“Try Not to Suck” by Bill Chastain and Jesse Rogers; Triumph (304 pages, $25.95)
Cubs fans hope the Joe Maddon story isn’t finished just yet. They would like to see him add a couple more World Series titles to his tale. However, this new biography shows the road the manager traveled and the unconventional approach he developed along the way in leading the Cubs to long-awaited glory in 2016.
Chastain, who covered Maddon during his years as manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, and Rogers, the Cubs beat reporter for WMVP-AM, do a good job examining Maddon’s roots and the impact they had on his baseball career. They look at his life growing up in Hazleton, Penn., where his leadership skills first were revealed on his high school baseball and football teams. After a quick and undistinguished minor league career as a catcher, Maddon found his niche working his way up the Los Angeles Angels organization, eventually becoming a bench coach who caught people’s attention for doing things differently. He then showed what he could do as a manager leading the unheralded Rays to the 2008 World Series.
The authors get interesting insights from many of Maddon’s current and former players on his nontraditional methods and why they work. Of course, there are plenty of inside details on his run with the Cubs, thus far. Ultimately, the book attempts to explain why Maddon is uniquely Maddon.
“Tinkers to Evers to Chance” by David Rapp; University of Chicago Press (336 pages, $27.50)
If not for a famous 1910 poem penned by New York sportswriter Franklin Pierce Adams, Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance likely would not have had the same legacy. However, Pierce’s memorable opening phrase, “These are the saddest of possible words: ‘Tinkers to Evers to Chance,’” helped embed the trio into sports immortality. Rapp is the latest author to examine the Cubs’ legendary double-play combination that enabled the team to dominate baseball during the first decade of the 20th century. The Cubs won four straight National League pennants and two World Series championships in 1906-10.
Rapp, though, does it from the perspective of showing the role baseball, a relatively new sport back then, played in changing the lives of the three men who came from markedly different backgrounds. He also details how the game, thanks in part to the success of the Cubs, gained a massive foothold in Chicago and elsewhere throughout the country. For example, Rapp writes that baseball’s popularity was a factor in growing newspapers and the fame of sportswriters, who were the only conduits for game coverage in the days long before radio and TV.
The book also details the role of Frank Selee. The manager in 1902-05, he is an unsung hero in Cubs history who put together the pieces to this dynasty that included Tinkers, Evers and Chance. Fittingly, they went into the Hall of Fame together in the 1946 class.
“Basketball: Great Writing About America’s Game,” edited by Alexander Wolff; Library of America (485 pages, $35)
In his introduction, Alexander Wolff references George Plimpton’s famous line: “The smaller the ball, the more formidable the literature.” Plimpton felt the best sports writing was on baseball and golf, and not so much on basketball. Plimpton, though, might have felt differently if he’d read this book. Wolff, the longtime basketball writer for Sports Illustrated, has put together a Hall of Fame-worthy collection of stories about the game.
It opens with James Naismith’s account of inventing basketball in 1891, and the subsequent stories show how the sport evolved through the years. The writers lineup includes Red Smith, Herbert Warren Wind, David Halberstam, David Kindred, Curry Kirkpatrick and Pat Conroy. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar not only writes the foreword, there are stories written about him and by him. Edith Roberts offers a wonderful piece on the state champion from Milan, Ind., which later proved to be the inspiration for the movie “Hoosiers.” Frank Deford’s classic 1980 Sports Illustrated story on Bob Knight, “The Rabbit Hunter,” is considered one of the best sports profiles ever. Rick Reilly captures the frenzy of the 1990s Bulls by focusing on the people who helped Michael Jordan get through his not-so-typical life. There’s more Jordan in Jack McCallum’s account of the 1992 Olympics “Dream Team.” The book also includes Melissa King’s 1998 story in The Reader about trying to find games in Chicago’s various playgrounds.
All in all, this is a true Dream Team of writing on basketball.
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