Saturday, January 28, 2023

Review: Never Ask "Why" (2023)

By Ed Garvey; Edited by Chuck Cascio

You'd have to call this one of the biggest surprises of the sports book year: a memoir by Ed Garvey, the executive director of the National Football League Players Association. 

The surprise is that Garvey died in 2017. Yet here we are, about six years later, and "Never Ask 'Why'" is now available. 

While the introduction is a little vague on the specifics, Garvey always intended to get this book of memories about the NFLPA's fight against the National Football League into the public's hands. But he ran out of time in doing so. But now, with a little help from editor Chuck Cascio, it's here. 

The idea behind the book is to get Garvey's thoughts about the negotiation process with the NFL into the public eye. History, the argument goes, would benefit from that point of view. It's difficult to disagree with that point, so it's simply nice to read the relatively short (234 pages) but pricey ($35) book.

For those who were too young or too disinterested in the subject, labor unions in pro sports started to flex their muscles in the late 1960s. For decades, players had taken whatever the owners were willing to give them - and forced to like it, sort of along the lines of eating their vegetables. Because, what else could they do? The deals were one-sided in favor of the owners, but they weren't exactly raking in the cash in most cases. 

But as sports - especially baseball and football - started to grow in the 1960s, the players started to realize that maybe the old rules shouldn't apply to the new circumstances. So their players' associations started to grow in power and influence, with the owners kicking and screaming every step of the way. Some of the rules of the game were downright illegal, while others were at best questionable. So eventually the PAs fought for more rights and gained power ... slowly. 

After reading this football side of the story, it seems obvious that the baseball players were better at this union stuff than their football counterparts. The baseball folks always had the smartest guy in the room in Marvin Miller, and that made a difference. They also had the full support of all of the players, which Garvey didn't. It's no wonder that free agency arrived in baseball for the 1976 season, while football had to wait several years into the 1990s for that breakthrough. Part of the problem is that Garvey admits he made several mistakes when a major confrontation took place in 1974. Those of age remember that was when training camps in the NFL featured the "No Freedom, No Football" walkout.

Garvey goes through the timeline of what happened in the major confrontations between the NFL and its players. Some of the league's tactics are by Garvey's description simply terrible - such as changing the words of several pages of an agreement  before the actual signing of a document, or making threats about the consequences of turning down a "take it or leave it" offer. It seems as if the NFL owners were just as clueless as their baseball counterparts in not seeing the inevitable future of a partnership between the two sides. The difference was that the NFL owners were a bit smarter and more organized than the baseball folks. 

The book ends around 1982, when the NFL and the NFLPA were at it again. The players would figure out that a strike in the middle of the season was much more effective than one at the beginning of the season, since they had a few paychecks in the bank by then and more people were paying attention. (The baseball players had done that in 1981.) But it's a little odd to have the book just end before any of that happened in the NFL.

There's some value in having this on the record, naturally. But it all comes with a rather good-sized catch. This is a really, really one-sided argument, with plenty of leftover venom. Have you ever heard lawyers talk about their side's case on television, with anyone on the opposing side possessing a brain the size of a dinosaur? There's a great deal of that here. Garvey is particularly hard on Pete Rozelle at times, even though the Commissioner was simply following orders from his bosses, the owners. (Admittedly, commissioners than had an image of someone who was only interested in the "best interests" the game - an idea that was shattered along the way.) There are few words of anything resembling praise for anyone on the other side of the table. Such a combative stance may have its advantages at the negotiating table, but it gets tiring to read so many unpleasant judgments well after the fact.

There's also a short chapter about how little the media did to support the NFLPA. I'm a little sensitive about this area, naturally. But let's remember the situation when the Players Association was growing up. The most powerful people in the sports media were old white men who wrote columns for newspapers and who had grown up with the status quo. Of course they probably would resist change in many areas. It seems like an educational effort could have been directed to that specific target in order to get another side of the story out there. Maybe some tried and failed.; a better approach could have paid dividends. The funny part of that area is that eventually, the writers became younger and started to agree with the players' positions. Nowadays, a majority of sports reporters probably are more sympathetic to the players' stances than the owners' views; they think the guys doing all the work deserve fair compensation. 

One other oddity about this book - its publisher, Temple University Press, has a policy about not publishing abusive language in its books. Therefore, a certain football team in Washington is called "R-------" throughout. I'm not sure about that decision in the light of the fact that the book was written by someone 40 years before publication, even if I can understand the company's concerns.

"Never Ask 'Why'" is good to have on the library shelf for those who seek out reference material on that era of football history. Just don't go into it thinking it might not be one-sided, or that it won't tire you out while reviewing what's between its compact covers. 

Three stars

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Friday, January 27, 2023

Review: Shut Out (2021)

By Bernie Saunders and Barry Meisel

There is a great deal to unpack in "Shut Out," a book that reviews the hockey life of Bernie Saunders.

You get the idea immediately after glancing at the cover and reading the subtitle. Saunders is Black, which naturally is obvious in the cover photo, and the subtitle is "The Game That Did Not Love Me Black."

It's been 40 years or so since Saunders laced up his skates as a pro hockey player, and it's clear that he's quite angry about parts of the experience. Bernie is still angry about the racism that existed at the time, which he experienced first-hand. It sometimes came in the form of remarks from opposing players, teammates, coaches (including, on one occasion, Herb Brooks), and - almost constantly - fans. 

As he outlines here, some of the other portions of his life didn't go down the usual path. It sounds as if fate didn't do a particularly good job of picking his parents. His father wasn't around much; when Bernie drove from Canada to the United States one time to visit his father, he discovered that his father had something of a second family there - which was news to him. His mother forged signatures on checks from his bank account to pull out $2,000. 

Saunders even did some reading as part of an investigation about the problems of being a "middle child." Bernie's older brother was John Saunders, the ESPN sportscaster and the author of the book "Playing Hurt," which is definitely worth your time. Younger sister Gail had to rely on her older brothers to provide some sense of normalcy. 

Still, Bernie was a good enough hockey player that he managed to earn a college scholarship at Western Michigan. He played four seasons there and averaged more than a point per game in the last three of them. From there it was on to the pros, soon signing with the Quebec Nordiques. He divided 1979-80 between Syracuse and Cincinnati in minor leagues, but did get a four-game call-up to the NHL along the way. That made him the fifth Black to play in an NHL game. It was a similar story in 1980-81. Saunders' scoring dropped off a bit in 1980-81 for Nova Scotia, in part because Montreal controlled that AHL team and gave its own players the most playing time. He did get six more NHL games to add to his resume, recording his only assist.

Saunders was feeling a bit beaten down at that point, and opted to play one more year of pro hockey in Kalamazoo of the International Hockey League, almost intentionally kissing his hopes of playing in the NHL again goodbye. After one last good season, Bernie retired from hockey to enter the business world and had a successful business career.

Let's try to take a logical and unemotional look back at that era. First of all, most pro hockey players in that era came from Canada; the numbers from the United States and other countries were a fraction of Canada's contribution. Canada hadn't let many Black immigrate through its borders until after 1960, and the Black population only started to grow in the 1970s (34,000 in 1971, 239,000 in 1981). Throw in some economic barriers - hockey is an expensive sport to play - and you could see why Blacks were an unusual sight in a pro hockey game around the end of the 1970s. It should be mentioned that some people whispered that the NBA was "too Black" in that era, and such fans would have been more comfortable watching a sport that was "too white."

Let's mix in another part of the equation. I was around hockey as a reporter and a front-office staffer during the 1980s and 1990s. I was constantly surprised at how "unenlightened" hockey was, at least as compared to other circles I encountered in my travels. I certainly would not be surprised if Saunders was the target of racism in terms of how his career proceeded.

It's also important to remember that Saunders played in a time when almost anything was allowed in terms of verbal abuse. The logic at the time was that any subject was fair game if it could distract the opposing player, no matter how vile it might be. Homosexual slurs probably were at least as frequent as racial taunts as far as I could tell, with the added bonus that anyone could be the subject of such a label. Happily, hockey is going a better job of policing such actions these days. As for the fans, well, a percentage of them will say anything in their zest to help the home team. We can only hope behavior has improved there too.

If I were looking at the Saunders' stats without a photo, I'd see an undrafted free agent who was something of a pleasant surprise after joining minor-league hockey at the age of 23. Bernie was never going to win a tiebreaker with a high draft choice when it came to moving up the ladder. That's just the way pro sports are. Saunders also caught a couple of bad breaks along the way. He suffered a groin injury that essentially caused permanent damage early in his pro career. Saunders was able to keep playing, but he never was the same player. He also was competing for a roster spot at same time (1980-81) as when the Stastny brothers - all three of them - arrived from Europe to play for the Nordiques. They took a lot of the available ice time.

Saunders had established himself as a good minor leaguer by 1981. If he hung around a little bit longer, maybe he would have received another chance or two at the NHL. But no one can blame him for feeling beaten down at that point. It's tough to imagine what it's like to hear the n-word directed at you from the stands every time you played a road game. 

Could he have done better in a better world? Probably. Could he have done much better in different circumstances? That's impossible to say. Saunders still thinks so. He uses some newspaper clippings and anecdotes to make the case, but it's still a heavy lift.

"Shut Out" no doubt would have caused something of a stir if it had been written in, say, 1990. But the book covers an era from long ago that thus may not carry the punch it would have had then. A lot of the names have faded at this point. It's still worth a read if you are interested in the subject and the accompanying era, but at this point the story is more of a curiosity than a call to action. 

Three stars

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Saturday, January 21, 2023

Review: Gibby - Tales of a Baseball Lifer (2023)

By John Gibbons and Greg Oliver

Baseball managers more or less come with an expiration date. It's understood that at some point the organization that hires a manager probably is going to have to fire that manager at some point. It sort of goes with the territory. Teams go through cycles of winning and losing, and during the down parts someone has to be blamed. Usually, that means the skipper is the one to go, in part because it's easier to do that than to fire 26 players. 

There's a corollary to that. Managers aren't expected to be popular, at least once the honeymoon period of new employment is over. Everyone loves to second-guess a manager's decisions, and once in a while a decision will be made that doesn't work out quite properly. Do it a few times, and you stop getting the benefit of the doubt. 

John Gibbons knew those were the rules we became the Blue Jays manager. Sure enough, he's currently unemployed. But, he figured out a way to if not beat the system, to at least tame it for a while. Gibbons managed the Blue Jays from 2004 to 2008, only to leave when times got tough. But they brought him back in 2013, which is rather unusual for most organizations except this one (Cito Gaston also got two chances to manage in Toronto.)   

Gibbons also stayed popular. Shortly after leaving, the Mayor of Toronto proclaimed "John Gibbons Day" be noted soon after his departure. In addition, the Toronto media - not always the most polite group of individuals, particularly by Canadian standards - went out of its way to say what a good person Gibbons was.

When word came out that Gibbons had written an autobiography, in this case called "Gibby," it instantly seemed like a good idea. After reading it, it seemed like an even better one.

Gibbons calls himself a baseball lifer, and it fits. He's spent his adult life around the game in a variety of capacities. The story seemed rather unlikely at the start of high school, but he suddenly blossomed as a prospect as a senior year and became a first-round draft choice of the New York Mets. His stories about life in the minors are nicely done, but his own is as compelling as any of them. Gibbons worked his way up the ladder to reach the majors, jumping to the Mets in 1984. But a couple of injuries, including one to his throwing arm, slowed his progress. Then the Mets traded for Gary Carter, the best catcher in the business at the time and a future Hall of Famer. The door to starting for New York had just been slammed shut for good. 

Gibbons hung around the Mets' organization for a while, and even played a few games in 1985 for New York. That earned him a championship ring. From there John bounced to some minor league teams, but by 1990 it was pretty clear he was no longer a prospect. At least he'd been given an opportunity or two. Gibbons writes about some players he encountered in those days who should have been given a chance at bigger things but weren't, sometimes because they weren't top draft choices. 

Gibbons stayed with the Mets after retiring as a player, working as an instructor before landing managerial positions. He jumped to the Blue Jays as a coach in 2002, and became manager in 2004. No matter what Toronto did on the field around then, they weren't going to stay with teams like the Red Sox and Yankees. Gibbons paid the price with his job in 2008. But he had a comeback after the 2012 season, signing with the Blue Jays again after John Farrell left Toronto to manage in Boston.

The second time around proved fruitful. The Blue Jays made the playoffs a couple of times and might have been World Champions if a few things had gone differently. The good times didn't last forever - they never do unless you are connected with the Dodgers or Yankees - and Gibbons was back to being unemployed after the 2018 season. He's taken some other jobs in baseball since then. While it's easy to be yesterday's news in that business, you get the impression that he could be talked into one more go-around somewhere. In the meantime, he's doing a baseball podcast and enjoying life by the looks of it.

Autobiographies can rise or fall by an opinion about the author, and Gibbons comes across really well here throughout the book. He seems to be a honest rational actor at all times, and his concern for his players, working associates and others is genuine.  In other words, the first impression of him in the book is that he's a likeable straight-shooter, and that never changes through page 240 or so. (Congrats go to co-author Greg Oliver for making it work so smoothly.)

Gibbons does write about a few confrontations that he's had over the years with players, and his explanations hold up rather well. It's to his credit that none of the "combatants" seem to think less of Gibbons now. One of those players, Josh Donaldson, even wrote the forward to the book.

Obviously a book like "Gibby" is directed at the large potential audience in Toronto, which got to know him best because he stayed there the longest. Still, any baseball fan will find this book time well spent. 

Four stars

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Thursday, January 19, 2023

Review: Sports Journalism (2020)

By Patrick S. Washburn and Chris Lamb

For decades, many looked down on the concept of "sports journalism." Some called the sports department "The Toy Department" of a newspaper for years. The idea of a book on the subject at any point before, oh, 1960 or so, probably wouldn't have gone too far. 

Luckily, we've gone past that point. That makes the idea of a book on its history a worthwhile concept. Where did the concept of sports news come from? When did it began? How has the mission changed?

That's the area that authors Patrick Washburn and Chris Lamb set out to explore. The title, "Sports Journalism," isn't particularly catchy but it does at least nicely describe what's going to be discussed in the pages inside the book. For the record, the subtitle adds context - "A History of Glory, Fame and Technology."

As you might expect, sports journalism came into being with the rise of two separate factors early in the 1800s. One was the amount of leisure time available for citizens, and the other was growth of the mass media - usually associated with something in the newspaper family. Obviously, technological advances were at the forefront of such changes. But at some point in the first half of the 19th century, stories that could be considered sports news started to show up. That often centered on areas that we consider activities, such as hunting and fishing as done as a sport and not for subsistence. But boxing and horse racing stories also began to appear - even though they were small "industries" at the time.

But later in that century, transportation started to get easier, and team sports began to grow. It no doubt started with the concept of "my town against your town," which quickly spread to "my college against your college." Both of them had a natural constituency for news of such games. As railroads and the telegraph grew, it became possible for larger leagues to form and for news of games to be transmitted to a wider audience. Within a few decades, newspapers quickly realized that coverage of such games could drive circulation upward. 

From there, Washburn and Lamb move into other areas, mostly driven by technology. Starting around 1920, radio proved to be a popular way of bringing fans along to games when they couldn't be there in person. Television essentially followed in those footsteps, but provided a much better picture - pardon the pun - of what was going on at a particular event. Magazines, particular Sports Illustrated in its golden era starting in the 1960, often supplied context by looking at the bigger picture. They paid attention to such matters as race and sex, often revealing in uncomfortable ways how sports often mirrors society. And then there's the Internet, which turned the entire business completely around. I'm not sure where we're headed with on-line products and information, but we're in a hurry to get there.

A couple of points bothered me a bit along the way here. It was a surprise that the changes in print journalism caused by radio and television weren't discussed too deeply. Let's take a typical big event, such as a local team's participation in an NFL game. The telecast means that most people have watched the event before they pick up the newspaper to read a description of it. In other words, they know the score, but they are seeking additional information. That altered the task of the reporter on site immensely. He or she (that last part comes up in the book along the way too) must find new details to satisfy the curiosity of fans in order to help sell the product - and it would help if that could be expressed in an entertaining way. Sometimes "game stories" barely touch upon the game event, but merely serve as an entrance to information about other areas.

The other issue is a little more complicated, and it comes up in a section about ESPN. There always has been a little tension between those involved in broadcasting sports and events and those who are there to report on them. The obvious difference is that often the former is paying for the opportunity to broadcast the games, and must give up some of its independence as part of the bargain. Reporters don't have that worry. Sometimes organizations can fall on one side or the other of the issue. But occasionally, a company like ESPN is involved in broadcasting games but has a different department filled with journalists who are working to present straight opinions. 

Washburn and Lamb tend to lump them all together as sports journalists, but there's a clear distinction between the two. Sometimes the issue comes up merely as the fact that an ESPN SportsCenter might lead with a story that has a connection to its broadcast, when there's a bigger story elsewhere. But sometimes some ESPN personalities have lost jobs when going "too far" in criticizing players, leagues and teams. It's an interesting balancing act.

Washburn and Lamb suffer a little bit from the academic writing gene, which means the material can be presented in a slightly dry manner. On the other hand, their research is thorough and they cover the relevant points. "Sports Journalism" is a quick read (less than 200 pages of copy), but it will get those brain cells working. Those who are predisposed to be interested in such conversations about the subject will find that the book is a worthwhile addition to that library niche. 

Four stars

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Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Review: Bleeding Green (2022)

By Christopher Price

How many books about the history of the Hartford Whalers are needed, especially if you don't live in Central Connecticut?

You'd think one would be enough. But now we have two.

"Bleeding Green" follows on the footsteps by about a year of "The Whalers," a 2021 release. Luckily for us, both of these books cover the subject quite well. 

To recap (again), the Whalers first entered pro hockey as Boston's team in the World Hockey Association in 1972. It didn't take long to realize that that part of the world was rather stuffed with pro hockey, so the team packed and moved about 90 miles to land in Hartford. They were the only team from the United States to survive the merger of the WHA with the National Hockey League in 1979. It's worth noting that of the four teams that completed that move, three of them wound up moving to American cities. Only Edmonton has stayed put. 

The Whalers had their ups and downs during a run in Hartford that lasted until 1997. That means they've been gone for 25 years, which probably explains the burst of books about them coming out of the Hartford area.

The team always was fighting an uphill battle during its time in Hartford. It was jammed between New York and Boston in New England, and had trouble getting attention. The arena was on the small side - at least when its roof stayed up - and it often wasn't filled with spectators. A playoff series win might have started some positive momentum, but that never came even though it was close enough to touch in a few cases. 

There are a few ways to tell a story about a defunct team. Here author Christopher Price relies mostly on interviews to tell the story of the team, although basic research about the Whalers' play is on display throughout. Price tracked down several people connected with the team. It's somewhat striking in hindsight how many people seem to truly enjoy their time in Hartford. This may be because of a theory that we often apply to Buffalo - it's a great place to live, but you wouldn't want to visit there. In other words, the Hartford area was a good spot to raise a family. Those connections include players, coaches, front office members, reporters and fans. In other words, Price cast a rather wide net for input, and it works pretty well. There are some good stories told along the way that really elevate the book quite a bit. A book such as this really doesn't need to be bogged down in stats at the expense of the human element.

It all serves as something of a reminder that running a pro sports team is something like walking on a tightrope. It doesn't take much to fall off into the abyss of the standings - a bad coaching hire, a bad trade or two, a bit of luck on the ice, and so forth. We shouldn't be influenced by the fact that the Whalers moved to Carolina; we should be impressed that they stayed for so long against some long odds. 

The Whalers do live on in some ways, of course. Their booster club at last report was still active, and the team's logo is still sold relatively briskly on merchandise. In addition, there's the team's fight song called "Brass Bonanza." That probably was the team's biggest export, as it no doubt is serving as a ringtone on phones across the country. 

"Bleeding Green" worked a little better than "The Whalers" for me because of the people-oriented approach of the author. But the difference isn't too great, and you can't go wrong either way - - especially if you remember the Whalers well. It's nice to see such teams are honored in such a way. 

Four stars

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Thursday, January 5, 2023

Review: The Year's Best Sports Writing 2022

Edited by J.A. Adande

The series of books called "The Year's Best Sports Writing" has been out for more than 30 years now, and it has been consistent ... and consistently good. Even though the editors have been different and bring their own standards to the table, the stories included were generally almost universally worth a read.

Now, we come to 2022's version. It doesn't take long for it to announce that this one will be, well, different. 

J.A. Adande jumps right in to explain in the introduction. He writes that he's much more interested in great writing than great journalism, and that he's not particularly interested in that warhorse of the industry, the game story. In addition, Adande writes "I sought diversity in race, gender, sexual identity, and faith among the writers and their subject." 

Hmm. Adande is the director of sports journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, and you might know him for his work for some big daily newspapers as well as some ESPN television appearances. He mentions that the book might providing teaching material for the faculty at the school. So we know before getting to page one that the contents will be different than they have been. That might be a little disconcerting to longtime readers of the series. It doesn't seem like a great idea to disqualify an article from inclusion because it doesn't fit the narrowed focus of this particular edition.

Having now finished the book, at least one conclusion jumps out. The material is not necessarily a step backwards. There is some good writing here, as usual. Happily, there are some feel-good stories here that are entertaining. Kansas-Texas football. A reporter and his daughter at the Olympics. Tommy Lasorda's personal assistant. The Guinness Book of World Records.

You don't need to have a smile on your face to appreciate some of the other offerings her. A first-person account of the Badwater Marathon is always interesting. A good-sized account of Simone Biles' departure from the Olympics is well done, and makes some bigger points along the way. Jacob Stern does a full account of the effects on all concerned of a death in the boxing ring. Howard Bryant hits the right notes in paying tribute to Henry Aaron. 

I'm the type of reader that doesn't mind having my definite of sports stretched at times. But there are some stories that just didn't reel me in, maybe in part because of a lack of interest in the subject matter. It's going to take some heavy lifting to get me to read about free diving, bull riding, and surfing. Other stories seem targeted toward the commitment to diversity, and I came away wondering if they would have been included under different standards. A story about the wife of a former Ohio State assistant football coach and her abusive husband checks in at 40 pages - quite long by the series' standards. It feels like a New Yorker magazine article that lures the reader in but requires quite a commitment to keep him/her around until the end. 

There is enough Grade A material in "The Year's Best Sports Writing 2022" to keep sports fans engaged for the most part. But it needs to be said that I probably skimmed through a higher percentage of the material than I did in the books of previous years. It's hard to guess about the reaction of others. It might be worth noting that the rating on Goodreads (3.85 stars) is at this writing the second-lowest of the series in the past decade, and just a fraction above the 2018 edition (3.82 stars) As a fan of the series I'll be curious as to what the 2023 book looks like in terms of content. 

Four stars

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Sunday, January 1, 2023

Review: Beauties (2021)

By James Duthie

The United States and Canada share three of the big four major leagues in North America: Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League. As an economist would say in a silly moment, there's something of a trade imbalance when it comes to books in the three sports. Those in Canada who seek good reading about baseball and basketball might have to go to America to expand their horizons. Meanwhile, Americans must look to the Great White North for additional reading material about hockey. 

This is one of those books that headed south to be read. 

James Duthie is one of those Canadian personalities who is unknown to U.S. audiences. He is one of the top stars on TSN, which is Canada's equivalent to ESPN, more or less. Duthie has covered all sorts of big events and won awards, so he's obviously pretty good. He also has three books to his credit. "Beauties" is No. 3 on the list, and it's an entertaining effort. 

Now let's start with the title. It seems as if the use of "Beauty" in the sports sense is much more popular there (Canada) than here (United States). When someone makes a great play during competition, it will be described as a "beauty." Duthie adapts that to make the word apply to hockey stories that get passed around. 

With that out of the way, Duthie is off and running on a tour of hockey at all sorts of levels. He's not looking for any particular theme. He's simply on the outlook for something of interest. Happily, his shooting percentage is pretty good. 

With that, we're off for 300 pages. Sidney Crosby's original hockey nickname. The joke that sparked Wayne Gretzky in the Stanley Cup Finals. A woman breaks a barrier at the NHL's skills competition. A "stolen" Jaguar. The gold medal hockey games in 2010. An emergency goaltender's moment of glory. A trade story gone wrong, as told by the reporter who hit the wrong button by his phone.

A rule can be applied to the material here: The longer the story, the better it probably is. When one of the tales gets close to 10 pages, you can guess it's going to be worthwhile. You may have heard a portion of the story about Laila, a sick girl who was essentially adopted by the St. Louis Blues during their surprising and thrilling run to the Stanley Cup in 2019. The extra details provided here make it even better. Don't be surprised if the room turns dusty.

"Jonny Hockey" has a somewhat similar arc - bring tissues - but less familiar. Jonathan Pietre was a youngster from the Ottawa area who suffered from epidermolysis bullosa (EB), a rare disease in which the skin is too thin and thus tears and blisters easily. Every day is a painful one for Jonny, but every day - as they say in hockey - he tried to take the hit and make the play. As is often said in such cases, outsiders like NHL players think they are helping him, but in reality Jonny is the one that's helping them through better perspective and appreciation. 

Not every story is overly memorable. But they all are pretty good, and some even surprising. I enjoyed Cammi Granato's first-person account of her surprising run with the Olympic torch during the Opening Ceremonies of the 2002 Olympics. The tale of Robert Thomas' parents was surprisingly sweet, as they "grappled" with the problem of having an abundance of championship jerseys to hang on the wall only days (well, actually a few years, but you get the idea) after he started playing at a high level. The stories touch on major hockey, minor hockey, junior hockey, youth hockey, etc.

Books like "Beauties" serve a worthwhile purpose. They are fun to read, and don't take a long time to finish. It's not the type of book but that will stay in my bookcase forever, but remember that I'm an American. The Canadians out there probably will move it up higher on their reading list.

Three stars

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