994 while Steinbrenner was away from the team allowed for the implementation of the new approach.  Once Steinbrenner’s suspension ended, he came back and allowed his baseball people to make decisions rather than himself.  The key point is that if Steinbrenner had not been exiled the success of the late 1990s would not have occurred.

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(Bernie Williams)

It is one thing to change philosophies it is another to have the management and players to implement it.  Pennington is correct in arguing that Michael knew how to deflect Steinbrenner’s urges, as Cashman would also do once he took over as General Manager.  Further, Pennington describes how effective the scouting department was uncovering players like Bernie Williams, and the core four of Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte.  These players were supplemented by many others, but a climate of winning and accountability was created, that proved successful.

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(David Cone)

Perhaps the best chapters in the book deal with the relationship between Michael and Showalter and how they built the Yankees and dealt with Steinbrenner.  As in all relationships there is a watershed moment that alters the course of history.  Pennington does a superb job describing the events of 1994 and how the Yankees felt robbed by the baseball strike when they were on the cusp of winning a championship, and the loss to Seattle in the 1995 playoffs.  At the conclusion of that series Michael and Showalter did not return as General Manager and Manager for 1996 and Don Mattingly retired never to appear in a World Series.  Later, Steinbrenner admitted that not bringing Showalter back was his greatest mistake, and on a positive note it taught him to leave the team to his baseball people for the remainder of his life as he morphed into the realm of a benevolent patriarch.  It is ironic that in 2001, Showalter would be attending game seven of the World Series as an ESPN analyst where the two teams he helped build, the New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks would play for the championship.

Old Yankee Stadium From the Upper Deck Behind Home Plate

As a Yankee fan since the 1950s I have witnessed a great deal of Pennington’s narrative from my own observations and reading newspapers on a daily basis.  The author hits all the major points, develops the most important personalities, and reaches the correct conclusions in explaining the remaking of the New York Yankees from a declining power to a constant force in major league baseball over the last three decades.  If you are a baseball fan you will love this book.  If you are a general reader it presents a story of redemption and change that has benefited millions of people and shows if you take a thoughtful approach to an endeavor and leave out impatience and bombast you can be very successful.

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TIGER WOODS by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian

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(Tiger Woods)

Undertaking a biography of Tiger Woods is a daunting task.  First, there is the coterie of secrecy surrounding one of the greatest, if not greatest golfer in history.  Second, Woods himself.  Having been burned by interviews early in his career for years refused to interact with the fourth estate and maintained an aura of separateness from everyone but his inner circle.  However, there is enough information about Woods that includes books by Earle Woods, Tiger’s father, former coaches, documents, professional medical opinions, in addition to numerous articles by respectable journalists to produce a superb in depth study of Woods.  This being the case Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian’s effort in their new book, TIGER WOODS is to be praised as they have relied on information plied by others, but have introduced new material by culling newspapers, interviews, and other sources to create a book of surprising quality.

Tiger Woods was on top of the world having dominated the sport after becoming the youngest player to win the Masters in 1996.  For the next two decades golf revolved around his success and he became his own mega corporation as wealth and victories were seen as everyday occurrences.  This would all come to an abrupt end on November 27, 2009 when Woods crashed his car into a neighbor’s tree.  How did this come to pass and why did Woods’ life spiral out of control because of the accident?  In addition, how did Woods, after divorce, injury, scandal etc. seemingly turn his life around?  These questions and Tiger’s life story leading up to that fateful day form the core of Benedict and Keteyian’s new monograph.

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(Tiger Woods’ parents)

In trying to understand how Woods evolved as a person and an athlete all you have to do is examine his early childhood from birth onward as he was surrounded by an attention grabbing father and an authentic “tiger mom.”  The authors describe a childhood that was different from other children as instead of toys his prized possession from a very young age was a sawed down golf club.  Woods would not interact with other children, and his father, Earl made it clear that golf was paramount, not making friends.  The key to Woods’ career is his father.  He became his confidante and role model and Woods’ behavior up until later in adult life can be explained by how Earl trained Tiger in a rigorous military fashion, instilled in him how unique he was, and created expectations that were outrageous to say the least.  Woods’ mother, Kultida, known as Tida reinforced her husband’s approach to child rearing and even after her divorce from Earl would dominate her son and instill in him that he was always right and he did not have to give in to anyone.  What separates the authors approach is that they integrate the opinions of medical professionals throughout the book applying psychological principles to help explain Woods’ behaviors and outlook on life.  For Woods, as a gifted child he would be more attuned to his parents’ expectations and would do whatever it took to meet them, even if it meant ignoring his own feelings and needs.

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(Tiger Woods and his ex-wife Elin Nordegren)

The authors take the reader through Woods’ career in minute detail ranging from how his amateur career was funded, how he put out the fires of his father’s incendiary remarks and heavy handedness when it came to his career, and finally becoming a professional golfer.  Throughout we witness a Tiger who lacks any sentimentality and personal connections with others which can be traced directly from his mother who stated, “I am a loner, and so is Tiger.”  Tida reinforced the concept of “killing” the opposition on the golf course, and taking the opponents “heart.”  Woods’ evolution as a golfer and a person should be seen in this parental context as the authors describe throughout the book his extraordinary focus, commitment to winning, his inability to trust others, resulting in a very insular person who has repressed his true emotions and feelings.  Woods’ became a person who did not take responsibility for his actions and let his “inner circle” fix any errors.  “From the time he was old enough to walk, Tiger was told by his parents he was different, special, chosen, a genius—and he had been treated accordingly.”  His lack of praise for others, ignoring handshakes on the golf course, blowing off special events that meant a great deal to others were all part of his persona.

There are a number of surprising aspects to the narrative that provide further insight into Woods.  The authors detail his many victories, training regimen, the fear he struck in opponents because of his demeanor, and his sense of entitlement.  Perhaps more insightful is his interest and participation in the military, from video games to actual training with Navy Seals.  Woods could relate to these elite soldiers because he viewed himself as elite.  Woods’ own training agenda was so strict that later in his career he paid for them with numerous injuries and surgeries, but he felt comfortable with the Seals and how they went about their business because in his own mind he did it the same way.

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The standard stories of Woods’ private life are recounted from the many mistresses, his insularity, and how he was treated as a celebrity.  Further, the authors examine how Woods became his own “corporation,” how he was managed by IMG, and how the different personalities or handlers dealt with him on many levels.  But more importantly the authors analyze the results of this private Tiger and his life style supported by his corporate handlers, as opposed to the rectitude he presented to the public, and the image that his corporate sponsors like Nike portrayed.

The authors take the reader through Woods’ entire golf career.  From major, celebrity, and PGA tour tournaments pointing out the importance of each, his achievements, and the implications for his overall career.  Along with the career highlights the reader is exposed to the seamier aspects of his behavior; his sense of entitlement, and utter lack of taking the feelings of others into consideration when he acted.  The authors and others constantly blame his boorish behavior on his childhood which is true, but that does not take away from the fact that he was a despicable character.

Woods’ career was phenomenal and the few friends he made are recounted as are the lives of the many golfers on tour with him.  His lack of insight into others is discussed reflecting his lack of interest in anyone, but himself.  This would all come crashing down the day before Thanksgiving, 2009 when he crashed his car into a tree in his neighbor’s yard.  This would result in divorce from his wife Elin, an unmitigated scandal that fed the National Enquirer type press, the loss of his inner circle, and a public apology for his sexual addiction and other errors that he had made.  In the end he would overcome dependencies on pain killers, participation in treatment centers, and would emerge with a clearer understanding of what he had become, and what he wanted to become.

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(Woods after being arrested for DUI May 29, 2017)

The key to the success of the book is that the authors do an excellent job transitioning from one period of Woods’ life to the next, highlighting each with the events, relationships, and hazards that exist in each.  Overall, we witness the consummate narcissist exceling at his given profession, and finding it difficult to have empathy for anyone.  After the scandals, injuries, personal loss he seems to have evolved into a much more caring person, in touch with his feelings, and a dedication to his two children-a caring component of his personality that had been buried.

Benedict and Keteyian should be commended for producing an excellent study of an important life that greatly influenced American culture.  It is more than an examination of a professional golfer but an in depth study of a conflicted individual who was placed inside a psychological prison resulting in personal loss and humiliation that allowed him to break free.

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It’s Aaron F****** Boone as the new NYY manager

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NYY GM Brian Cashman has placed his own career on the line by investing in Aaron Boone, a great communicator and baseball lifer as his new manager.  Boone has the DNA and/or pedigree to accomplish the task, but will be be successful?  Things he might consider:

(1) Maintain Tony Pena as the experienced bench coach that is needed who can also continue the development of the “Sanchize.”  Or perhaps return him to a first coaching position and bring in an experienced pro like Eric Wedge.

(2) Allow Larry Rothstein full control of the pitching staff.  He has done a wonderful job since 2011 and I am certain with the relationships he has established he will continue to be successful.

(3) Carlos Beltran would make a strong hitting coach and it would bring him under the NYY fold for the future, particularly if Boone falters down the road.

(4) Hopefully the fact he does not speak Japanese will not hinder him with the quest to sign Ohtani.  I wonder does Boone hable espanol?  It would certainly help.

(5) I would try and sign Chris Woodward as the third base coach.  I realize that would create a staff of most of the people who interviewed for the managerial position, but they all bring different strengths to their perspective positions and could facilitate Boone’s growth.

All of this may become academic if the NYY do not start off fast next March, but they have too much talent not to.  If they add a returning C C Sabathia or an Alex Cobb, along with Shohei Ohtani things will take care of themselves.  Boone is not that far removed from the game since his switch to an analyst position with ESPN – his combnation of a strong baseball IQ and communication skills exhibited will stand him in good stead.  All the best of luck – but remember the division over the Boston Red Sox, at least a wild card, and possibly a World Series appearance will be the measure of success.  Bring on Gleyber Torres, Chance Adams, Justin Sheffield and the next wave of talent and see what it brings.  The bottom line is that the 2018 NYY baseball season will be one to watch carefully.

Boone celebrates game winning home run : News Photo


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(Lou Gehrig)

After reading Richard Sandomir’s THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES: LOU GEHRIG, GARY COOPER AND THE MAKING OF A CLASSIC I cannot decide whether I have read a sports book, or a critique of how the film “Pride of the Yankees” was created and finalized.  I guess Sandomir has elements of both, but I wish he would have chosen one path rather than moving back and forth between the two approaches.  The book itself is informative and presents a number of surprising and interesting details of how Samuel Goldwyn, Eleanor Gehrig and others went about the conception of the script, how it was be transferred to the screen, and the diverse group of people who were involved.

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(Gary Cooper in the film, “Pride of the Yankees” making Gehrig’s farewell speech)

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(Lou Gehrig making his Farewell Speech at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939)

Sandomir provides background on all the major characters.  We witness the courtship
and marriage of Lou and Eleanor Gehrig and the stresses in their marriage.  The main problem was that Lou was a “mama’s boy” and he had difficulty separating from his mother.  Eleanor describes her marriage as a triangle between her, her husband, and her mother-in-law.  This difficulty would continue after Lou’s death as his mother sued to contest Lou’s will.  A great deal of biographical information is presented dealing with Gary Cooper and Theresa Wright the stars of the movie which are interesting and a number of career insights are brought forward.  Samuel Goldwyn whose studio produced the film is presented as a man who cared mostly about profits from his film.  He did have a soft spot for Gehrig, particularly after Gehrig’s July 4, 1939, “I am the luckiest man in the world” speech given at Yankee Stadium shortly before he died of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

For Goldwyn the story revolved around patriotism and capturing a shy, decent, selfless, and sincere individual who possessed the character traits of what the American male stood for.  The year 1942 when the film was released is very important.  World War II was not going well, and Goldwyn saw the film as a means of entertainment, profit, but also providing American society an uplifting experience.  The story about a man who was struck down in the prime of his life by an insidious disease is heartwarming.  Gehrig’s own response reflects a brave individual who could be held up as a role model for the World War II generation.  What makes Sandomir’s new book, and Goldwyn’s film so effective is that they are able to translate Gehrig’s life through the prism of film and how that film has preserved his legendary career and his personal integrity for seventy-five years.

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(Lou and Eleanor Gehrig)

The chapter on teaching Gary Cooper to become a “passable” baseball player was one of the most interesting in the book.  Sandomir does a fine job introducing former major leaguers like Lefty O’Doul and Babe Herman, baseball stars in their own right, and how they went about teaching Cooper how to appear realistic as a player on film.  The author provides surprising detail on how this was accomplished.  Especially interesting in the discussion on how the right handed Cooper could play the left handed Gehrig.  The analysis of how film techniques i.e., camera reversals-Cooper would run to third, but on film he ran to first, or uniform names and numbers were reversed were especially interesting.

Sandomir is correct in arguing that the film itself has created a conundrum in that it is difficult to ascertain what is real in terms of Gehrig’s life story and what is a Hollywood creation.  It is fascinating that Goldwyn, Cooper, and others knew very little, if anything about baseball and yet they created a classic film on the sport.  For Goldwyn baseball was tangential to how he wanted the film presented.  The film was to be about Gehrig and Goldwyn “craved commercial success, not fidelity to a sport he had no affinity for.”  Goldwyn’s main problem was one of authenticity-how would the film convince its audience that what they were viewing was historical accurate.  Goldwyn’s staff employs artistic license repeatedly raising questions as to how effective the film was in replicating the truth.

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(Gehrig and Babe Ruth following his Farewell Speech)

A major issue is whether Sandomir delves into issues he uncovers as an investigative reporter or are they dealt with in a superficial manner, for example, Eleanor’s relationship with Lou’s mother; the Gehrig-Ruth relationship; the Gehrig marriage; and the background for each character in the film.  The feeling emerges that this is more of a sports book about Gehrig’s life and how a film was made to glorify it, rather than a study of filmmaking that lacked the cultural and social components of the period.  Sandomir is correct in arguing that in the end “the film left people to accept the truths that were created, which did not stick too many of the facts.”

The book is a comprehensive study of Gehrig’s life on film and the problems that arose from that undertaking.  However, at times the book lacks flow as it becomes somewhat tedious as the author seems to over analyze each aspect of the film, i.e.; chapters dealing with Gehrig’s Farewell Speech, and training Gary Cooper to replicate Gehrig.  If you are interested in this topic I would suggest viewing the film before reading Sandomir’s narrative.  It would create context for the reader and might produce a more positive result once the book is digested.

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(Lou Gehrig)


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(1942 Rose Bowl Game in Durham, NC)

Last Monday the University of Southern California and Penn State University met in one of the most thrilling Rose Bowl games in history with the Trojans winning on a last second field goal 52-49.  Before the game, in keeping with the remembrance of the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, one remaining player from the 1942 Rose Bowl, and survivors of December 7, 1941 were honored.  In the wake of the attack the game was moved from Pasadena to Durham, NC.  Oregon State University, the underdog, played Duke University and the Blue Devil campus opened its arms to their opponents who had to travel across America by train in the wake of the Japanese action.  As players practiced for the game British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt met to discuss preparations for war, and allied strategy that would greatly impact these Rose Bowl participants.  Brian Curtis’ new Book, FIELDS OF BATTLE: PEARL HARBOR, THE ROSE BOWL, AND THE BOYS THAT WENT TO WAR catalogues a little known slice of American history describing what took place on the grid iron, the battlefields of World War II, and how many of these football players readapted to civilian life after the war.  Curtis’ style reminds one of John Feinstein’s approach in A CIVIL WAR: ARMY VS NAVY: A YEAR INSIDE COLLEGE FOOTBALL’S PUREST RIVALRY  as he delves into the personalities and military careers of the coaches, players, and many of the faculty at Oregon State and Duke.

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Wallace Wade who hailed from Gibson County, TN played football at Brown, enlisted in World War I, and after missing out on combat in 1918 returned to civilian life and became a football coach at the University of Alabama.  He was successful and had the reputation of getting the most out of his players, and after winning a national championship moved to coach Duke in 1930.  By September, 1941 the Duke’s football team was down to 49 players as with war in the air, 6 players had already enlisted.  Alonzo “Lon” Stiles, Jr. the Oregon State University coach grew up in Nebraska and was able to turn a small agricultural school into a major football power. However, by March, 1941 OSU was still seen as one of the weaker teams in the Pacific Coast Conference.  Curtis provides a history of the football programs at both schools and introduces the reader to the important players ranging from Don Durdan, the son of a banana farmer in Eureka, CA; Bob Dethman from Hood River, OR, a person who had it all, good looks athletic talents, and strong academically for OSU to Frank Parker, a rambunctious and driven person; to Jack Yoshihara, the only Japanese –American on the Duke squad.

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(Wallace Wade, Sr.,  Coach of the Duke Football Team)

After reviewing the 1930s and the eventual war in Europe, the American role in the world before Pearl Harbor, the author focuses on how the United States evolved into “the arsenal of democracy.”  Curtis integrates OSU and Duke into his discussion of military preparedness with new courses oriented to technological innovation and military needs, bringing in soldiers to take specialized courses to enhance their military training, along with the standard ROTC programs.

Curtis describes the football season for both teams in detail and is able to use certain players and place them in their historical context, i.e., Jack Yoshihara, a Duke player that was interned along with his entire family after Pearl Harbor was attacked.  By the first week in December both schools were invited to participate in the Rose Bowl and began practicing and making plans when the Japanese attacked.  Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt was Commander of the 4th Army and responsible for protecting the west coast.  DeWitt was an intolerant individual and a racist and the author should have delved into DeWitt’s actions and policies in greater detail, particularly when he opposed moving the Rose Bowl east, and had the FBI arrest Jack Yoshihara in front of his teammates, banned him from playing in the bowl game, eventually moving his entire family from “internment camp,” to “internment camp.”  Curtis does present the standard history of how the internment camp policy was implemented, describing conditions in the camps and how Japanese-Americans adjusted.  Curtis does detail the plight of the Yoshihara family, as US citizens they still lived in demeaning conditions, having lost their possessions and being separated from Jack.

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(Minidoka internment camp, Oregon)

Curtis integrates wartime events into his narrative and how they affected the game and the players once it was moved to the Duke campus.  Curtis describes team preparation, the game itself, and what happened to the players following its conclusion.  Once the game was completed the author does a nice job dealing with how the war affected each campus.  College administrators sped up graduation requirements to allow men who were enlisting or being drafted to complete their education.  Further, scientific research became a staple as Nobel Prize winning scientists like Enrico Fermi and Arthur Compton worked on a “uranium weapons program,” the early stages of the Manhattan Project” which had ties to Duke facilities and faculty.

As he watched his players join the services, Wade, age 49 decided to reenlist as he wanted to do what he had always asked his players to do, ending his coaching career.  Eventually receiving command of the 272nd Artillery Battalion, Wade saw action in France after Normandy.   Stiner was too old to enlist, but he followed his players avidly putting a map up in his home and using stick pins to follow their progress in Europe, North Africa, and the Pacific.   However, the 1942 football season continued as Washington viewed it as a useful distraction from the war.  OSU and Duke would lose a significant number of players to graduation and the military.  They would present weaker rosters and their poor performance did not match fan expectations.  One of Duke’s former players, Walter Griffith who served in the 8th Marines, Second Division was the first Rose Bowl participant killed in the war at Guadalcanal, a battle that provided evidence to the allies how fierce the fighting would be to defeat Japan.  The former players would soon find out that “war was hell,” from the outset.  One of those was Wallace Wade, Jr. who had enlisted before his father and as an officer with the 9th Division Artillery made his way across Algeria and Tunisia, later crossed the channel into France through Belgium and Germany where he was close to breaking down.  With all his combat experience, Wade, Jr. concluded that “Sherman’s description of war was a great understatement.”

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(Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt)

Through the eyes of former players Curtis effectively describes the course of the war and the major battles these men participated in.  As he does this, Curtis places their experiences in the full context of the war, i.e., when Charles Haynes, leader of the Second Platoon, Easy Company, 349th Regiment, 88th Division deployed to Italy, an allied strategy designed to weaken Nazi defense of Germany by having them pick up the pieces after Mussolini was captured.  In fact, Charles Haynes of Duke would run into Frank Parker of OSU on the battlefield, then later Parker would carry the severely wounded Haynes to a medical station.   Later in the war Lt. Colonel Wallace Wade, Sr. would come across OSU’s Stanley Czech, a field artillery observer, and of course Czech offered the “old man” a cup of coffee.

By constructing his narrative in this manner for the final third of the book, Curtis offers a bird’s eye view of what these football players experienced during the war; fighting in the Ardennes Forest, the Battle of the Bulge, Iwo Jima, Normandy, Guadalcanal, Sicily, and numerous other historical battles, and why the 70 players and coaches that played or coached in the 1942 Rose Bowl who served in the armed forces, less 4 of which had been killed, were treated as heroes upon their return.  What truly enhances Curtis’ work are the personal stories he tells concerning how these men readapted to civilian life after the war.  Some dealt with the effects of the war well, others not so, but all in all these men made a tremendous contribution to their country.

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(1942 Rose Bowl Game, Durham, NC)


(Stan Musial and Ted Williams)

The year 1946 was a watershed in Post-World War II America.  It is the year that Robert Weintraub points out in his book, VICTORY SEASON: THE END OF WORLD WAR II AND THE BIRTH OF BASEBALL’S GOLDEN AGE that the United States had to reinvent itself from a collectivist society that was geared toward winning the war to one that could reabsorb millions of servicemen and women at a time when the country was unprepared to receive them.  1946 witnessed severe labor disruption, spiraling prices, wages that did not keep up with prices, and shortages of many goods and services.  As domestic trauma seemed to increase each day people began to grow concerned about our former ally, the Soviet Union.  Many feared a return to prewar depression and a new president who seemed unprepared for the office.  As baseball returned to the national consciousness at spring training sites, Winston Churchill gave his “Iron Curtain” speech in Fulton, Missouri, and at the State Department, George Kennan called for the “containment” of the Soviet Union in his “Long Telegram.”

When the government removed price controls prices rose on average about 18%, but wages lagged far behind resulting in a flurry of strikes nationwide.  Steel workers, miners, railroad workers all took to the picket lines almost bringing the nation to a halt.  The result was higher wages something that baseball players returning from the war had difficulty achieving.  Baseball was exempt from anti-trust legislation and through the “reserve clause” in contracts players were the property of the owners, in a sense a form of “indentured servitude.”  1946 represented the first time that teams were not missing players serving in the military and it was hoped by the players and their owners that their skills had not eroded during the war.

(Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey)

When I first picked up VICTORY SEASON I hoped that it would explain in detail how baseball served as a catalyst for returning a sense of normalcy to American life.  Weintraub does make the attempt, but does not really develop this theme enough.  The author does a magnificent job discussing some of baseballs endearing and not so endearing characters.  Focusing on the alcoholic owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers and later the New York Yankees, Lee MacPhail, we learn how he laid the foundation for Dodgers success in the 1940s and 50s, and then helped build the Yankees into the powerhouse that dominated baseball from 1949-1963.  Branch Rickey is portrayed as a genius who knew how to evaluate talent and took over the Dodgers from MacPhail.  He is also remembered as the person responsible for breaking the color barrier by recruiting Jackie Robinson, a strategy that Weintraub writes was motivated more for money that achieving racial equality.  We meet Leo Durocher the ornery manager of the Dodgers whose life was intertwined with numerous show business types.  Bill Veeck, the owner of the Cleveland Indians who brought many innovations to the game.  Red Barber, a southerner who brought his gentlemanly ways to the broadcast of Dodger games.  Jorge Pasquel a Mexican millionaire created a scare among major league owners when he tried to lure major league ballplayers for his “La Liga”  teams in different Mexican cities.  Lastly, Robert Murphy a Boston lawyer and member of the National Labor Relations Board who tried to organize players to stand up to the owners. Though he would fail, he laid the ground work for Marvin Miller to organize the players and get the “reserve clause” struck down creating free agency.

Weintraub also integrates the experiences of many players who fought in World War II and how it affected their later careers.  Among them are Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn, who would survive the Battle of the Bulge and earn a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star; and Hall of Fame pitcher, Bob Feller who would see a significant amount of combat in the Pacific that greatly altered his view of life.  Of all the players who fought in the war only two were killed; Elmer Gedeon who played briefly for the Washington Senators was shot down over France as his plane tried to destroy one of Hitler’s V1 rocket sites; and Harry Mink O’Neill, a Marine who played for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s and was killed on Iwo Jima.

(Iwo Jima Memorial, Arlington, VA)

Weintraub concentrates a great deal on the 1946 pennant races and World Series by focusing on Ted (the “splendid splinter”) Williams and the Boston Red Sox, and Stan (“the man”) Musial and the St. Louis Cardinals along with their amazing fan bases.  During his narrative all the major characters involved in the pennant race are explored with wonderful anecdotes and details that will make any fan of baseball history ecstatic.  The DiMaggio brothers, Bobby Doerr, Harry the Hat Walker, Pete Reiser, Jackie Robinson, Enos Slaughter are among the many stars of the game that Weintraub introduces and the reader gets to know.  Much of what Weintraub explores is based on his vast research and interviews with the few survivors of the 1946 season, their families, and newspaper reporters who knew them.

(Fenway Park, circa, 1946)

It appears Weintraub is straddling the line of writing historical narrative at the same time as presenting an interesting sports book.  He does an effective job integrating important aspects of the 1946 baseball season with the socioeconomic and political history of the period.  Weintraub explores the transportation industry, particularly the early use of airplanes by teams, railroad strikes that hindered teams from reaching their destinations, the segregation of society depriving black ballplayers the same amenities that white players enjoyed, the postwar housing shortage limited where all players could live, and many other examples.  When Weintraub focuses on this component of the story, it is fascinating, however, when he switches to the statistical component of baseball he seems to lose some of his effectiveness.

(Sportsman’s Park, St. Louis, MO)

An area that is both interesting and effective is when Weintraub introduces certain historical details and relates them to what is occurring on the diamond.  A number stand out, i.e.; aspects of the Nuremberg trials taking place in Germany-how a young guard smuggled a poisonous pill to Hermann Goering to facilitate his suicide, as well as describing how a truck strike in Boston during the World Series made it almost impossible to acquire day-to-day goods, especially baby food, among many other items.

For fans and players alike the return of baseball from the war years was an important vehicle in returning America to a more normal environment, but he goes a bit overboard comparing America’s victory in World War II with Enos “Country” Slaughter’s made dash home to win the 1946 World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals.  For fans and students of the game 1946 is like a “coming attraction” for baseball and the “Golden Era” that would follow.  Weintraub has written an interesting book that should satisfy those interested in the minutia of baseball history and how it was integrated into American society following World War II.

(Stan Musial and Ted Williams)


In 2011 the Pulitzer Prize Winning historian Taylor Branch wrote an article for THE ATLANTIC entitled “The Shame of College Sports” that finally blew the lid off of the NCAA reign of terror of “student-athletes.”  In it, Branch noted that the majority of athletes that played football and men’s basketball were African American.  Further, he noted that the NCAA lets off “the unmistakable whiff of the plantation.”  Coming at the same time as a PBS Frontline episode “Money and March Madness” the NCAA’s reputation suffered greatly and they were forced to answer to the public for a great number of their policies that the article and television program exposed.  The NCAA practices and their rationalization for their numerous rules are exposed further in Joe Nocera and Ben Strauss’ new book INDENTURED: THE INSIDE STORY OF THE REBELLION AGAINST THE NCAA.  The authors’ approach is damning to the decades long reign of the NCAA as they describe the enforcement of rules and regulations with seeming blindness to the effects they have on the athletes and their families that they are expected to regulate.  Nocera and Strauss discuss the different heads of the NCAA and what emerges is a consistent refusal to reform and change policies that were drawn up in the 1950s that have destroyed numerous lives.  The authors trace the development of the NCAA from its beginnings to the era of mega revenues that have economists, politicians, educators, sportswriters, legal scholars, and numerous others referring to it as a cartel that has spent most of its time ruling college sports, but at the same time being exempt from anti-trust legislation.

The book itself could serve as a legal brief against the NCAA as it delineates numerous practices that are detrimental to the athletes they supposedly supervise.  The book is organized into a series of chapters that examine a specific problem with the NCAA.  Each chapter is preceded by a short rendering of a particular case that the NCAA pushed against a particular athlete, their families, or a coach and how they ruled unjustly, and at times unethically.  At issue throughout the narrative is the concept of the “student-athlete” that the NCAA created to justify its actions.  The core of the argument against the NCAA rests on a number of areas.  The lack of health insurance for athletes, particularly when they are expected to train during the off-season and suffer injuries which can cause them to lose their scholarships.  Another area is the practice of having to renew their scholarships each year and how coaches manipulate this practice to gain more scholarships for recruits.  The lack of stipends to assist students who have little or no money for laundry, food outside the cafeteria, and assist them with supplies needed for class is a major issue when university programs are reaping millions of dollars because of the athletes, but the athlete themselves receiving nothing from their labor.   The labor of which is roughly 40 hours a week or more for individuals who play Division I sports of which I am personally knowledgeable since my son played Lacrosse at that level and he did most of his class work after midnight.  The lack of academic support for college players is a travesty, for example, some coaches would hold back the distribution of textbooks until they were satisfied with on field performance.   Lastly, probably the most egregious actions by the NCAA is that their investigative process is dominated by fear.  Since they do not have subpoena power they will use any method to gain information, a process that allows them to bribe people for testimony, accept the statements of witnesses who are stretching the truth to achieve their goal of prosecuting a particular athlete, among other strategies to make athletes ineligible.  Athletes seemed to always make the mistake of assuming that their schools would support them when the NCAA investigated, a major error, as all the schools cared about was their own welfare.

(University of Michigan Stadium on a Fall Saturday afternoon, capacity 102,000)

The authors provide all the relevant statistics to support their conclusions.  College sports generates about $13 billion a year, more than the National Football League.  Though there are 460,000 NCAA athletes engaged in 24 sports, the book focuses in on about 15,000 who play the most revenue driven sports, football and men’s basketball.  While the NCAA uses their self-serving definition of amateurism to reinforce and justify their policies, the amount of money they bring in because of these supposed “amateurs” makes one accept the idea that these athletes are indentured servants.  The historical definition of an indentured servant is “a person under contract to another person for a definite period of time, usually without pay.”  As used historically that person is working for passage to another country or maintenance.  In the case of the NCAA, athletes seem to be indentured servants, but they are not being maintained properly if they are not provided full health care and food.

Based on the article by Taylor Branch there is a racial component to this process.  A large majority of athletes come from poor black families who live close or under the poverty line.  Many of these athletes need remedial education which most universities do not provide, but what they do provide as is evidenced by the University of North Carolina African American history program are “caned” courses where students did not have to attend classes but received passing grades.  This went on under the rule of Coach Dean Smith, regarded as a deity in Chapel Hill and of course was white.  If we turn to the UCLA basketball program under John Wooden, considered a “basketball god” as he earned 11 national basketball titles between 1965 and 1975 overseeing numerous infractions, (i.e.; builder Sam Gilbert was paying his players), that the NCAA let slide because he brought in money, and yes he too was white.  The stories Nocera and Strauss bring to the fore are mostly black athletes who seem to be persecuted by the NCAA.

The growth of revenue at such an exponential level is amazing to this reader.  It all relates to the commercialization and corporatization of college sports.  The creation of ESPN in 1975 and its later offshoot channels, ESPN2, ESPNU, and ESPN Classic created the need for more and more programming, roughly 8000-10,000 hours a year.   Billion dollar contracts have followed over the years and universities rebelled against the NCAA as they believed they could make more money.  Their individual conferences, beginning with the Big 10 decided to create their own networks and negotiate with ESPN, the major networks, and the new sports channels themselves to get a bigger share of the pie.  Once the Big 10 was successful then other conferences like the PAC 10, ACC, SEC and others, did the same.  The result has been musical chairs for universities as the conferences lured schools with the promise of increased revenues to the detriment of schools with weaker athletic programs who could no longer compete for the funds needed to keep up with the new arenas, stadiums, and other facilities of the larger newly realigned programs.   It is obvious that college sports has become a multi-billion dollar enterprise with March Madness, the BCS playoff system for college football, as well as all the other bowls that have corporate sponsors.   My favorites include the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl and the Go Daddy Bowl, and I wonder in the future if the NCAA will offer a Kohler Toilet Bowl.

(Theodis Colter, Northwestern University Quarterback and college player’s union advocate)

Aside from the commercialization off college sports, the next motivator for athletes to try and be heard was the proliferation of concussions that have led to CTE in former players.  College football’s “concussion protocol” was non-existent and finally Northwestern Quarterback Theodis Colter began a movement to unionize Northwestern football players with the creation of the college Athletics Players Association.  The organizing of college basketball and football players had been burgeoning for a number of years due to the inequities already discussed, but it seemed that the concussion issue pushed some over the edge.  After the National Labor Relations Board recognized the players right to unionize a vote took place in April, 2014 to approve the unionization of Northwestern players.  After tremendous pressure from alumni and a calculated effort by the Northwestern administration to convince players what they could lose if they voted yes, the players voted down the union concept.

(Ed O’Bannon, former UCLA basketball player who led the fight to renumerate college players for their own “images.”)

One of the most interesting cases involves whether the “image” of an athlete can be used as a commercial product after the athlete graduates (and is enrolled) since that image generates millions of dollars from the likes of EA Sports and other corporations.  Ed O’Bannon, a former UCLA basketball player has sued the NCAA and the authors delve into the legal fight and the nuances and strategies pursued by both sides of this case as they do with a number of other cases throughout the book.  The O’Bannon case is extremely important because it finally showed that their business model of “amateurism” was no longer tenable. It must be asked why college book stores that sell the jerseys of players, and make enormous sums of money, do not share their profits with the athletes who wears the jerseys that make sales possible.  As the O’Bannon case court hearings evolved, Nocera and Strauss reintroduce a number of characters that have been discussed throughout the book.  Men like James Delaney, head of the Big 10, Sandy Vaccaro, a major figure at Nike at one time, Jerry Tarkanian, former head basketball coach at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, Andy Schwarz, an economist, Ramogi Huma, a former player and activist for player rights, Mark Emmert, head of the NCAA, and the work of Walter Byers who developed many NCAA rules and regulations among numerous others.  The Final decision in the case struck down the NCAA concept of “amateurism” and promoted reforms for the benefit of the players, many of which the NCAA supported, but this did not stop the NCAA from appealing the decision even though they could remain a cartel whose prerogatives were only tweaked.  But the NCAA and its member schools began tripping over themselves as they tried to institute reforms to benefit the players and as the author’s argue in their closing chapter, “the sky did not fall,” even as the cost to universities for health care, guaranteeing scholarships, and a cost of attendance stipend increased. In reality, revenues for college sports “kept rolling in” to cover these new benefits, in addition to producing further revenues above these new expenses.

(Ed Delaney, former head of the Big 10 Conference)

If an athlete sought to try and get legal redress it was very difficult as the NCAA would rarely settle a lawsuit and its strategy rested on legal obstacles dragging cases out for years.  Since they had the greater resources, few would challenge them.  The key to any reform is for university presidents to grab control of college sports from their athletic directors.  However in a system where some athletic programs, i.e.; Louisiana State University brings in 25% of the schools revenue, school presidents are not likely to push too hard.  The bottom line that emerges from Nocera and Strauss’ excellent research is that “student-athletes” do not control their own lives while they are indentured as college athletes.  If the reader wants to delve further into the debate they include an appendix that present documents that are germane to the material presented in this very readable book.


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(Miller Park, Milwaukee, WI; the monument to Bud Selig’s rule as Commissioner of Baseball)

When I picked up a copy of THE GAME: INSIDE THE SECRET WORLD OF MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL’S POWER BROKERS by Jon Pessah I expected an exploration of the world of baseball between 1992 and 2010 from financial and labor perspectives.  What I read encompasses those general themes, but the book also evolved into a prolonged discussion of Bud Selig and George Steinbrenner’s roles in baseball during that time period, and bringing with it an excellent reporter’s knowledge of baseball and the personalities involved. I soon developed an intense distaste for Selig, who was the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and the “acting” commissioner of baseball at the same time, a direct conflict of interest; and a greater understanding of Steinbrenner, and a degree of empathy for his at times, outrageous behavior.

The year 1992 can be considered a “watershed” year in the history of major league baseball.  The owners were at war with each other, the owners were also at war with the players through their labor union, and the steroid era was just emerging.  Pessah raises the question; did Bud Selig save baseball, as the former Commissioner of Baseball would like everyone to believe.  After reading Pessah’s account I agree with his conclusions that Selig did more to hurt the game he supposedly loved, and his actions were driven by his own selfish agenda and led to some of the most hypocritical actions and statements that I have ever been exposed to.  Bud Selig has one belief, what is best for Bud Selig.  When it came to his role as owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, that belief centered on improving the value of his franchise no matter who he hurt or used by reorienting baseball’s financial structure to meet his needs.

(Bud Selig, Former Commissioner of Baseball)

Unhappy with the settlement with the players union in 1990 because of what he perceived to be the actions of then Baseball Commissioner Faye Vincent, Selig worked assiduously to have him removed and have himself appointed as “acting” commissioner.  Once this was achieved Selig would be in charge of negotiating a new contract with his adversary, Donald Fehr, the head of the players union.  The Brewers team debt stood at $35 million in 1990 and throughout the period it would quadruple, if not more.  For Selig, a new stadium was needed to replace the antiquated Milwaukee County Stadium to help pay down his debt.  The problem was who would finance the cost of this project.  As Pessah’s research will prove Selig would blackmail localities into having public funding for stadiums or they could lose their teams to franchise relocation or contraction (having the league fold their franchises).   Selig was envious of large market teams with extensive resources because of cable television contracts and other marketing advantages, as a result he sought to pillage those teams through revenue sharing, a salary cap, and possibly, a luxury tax.  His target was George Steinbrenner’s New York Yankees and a few other franchises.  What was most disingenuous, is that when revenue sharing was eventually implemented, many of the small market teams took the millions of dollars they received, supposedly designated for player development and procurement to make their teams more competitive, and devoted the money to their own profits.  In Selig’s case he paid down his debt, and at the same time reduced his payroll.  In the case of billionaire owner, Carl Polhand of the Minnesota Twins, he just pocketed the money.

(George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees)

The first part of the book analyzes the steps that led to the cancelling of the last month of the 1994 baseball season and the World Series.  In meticulous fashion Pessah describes the positions of the owners and the player’s union.  What seems abundantly clear is no matter how many times Selig downplayed the idea that the owners wanted a strike, the evidence reflects the opposite.  After Selig arranged his coup against Vincent, he also engineered a change in baseball’s voting structure to allow small market teams like the Brewers to veto any settlement with the players they did not like.  Pessah places the onus of the strike and the possible use of replacement players on Selig and his supporters, and less so on the player’s union head, Donald Fehr.  Along the way the author integrates the story of Don Mattingly, the Yankee first basement who had never been to the post season and whose body was slowly giving way to father time.  When Selig ended the season, the Yankees were in first place and were on the road to a possible World Series appearance for the first time since 1981, and it seemed Mattingly’s last chance may have been passed by.  Pessah explores Steinbrenner and other owner’s roles as well as Fehr and the union in intricate detail.  What one concludes as a settlement is finally reached is that Selig is correct that financial changes needed to be implemented, but other issues facing baseball, like steroids were ignored because for Selig “the homeruns” that resulted from the use of steroids were good for baseball’s bottom line.  As a result he and the owners turned a blind eye to the problem.

Selig’s methods are a major focus of the book.  How he arranges for the Montreal Expos to be purchased by Major League Baseball for $120 million and its sale for over $400 million to a group that moves it to Washington, DC is priceless.  Further, his manipulation of the Florida Marlins situation reflects his duplicitousness as he arranges for the former owner of the Expos, Jeffrey Loria to buy the Marlins when he cannot really affords to do so.  Another example is how Selig arranges for John Henry to purchase the Boston Red Sox who he hopes will create a small market mentality more to his liking in Beantown.  Selig did not overlook the needs of his own team, managed by his daughter Wendy while he was commissioner, a team that was $148.7 million in debt.  Amazingly, by the 2007 baseball season that debt has been reduced to $30 million.  Eventually Selig would sell the Brewers for $200 million based on revenue sharing and Miller Park, the stadium that was publicly financed by the residents of Milwaukee.  In addition, by 2009 Selig earned a salary of $18 million a year, and by his retirement year he had a net worth of over $200 million, not including the $35-40 million he will collect from baseball as a Commissioner Emeritus, not bad for an owner of a small market team that at one time was hemorrhaging from debt.

(Donald Fehr, Head of the Major League Baseball Players Union who fought Selig’s hypocracy for years)

Pessah’s narrative includes a discussion of events taking place outside of baseball, and Congress is a major candidate for his sarcasm.  Different Congressional committees and their politicians will use labor issues and the steroid epidemic throughout the period under discussion, grandstanding about the national pastime and making threats to take away baseball’s anti-trust exemption.   At the same time they avoid dealing with issues relating to Hurricane Katrina, the lack of proper body armor for US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the crisis over Abu Ghraib, and numerous other issues.  It seems reasonable to assume that the money that the owners are donating to Congressional campaigns bears fruit.  The reader is provided transcripts of Congressional hearings, National Labor Relations Board decisions, intimate conversations among owners, as well as the inner workings of the union.  These details are enlightening as we learn of Yankee General Manager, Brian Cashman’s distaste for the arrogance he sees in Joe Torre, George W. Bush’s hope to be Commissioner of Baseball, the inner workings of the Steinbrenner family, and many other interesting items.  I assume that Pessah has worked his sources well and he is presenting an accurate account, however, a degree of footnoting might assuage my historian’s sensitivities, though I compliment him on his excellent bibliography and the names of those interviewed.

(Baseball’s steroid greats, from left to right: Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, and Barry Bonds)

The narrative makes for an excellent read for baseball fans and the public in general who lived through the events and relationships described.  Pessah spares nothing in discussing the BALCO scandal and Barry Bonds, the Mitchell Commission and Report that Selig created to help clear his own guilt about how he handled, or better, did not handle the growing steroid scandal in baseball.  The “bash brothers,” Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, and many others make their appearances as authors or witnesses before Congressional committees.  Perhaps the most important aspect of the book reflects the human frailties of all involved as the reader is taken from one contract negotiation to the next, in addition to each scandal or blight on baseball’s reputation.  Pessah’s account is almost encyclopedic as his subject matter evolves over two decades.  It seems to me as an avid baseball fan he does not miss much and to his credit, his honesty in reporting is a highlight that readers should cherish.  THE GAME is more than a baseball book, it is a story of greed, power, and manipulation that in many instances gives our nation’s pastime a black eye.  But as most baseball fans realize once spring training arrives after a long winter, they are willing to forgive and forget the actions of the likes of Bud Selig.