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Posts Tagged ‘Pittsburgh’

A Review of Willie Stargell: A Life in Baseball

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 5, 2016

Willie Stargell: A Life in BaseballWillie Stargell: A Life in Baseball by Frank Garland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve got to be honest. When I was a kid, Willie Stargell was my favorite baseball player. Actually, he has been my whole life. But see, he was my favorite player to see in person! I lived in the Pittsburgh area back in the 1970s and went to as many Pirates games as possible, so I got to see “Pops” play a lot and got to see the magical “We Are Family” 1979 World Series year and remember those wonderful Stargell stars everyone loved and the home runs, god, the home runs! Willie Stargell “only” hit 475 career home runs – because he played half of his career in gigantic Forbes Field, which I’ll get to in a moment, but which is estimated to have robbed him of some 150 career home runs, which is staggering by anyone’s standards – but the thing I think Stargell is best known for is his towering strength, how damn FAR he could hit his balls! Hitting balls out of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. Hitting balls out of Dodger Stadium multiple times. Hitting balls out of Philly’s Veteran’s Stadium. Hitting the upper deck and roof of gigantic Forbes Field numerous times. Hitting the ball out of the ballpark at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field replacement, Three Rivers Stadium. There’s an entire chapter in this book dedicated just to this! 506 feet at Dodger Stadium. 458 feet into the upper deck at Three Rivers. May 20, 1978: 515 feet, Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. 475 feet onto right grandstand roof at Forbes Field, 1967. He also had the longest home run at Houston’s Astrodome: 490 feet on May 28, 1966.

Of course, Stargell was more than just amazing home run power. He was also a great hitter, finishing a 20-year career with a very good lifetime average of .282. Perhaps far more importantly, he was a great natural leader, from a very young age. He led quietly and he led by example. When he came up in the majors, Clemente was his leader, took him under his wing, became his friend and example. After Clemente’s premature death, Stargell assumed his role in the clubhouse and never relinquished it and remained the effective team captain for the rest of his career, which prepared him for his post-playing days of working with his ex-manager, Chuck Tanner, in the Braves system to coach and evaluate young ball players in Atlanta for a number of years before ultimately winding back in Pittsburgh for the last couple years of his life before he died a very, very premature death at age 61, I believe. This book was also enlightening in that it showed how a young man from northern California, brought up in an integrated area in the 1950s, is thrust into the deep south and southwest, and is made to play in the minors during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s and is made to suffer humilities and indignities and taunts and things that would have been hard to imagine 15 years ago, as I write this in 2016, if we hadn’t have seen the true colors of the Republican Tea Party as the racists in them come out to show their hatred of Obama and black and Hispanic people everywhere, which makes it stunning to see how far we have NOT come since then. Simply stunning. And very sad. Whatever the case, Stargell survived without anything of an outward complaint, made the big club as an outfielder, had a serious arm rivaling Clemente allegedly, but was ultimately moved to first base, started hitting serious home runs, made some all star teams, helped win the World Series in 1971, when Clemente was the MVP, won the World Series again in 1979 when he was the Series and league MVP and retired in 1982. Stunningly, he never even made half a million dollars a year in his career and indeed, never made much money at all until the final few years of his career. How someone so talented and how someone who became the 17th player to make the Hall of Fame on the first ballet could go so damned unpaid, essentially, is beyond me, but I guess that’s what owners do, so there you have it. He had advertising deals and other things to supplement his income. He also had a sickle cell foundation because his sister had the disease.

While this book certainly sings Stargell’s praises, it’s not all fun and games. It also discusses his three marriages (but how he got along with all three wives, during and after all marriages) and five children through four women (and how they all got along together as in one big, happy family, amazingly). It discusses allegations two former colleagues made against him in the 1980s that he gave them drugs, which tarnished his reputation. Needless to say, this was looked into thoroughly, as was the case with everyone named in the investigation. Stargell’s name was personally cleared by the baseball commissioner. He had done nothing wrong.

The first thing Stagell did upon retirement was agree to perform in a symphony performance made just for him by a Pulitzer winning composer in which he would perform spoken word content set to symphonic music about Martin Luther King, Jr., one of his heroes. He was excited, but very nervous. So were the composers and musicians. However, he tackled it with his usual professionalism and did quite well. Their first performance was, I believe, at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC. He acquitted himself well. Indeed, as they traveled the country performing, he did better and better so that he became quite a star in a brand new field. This chapter was quite interesting and I confess I knew nothing about this part of his life.

Stargell’s last few years are painful to read about. His last few years were spent on dialysis. Yet he was still working, first for the Braves, then for the Pirates. Then his overall health started failing and he started losing weight and feeling quite a bit of pain. During his last year, he became unrecognizable to former teammates who encounter him in airports and other places. He tried to avoid people, as he didn’t wish to be seen in this condition. On April 9, 2001, in honor of the opening of the Pirates’ new ballpark, PNC Park, and only the third such new statue, a new large bronze statue of Willie Stargell was unveiled publicly outside the entrance to the park. Unfortunately, Willie couldn’t be there. More unfortunately, he couldn’t be there because he had just died during the night. He’d never get to see the new park or the amazing new statue for which he felt so amazingly honored. People were stunned. He was too young. He was Pittsburgh. He was the Pirates. He was “Family.” He was one of the most beloved Pittsburgh athletes of all time. And now he was gone. Just like that. While his service was in North Carolina, where he had most recently lived with his third wife, a large service was held at a church downtown near where Willie lived and worked for decades. He loved working with the people of the city, of the inner city, with the young people. He loved teaching, giving people hope. And now he was gone. Utter tragedy.

475 career home runs. When he retired, that was a lot. Since then, a lot of hitters have passed him by. But frankly, most of those players have been from the steroid era and are suspect, such as Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, and Sammy Sosa. So do they even count? Unfortunately, they’re in the books and records ahead of him and nothing can be done about that and that boils my blood. Even more unfortunately, he played half of his career at gigantic Forbes field. I said I would address that. Let me. PNC Park has these basic dimensions – 320 feet to the left and right field walls, 399 feet to center field. Going off my memory, Forbes Field was 360 feet to left, 376 feet to right, and a gigantic 462 feet to center! No wonder Clemente drove in a ton of runs but was a doubles hitter and not a big home run hitter. No wonder the most home runs Stargell ever hit in a season was 48. So, if the estimate that Forbes Field robbed him of 150 home runs is accurate at all, he could have finished with 625 home runs, which would have placed him pretty high up the career list by anyone’s standards. It’s a real pity that couldn’t have occurred.

For some reason, this book only has a 3.89 rating on Goodreads, yet every review I’ve read – all four and five star reviews – have nothing to say about how to improve the book. Frankly, I don’t know if this is the BEST sports biography I have ever read, but offhand, I can’t think of a better one and I’ve read a ton of them. This is a very good book. It’s well researched, it’s detailed, comprehensive, well written, has good pictures, is edited well. It’s a good book. A very good book. I can think of no reason not to give it five stars. I can think of no way to improve this book as a sports biography or as a biography of Willie Stargell. So, how can this not be a five star book then? I think Frank Garland did an excellent job and I’m really glad I bought and read this book. I learned a lot about my childhood hero and I’m glad that he remains a hero of mine and always will be. Good old number 8. One night, I was at Three Rivers in the upper deck and Willie hit the ball and he hit it straight up and it went up a mile. He hit it out of the stadium. I’ve never in my life seen a ball hit so far straight up. It went way past my head and kept on going, up, up, up past the top of the stadium before finally starting to fall straight back down. It took forever. It was a foul ball. He was out. The first baseman caught it. But it was one of the most impressive non-hits I had ever seen. What strength! I’ll never forget that. And of course, I got to see a few of his awesome home runs too. I’ll never forget the feeling that I was honored to see those. Willie Stargell graced us with his presence. He graced Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Oakland with everything in his life. He had a lot to give and he always gave a lot. As long as people remember him, he will be missed. In my biased opinion, Willie Stargell will always be the best, most feared home run hitter of all time. Five star book. Definitely recommended.

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A Review of The Ones Who Hit The Hardest

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 4, 2016

The Ones Who Hit the Hardest: The Steelers, the Cowboys, the '70s, and the Fight for America's SoulThe Ones Who Hit the Hardest: The Steelers, the Cowboys, the ’70s, and the Fight for America’s Soul by Chad Millman
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

What a dud! What a waste of time and money. What a bitter disappointment. And how about that subtitle — “The Steelers, The Cowboys, The ’70s, and the Fight for America’s Soul?” What a load of crap! What horseshit is that?

I’m a lifelong Steelers fan with a healthy memory and respect for the Pittsburgh/Dallas rivalry and that’s what I expected this book to be about. It wasn’t. It was a book about the Steelers, yes. It was mostly about the Rooney family, about Chuck Noll, Mean Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Jack Lambert, Andy Russell, Jack Ham, with mentions of Mel Blount, Mike Webster, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Rocky Blier, Terry Hanratty, LC Greenwood, Dwight White, Fats Holmes, etc. Some decent stuff on the players and team. Almost all of it well known already. Virtually nothing new. How about the Cowboys? Equal treatment? Hardly! You get Tom Landry, Duane Thomas for a couple of years, for some unknown reason — literally makes no sense — and then, Tony Dorsett, who’s from Pittsburgh and who’s portrayed as a mega-asshole. That’s it. Okay, I guess we don’t need to know anything else about the Cowboys.

Well, if we don’t learn anything new about the Steelers and if we don’t learn much at all about the Cowboys, what is in the book at all? Um, the steel industry and labor unions. Literally. At least one third of the book, perhaps a great deal more, is a history of the steel industry and labor unions dating from the late nineteenth century centering in the greater Pittsburgh area. If you’re into Pittsburgh manufacturing history or even US manufacturing history, I guess that’s pretty damn great for you. Since it’s virtually not even remotely tied into the the alleged “true” topic of the book — the Steelers and the Cowboys — I don’t really give a flying fuck about it. That’s not why I bought the book. There’s more info in this book on labor union bosses, even on people who ran for labor union president and FAILED — like that fucking matters about anything!!! — than there is about fucking football in this stupid fucking book!

Oh, and the rivalry? There’s infinitely more spent on the “true” rivalry between the Steelers and the Raiders than there is on the Steelers and the Cowboys.That’s obviously the true rivalry. There’s a little bit about the first Super Bowl the Steelers win and then the book ends abruptly with the second Steeler Super Bowl win over the Cowboys. That’s it. There’s been this huge steel industry self destruction buildup and the battle of labor union bosses and the war of words between the two teams and then the game is over and there’s a paragraph or two following the game and that’s fucking it. No conclusions, no epilogue, nothing. It’s a stupid waste of a book, a stupid waste of time and money. I can’t believe these idiots wrote something like this. I hope they took a huge loss on this. I hope they didn’t make a dime on this. I hope I make something decent when I sell it to the used bookstore. This is easily the worst Steelers book I’ve ever read. The worst. Even though there’s interesting stuff about the history of the city and the ethnicities making up the city, that’s not why I bought the book. If you’re a Steelers fan and want to learn about the team and its rivalries, just skip this book, because you won’t learn a damn thing and you’ll feel screwed after reading it. Most definitely NOT recommended. Poor excuse to talk about steel labor unions using the Pittsburgh Steelers as cover. Bullshit. Biggest piece of shit ever!

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My Life Twin

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 24, 2015

I met my life twin today. Not my life companion — that’s my wife. My life twin. I took my car to the Toyota dealer to have some work done. The service manager was a nice guy about my own age with hair my own color and a goatee similar to my own beard. His name was also Scott. He saw my Penguins hat on my head and asked if I was a Pens fan. I said I sure was. He said he was too. Then, he said he actually had been born in Boston, but raised in Pittsburgh. I was momentarily stunned and then replied that I had too. Who’d have thought? We talked about where in Boston we were born and where in Pittsburgh we were raised. We talked about going to Pens games back in the ’70s when they were pretty bad and getting beat up by Philly’s Broad Street Bullies. We’d see the games at the Igloo. It was awesome. Somehow we’d both come south. We didn’t get into specifics, but he had wound up in Nashville for awhile and started following the Predators, making sure to see the Pens whenever they came to town. He saw some great teams and players over the years. I told him that for my birthday this past year, my wife got us tickets to the Pens game in Nashville and we went up, had a great time, and the Pens won. We had a really good time talking. So when I later told my wife about this coincidence, she told me I had met my life twin. LOL! I should have gotten his number so we could have gotten together to watch some Pens games over some beers. Next time. I don’t know if he’s married or not, but my wife is a Pens fan too, so it’d be great if he is, that his wife would be one too.

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