Friday, December 1, 2023

Books: Sports Titles Perfect For The Fanatic In Your Life

December is upon us, meaning it's time to think about what to gift the sports fanatic in our lives. In this review, we will look at The 20 Greatest Moments In New York Sports History: Our Generation of Memories, From 1960 To Today, by Todd Erlich & Gary Myers, foreword by David Tyree; My Home Team: A Sportswriter's Life and the Redemptive Power of Small-Town Girls Basketball, by Dave Kindred; and Moon Baseball Road Trips: The Complete Guide to All the Ballparks, with Beer, Bites, and Sights Nearby, by Timothy Malcolm.

The 20 Greatest Moments In New York Sports History: Our Generation of Memories, From 1960 To Today

By Todd Erlich & Gary Myers; Foreword by David Tyree

Sports Publishing; hardcover, 384 pages; $29.99

Todd Ehrlich is the founder and president of T-LINE TV, a television production company dedicated to broadcast, sports, and commercial TV production. Currently the executive sports producer for WPIX, he has covered two Olympics, the Super Bowl, World Series, NHL Stanley Cup Finals, NBA Finals, and Triple Crown races. Gary Myers is a longtime sports journalist for the New York Daily News who was their NFL columnist for many years, and the author of five books, most recently Once a Giant (please click here for our review). David Tyree is a retired NFL player who spent six years with the New York Giants, and is most known for making "The Helmet Catch" to help lead them to an upset of the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII in February 2008.

The 20 Greatest Moments In New York Sports History: Our Generation of Memories, From 1960 To Today is Ehrlich and Myers' new book chronicling highlights etched in our memories, and why they are still talked about today. For example, who can forget where they were when Joe Namath and the Jets won Super Bowl III?

These great moments are bookended by Yankees, which makes sense since it's the most successful team in American sports, starting with Roger Maris breaking Babe Ruth's home run record with 61 home runs in 1961, all the way to Aaron Judge blasting 62 home runs to pass him in 2022. 

While there is plenty of baseball, such as Reggie Jackson's three home run performance to lead the Yankees to win the 1977 World Series and the Miracle Mets in 1969, these great moments are across all sports, such as Willis Reed taking the court to lead the Knicks to their first championship in 1970.

Ehrlich and Myers also do a great job of acknowledging that New York is also known for hosting world-class events, such as Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier championship boxing matches, the annual spectacles of US Open Tennis and the Belmont Stakes, and when it comes around, US Open golf.

Broken down into four parts, each event includes the backstory of what led up to that moment, original materials from media coverage of it, a column from a local journalist to lend perspective, and first-person accounts from the men and women involved. There also is a time capsule of cultural references, such as who the President of the United States and Mayor of New York was, who triumphed at the Oscars, and what the price of gas was when the moment occurred. It is all taken into account as the sporting events are rated based on importance and effect on the sport and city.

In this excerpt, Ehrlich and Myers write about the build-up to Super Bowl XLII for the Giants and Patriots, whose season began against the other tenants of the Meadowlands, "The Jets were first up to start the 2007 regular season. On September 9, 2007, Matt Estrella, a Patriots video assistant, was caught illegally taping the signals of Jets defensive coaches during the season opener at Giants Stadium. When an NFL security official confiscated his video camera and videotape, the jig was up. The incident was dubbed 'Spygate.'

From 2000 to 2005, Jets head coach Eric Mangini was a Belichick assistant and possessed an insider's knowledge. The commissioner ruled that the Patriots had indeed violated league rules, fining Belichick $500,000, taking away a first-round pick and fining the team $250,000...but Belichick was not suspended. The league confiscated and destroyed all the evidence of the scandal.

On the field, the 2007 Patriots could not be stopped. The NFL played forty-four seasons (1978-2021) with a 16-game schedule. This 2007 teams was the only one to finish a perfect regular season, at 16-0. But it's not that they just won...they dominated. Belichick not only wanted to beat other teams to prove the videotaping, and the entire Spygate scandal, was meaningless and it was wrong to label him a cheater, he wanted to utterly destroy them.

New England scored a record 589 points (134 more than the next-closest team, the Dallas Cowboys), averaging more than 36 points per game. Only four times did the Patriots fail to score at least 30 points. They outscored their opponents by 315 points, an average margin of 19.7 per game. (The only other team to have a win margin over 10 was the Colts, with 11.8). Brady threw a record 50 touchdowns, and Randy Moss caught a record 23 TDs. Brady and Moss set the record in the fourth quarter of the final game of the regular season against the Giants.

The New York Giants were a good, but not great, team. They were led by Manning who, in his fourth season, tossed 23 touchdown passes - not even half of Brady's total. Four of the twenty-three came in the season finale against the Patriots. One thing the Giants had going for them: Manning, at twenty-six, was unflappable. Brady, meanwhile, was a perfectionist. The Giants knew he hated pressure up the middle and if they could show that early, they felt they could rattle him. They did have tremendous respect for him. After all, the Giants led the regular season meeting by 12 points in the third quarter - the Patriots' largest deficit of the season - though could not make it stick.

The Super Bowl road trip started with a win in Tampa Bay, 24-14. Next stop: Dallas. Swept by the No. 1 seed Cowboys during the regular season, the Giants staged an upset in the first-ever postseason meeting between the long-time rivals, winning 21-17. The 13-3 'Boys had won three more games than the 10-6 Giants during the season.

The Giants next traveled to the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field to take on the Packers and the ghost of Vince Lombardi in the NFC Championship Game. It wasn't just the tundra that was frozen that day. Everything was frozen, including (Tom) Coughlin's rozy-red face. The game-time temperature was minus 1, with a minus 23-degree windchill. It ranked as the fifth coldest game day in NFL history. But the Giants left the field feeling warm all over with an overtime win and an all-expenses paid trip to thaw out in sunny Phoenix, with a shot at the Lombardi Trophy."

My Home Team: A Sportswriter's Life and the Redemptive Power of Small-Town Girls Basketball

By Dave Kindred

PublicAffairs; hardcover, 304 pages; $30.00

Dave Kindred is only one of two writers to have won sportswriting's three highest honors, the Red Smith Award, the PEN America ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing, and the Dan Jenkins Medal for Excellence in Sportswriting. He has been a columnist for the Washington Post, Sporting News, Golf Digest, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Louisville Courier-Journal, and The National Sports Daily. He is the author of several books including Heroes, Fools and Other Dreamers: A Sportswriter's Gallery of Extraordinary People and Morning Miracle: Inside the Washington Post The Fight to Keep a Great Newspaper Alive.

The tender and heartwarming My Home Team is Kindred's memoir chronicling his rise from roots in Illinois to the pinnacle of sportswriting for top publications in the country, and when he came home later in life, the power of youth sports in a community.

Kindred has covered every major athlete from Muhammad Ali to Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, and major events including dozens of Super Bowls, Secretariat winning the Triple Crown, and World Series, including in 1975, when Carlton Fisk hit his famous home run to keep the Boston Red Sox alive. "Past midnight, on deadline, in freezing Fenway Park, on my Smith-Corona portable, I flash-typed a breathless thirty-four words after the baseball crossed over the Green Monster, and I flung the hot copy to a Western Union operator older than my mother," Kindred writes.

While all that is what anyone would dream of witnessing and partaking in, the group of athletes that changed his life was the Morton High School Lady Potters basketball team. This became a major part of his life when he returned to his hometown.

For twelve years, he has attended plenty of their games as they made many runs to state championships, observing from the stands as he took notes, with his payment nothing more than Milk Duds. 

The urge to write helped sustain him through personal hardships, as the teams and community were there for him as he coped with the loss of a grandson to addiction and his wife to long-term illness.

It had been thirty-five years since Dave and Cheryl, who were high school sweethearts, been in Atlanta, Illinois, and when they came home, they found a log cabin in the country and put up a barn for two horses. They had no plans other than to sit on the deck at sunset and watch ducks in the pond. 

One impulse changed all that, as Kindred writes in this excerpt, "One day I said, 'Want to go to a basketball game?'

'Who's playing?' she said.

'The Lady Potters.'

'The lady whos?'

'Potters. Morton used to be big in the pottery world.'

We lived a half hour east of Morton, 17,117 people, a small town by most measures, but a metropolis on the rural flatlands of west-central Illinois. It was a cameo brooch of a place that, in a bow to the region's pumpkin farmers, bragged on itself as the Pumpkin Capital of the World. It sat atop a gentle rise east of the Illinois River across from Peoria, the state's second-largest city outside the Chicago landmass.

Three years earlier, I had learned about the Lady Potters in my sister's kitchen. Carly Jean Crocker stood by Sandy's hutch. What a darling Carly was, thirteen years old, blonde and blue-eyed, tall and trim in blue jeans, stylish in a denim jacket and red canvas sneakers. We had known her since she was an infant as cute as she was loud (very). Sandy had been her babysitter from six months on, long enough that Carly called her Grandma. 

That day in the kitchen, Sandy, Cheryl, and Carly's mother, Lisa, talked about their school days. Because they all had been cheerleaders, a neighbor said, 'Carly, are you going to be a cheerleader, too?'

There was a time in the past - before Title IX mandated equal school facilities for boys and girls in 1972 - when that would have been a natural question. But not in the twenty-first century. Carly was an athlete headed for high school and Lady Potters basketball. She rode horses in 4-H competition, played second base in softball, ran cross-country, and went up against neighborhood boys in driveway basketball games.

Hearing the cheerleader question, Carly raised her chin a click.

'No,' she said. 'I'm going to be the one they cheer for.'

She had me at no.

Carly was sixteen when Cheryl and I climbed three rows up in the bleachers at the Morton High School gym, the Potterdome. The game was the first sporting event for which I ever bought a ticket. Though I resisted saying the word, friends counted me as, quote, retired. With newspapers and magazines dying in the Digital Age, there was also the unhappy circumstance of nobody looking to coax geezers out of, quote, retirement. Without a press credential for the first time since I was seventeen, I was an official spectator.

Then this happened. The PA announcer's voice exploded against the Potterdome walls. 'AND NOW, YOUR LADY POTTERS!' A dozen girls came streaming onto the court in red-and-white candy-striped warm-ups, wheeling into layup lines that became a kaleidoscope of swirling, dizzying colors. I was not so far removed from a lifetime of sportswriting that I could ignore such a phenomenon. Borrowing a pen that Cheryl found deep in her purse, I scratched a note on a McDonald's bag smeared with ketchup. Last saw a girls game 1975. Not 1975 anymore.

The good news, this was fun.

The better news, I wanted to write something. Writers write."

Moon Baseball Road Trips: The Complete Guide to All the Ballparks, with Beer, Bites, and Sights Nearby

By Timothy Malcolm

Moon Travel; paperback, 712 pages; $27.99

Timothy Malcolm is a lifelong Phillies fan who has been featured on Mets Blog and Yahoo! Big League Stew, has written for the Hardball Times and was a senior writer and editor of Phillies Nation. He currently lives in Houston, and is also the author of Moon Drive & Hike Appalachian Trail, and writers for BackpackerOutdoor, and Hudson Valley Magazine.

Moon Baseball Road Trips: The Complete Guide to All the Ballparks, with Beer, Bites, and Sights Nearby!, is Malcolm's voluminous guide to checking out America's Pastime. As the hot stove heats up, with teams filling their rosters for next season, you can also to look ahead to next summer and plan a road trip with multiple games, such as seeing the Mets or Yankees as they travel to some of their rivals' homes.

Trips can be build around seeing some of this country's best ballparks, from classic parks like Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, to Wrigley Field in Chicago, and Dodger Stadium with its majestic California mountain views, to newer gems like PNC Park in Pittsburgh or Camden Yards in Baltimore, or Petco Park in San Diego.

In Moon Baseball Road Trips, Malcolm gives a variety of road trip options, such as a Boston to Washington, DC, route, a trek through the Midwest, and an excursion along the West Coast. You can find how to explore cities and discover landmarks like the Babe Ruth Museum in Baltimore, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and Boston Common, where to eat and drink nearby. There also is information on how to see baseball landmarks like the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, and Field of Dreams in Iowa.

"We all want immediacy and accessibility when we’re traveling, so digital information is hard to beat," Malcolm told Brooklyn Digest. "But Baseball Road Trips is a product not simply of weeks or months of research, but of my lifelong love of ballparks, cities, and experiencing America. The information here—and there’s a ton of it—is complemented by what I hope is insightful and expert opinion, plus an enormous amount of personal passion. I can vouch for that part. I hope people who want to feel assured in their travels, and also want to feel a connection to the shared experience of watching live baseball, will appreciate the book pretty highly. Plus, there’s nothing like having a book at your side when on a road trip. I’m the kind of person who keeps his road atlas in the passenger seat—people like that are going to want this book.

Malcolm said of his favorite parks, "I personally love Fenway Park, and that goes back to my childhood. My dad owned a Fenway t-shirt that I loved looking at, and when I was a teenager I saw my first Sox game there. Then I attended Boston University and got to visit the park a bunch, including during its 2004 championship season. It’s the Green Monster, Pesky’s Pole, the snugness of the seating area, the fact that while much of the park has changed in 100 years, it remains cozy, and even the early-season games can feel intense.

Of the newer parks, I really enjoy Oracle Park in San Francisco. The main drawback there is the cost of, well … everything, but it’s placement is incredible. That view of McCovey Cove! Walking along the concourse in right field is pretty special, and hey, I was able to find Russian River Pliny the Elder on tap here. I’ll also shout out an unlikely candidate, the artist formerly known as Marlins Park, now loanDepot park. Terrible name, but I like its neo-modern architecture with the huge glass windows and colorful artwork sprinkled about. Plus it has a solid food selection and lots of space to stretch out and see the game … though maybe some of that is due to the typical product on the field. Nonetheless, it’s an underrated experience.


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