Monthly Archives: July 2007

Is This a Great Game, or What? by Tim Kurkjian

ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian has penned his reflection of baseball after 25 years behind the typewriter and in front of the camera in his new book Is This a Great Game, or What?

I picked it up thinking it was an autobiography – which I am inherently skeptical about. But Kurkjian really doesn’t talk about himself – he shares stories of others in baseball that he has been a part of because of his role in the media. He’s seen a lot and knows a lot, but it’s not a collection bragging of “I did this and that.”

With a mix of admiration for the past and both skepticism and optimism for the future, Kurkjian weaves stories of players, managers and broadcasters together with a good amount of humor and insight, along with some editorials towards the end of the book to tell his own story.

The book does seem a bit disjoined at times – Kurkjian takes spends a chapter on 16 different topics, plus an introduction – and while the ingredients are the same for most all of them, the results end up mixed. Some are rooted in laughter, others in acknowledge the humanity of players and coaches that we as fans sometimes forget. Towards the end of the book, Kurkjian spends more time criticizing the current state of baseball, much along the lines of Dave Winfield’s Dropping the Ball. It’s never too heavy handed, nor is it weighted towards “the way it used to be.” However – there are some issues in baseball – particularly in sowing the seeds in the younger generations that Kurkjian feels needs to be addressed.

While the title is Is This a Great Game, or What? – the question is It This a Great Book, or What? – and the answer is that it’s definitely a good book, and worth reading to get another viewpoint on the game we love. It doesn’t rank as a must-read – but it will stimulate your thoughts about the current game, and give you a ton of stories of baseball personalities from the last 25 years to read about. You could condense some of his points and use this book in a decade or two as one take on the state of baseball in the early part of the third millennium.

Likewise – things will happen that will effect how we look back on Kurkjian’s book – for instance, Mark McGwire’s potential induction into the Hall of Fame, and of course the situation with Barry Bonds.

What do you think about Tim Kurkjian’s Is This a Great Game or What? by posting your comments and joining the discussion.

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Just Play Ball by Joe Garagiola

In Just Play Ball, former big league catcher and legendary broadcaster Joe Garagiola has put together 243 pages that will take you on a trip inside the head of a lifelong baseball man.

With a combination of stories, opinions, observations and teachings, Garagiola pulls up a chair next to you and shares how he sees the game of baseball. Whether it’s the current obsession with statistics, the unappreciated work of catchers, or how to talk to an umpire, Garagiola shares his thoughts without being condescending or overly attached to the “good ol’ days” of baseball – although he does make a case in some instances that modern baseball has lost some connection to its roots.

Just Play Ball is loaded with stories of players, coaches, managers, umpires, and broadcasters which Garagiola weaves together at almost a breakneck speed to create a collage of how baseball has shaped his life.

And while it seems like he jumps from story to story without much rhyme or reason, once you get to the end of the book do you realize the bigger picture that Garagiola has painted. This is a fun baseball written by a true baseball man, and worth picking up.

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The Bronx is Burning – by Jonathan Mahler

1977 was one of the most turbulent years in New York City history – a citywide blackout during a scorching hot summer, the Son of Sam murders, a heated mayoral race, and not to mention, a revolution that was happening with the New York Yankees.

Jonathan Mahler paints a kaleidoscopic portrait of this turbulent time in the Big Apple in his new book, The Bronx is Burning.

The days of Mantle had passed, and the Yankees were fresh off a sweep by the Reds in the 1976 World Series. George Steinbrenner was making his impact felt – particularly by signing the top free agent at the time, Reggie Jackson. But with the brash Billy Martin at the helm of the club, the two personalities set off fireworks when they often clashed.

Mirroring this was a heated mayoral race between Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo, magnified by Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of the Post newspaper and his coverage of news with screaming headlines and superlative embellishments.

I found that I kept thinking this was a fictional novel — Mahler’s writing is so vivid that it almost seems made-up. Books with historical focus often lack the ability to put the reader in the middle of the action, but this one surely does not. From the looting after the blackouts, to chasing the Son of Sam, to being in Yankee Stadium for the World Series, Mahler picks you up from wherever you are and plops you right in the middle of the action.

Being a baseball fan – I wish more of the book had been about the games and the Yankees. Mahler’s could have easily transported you to the dugout, the clubhouse, or the Yankees boardroom at his choosing. However, it felt as if he was often spending more time on the stories happening in New York as opposed to the events with the ballclub.

However, that is not to fault him in any way — although be aware that if you pick this up as a baseball book, there is a lot of non-baseball reading that goes along with it.

The Bronx is Burning weaves several dynamic story lines together to create an outstanding narrative of 1977 in New York. Baseball is just one of the main story lines – which means this isn’t just a great baseball book, it’s a great book, period – and will also be an 8-part miniseries on ESPN starting July 9th.

What do you think about The Bronx is Burning? Join the discussion and post your comments!

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