Book Review: The world’s essential sporting events

100SportingEvents Over the years, I’ve seen my fair share of seminal sports events. I’ve seen countless Yankee/Red Sox games, a few World Series affairs, the All Star Game at Yankee Stadium and a pair of historic Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies. I’ve been to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field in 2001 that featured a late-inning Cubs comeback and a few games at Fenway as well.

Beyond baseball, I’ve been to the NBA All Star Game when the Garden hosted it in 1998. Michael Jordan scored 23 points and nabbed MVP honors. I’ve watched the marathoners jog by in the city on many a chilly November mornings. I’ve seen a few U.S. Open matches at Ashe Stadium and even a Harlem Globetrotters performance in the mid-1990s.

“That’s great, Ben,” you might be thinking, “but why are you telling us about this?” These events, you see, are all a part of a new book by Robert Tuchman called The 100 Sporting Events You Must See Live. The author, a New Yorker, is a sports travel guru, and he has produced a thorough accounting of the world’s top sporting events. The book is more than just a list too. It features local details on each event: what to see, where to stay, what to say.

A fair warning though: The ticket listings feature only one ticket broker, and the travel packages for each listing all refer readings back to Tuchman’s Premiere Corporate Events company, of which he is the president. Unfortunately, while any author can use his book for promotional purposes, a more thorough tome would include local travel agents and a variety of ticket sources. It is, though, easy to overlook that short-coming, and the list more than makes up for it.

For the baseball fans among us — or, you know, all of us — Tuchman’s list is chock full of games to check out. The World Series clocks in at seven while a Yankee-Red Sox game at the Stadium is ninth on the list. The Cubs at Wrigley Field are 14, and the Hall of Fame Induction — truly a magical event — is 22. The All Star Game is 40th, and Japan’s Koshien Baseball Tournament is 44. Even Fenway Park gets a mention at 55. It isn’t that bad.

Tuchman’s Top Ten events are an interesting melange of sports. The Masters earn the top spot followed by the World Cup and the Super Bowl (but good luck with that ticket). The Summer Olympics are fourth followed by an Army vs. Navy game, the NYC Marathon, the World Series, the Winter Olympics, a Yanks/Sox game and a UNC/Duke game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The full list is right here on Tuchman’s website, and the author is trying to find someone who has seen 40 or more of these events live.

So, then, I ask RABers, as we wait for Sunday to dawn, what your favorite live sporting events are. Nothing beats the electric atmosphere at Yankee Stadium in October as the crisp fall air descends upon another post-season game, but those mid-summer Red Sox/Yankees contests are a close second.

To grab a copy of Tuchman’s book and to support RAB at the same time, you can buy it here. Shortcomings aside, it is as thorough a guide to the world’s sporting events as you could find.

All the best third basemen have daddy issues

arodcover When Selena Roberts broke the story in February that A-Rod was one of the 104 names on the supposedly anonymous list of steroid users, we quickly learned that she did so while in the process of researching a book about the Yanks’ enigmatic superstar. For months, as the book’s release date moved around to accommodate A-Rod’s stint on the disabled list, we wondered what shocking revelations the book would hold.

In the end, the answer ended up being “not very much.” Short on sources and new information, A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez comes across as a faux-amateur psychologist’s examination of A-Rod’s supposed daddy issues. It features some allegations about pitch-tipping that have been refuted on the record by numerous teammates of Alex’s, and Roberts attempts to portray A-Rod as guilty by association because he lived in Miami at the same time that other, more famous people who used steroids were there as well. As the low sales numbers have shown, a flimsy, anonymously sourced and poorly written book that reveals more about A-Rod’s tendencies to undertip at Hooter’s shouldn’t and won’t receive much attention.

By now, we all know the meat of Roberts’ allegations. Somehow, she was able to uncover the fact that A-Rod’s name was on a list of failed drug tests. The list was supposed to be anonymous, but as she details, players had to sign their names next to their sample number. Generally protective of its interests and members, the Players’ Union dropped the ball big time.

But beyond the steroid revelations, confirmed by A-Rod, nothing else in Roberts’ book holds much water. She alleges pitch tipping but can’t back it up through on-the-record sources or statistical analysis. She notes that when A-Rod was in high school, he may have trained at the same gym as other known steroid users. Well, based on the way some guys at my gym look, so have I. She hints at PED use by noting A-Rod’s growth spurt between 15 and 18 without acknowledging that crazy little thing called puberty.

As the attention moves to A-Rod on the field, we hear the same tales of A-Rod as Joe Torre and Tom Verducci told in The Yankee Years. In fact, Roberts relies on Torre’s book as one of her sources for much of the under-the-table Yankee criticism of A-Rod. She says that A-Rod always felt the need to compete, that he slept around with women, that his teammates regarded him as a phony off the field and a superstar on it. Again, she offers up nothing new.

At times, though, Roberts puts on her reporter’s cap and digs into A-Rod’s past life. She talks to his former wife Cynthia and the dad who walked out when A-Rod was just 10 years old. In fact, it is this dad whom Roberts blames for A-Rod’s downfall. All of A-Rod’s shenanigans — from steroids to the Boras-driven effort to land him two record-setting contracts to the off-field behavior — are the result of A-Rod’s daddy issues. Dr. Freud Roberts is not, and even in the age of pop sociology/psychology, she can’t hold a candle to the Malcolm Gladwells of the world.

In the end, the book is a big zero, and Roberts has been roundly taken to task for it as in this interview on WFAN. If it accomplishes anything, it will rally fans around A-Rod while confirming for others what they already know. It is, in a phrase, a great big nothing.

If you really want to read this thin biography, you can find A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez on Amazon. Using that link nets us a few bucks, but if I were you, I’d just save my money.

Yogi: Tales of a life less ordinary

yogi For Yankee fans of my generation, Yogi Berra is an icon, a piece of Yankee history reminiscent of the golden age of New York City baseball and, well, a spokesman for AFLAC who manages to confuse even an insurance-savvy duck. While Berra was in a self-imposed exile from George Steinbrenner and the Yankees for 15 years, no Yankee Moment is complete without Yogi there, wearing his trademark number 8 and taking his place behind the plate or throwing out the first pitch.

To others, Yogi is a goofy guy, the man behind some of the more eccentric quotes in sports. “Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical,” Yogi once said. He was, after all, a catcher and not a mathematician. In fact, Yogi is so identified with his quotes that he once penned a book called I Really Didn’t Say Everything I Said explaining the source of these so-called Yogiisms.

Over the years, though, Yogi and his sayings have taken on a life of their own. Yogi is often viewed as a caricature of himself: he’s this short, funny-looking guy. How could he have been a baseball player, let alone one of the best hitting catchers of all time with 10 World Series rings?

In an effort to rescue Yogi’s image from itself, Allen Barra, respected baseball author and acquaintance of Yogi’s, has spent the last few years working on a biography of the Yankee great. The book — called Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee — hit stores this March, and in the beginning, Barra states his desire to paint a picture of Yogi unobscured by the Yogi-as-a-joke picture that has emerged in popular culture. He succeeded. The book is a real treat and definitely one of the better baseball biographies I’ve read in a while. Barra delves into Yogi’s life and presents a rich picture of one of the all-time greats.

Adhering to the traditional chronological structure of the genre, Barra’s tome traces Berra’s life from his parents’ arrival in the states to their eventual settling in St. Louis, Yogi’s childhood, adolescence, stint in the army and baseball career. It sweeps wide but comes in close and intimate on Berra, and the real meat of the tale — Yogi’s years in pinstripes during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s — breathes life into a black-and-white era in the minds of many fans.

Time and again, the story is about Yogi’s beating the odds. He’s a little guy with a lot of power and the ability and desire to hit just about anything. In fact, Yogi struck out just 414 times in his career in over 8300 trips to the plate. Those who first saw Yogi doubted his ability. Those who then saw him play knew that the sky was the limit, and the Yankees enjoyed those golden years once Branch Rickey and the Cardinals passed on Berra in the 1940s over a matter of $500. (Of course, by signing Joe Garagiola, a childhood friend and neighbor of Yogi’s, the Cards didn’t do too badly for themselves.)

When Yogi arrives in New York, a lesser writer would be overcome with legends. How do you fit all the characters and greats, the Casey Stengels, the Mickey Mantles and Phil Rizzutos, the Whitey Fords and Elston Howards into the same book? Barra does so with grace and aplomb. Mantle, that other guy in the room during the 1950s, fits seamlessly into the book while Stengel is a true supporting character, a Yogi supporter through and through. As the Yankees defy the odds to win World Series after World Series, Yogi is there for them all, a stalwart behind the plate who learns future generations everything he knows.

After his playing days, Yogi moved into a series of successful coaching and managerial jobs. He never captured a ring as a manager and yet, as Barra notes, he had a stellar career behind a team. What he didn’t have though was the same loose personality as a manager. Always a straight guy off the field, while playing Yogi was closer to the character with which we associate him. He chatted up umpires and opposing hitters to no end. But as a manager, he was a serious and smart leader who managed to coax a few great runs out of the Yankees and Mets clubs he fronted.

The book ends, of course, with Yogi’s triumphant return to the Bronx . After George Steinbrenner fired him by fiat in 1985, Yogi swore never to come back, and for a decade and a half, he did not. But George, as Barra writes and others have noted, needed Yogi more than Yogi needed George, and the Boss came begging, cap in hand. All is right in the Bronx as Yogi the player, the star, the icon, returns home.

Beyond the final page, Barra detours into analysis. Was Yogi the best catcher ever, he asks. It is a question still debated today and his look provides a fitting coda to the tale. If he wasn’t the best, he sure was near the top, and he has the hardware to prove it.

There isn’t really much more to say about Barra’s book. He brings alive a lost era in New York baseball, and with Father’s Day around the corner, this one would make for an excellent gift for the baseball-loving dad. Or else, just buy it for yourself and read it. It’s well worth the investment.

You can find Allen Barra’s Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee on sale at Amazon. Using this link to buy the book will toss a few bucks RAB’s way.

Looking back on the Torre Years

9780385529389 When Joe Girardi went with Phil Coke and then David Robertson in the ninth inning of a tie game on the road yesterday, my thoughts turned to Joe Torre. While this strategic decision isn’t unique to either of the last two Yankee managers, it was a move we saw Torre make over and over again. The most egregious example came in Game 4 of the 2003 World Series when Mariano Rivera, the Yanks’ best reliever, never entered the 12-inning game, and Jeff Weaver gave up the game-winning home run to the light-hitting Alex Gonzalez.

These days, Joe Torre seems like a distant memory of days gone by. We laugh sadly and knowingly when hearing news of Scott Proctor’s impending surgery, and we see how, across the country, Torre’s Dodgers currently own the best record and a whopping +87 run differential as they run away with the NL West. Maybe an October homecoming for Torre is in the cards.

Earlier this year, as Yankee fans grew more accustomed to life under a different Joe, Torre thrust himself back into the spotlight when he and Tom Verducci published The Yankee Years. Ostensibly a Verducci book in which Torre takes on the third person as though being interviewed by the Sports Illustrated scribe, the tell-all memoir takes a path back through the rise and fall of Torre in the Bronx. The rise is, of course, Torre’s doing; the fall is not.

I read the book shortly after it came out in February, and I’ve been sitting on the review since then. At the time, I wondered why Torre bothered, and after reading it, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to say. It seemed like a vindictive way to get back at the Steinbrenner family for unceremoniously booting Torre out of New York, and the book was quickly subsumed by the Selena Roberts revelations concerning Alex Rodriguez‘s drug use. Appropriately, Torre and Verducci’s book is far outselling Roberts’ tome on Amazon, and that’s simply because it’s a better book.

Now, I’m not in the camp of fans that think it’s a must-read. For the most part, if you were a fan from 1996 until the present, the book unveils nothing new. Torre claims ignorance to the drug use that, according to the Mitchell Report, was rampant in the Yankee clubhouse in the late 1990s but knows that the players called A-Rod by the less-than-flattering “A-Fraud” nickname. He had a good rapport with most of his players and couldn’t get along with others. Who would have guessed?

Between the chapters focusing around the Torre narrative, Verducci writes about the state of the baseball world, and those sections bothered me. First, Verducci treads familiar ground in talking about steroids in the game. Anyone who has read Game of Shadows, Juicing The Game or Juice will find nothing new. Verducci also tackles both Moneyball and the rise of the Boston Red Sox as the paragons of baseball’s new way. The parts on the Red Sox were particularly galling because Verducci paints the team as doing no wrong while the Yankees did everything wrong.

As the book progresses, Torre reserves his worst criticism for George Steinbrenner‘s meddling, Brian Cashman‘s Red Sox envy that led to some supposedly wacky ideas from the Yanks’ GM and everyone but himself. It was Steinbrenner who pursued Randy Johnson. It was Steinbrenner who went with Gary Sheffield over Vladimir Guerrero. It was Cashman who tried to convince Torre to bat Giambi leadoff to maximize the number of runners on base, and it was Cashman who did not support Torre in the ill-fated final meeting after the Yanks’ 2007 playoff loss.

Torre says that his worst mistake while with the Yankees came a few weeks before his dismissal, when he did not pull Joba and the team off the field during an attack of the midges in Cleveland. It was perhaps his worst personal mistake because it cost him his job. But was it really more costly than the Jeff Weaver decision? The way the 2004 ALCS was managed? Hitting A-Rod eighth in 2006? I don’t think so.

In the end, Torre says he’s still rooting for the Yankees. “I have to pull for them,” he said. “People think because you leave the Yankees and supposedly you’re unhappy with each other that you’re supposed to pull against them. But I can’t pull against the individuals over there, least of all Girardi who played for me, coached for me.”

Torre seems to be at peace with himself for his book and for his ouster. I have to wonder, though, why the rest of us had to suffer through what is, in effect, a public outing of his personal dislike for those running the team. We know Joe Torre is a better person than the Randy Levines and Lonn Trosts. Writing a book about them — even though the book is mostly an entertaining romp through a dynastic era — just stoops to their level.

You can get Joe Torre and Tom Verducci’s The Yankee Years at Amazon. That link contains our affiliate code. So you can buy the book and support RAB at the same time.

Heller’s book offers ‘Confessions’ of any fan

confessions-of-a-she-fan-213x300 Nearly two years ago, Jane Heller penned a column in The Times expressing her utter frustration with the New York Yankees. Her favorite team since she was a teenager, the Yanks had frustrated her with their mediocre play, and finding little joy in the corporate and middling Bombers, she threatened to divorce the team.

That column set off a firestorm of sorts. Yankee fans — and baseball fans — from around the country attacked Heller’s fandom. How could someone proclaiming to be a fan, to love a team ’til death do us part, divorce them for bad play? That’s the very definition of a fair-weather fan.

In response to the column, Heller did what any rational fan would do — she wrote a book about her love of the Yankees. That book, published this spring and entitled Confessions of a She-Fan, isn’t your typical baseball memoir. While it talks about the origins of Heller’s love of the team, it’s more about the process of an outsider writing a book about the team she loves while facing a lot of pushback. It’s also about a female writing from a distinctly female perspective and hoping to connect on a level that might not exist.

The main gist of Heller’s book focuses around her efforts in 2007 to follow the team. She gets a book deal to write about the Yankees and then spends the summer trying to get access. She follows the team around the country for the better part of four months, missing only a handful of games. Along the way, she rides the ups and downs of the season while trying to get inside the clubhouse to interview the players.

Needless to say, she doesn’t quite succeed until the end when she runs into one Yankee — I won’t say who — in a restaurant. That Yankee, a short-lived member of the Bronx Bombers, gives her a ring after the season to talk about playing on the Yankees. It’s a great coda to a tale of frustration.

That frustration stems from a Yankee organization intent on limiting access. She tries to go through Jason Zillo, the Yanks’ media gatekeeper, but Zillo, who fields more than his fair share of calls like Heller’s, wants credentialed writers only around the Yanks. She tries every which way to make an end-run around Zillo. She tries to go after Jean Afterman and Suzyn Waldman, connecting to them on that female level. Waldman is responsive; Afterman is not. She befriends John Sterling and runs through her Rolodex searching for ways in to no success. It is, then, no surprise that the Yanks didn’t want Heller’s publishers to advertise her book in the Yankee Magazine this year.

The tale of access though is nearly beside the point, and the focus on Heller’s gender nearly detracts from the fan experience. Throughout the book, Heller relates her emotional ride as the Yanks stumble out of the block, recover over the summer, make the playoffs and then lose when a bunch of bugs attack Joba Chamberlain on a hot October day in Cleveland. She talks as though a She-Fan is a distinct species of fan, but it’s not. In the end, Heller is just like the rest of us who live and die with the Yankees.

The culture of exclusivity around the Yankees made me chuckle as I paged through Heller’s story. The beatwriters are more or less obliging after initial skepticism; the Front Office is less than forthcoming; and Sterling and Waldman, the voices of the team, come across as the most obliging. Heller weaves a fun tale of fandom, and it makes for some baseball reading to which the most dedicated and obsessed can easily relate.

Jane Heller’s Confessions of a She-Fan is available here at Amazon. That link contains the RAB affiliate code. So if you’re thinking of buying the book, that link will toss us a few pennies. Jane continues to write about the Yankees on a daily basis at her blog of the same name.