A fine baseball book and an expert social history.

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JOE DIMAGGIO AND THE LAST MAGIC NUMBER IN SPORTS

Sports Illustrated senior editor Kennedy follows the days of Joe DiMaggio’s immortal hitting streak, evoking the mood of a long-gone America to which DiMaggio was a central figure.

“Baseball’s most resonant numbers keep falling,” he writes. “But Joe DiMaggio’s is still there: 56 consecutive games with a hit.” The streak began on May 15, 1941, and ended 57 games later when DiMaggio went hitless in Cleveland. A “biting strangeness” seemed to envelop America during these spring and summer months, as the country inched ever closer to war, and young men, including professional baseball players, entered the military in increasing numbers via the draft. As the streak unwound, DiMaggio offered not only escape from harsh reality but certainty in uncertain times. However, it was not easy being Italian in America at the time, and more than a few newspapers referred to DiMaggio as “the Wallopin’ Wop.” Always a hero to kids in Queens, once the streak seemed to stretch on forever, DiMaggio truly became “America’s Joe,” gaining uncommon celebrity and adulation. Kennedy creates a dynamic portrait of the young star as he tried to keep the streak alive. Elegant both on and off the field, DiMaggio remained somehow distanced and detached, and the author draws precise character sketches of those closest to him at that time: his wife Dorothy, pregnant with their first child, and his brother, and Red Sox rival, Dom. Kennedy also brings to life such characters as diminutive rookie Phil Rizzuto and DiMaggio’s closest friend, Lefty Gomez. DiMaggio emerges in these pages as a flawed hero, but a hero nonetheless. How unique was the streak? “Through the end of the 2010 season,” writes the author, “17,290 players were known to have appeared in the major leagues. Only one of them had ever hit in 56 straight games.”

A fine baseball book and an expert social history.

Pub Date: March 8, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-60320-177-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Sports Illustrated Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2011

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Doesn’t dig as deep as it could, but offers a captivating look at the NBA’s greatest era.

WHEN THE GAME WAS OURS

NBA legends Bird and Johnson, fierce rivals during their playing days, team up on a mutual career retrospective.

With megastars LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and international superstars like China’s Yao Ming pushing it to ever-greater heights of popularity today, it’s difficult to imagine the NBA in 1979, when financial problems, drug scandals and racial issues threatened to destroy the fledgling league. Fortunately, that year marked the coming of two young saviors—one a flashy, charismatic African-American and the other a cocky, blond, self-described “hick.” Arriving fresh off a showdown in the NCAA championship game in which Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans defeated Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores—still the highest-rated college basketball game ever—the duo changed the course of history not just for the league, but the sport itself. While the pair’s on-court accomplishments have been exhaustively chronicled, the narrative hook here is unprecedented insight and commentary from the stars themselves on their unique relationship, a compelling mixture of bitter rivalry and mutual admiration. This snapshot of their respective careers delves with varying degrees of depth into the lives of each man and their on- and off-court achievements, including the historic championship games between Johnson’s Lakers and Bird’s Celtics, their trailblazing endorsement deals and Johnson’s stunning announcement in 1991 that he had tested positive for HIV. Ironically, this nostalgic chronicle about the two men who, along with Michael Jordan, turned more fans onto NBA basketball than any other players, will likely appeal primarily to a narrow cross-section of readers: Bird/Magic fans and hardcore hoop-heads.

Doesn’t dig as deep as it could, but offers a captivating look at the NBA’s greatest era.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-547-22547-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.

BACK FROM THE DEAD

A basketball legend reflects on his life in the game and a life lived in the “nightmare of endlessly repetitive and constant pain, agony, and guilt.”

Walton (Nothing but Net, 1994, etc.) begins this memoir on the floor—literally: “I have been living on the floor for most of the last two and a half years, unable to move.” In 2008, he suffered a catastrophic spinal collapse. “My spine will no longer hold me,” he writes. Thirty-seven orthopedic injuries, stemming from the fact that he had malformed feet, led to an endless string of stress fractures. As he notes, Walton is “the most injured athlete in the history of sports.” Over the years, he had ground his lower extremities “down to dust.” Walton’s memoir is two interwoven stories. The first is about his lifelong love of basketball, the second, his lifelong battle with injuries and pain. He had his first operation when he was 14, for a knee hurt in a basketball game. As he chronicles his distinguished career in the game, from high school to college to the NBA, he punctuates that story with a parallel one that chronicles at each juncture the injuries he suffered and overcame until he could no longer play, eventually turning to a successful broadcasting career (which helped his stuttering problem). Thanks to successful experimental spinal fusion surgery, he’s now pain-free. And then there’s the music he loves, especially the Grateful Dead’s; it accompanies both stories like a soundtrack playing off in the distance. Walton tends to get long-winded at times, but that won’t be news to anyone who watches his broadcasts, and those who have been afflicted with lifelong injuries will find the book uplifting and inspirational. Basketball fans will relish Walton’s acumen and insights into the game as well as his stories about players, coaches (especially John Wooden), and games, all told in Walton’s fervent, witty style.

One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4767-1686-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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