“The Best Team Money Can Buy: The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse” by Molly Knight (Simon & Schuster, 2015)

The Best Team Money Can Buy
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As a long-time, die-hard San Francisco Giants fan — the Los Angeles Dodgers’ biggest rival — wanting to read a book about the nemesis team would seem unlikely and somewhat disingenuous, since I may be planning to “pretend” to read it and then seek to lambaste it, being a book about those evil LA Dodgers. But no, my thinking was, the Giants and Dodgers face each other many times over the course of the 162-game season and this book seemed like a great way to get know this team I watch a significant amount of the time from April to September each year.

The Best Team Money Can Buy is a fascinating book about the Los Angeles Dodgers, not just as a sports team, but as a franchise and business. Molly Knight tells the fraught story of the Dodgers last few seasons, beginning with 2012 when owner Frank McCourt through an ongoing series of cost-cutting measures, gutted the team and brought the franchise to bankruptcy so he could line his pockets and make sure he and his wife had the best mansions to live in. Enter the Guggenheim group featuring iconic Magic Johnson and a few billionaires who snatched up the franchise before anyone else could as the highest bidder and then set out to win the team a World Series ring.

The book opens with a fascinating interview between Molly Knight and multiple Cy Young Award winner and star starting pitcher, Clayton Kershaw. Just as they began the interview in his native Texas, Kershaw learned he had just gotten a new contract with the Dodgers for a record seven-year $215 million deal. But he still did the interview, even though his phone was vibrating nonstop. Knight then takes readers through the next two years, how the franchise acquired the many expensive players such as Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Zack Greinke and one Yasiel Puig to name a few.

The book is a captivating read as Knight isn’t setting out to show the Dodgers as this perfectly polished team where everyone gets along and all they do is play great baseball. She gives each player their back story, talking about where they grew up, how they came to be on the Dodgers, and how they then worked out for the team. It’s common sense that when you put a bunch of competitive millionaires together, some in the same position, tensions will flair. Knight doesn’t hold back in discussing this, but also the many good things the owners have done since the bankruptcy days to make the Los Angeles Dodgers the high achieving, highly-respected baseball team it has been known to be since it left New York. They want to be known as the Yankees of the West.

But readers also see how the Dodgers got only so far in the postseasons of 2013 and 2014 before they were eliminated. Kershaw both times wasn’t able to be the ace he has come to be known for the team, and blames himself for letting the team down, and then how he picks himself up and tries again next year. It is a story of trying to get players who are paid millions of dollars whether they win or lose to want to work as a team and win. Kershaw has won a lot of awards in his short time as a major league pitcher, but it is the elusive World Series ring that he truly cares about adding to his trophy collection.

Originally written on August 3rd, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

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“Who Invented the Bicycle Kick: Soccer’s Greatest Legends and Lore” by Paul Simpson and Uli Hesse (William Morrow, 2014)

Who Invented the Bicycle Kick
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There are some books you need to have on your shelf, or coffee table, or at least near at hand for when you need those split-second answers to questions that can quickly lead to shouting matches and the end of friendships. Who Invented the Bicycle Kick is one of those books; in fact once you’re done with this review you should just go get yourself a copy.

Whether you’re an occasional soccer watcher, or a full-on football fanatic, you often wonder when goalkeepers started wearing gloves, who has the weirdest superstitions before a game, why matches last 90 minutes, or who invented the bicycle kick? Paul Simpson, the launch editor for Four Four Two and Uli Hesse, a prevalent writer for ESPN FC, provide the answers and their research. In some cases – such as the eponymous question to the book – there isn’t a definitive answer, so the authors present the most likely candidates and theories.

Whether you intend on reading the book cover to cover, or using the excellent table of contents or thorough index, your questions and wonderings on the subject of soccer will be quickly answered.

Originally written on August 5, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Who Invented the Bicycle Kick from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball” by John Feinstein (Doubleday, 2014)

Where Nobody Knows Your Name
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It is a place and time relatively unknown, shrouded in mystery. Some players spend a couple of years there, others spend almost or equal to a decade, and certain phenoms are there for the blink of an eye and then find themselves in the Major Leagues. The Minor League system of baseball is a complex well oiled machine whose one goal is not to win games for the team, but to make its players the best they can be.

In Where Nobody Knows Your Name, bestselling author John Feinstein takes the reader on a tour of an area of baseball many know little-to-nothing about. As baseball fans, we all have our favorite players and learn of how quickly they made it through the minor leagues and got brought up to the majors to become the highly-paid skilled athletes they are today. Feinstein focuses on a number of specific minor league players, including a manager for the Tampa Bay Rays AAA minor league team, and even a minor league umpire. Some of these players are young guys drafted at a young age looking to get brought up to the big leagues real soon, only to have their hopes dashed and their confidence threatened. Others are former major leaguers still playing in the game that keep getting sent down and spending more time in the minor leagues. As for the lives of the coaches and umpires, much like the regular players, they also yearn for a chance to be brought up to the major leagues to do what they believe they do best.

Feinstein doesn’t hold back on the details, showing the low pay for players, managers and even umpires that jump to shocking amounts once they spend some time in the major leagues. There are also stories of players being sent up and down, released and picked up by teams, and yo-yoed around the country as they go from minor league team to minor league team, just wanting a chance at the Show.

The first two thirds of the book are filled with these gritty stories and fascinating details, though the reader can become a little lost at times with the sometimes long and sometimes short chapters on specific players that they may not remember or know too well from earlier chapters, and yet are just thrown into their life story again. Something that may have been easy for Feinstein to recognize may prove tricky for the average reader. The final third of the book seems to present more calls ups and send downs and releases and pick-ups that the reader has already read about, which slows the book down considerably, but ends with a satisfying epilogue that brings all the players’, managers’ and umpire’s minor league stories to a satisfying end.

Originally written on March 24, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Where Nobody Knows Your Name from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.