Three Quick Boston Sports Related Book Reviews

Books have been piling up on the BSMW desk as of late, and I thought I would take a few moments to quickly review three books on Boston sports that I have recently received.

The Best Boston Sports Arguments – The 100 most controversial, debatable questions for die-hard Boston fans.


By Jim Caple and Steve Buckley
Sourcebooks, Inc
293 pages

This book isn’t heavy lifting. It’s a light read and meant to be that way. It is predictable at times, and at other times you get the contrarian view forced on you. While there were plenty of times that I was rolling my eyes during the book, there were just as many “I totally forgot about that!” moments as well.

A few examples of the 100 arguments:

  • Should Tony Conigliaro’s No. 25 Be Retired? (Guess the answer on that one.)
  • If You Could Go To Any Game In Boston History, Which Should You Choose?
  • Why “The Curse” Is The Biggest Joke in the History of the Universe
  • What Was the Greatest Football Play in Boston History?
  • Who’s Had a Better Career, Ben Affleck or Lou Merloni?

You’ve probably read a lot of the material before, as Buckley has done columns on many of the topics in the book, or has told a story on WEEI about them. In fact, a lot of the “arguments” probably originate with the radio station, and I think that I’m not off base in characterizing the book as WEEI in print.

Decide for yourselves if that is a compliment or condemnation.

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Fred Cusick – Voice of the Bruins

By Fred Cusick
Sports Publishing, L.L.C.
214 pages

Fred Cusick always struck me a true gentleman. His book does nothing to tarnish that image. While I was more of a casual hockey fan growing up, the legendary Boston Bruins announcer with his trademark “Scooore!!!” always stood out to me, and hearing that call on nightly sportscasts was always a treat.

The book isn’t really an autobiography, it’s more Cusick’s memoirs from his life and career. Going through the memories made me appreciate what a real treasure this man is, and how he perhaps doesn’t get the proper appreciation for his contributions to Boston sports. He understandably spends quite a bit of time on the Bruins, especially on Bobby Orr and the Bruins of the 1970’s, but Cusick’s contributions to the region go well beyond hockey.

If you watched the movie The Greatest Game Ever Played, one of the special features of the DVD is Cusick in 1963 doing the only known on camera interview with Francis Ouimet – winner of the 1913 U.S. Open! Cusick and Ouimet walk the Brookline course and Ouimet points out locations of shots and moments from that legendary 1913 tournament. A transcript of that interview is included in the book.

There is a good segment about doing analysis on the first-ever Boston Patriots game, as well as some stories from the early days of the franchise. There are boxing stories, baseball stories (he did a Sunday night show on channel 4 with Dick Stuart in the 1960’s, and also served as the Fenway Park PA announcer for two years) tennis, and even wrestling. He also talks about calling Lowell Lock Monsters’ games for five years after retiring from the Bruins, finishing his play-by-play career at the age of 83.

Fred Cusick has an incredible number of memories of Boston sports, and it’s good to have them down in this book.

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A Fan’s View of the Super Bowl

By James E. Britton
iUniverse, Inc
145 pages

James E. Britton is a lifelong Patriots fan who went to his first game at Schaefer Stadium as an 11-year-old in 1973. He now lives in central New Hampshire, and he and his wife Jane travel two and a half hours each way to and from Gillette Stadium for every home game.

The book recounts their adventures in getting tickets and attending Super Bowl 39 in Jacksonville for the Patriots/Eagles championship game. James and Jane end up heading to Florida with their friend Steve to take in the event, but they only have two tickets. From arranging transportation, hassling with motel operators, to the food they ate that week, it’s all detailed here.

When I say detailed, I mean detailed. The book chronicles almost every minute of the time in Jacksonville, and the beginning of the book has a lengthy segment on the first preseason game of the year with the Eagles. Britton leaves nothing out in the journey, and the result is as complete a picture as you can get of the events without being there yourself.

Belated Chat with Charlie Pierce

After yesterday’s chat was interrupted, I managed to check in again with Charlie Pierce and arrange for him to answer several of the questions that were submitted for the chat.

Here’s the questions submitted by readers and the answers from Pierce:


From Craig: I read the book within two days of its arrival. Were you disappointed that the team didn’t achieve more success in 2005, as you were juxtaposing Brady’s life with the current season?

CPierce: Craig —
I’ll be honest. If they had won the Super Bowl, that would have been me behind Brady on the podium, waving the Lombardi over my head. And my agent and my editor at FSG would have been right behind me. However, I think the year worked out well because he did have to face more adversity, personal and professional, than he did in other years. I might be making lemonade out of lemons here, but I’m happy with what I got.

————

From Eric: Charlie – Some local scribes use the “difficulty” in getting access to the Patriots’ inner thoughts as an excuse to essentially give up and fill column inches with same old same old, or jabs at the team for lack of access.. What sort of obstacles, if any, did you face, both from the Patriots, and your writing brethren.

CPierce: Eric —
I had the same access that any beat guy would have, which convinced me that I wouldn’t want to do that for a living. If you, as a fan, want information, then it matters to you that, when the locker room opens up for daily access, there are only two or three guys there, often the same ones, day after day. Now, let’s be fair, access to every professional sports team — and, increasingly, to the major college programs — steadily has been shrinking over the past decade or so, The major events are hopeless now, and that’s creeping down into the regular season, too. That said, the Patriots are notoriously tougher than most teams. (This isn’t me talking. It’s a general opinion throughout the NFL.) There are moments in which they go beyond merely being tough and become positively unhelpful. It will be interesting to see if this continues if and when the team goes through another rough patch.

————

From Greg: Charlie, how would you compare the level of repartee of an episode of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!” to an episode of “The Big Show”?

CPierce: Greg —
Many people have remarked on the similarities.
Although I don’t think Madeleine Albright’s been on The Big Show yet.

———–

From Craig: Charlie, a few questions. Is Brady’s image the same as Brady’s reality? I may be the guy’s biggest fan but I almost find it too good to be true that he’s so squeaky-clean, family-oriented and deferential. Also, could you speak about Brady’s relationship with Bledsoe and Henson? He was caught in two pretty big firestorms there but seemed to come out without looking bad at any point.

CPierce: Craig —
I think he’s a pretty normal 20-something as regards his life off the field. His sister as much as told me that. What got him through the Michigan situation was the support crew he’d put together for himself, and the fact that he was pretty much the consensus choice within in the locker room. At which point, he determined quite consciously that he would not blow up the team, even though he was angry enough that, were he so inclined, he could do it. That cemented his stature with the coaching staff, which really was in a tough spot, and with his teammates. That situation enabled him to get through the Bledsoe period the way he did, although everyone involved says the unsung hero of that whole deal was Damon Huard, who selflessly acted as ambassador between Bledsoe and Brady, and between each of them and the staff, He’s got a native shrewdness about the dynamics of how groups of people operate together, which is part of the reason why political consultants get all humid about him.

———–

From Dow: Hi Charlie, not to reach too far back or get too far off subject, but when was your last contact with Tiger and what was it like?

CPierce: Dow — Tiger who?
Seriously, we have had no contact since the day I spent with him for the GQ piece in 1997. His father once said that he hoped my story wouldn’t wreck his son’s career. I feel confident in saying that it didn’t.

———–

From Dave: Charlie – First – thanks for chatting at our site. Very kind of you. . . The book’s fantastic – just a real pleasure to read.

I’m wondering: Did anyone of merit have any disparaging words to say about Tom Terrific? Can he really, truly be this universally loved?

CPierce: Dave — He really has managed to go through life without making any genuine enemies that I can find. He’s tougher on himself than anyone is on him, although Greg Hardin, his athletic counselor at Michigan, was pretty tough on him when he seemed to be letting the situation there get him down.

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From Bob in NH: Charlie – Taking off your media hat for a moment. As a fan, do you find the coverage of the Patriots to be done without malice or agenda? Yes, I’m referring to Borges in particular, but can you at least see how a fan would rather not have to know that a certain writer hates his subject matter?

Also, what is your take on sportswriters seemingly taking every single chance to make extra money by appearing on radio and television. Although you certainly have exercised that right personally, I see your financial gains primarily coming from your expertise (writing books and articles) rather than Sports Final, Sports Extra, Fox Sports New England, NESN, NECN, CN8, blah, blah, blah.

CPierce: Bob — Second part first.
Synergy across the media is part of the deal these days. Newspapers expect their sportswriters to do the multimedia shuffle on the grounds that “visibility” helps the paper. I’ve never seen any data that prove this, but the people who run things seem to believe it. I have a couple of radio gigs — Only A Game and Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, both on NPR — that I do because I enjoy them a great deal. (And for the money. Thanks to everyone who buys the tote bags!) What I tell anyone who asks is to remember that radio and TV are a different skill set, and one that’s foreign to a lot of writers. People who do it should take the time to study and to learn the skills needed to succeed in the different media. Just throwing a writer in front of a microphone or a camera does a disservice to the writer, and to the consumer.

As to the first, I actually do see the newspaper coverage of the team to be done without malice, as I understand the word. As to “agenda,” well, that’s a word that gets tossed around pretty loosely. The line between opinion and reporting has gotten far too blurred for my boring old self, at least in part because of the phenomenon we discussed above. If you do a regular sports-radio show, the medium demands that you express an opinion more freely — and, I would argue, more crudely — than you would in the newspaper. So, when you go back to being just a by-line, it’s hard for the listener/reader to separate your print persona from your broadcast one.
That’s part of the bargain you make when you do those shows. Are their writers who dislike the people they cover? I assume there are. (I once was in the media room at a political dinner for a recent presidential campaign and one of the candidates got booed by the assembled reporters. For what it’s worth, this would get them all tossed from the press box at Fenway.) By and large, though, I see very little evidence that the daily news coverage is affected by it.

———-

From Scott: Charlie – Since you know Brady a little now, what does you see as you’re watching him play the last couple of weeks?

CPierce: A couple of things, actually.
1) I’m seeing a guy playing for the second season behind a jury-rigged offensive line. I’m not entirely sure Dan Koppen’s all the way back. The rest of the guys are dinged up, and he’s got a rookie running back trying to learn to pick up blitzes — which Maroney’s done pretty well, actually. So I think maybe he’s just a little bit more concerned about his blind side than he was a couple of years ago, especially since, as I describe in the book, he played last season more injured than we thought he was. 2) The offensive scheme seems oddly unsure what to do with the Treasure of Sierra Madre there at running back. I think Maroney’s good enough to make this team a run-first offense and less of a West Coast hybrid than it’s been. In addition, it really does take a while with a whole new receiving corps, but that explanation runs out of steam at the halfway point.

———-

From Mike: Everyone talks about Weis leaving, but fails to mention QB coach Hufnagel leaving as well the same offseason.
Brady thrives (lead in yardage last year) despite the upheaval on the coaching staff. McDaniels is still learning on the job and the new QB coach has very little experience. Does Brady look at Peyton Manning’s relationship with Tom Moore and bum out he doesn’t have that experienced veteran in his headset during games and in meetings during the week?

CPierce: Mike — Given the turmoil that’s surrounded him as regards his coaches ever since he left high school, I think Brady’s better equipped to handle this situation than most young quarterbacks would have been. Remember — both the coordinator and the head coach who’d recruited him at Michigan were gone before he even enrolled, and then there was the extended burlesque with Brian Griese and Drew Henson, where Lloyd Carr was handed a bad situation and handled it badly. At New England, he had Dick Rehbein, his most fervent original advocate, die suddenly. Now Weis is gone, and Josh McDaniels is there. Would he have liked a relationship like Peyton has in Indy with Moore? Probably. But his whole career has been an extended exercise in the opposite direction.

Book Review – Moving the Chains

Moving the Chains – Tom Brady and the Pursuit of Everything
By Charles P. Pierce
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
264 pages


Carthusians
Ostrogothic class
Cypriot
ecclesiastical omerta
ecumenical
febrile tectonics
incantatory spells
Gutzon Borglum
carapace
Marshall McLuhan
trompe l’oeil

The above words, names and expressions found in the text of Moving the Chains should assure you alone that this is no ordinary football book. Then again, Tom Brady is no ordinary football player. Charlie Pierce isn’t your ordinary sports writer, either. In his biography of the Patriots quarterback, Pierce draws on elements that have shaped Brady into the person, football player, teammate and leader that he has become. Family is a huge part of it, as is the Catholic background of the Brady clan, and Pierce weaves aspects of the Vatican II into the narrative at various points, to show how even aspects of that council eventually and directly or indirectly had an influence on Brady. Pierce quotes liberally from a 1908 work entitled The Philosophy of Loyalty by Josiah Royce to make points about Brady. Pierce’s book is no doubt going to also help the sales of Michael MacCambridge’s America’s Game – a history of the National Football League that Pierce also quotes and draws from often.

The focus of the book is how Tom Brady has become a leader without putting himself above his teammates. He is able to balance being “one of the guys” with being a leader of them. Brady has genuine qualities that most politicians try to fake. He has the ability to make each person he talks to feel at ease and comfortable, and to feel like he thinks they are important. He is immune to the peer ridicule that many people would encounter in group situations. Brady is constantly “moving the chains”, both in his life and on the football field.

The reader is taken on a back-and-forth journey through Brady’s life. The main setting is the 2005 season, where most games are chronicled, but interwoven throughout are bits from the past, from Brady’s father’s childhood, to Brady’s high school and college days and early days in the NFL. Here in New England, for most of us, Tom Brady really only burst into our consciousness when Drew Bledsoe went down in week 2 of 2001. However, Brady had already been here for a season at that point, under the public radar, but very much in the spotlight of the coaches. In his first season, as the 4th QB, he would run the scout team, preparing the first team’s defense by running plays used by that week’s opposition, but in addition to that, he would keep his fellow rookies after practice and run the regular Patriots offense with them, just so he could get more familiar with it. By the next training camp, he had already beaten out Damon Huard to become the 2nd string QB, and there was a movement among the coaches that he should be given a chance to compete with Bledsoe for the starting job.

The Patriots have had a number of books written about them in recent years, and although this one focuses mainly on Brady, many of his teammates are profiled throughout the book as well. We get a number of looks at David Givens, who had suffered injuries at the wrong times in his career – such as just prior to the draft when he was coming out of Notre Dame – and was worried that it would again haunt him when it came time to get a new contract. Mike Vrabel is shown seizing the opportunities given to him by the Patriots after being buried on the depth chart in Pittsburgh, showing many of the same qualities as Brady in many ways. Charlie Weis is a huge figure in the book, and the time that Brady spent in the hospital with Weis’ wife as the Patriots coordinator lay close to death for several days is a memorable section. The player that is linked with Brady the most on the field in the book however, is kicker Adam Vinatieri, as the two of them teamed up for some of the biggest moments in Brady’s football life. No hint is given however of any discontent from Vinatieri towards the Patriots or that the kicker was on his way out the door just the next spring.

A recurring figure is current Oregon State head coach Mike Riley, who as an assistant at USC, lobbied hard for the school to bring Brady in out of high school. He was overruled. Then as head coach of the Chargers, Riley again lobbied hard for Brady, urging his GM to draft him out of Michigan. Once again, he was overruled. Then, during the 2001 season, Riley watched Brady throw for 364 yards and two touchdowns against his Chargers in leading the Patriots back from a 10 point fourth quarter deficit.

If you’re looking for “inside information” on the Patriots organization and game preparation, there isn’t a whole lot. This is more about Brady and his relationship with those around him. We do learn however, that Brady was pretty seriously hobbled by a sports hernia last season, and that this was the reason that many of his passes seemed to “sail” and go over the heads of his receivers during the course of the season. He also banged his leg late in the season against Buffalo, and that injury left him in a lot of pain as well. We get the stories of how the late Dick Rehbein was sold on Brady from the day he saw his pro day at Michigan, and how Brady encountered Bob Kraft in the parking lot of Foxboro stadium an evening in the summer of 2000 and told the Patriots owner that he was the best decision that the franchise ever made…and managed to not sound arrogant while saying it.

Pierce comments on the media coverage of the Patriots in the Boston area, mentioning a “low-level feud” that the team has with the Boston Globe, claiming that the Patriots count the number of articles in the paper about the Patriots as opposed to the Red Sox, and saying that the organization is “hypersensitive” about the media coverage, and whispers complaints about the Globe being “a property of the New York Times Company, which also owns a piece of -wait for it- the Boston Red Sox.” He contrasts this with the “gooey weekly infomercials” presented by WEEI, which he describes as being “in the tank” for the team. In a memorable quote, Pierce writes at one point: “local sports punditocracy blew enough sunshine up the franchise’s ass to light up the moons of Neptune.”

I just had one quibble as I was reading through the book…”Where’s Bridget?”. Brady’s moviestar girlfriend doesn’t make an appearance in the book until page 193. Even then, the reference seems to indicate that the couple is all done: “When he dated Bridget Moynahan”. She merits a few more cameo mentions in the last section of the book, but not more than 4-5 total references – she’s probably not critical to the development of Brady and thus wouldn’t be a major part of the story – but how can you have a book on Tom Brady without details about how they met and what their relationship is like?

Overall, Patriots fans are going to want to read this book. I think it’s a step above the books written by Michael Holley and David Halberstam the last few years, the only problem with this book is that the legend of Brady is likely to continue on for some time to come. Brady himself protested that he was too young to have a book written about him. That might be a true statement, but this effort from Pierce is certain to keep you turning the pages to see how Brady got to where he is now…how he has kept moving the chains.

Check back at 2:00 this afternoon for a mini-weekend post.

Review: The Maple Street Press 2006 Red Sox Annual

For years Jim Walsh had been reading baseball preview guides and found himself wanting more than the 3-4 pages that these national publications would devote to each club. He wanted a preview devoted to the Red Sox, that would give the Boston fan more, something he felt they deserved “due to their undying loyalty to the team and insatiable appetite for Sox-related information.” To that end, Walsh heeded to the old adage that “If you want something done right, do it yourself” and set about creating that dream publication.

The result is the 108 page 2006 Red Sox Annual, published by Maple Street Press. Walsh edited the project, which was done in partnership with the Sons of Sam Horn website, of which Walsh has been a member of for four years. The publication is chock full of features, interviews, reports, analysis and yes, plenty of statistical charts and formulas. (In the effort of full disclosure, it should be noted that I wrote an article for the book, a four page look at the newspaper, radio, television and internet coverage of the Red Sox.)

The guide is divided out into three major sections, plus an appendix with scoring and win probability tables. The first section is Analyzing the 2006 BoSox, and leads off with 10 page, position-by-position, player-by-player breakdown by Chad Finn. The thumbnails of each player are both informative and fun at the same time. Finn mixes in plenty of one-liners in his player profiles, such as this one in Mike Lowell’s section: “…played prep ball with A-Rod in Miami…says they are not close…so he’s a good judge of character.” After Finn’s “From the Ground Up” article there is an American League preview by Aaron Gleeman, (with plenty of attention paid to the Yankees) followed by analysis from Pete Palmer (co-author of The Hidden Game of Baseball) on the Red Sox’s approach to the sacrifice bunt.

Vince Gennaro then examines the topic “Turning a Winning Red Sox Team Into a Financial Winner“, he compares the revenue advantages that the Yankees have over the Red Sox, noting that it is “entirely driven by the broadcast arrangements and largely attributable to the size of the New York market”. He also examines nuggets such as how much Johnny Damon was worth to the Red Sox after they signed him in 2002 and how revenues will rise and fall with a team’s number of wins. There a look at the reign of Theo Epstein, as he built and dismantled the 2004 championship team. The Moneyball approach and misconceptions surround it as regards the Red Sox is the subject of the article immediately before mine, which as mentioned is a look at the Red Sox media coverage. Jim Bennett then closes out this section of the book with an in-depth statistical breakdown of what Red Sox fans might be able to expect out of this 2006 edition of the hometown nine.

The second section of the book is Down on The Farm, which leads off with a Red Sox minor league report, followed by features and interviews with Jonathan Papelbon, Craig Hansen and Jed Lowrie, all done by David Laurila. The Papelbon article has the family of the pitcher recalling the day of his first major league start last season against the Minnesota Twins and their emotions and feelings on the event. The interviews with Hansen and Lowrie are straight Q&A session with the closer and infield prospects.

The last section of the book is dedicated to Red Sox teams and legends of the past. Mark Armour (co-author of Paths to Glory) has an interesting look at “The Year After“, which examines how the Red Sox squads of 1947, 1968, 1976, 1987 and 2005 fared after the team of the previous year had made a World Series appearance. Stephen Vetere and Jim Walsh then examine the 13 postseason elimination games that the Red Sox played between 1999 and 2004. Remarkably, the Red Sox won 11 of those 13 games in that span, making it the most prolific elimination game streak in baseball history. Each of the games is examined and dissected. There is a 20th Anniversary look back at the 1986 Red Sox, followed by a remembrance of Tony Congliaro by Shaun Kelly. (Who started the famous “Win it for…” thread on SoSH during the 2004 postseason) The final article in the publication examines the Hall of Fame candidacy of Jim Rice. Author Mark A Brown notes that Rice has no less then eight strikes against his when it comes to Hall admission, and probably in the end falls just short of the qualifications needed for the induction into the Hall.

The appendix, as mentioned earlier, contains win and scoring probability tables for major league baseball, as noted in the introduction the tables, these can be an interesting guide to compare Terry Francona’s late inning moves as the tables go through a plethora of scenarios for each team for last season.

Walsh wanted to create a publication completely devoted to the Red Sox, with plenty of in depth information and analysis. I believe this book succeeds in doing that, and is a worthwhile read to anyone planning to follow the Red Sox on their season-long journey to October. The 2006 Red Sox Annual can be purchased for $9.95 through the banner ad at the top of this page, which is directly through the publisher, or on Amazon.com.

Book Review – Juicing The Game

I’ll admit, I hadn’t followed this whole steroids scandal in baseball as much as others had. I might’ve been turned away from the topic because of the endless hours we were subjected to it locally on the Dennis and Callahan program on WEEI last winter.

When I heard the Howard Bryant was preparing a book on the topic of steroids, my interest was piqued a bit, as I had enjoyed Bryant’s debut book “Shut Out” very much. The book, entitled “Juicing the Game – Drugs, Powers, and the fight for the soul of Major League Baseball” has been out since July, but hasn’t caused the buzz that I had expected from it, at least locally.

I received the book and found it to be as informative as I expected. What’s interesting is that the title is something of a misnomer, as the book isn’t entirely about steroids. It tells the story of baseball in the post-1994 strike era and how the game regained its fan base from that disastrous strike which resulted in the World Series being canceled that year.

You see the rise to power of Bud Selig, as well as his reign and his legacy to the game, as well as his glaring lack of leadership during some critical times. Steroids are the main theme, and the book traces their use from the “Bash Brothers” A’s of the late 1980?s and through the 1990?s as home run totals rose, and players like Brady Anderson broke the 50 home run barrier. The game became more popular, reaching a crescendo with the magical season of 1998 and the home run race of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

Around these events, questions as to the reasons for these numbers were few. A USA Today article in 1997 outlined Ken Caminiti’s “routine”, which included popping handfuls of different pills and supplements throughout the day. No one really thought twice about it. During the ’98 season, McGwire use of Androstenedione came out, and the AP writer who first reported the news was treated as a pariah, both by figures in the game, but also by his fellow media members. The game was enjoying its highest popularity in decades and all was well.

While steroids and supplements might’ve been a large factor in the rise of home runs, there were other reasons. Umpires and the way they called games, their strike zones changing over time, and also being inconsistent. Another is the introduction of QuesTec into the game, which is a fascinating story in itself. Ballparks, starting in the early 90’s became smaller and smaller. Even the baseball itself was different. The entire game was juiced?not just the players. All of these things are chronicled in the pages of the book.

A group dubbed “The Crusaders” plays a major role in bringing the dangers of steroid use into the public eye and getting the attention of congress. Their work on laboratory rats, though controversial, is amazing. (They even found cases of “roid rage” in some of them.) If there was a point though where the book did seem to drag a little for me, it was during this part of the book, when the drugs and steroids were being talked about in depth. The information was substantial, in depth and useful for background information, but slowed the book down a little at that point for me.

The roots of the investigation of BALCO and the Barry Bonds/Jason Giambi/Gary Sheffield connections are traced. A 21 year old rookie reporter for the Mateo Daily Journal breaks the story of the IRS raiding the BALCO labs in September, 2003. A can of worms is opened, which leads to a Grand Jury investigation and then to the congressional interest and hearings on the issue of steroids in baseball. All this happens under the watch of Bud Selig, who has tried to introduce steroid testing into the game since 1994, but comes off looking very weak and indecisive.

The book does a very nice job of pulling all these events together, and Bryant’s notes and bibliography in the back show the impressive amount of research done by him in putting this book together. Quotes from people all over Major League Baseball lend support to the conclusions drawn.

As far as local figures, Theo Epstein, Larry Lucchino, Terry Francona, David Ortiz, and Curt Schilling are among those from the Red Sox who are mentioned and talked to in the book. Gabe Kapler is mentioned on page 287: “Players ridiculed suspects, such a Gabe Kapler, a journeyman outfielder known for his chiseled physique and interest in bodybuilding.”

At first glance it might seem a bit curious that this book has not received more attention locally, especially on the Dennis & Callahan program which still spends quite a bit of time talking steroids, especially with the recent return to action of Barry Bonds. However, D&C and Bryant have not had a friendly relationship in the last few years, with the radio duo taking a number of shots at the Herald columnist and his comments on racial issues and other subjects. This prevents the book from even being mentioned on a program which has spent so much time on the very subject covered in the book. The program and the audience miss out on a great local source of information on a topic that is of national interest.

I was able to ask Howard Bryant a few questions about the book and his work on it. Here’s the exchange we had:

Looking back on your time as a beat writer covering the A?s (1998-2000) and Yankees, do you look back and kick yourself over things you saw and heard and didn’t think twice about at the time?

No, because I knew that the job never really entailed doing investigative work. Beat writing is extremely restricting and conflicting. If anything, not having the forum to examine the things I’d been hearing motivated me more to one day find a job that would allow me to do exactly that.

Did you get any cooperation from the commissioner’s office in this book? Bud Selig is shown to be weak and indecisive at several points of the book, yet at times it seems you may have had conversations with him, such as on page 53, where you write “Selig made a deal with himself: Baseball would never lose the public again. Not on his watch.” Was this something Selig confided to you, or someone else?

You’ll have to check the source notes in the back of the book, but I spoke with Bud at length, probably a dozen times. The narrative on page 53 came from a direct conversation with him.

In reading another review I saw a comment about the title that caught my interest. It appears that “Juicing the Game” contains a bit of irony. The book is far more than just about steroids as one might assume by the title. It’s more about the entire post-1994 strike era, and the challenges and issues baseball faced during that time. It is also apparent that by outlining all of the issues, that baseball is not just a game, but a business. So it’s not all about juicing, and it’s not just a game. Irony, or me reading too much into something?

The publisher was interested in the story because it was more than a steroid book, yet wanted something in the title that was clear that the book dealt with juicing. To me, the title of the book worked because the game was juiced on so many levels. The ballparks were juiced, the players were juiced, the ball was juiced, because everything was geared toward more offense.

During the course of researching and writing this book, what came as the biggest surprise to you? Who was the most helpful?

The biggest surprise, I think, was the number of opportunities baseball had to clean up the game and did not. The amount of data it had compiled, the government testimonies, the overwhelming proof of a problem and yet its response was so lukewarm.

The most helpful people were the medical people who were willing to come forward and educate me on a difficult subject.

What efforts did you make to talk to Barry Bonds for the book? How successful were you?

I’d asked Barry Bonds on four occasions over the past two years to talk to me and since he did not, I was completely unsuccessful.

The book finished up after the congressional hearings this spring. Since that point we’ve seen Rafael Palmeiro contradict his forceful testimony by testing positive for steroids. We’ve seen Jason Giambi’s career undergo a miraculous resurgence after he was nearly sent to the minors earlier this spring. We’ve also read about your source which mentioned a possible 50 more positive tests. Is what we’ve seen and heard just the tip of this iceberg? Is baseball headed for a cataclysmic downfall?

I don’t think baseball is near any type of cataclysmic downfall, mostly because like most complicated stories, few people care to assess the damage. The rest have blinders on and have come to accept a cheapening of the product as “progress.” I think the game has been reduced, certainly in the eyes of the younger generation, which does not hold the sport in any kind of high esteem. I think the lasting effect will be a slower ebb, much like the political world after Watergate. You still follow, you still vote, but you believe less and less in the institution. Over time, I think we’ll see the end of the sport as a “national pastime,” even as it continues to soar financially. It is a nuanced argument that requires real thought at a time when people don’t want to think. They don’t want to know, which is no different than how the baseball leadership responded. They just want to be entertained, at all cost, because they know what is behind the curtain. It is an attitude in of itself rife with cynicism.

Who do you think has lost the most from the whole post-1994 strike era? Bud Selig? Mark McGwire? The fans?

The biggest loser in all of this is anyone who wanted the truth.

Book Review – Now I Can Die In Peace

Yet another Red Sox book about the team winning the World Series?

Released a full year after the team won it all?

Those are the two most commonly heard questions when the subject of Bill Simmons’ upcoming book, “Now I Can Die In Peace” is brought up. The market has been saturated with books on the topic, and there will still likely be a few more before all is said and done. This book however, is a little different from the others that have been put out there that only dealt with the 2004 season and what it meant to them to finally win it all.

What Simmons does is trace the roots of the 2004 Red Sox, by bringing back columns dating back to 1998 and tracking the genesis and evolution of the team until it arrived at the version that ended the 86 year World Series drought for Boston.

Some of these columns have not been seen since Bill closed the doors of his old Digital City site, and moved onto Page2 of ESPN.com.

So it’s just a book of rehashed columns then, huh?

Not quite. Simmons has selected columns from 1998 – 2005 (He includes the column from the ring ceremony in April, which in part explains the later release date) which reflect the state of the team and the mindset of the fans. He introduces each one with some background information, and has tweaked a few of them here and there, but never damages the integrity of the original writing, or engages in any revisionist history. His wrong predictions are all right there with the correct ones. The columns and book are divided into four time periods “Rejuvenation” (1998-99) “The Abyss” (2000 – 2003) “Hope is a good thing” (2004) and “The Great Escape” (The final seven games of the playoffs).

Here’s a sample of some of the columns that you find the book, with their original publishing date:

Why No-Mah is a Keep-Ah – October 5, 1998

Pedro Saves the Day – October 12, 1999

Escape from New York – October 13, 1999 (Great Yankees jokes)

The Buzz – April 18, 2000 (Carl Everett’s first few weeks with the Red Sox)

Pedro and the Pantheon – May 16, 2000

Here Comes Manny – December 12, 2000

The Other Side of Nomar – March 1, 2001

Is Roger the Anti-Christ? – May 29, 2001

Silence of the Rams – February 4, 2002

“They don’t have it this year” – September 24, 2002

Paradise Lost, Again – October 17, 2003

The Electric Fence – February 17, 2004

The Great Divorce – August 1, 2004

Game by Game columns for the 2004 playoffs.

Zihuatanejo – April 12, 2005

“Silence of the Rams” is the column written after the Patriots won their first Super Bowl. It is included in the book, because as he mentions later the Patriots victory in many ways “set up” Boston fans for the later success of the Red Sox finally breaking through. It took a little pressure off in some ways.

The real star of the book however, beyond the columns, is the margin notes. Over 500 of them, some quite lengthy. These are a running stream of consciousness as we go through the columns, re-living what was going on at that time, explaining some obscure references, background material, history and who is who. If you never read the old Sports Guy site, and wonder just who J-Bug, Gus and Stoner are, you find out. And by the way, Bill has never drank an Appletini in his life. Just so you know. I also enjoyed the shots at Joe Buck and Tim McCarver.

The prologue to the book runs about 15 pages and tells us a lot about Bill’s background, childhood and philosophy on sports. He outlines six rules of rooting for sports teams, tells us that he’s been reading the Globe sports section as long as he’s been able to read, which was the age of TWO. He outlines his history with the Red Sox, and his career path. He thus sets up how much the World Series victory meant to him, and by extension, all Red Sox fans. I enjoyed re-living all these moments from the past six years very much, and especially the day-to-day columns from the playoffs last fall. So yeah, I liked the book. Very much.

When the Yankees come to town to close out the 2005 regular season Simmons will have a couple of book signings in the city. On Friday September 30th, he’ll be at the BU Bookstore, and on Saturday Oct 1st, he’ll be at the Barnes&Noble in Kenmore Square two hours before the game.

Book Review – Our Red Sox

There have been dozens of books released about the Red Sox since their historic World Series Championship in October. I’ve been sent a number of them and I’m still working my way through several. I expect to read more as time goes by. However I wanted to make a special mention of one book that I particularly enjoyed. Our Red Sox by Robert Sullivan.

Sullivan is the Deputy Managing Editor of LIFE magazine and Editorial Director of LIFE Books. He is also a lifelong Red Sox fan, having grown up in the Chelmsford/Lowell area, but he is now living with his family in the heart of Yankee country in New York, due to his job. He is a long time member of BLOHARDS, (Benevolent Loyal Order of the Honorable Ancient Redsox Diehard Sufferers of New York) which, for those newbies not familiar with the group, was SoSH before there ever was an Internet. Living in New York, he has a unique perspective on the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry as he is in the heart of enemy territory.

What really appealed to me about this book was how personal it is. You get to see the impact of the Red Sox on a New England family, the heartbreak involved in the losses, (which is not romanticized the way the national writers would describe it) and more importantly the joy and satisfaction in the eventual triumph of the Red Sox last fall. Among the tales in the book, Sullivan writes about taking his daughter to her first baseball game – a Lowell Spinners game – from which she is rushed to the hospital after being struck by a foul ball while playing in the playground at the park. He recalls that his uncle was one of the men who carried Tony C out of the ballpark that night in 1967 when he was struck by a pitch.

The best parts of the book from my perspective are the accounts of the 2003 and 2004 ALCS Series. Sullivan was at the games, sitting in the stands, both in Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park and describes his days and nights, his interaction with his friends, both Yankee fans and Red Sox fans during those epic series. (Including one of his friends who grew up a Red Sox fan in NH and moved to NY and became a Yankees fan. I, on behalf of the State of NH, disown that person.) The agony of 2003 is followed by the ecstasy of 2004. He mentions a one day buffer in New York after the Red Sox victory last fall. He wore his Red Sox cap the day after the win and Yankee fans were mostly congratulatory. The next day was a different story.

Next morning, I went to the city similarly accoutered as on the day after the Day. I received a different reception. "Take off the damned hat!" This was issued by someone on the other side of the street, passing the other way. That evening: "Boston sucks." All goodwill was gone, and I realized: I'm gloating. Yesterday, we were still in the event, and Yankee fans were passing a torch. Today, I'm wearing a hat indoors, in someone else's house. It's impolite. I would, I resolved, only wear the B-hat during the games. (And maybe at breakfast after a win.)

You can get a taste of the style of the book over at Time.com, where Sullivan has a new article up looking at the Red Sox after the first couple weeks of the season, entitled Our Red Sox, Still? As mentioned at the outset, there have been dozens of Red Sox books published since last fall, this one, in my opinion stands above just about all the others that I have read thus far and is one I will be glad to read again in the future.

Book Review: “One Day At Fenway”

One Day at Fenway

Book Review: “Tales from the Patriots Sideline.”

Tales from the Patriots Sidelines

Harvey Frommer is a professor

Harvey Frommer is a professor at Dartmouth College and the author of more than 33 sports books. Along with his son, Frederic, who is a correspondent for the AP out of Washington DC, they have written a new book that is totally dedicated to the rivalry between the Red Sox and Yankees.

Order from Amazon.com

The book is a coffee-table style book loaded with pictures from the years of rivalry, right down to last fall. There are pictures of Zimmer on his face on the Fenway turf. There’s a picture of Manny, bat in hand motioning towards Clemens. There are pictures, stories and recaps from the battles of the 70’s with Munson and Fisk, back to the 40’s with DiMaggio and Williams.

There is a section of the book just dedicated to pictures of Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium. The pictures throughout the book really make the book. There is a section in the back that consists of just quotes from people involved with the rivalry, players, executives, fans and yes, media members. (Skip Shaughnessy’s quotes, they’re just a plug for his book and how he doesn’t root for teams, he roots for the story. He says Bucky Dent is a wonderful story.) Other than the Shaughnessy quote and a few other small-minded individuals the quotes section is some good reading. Interesting are items from players and managers who have been on both sides of the rivalry.

All in all, the book’s best feature is the pictures. Many of which I had never seen before, and many that have historical significance. The book focuses on the games and series between the teams, so if you’re looking for a definitive history for either team, you’re not going to get that. There are other books which do a better job of that. It’s about the rivalry, and as such, it does a pretty good job. Too many references to the “curse”, however. I’ll give it a BSMW 4 out of 5 stars.