Sunday, December 17, 2017

Review: Replays, Rivalries and Rumbles (2017)

By Steve Gietschier

This is an interesting idea.

Steven Gietschier used to handle some of the historically linked stories and columns in The Sporting News, a weekly publication I still miss these days. He was obviously pretty smart and knew his stuff.

Gietschier has done a national search for college professors who have studied certain events that stand out in sports history. Those academic types have written a relatively short essay(10 pages or so on average) on said event, and Gietschier collected them to put in one place.

Put the 23 essays together, and you have a book: "Replays, Rivalries and Rumbles."

The list of subjects is rather wide-ranging and comes in chronological order. The brief rundown would include the invention of baseball,  the "Black Sox" scandal, the start of the NCAA basketball tournament, integration of the National Football League, the Dodgers' move to Los Angeles, the 1972 Olympic basketball final, Ali-Foreman, and the start of ESPN. The cover photo is a shot of the relatively famous fight between Juan Marichal and Johnny Roseboro in 1965, in which Marichal hit Roseboro in the head with a baseball swing.

There's certainly reason for optimism in checking out the list of subjects. Someone else might have taken different events, but that's allowed. But does this list and concept work well? Somewhat.

The problem with it is that it's a wide-ranging collection of authors, all from the academic community. I've found over the years that such professors certain know their stuff, but they probably are better teachers than writers. In this collection, the essays go from quite interesting to quite easy to skim through.

Part of the problem is that some of the subjects don't really have answers. How did baseball get invented? Did Babe Ruth really call his shot? Has America always not dipped its flag at the opening ceremonies of the Olympics? We're not sure, and there are no conclusions offered. Sometimes things have to stay in the fog of history. Sometimes the articles cover familiar ground and don't offer too much new. An article on "The Drive" in a Browns-Broncos playoff game is something of an excuse to review Cleveland's sports and economic history. The Dodgers' move to Los Angeles from Brooklyn is tough to summarize in such a short piece.

The stories that jump out, then, are the ones that are not covered by other sources very often. Lindsay Parks Pieper reviews Babe Didrikson at the 1932 Olympics. Althea Gibson's run-up to grand-slam tennis titles gets the once over through the work of Maureen Smith. The story of Dan Gable's one wrestling loss is a good one, thanks to David Zang. Michael Ezra does a good job of putting the Ali-Foreman fight into perspective.

Admittedly, I've read more sports history than most people, so that could be a reason for my lack of overall enthusiasm. Those a little less familiar with the subjects will learn some facts about important events from the past. Overall, though, "Replays, Rivalries and Rumbles" comes across as a hit-or-miss proposition.

Three stars

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