Made In America

The Book of the Week is “Made in America” by Peter Ueberroth with Richard Levin and Amy Quinn, published in 1985. This book described what happened when Ueberroth became president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee which planned the summer games in 1984.

Ueberroth was elected in early 1979. He immediately had to begin to direct the preparations for the events due to the large scale of the ceremonies and athletic competitions to come. Eventually, thousands of people would work behind the scenes in finance, security, transportation, revenue raising (sponsorship), site selection, etc. in order to optimally enhance the image of the United States in the eyes of the world. Just some of the resources involved “…27 stadiums and facilities located in three states, nine counties, and 29 cities– including satellite soccer sites in Palo Alto, Boston and Annapolis… tougher than staging ten Super Bowls a day for sixteen straight days.”

Ueberroth had previously been a successful entrepreneur, running a travel business. As Los Angeles Olympic Committee president, he had to work with a board of directors consisting of 62 members of the committee, comprised of a few Olympians, and many local bureaucrats and businesspeople.

Numerous Los Angeles taxpayers strongly favored private rather than government funding of the Olympics. They forced the Committee to strictly adhere to soliciting donations from private sources. This was just one of many instances in which Ueberroth became a prime target of people’s wrath in connection with the Olympics. A group of radical aforementioned taxpayers went so far as to kill his two family dogs with poisoned meat. As the planning process progressed, he, his wife and four children were subjected to constant harassment and even death threats.

Everyone was banging down Ueberroth’s door with demands, complaints, suggestions and ideas. He had to worry about teams whose diplomatic relations with other nations were less than ideal, such as Turkey. An exception was made for it and Israel to allow them to hire their own security services.

The security of teams traveling from their accommodations to their various sports venues had to be tight all the way. For example, between UCLA in Westwood (site of accommodations) and Anaheim (the venue), law enforcement jurisdictions included the state police, the Los Angeles Police Department, California Highway Patrol, and the Anaheim Police Department if all went well. If there was a detour, other agencies might have to join in.

Folks who wished to express their dissatisfaction had a Constitutional right to assemble outside the grounds of the athletic venues; the job of security was to protect the people inside.

American President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev were conducting arms-reduction negotiations at the same time that the Soviets were pushing to get special advantages for their own athletes. The Soviet Union was spouting propaganda so as to be seen as a freedom-loving sovereignty while keeping its athletes on a short leash to prevent their defections.

Not only that, Ueberroth hoped to minimize unexpected, expensive mishaps out of his control like labor strikes, natural disasters and sponsorship fickleness, not to mention diplomatic power struggles. The rules were more or less dictated by the Olympic Charter in an American presidential election year, in which, eventually 140 nations participated, the highest number up to that time.

Read the book to learn of the subsequent actions of other countries due to the Soviet Union’s behavior and the infinite headaches that Ueberroth had to deal with in organizing the Olympic games.

Sandy Koufax

The Book of the Week is “Sandy Koufax, A Lefty’s Legacy” by Jane Leavy, published in 2002.  This is a biography of a legendary Major League Baseball pitcher who played for the Dodgers from the mid 1950’s to the mid 1960’s.

SIDENOTE:  The nature of this short paperback’s structure makes it repetitive and disorganized. It appears that the author is trying to build suspense by providing an entire one-chapter-per-inning description of a historic game pitched by Koufax in September 1965,  interspersed with chapters on other subjects. It doesn’t work. Perhaps the author thought the reader has the attention span of a fly, and wouldn’t be able to handle the whole game in one go. Too bad, because the content of the book is full of facts, figures and what seems to be thorough research.

Born in December 1935, Koufax’s full first name was Sanford. His initial dream was to play for the New York Knicks basketball team.  He was an excellent all-around athlete. However, in college, he got the chance to pitch.

The then-New York Dodgers scout who observed Koufax saw exceptional potential, although others thought his pitching was wild and inconsistent. Even thought he had almost no experience, the Dodgers extended an offer to him, to which he committed. Koufax played his first season of professional ball in 1955.  The next four seasons, he was benched most of the time, but his pitching was improving. He became a starter in 1962.

The year 1963 was the first in which the media revealed tabloid gossip on the private lives of professional athletes, including that of Koufax. Prior to that, the media merely reported on sports-related information. One nosy news outlet had a field day when it found out that Koufax  was adopted. That opened the floodgates on asking personal questions of players.

Read the book to learn about the sad state of affairs in sports medicine– during Koufax’s generation– that made top athletes’  careers all too short, the painkillers used at that time, how biomechanics and arthroscopic surgery have evolved since then, a vast quantity of other information on Koufax, including how, after retirement from baseball, “He became a serious runner, a marathoner who smoked, competing in Europe, where he was least likely to be recognized.”

Funny Cide

The Book of the Week is “Funny Cide” by The Funny Cide Team with Sally Jenkins, published in 2004.

Sidenote: Here is yet another nonfiction book that fails to list any References, Notes, or Bibliography. And NO INDEX. The co-author is a respected journalist who lends credibility to the work, and omitting  backup documentation does cut costs in time and labor. However, this trend will open the floodgates to laziness and dishonesty among “nonfiction” writers whose names are not known because they have no reputations to uphold. They can avoid scrutiny by their critics because extra work is involved in tracking down information (since there is no index) and  sources for purposes of fact-checking. Arguably, audiences will believe the most prolific propagandists’ version of history regardless of the writers’ reputations, given the current fragmented and complex publishing environment in the United States.

This book is about a racehorse named Funny Cide that became successful in an unusual situation. Born in 2000 in Sacketts Harbor, NY– a place upstate slightly larger than a small town– the colt was tended to and trained by extremely passionate, meticulous personnel on a small farm. He was purchased by a group of about ten men who liked gambling. Having been close friends for years, they pooled their resources for fun and profit.

Read the book to learn about the horse-pool members; the first few horses they acquired; Funny Cide’s trainer (Barclay Tagg) and other attendants, his jockey (Jose Santo), why the horse was made a gelding; the numerous, different factors that affect a horse’s performance in races; and how Funny Cide performed in 2003 in front of upwards of 100,000 spectators.

The Boys in the Boat

The Book of the Week is “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown, published in 2013. This is the incredible, suspenseful story of how the crew team of the University of Washington, and one team member especially, overcame tremendous odds to transcend themselves in the most important competition of their lives.

Various traumatic situations in Joseph Rantz’s young life ironically made him an ideal candidate for the sport of rowing. He and eight others out of a total of 175 hopefuls, made the cut for the freshman team in the autumn of 1933. Sportswriters had popularized rowing teams of Northeastern elitist colleges, but the less well-heeled athletes at the Universities of Washington and California– on the west coast– had muscled their way into the sport. In fact, these two were fierce rivals. After five and a half months of training, they competed every April in one race each consisting of a freshman, sophomore and senior crew, before heading to Poughkeepsie, for another competition against the east coast teams, too.

The Washington team trained in the absolute worst winter weather of freezing rain and icy-cold wind storms, never mind snow. Another way the team gained an advantage in competitions is that it had one of the best, if not the best, boat builders of its generation. With decades of rowing experience, he, in addition to hand-crafting their boats, got to know the athletes intimately and served as their mentor.

The tough-as-nails coach chose each and every member of the crew for a specific position in the boat, given each one’s body build, and physical and psychological strengths. Winning races called for perfect positioning of the oars and rowing rhythm, maximum power at the right times, and singularity of mind of the entire team. Such abilities allowed Washington’s team to compete in the Olympics.

“In the United States, talk of boycotting the 1936 Olympics had been simmering since the Nazis had come to power in 1933.” Countries with sports teams decided to compete anyway.

The reason they did was that Adolf Hitler largely brainwashed countries participating in the Games– convincing them that Germany was a gorgeous, peaceful nation where everyone was treated fairly and well. He built the most advanced, immaculate, highest quality athletic facilities for his show.  He had someone produce a propaganda film of the proceedings. He put his fellow Nazis on notice to display their best behavior toward the world.

Within days of the closing ceremonies, however, the Fuehrer resumed building a power base. This, through continuing to gather a significant number of sociopathic and sadistic followers with weaponry, persuading the weak unarmed to blame their troubles on people with certain last names, and was starting to build torture chambers in neighboring countries to systematically kill certain other defenseless groups and the aforementioned scapegoated group.

Read the book to learn the details of why Joseph Rantz and the other University of Washington’s crew team members were ideally suited to be the best team in decades, how they did in their matches, and what happened at the Olympics.

Wait Till Next Year

The Book of the Week is “Wait Till Next Year” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, published in 1997.  This is the first portion of an autobiography of a New York female baseball fan who grew up in the suburb of Rockville Centre, Long Island in the 1940’s and ’50’s.

During the author’s childhood, there were three baseball teams in New York: the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants and New York Yankees. Between 1949 and 1957 inclusive, one or another of these teams played in the World Series. The author’s father inspired in her a diehard Dodgers fandom. She was taught to keep score, and did so for every regular season game for years and years, starting in the late 1940’s. It was a time in history in which men played for their love of the game. The greats at that time included Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Peewee Reese, Gil Hodges, Enos Slaughter, Robin Roberts, Richie Ashburn, Allie Reynolds, Phil Rizzuto and many others.

Kearns Goodwin was raised as a Catholic, but attended public school. Nevertheless, the nuns struck fear in her heart in many ways, one of which was pressuring parishioners to refrain from entering any house of worship other than a Catholic one.  So when Campanella was coming to her area to speak at a non-Catholic church, she faced a moral dilemma. The priest reassured her that she would not be going to hell, because the event was not a religious service.

Baseball was so popular in the author’s community that in 1955, a radio broadcast of the seventh game of the Dodgers-Yankees World Series was piped through the public address system of her high school. The kids were willing to stay after school to hear it. Back in the day, World Series games were played in the afternoon. When the Dodgers won, thousands of people danced in the streets. The baseball players came back to a Brooklyn restaurant that evening for their victory dinner, interacting personally with fans without any security at all.

For the first twelve years of her life (before the neighborhood changed), Kearns Goodwin’s family was quite close with all of the different (white) families (of different religions) in her community. Their homes were as open to her as her own home.

Read the book to learn more about the author’s coming of age in a bygone era of baseball and Postwar suburbia.

Wild Ride

The Book of the Week is “Wild Ride” by Ann Hagedorn Auerbach, published in 1994. This is a long story largely similar to many others in which one person acquires and abuses too much power in an organization that eventually comes to a bad end.

The horse racing industry is largely a playground for the wealthy, as it costs big bucks to purchase, stable and train horses for racing. There is only a tiny probability of profiting, considering all the different risks, and the factors required to produce a winning horse.

Major racing sites are located in Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky; New York City, Saratoga Springs in New York State, and Hialeah in Florida.

Calumet Farm was the site of the training and spawning of racehorses. It was owned by the Wright family, whose patriarch’s goal in the 1980’s was to turn it “… into a bustling assembly-line style breeding operation, hellbent on producing winner after winner.”

In the early 1980’s, J.T. Lundy wed a Calumet heiress with the aim of inheriting the large horse farm. He inherited it at 41 years old.  He  immediately engaged in excessive spending on farm renovations, the purchase of a corporate jet and additional horses, and paying more workers. In the industry in general, new systems were created by financiers to cash in on the horse-racing boom.

Lundy spent other people’s money (namely the Wright family’s) to fund his wheeling and dealing, while also commingling personal and business funds. The family (who knew nothing about horse racing) trusted him and his colleagues (who had numerous conflicts) to run the business and do what was in the family’s best interest.

The chief financial officer of Calumet attempted to duly inform Lundy of the farm’s mounting debt service, the unpaid insurance premiums and dwindling resources, etc. at the end of the 1980’s.

By November 1990, Calumet had approximately two hundred thoroughbreds and one hundred employees. Its fifteen-year-old stud Alydar, accounted for a large part of its revenue.

Sadly, the industry would reach its saturation point within a decade of Calumet’s soaring reputation as the premier place to breed winning horses. Read the book to learn the details of how the farm had gone from owing not a cent with the death of an heir prior to Lundy’s takeover, to the largest instance of debt explosion in the history of bluegrass.

The Franchise

The Book of the Week is “The Franchise, A History of Sports Illustrated Magazine” by Michael MacCambridge, published in 2009. There were two attempts to publish a magazine called Sports Illustrated in the late 1930’s and again in the late 1940’s, but both failed after a few years.

In summer 1954, Sports Illustrated (SI) was launched for wealthy men who engaged in golfing, croquet and yachting. Time, Inc. was able to arouse significant interest in its new magazine venture by soliciting existing subscribers of Time and Life.

Sidenote– The New Haven line leased out private rail cars to wealthy Westchester-County New York commuters. Rye was one train stop of the 1950’s Sports Illustrated’s first project manager, who got his shoes shined and was served ice water on his way to work.

Postwar prosperity and more leisure time allowed Americans to do more ping pong, softball, bowling, roller skating and boating. The original goal was for the publication to project a brand image of superiority in quality and comprehensiveness in coverage. However, target readers– athletes and spectators– were not thought of as intellectuals, so there was doubt as to whether they would read a magazine, even if it was about their hobbies.

The 1960’s saw television decrease the intellect of the nation as a whole, but it caused the popularity of such spectator sports as baseball, football and basketball, to soar.

The main competitive advantage of the magazine was full color photos. The publishing of those photos, even when generated with the latest technology, was very expensive and had a lead time of days. Nevertheless, in those days, publishers were willing to spend lots of money to ensure quality, and gave new projects lots of time to develop into successful ventures. SI was losing money for ten years before it turned the corner.

Long lunches and greatly exaggerated expense-account claims were also rife then. As were excessive alcohol consumption and bloated staffing. Starting in spring 1974, at SI, there was a team of four editors for every single article in every issue.

In September 1979, the magazine’s major area of dominance (college football and basketball recaps) was attacked with the introduction of ESPN.

Beginning in the late 1980’s, staffers “…willfully blurred the line between… edit and business, publicity and journalism.” The ethics conflict peaked during the 1996 Olympics, when “… the effect of having the business side of the magazine promoting an event that the editorial side was covering was profound and distracting.”

Read the book to learn of the other obvious contrasts between Sports Illustrated‘s early history and the current climate in magazine publishing in general in terms of sloppiness, illiteracy and lack of fact-checking, not to mention lack of ethics (mostly due to unwillingness to spend money on quality, and too much focus on the big dollar sign); the people who ran SI; their office politics; and their ability to change with the times.

The Jew in American Sports

The Book of the Week is “The Jew in American Sports” by Harold U. Ribalow and Meir Z. Ribalow, originally published in 1952, revised most recently in 1985.

The authors contended that the achievements of the athletes who were perceived to be Jewish, were all the more remarkable, considering that they had to overcome religious discrimination in addition to the fierce competition, rigors of training and harsh traveling conditions they had to endure in their generations. That is why the authors compiled this specific list of athletes.

The authors said Hank Greenberg might have been better than Babe Ruth in the 1930’s. “… Ruth was left handed and aimed at a 296 foot wall at Yankee Stadium most of the time. The park was built for him. Greenberg, right handed, aimed at a fence 340 feet away… he fell only two [homeruns] shy of Ruth’s record!” Later ballplayers had more opportunities to break records with lengthier seasons, stadiums easier to hit in, not to mention performance-enhancing drugs. Other baseball standouts included Al Rosen, Moe Berg and Sandy Koufax.

Jews became proficient in professional boxing in the early 20th century due to abuses they suffered at the hands of local neighborhood thugs of rival ethnicities, such as Irish and Italian. The New York City law against boxing was relaxed when Mayor Jimmy Walker saw the appeal of the sport among World War I veterans.

Benny Leonard was a Jewish boxer who benefited from that. He became rich and famous and from the mid-1920’s into the 1930’s, used his fame to purchase a hockey team, act in Vaudeville, write about sports and teach a course on pugilism at City College, New York. After his failed comeback, he tried his hand at refereeing, Zionism and helping to sponsor a Jewish Olympics in Tel Aviv.

Harry Newman, like Benny Friedman before him, played exceptionally great college football in the early 1930’s at the University of Michigan. In 1932, the team was undefeated and untied. “He had a hand in every winning play in every single game.” Benny Friedman, who played with the (professional) New York Giants, was popular with Jewish fans. The Giants saw Newman’s potential to keep up the good work, so they agreed to an irregular contractual provision that gave Newman a percentage of home attendance revenue.

In 1928, Irving Jaffee competed as a speed skater in the Olympics. When a Norwegian judge committed religious discrimination against Jaffee, a tremendous hue and cry erupted from athletes and the International Olympic Committee to award Jaffee a deserved gold medal. The American media picked up the story so the athlete became more famous than otherwise.

Read the book to learn about many other American athletes perceived to be Jewish, who overcame hardships and prejudice to rock the sports world with their feats.

Tales from the Dugout

The Book of the Week is “Tales from the Dugout” by Mike Shannon, published in 1997. This lighthearted compilation of anecdotes mentions some of American professional baseball’s colorful characters of different eras.

It was a dirty little secret that Willie Mays deliberately wore an oversized cap so that it fell off for a more dramatic effect when he was making one of his legendary catches in the field.

In April 1991, the J. Fred Johnson minor league stadium was cleaned up after a game via crowd-sourcing of the fans, who, in compensation, had received free admission.

Earl Weaver, manager of the Baltimore Orioles in the 1970’s and 1980’s, got thrown out of 91 games for arguing with the umpires. Needless to say, he was a hothead. One time, he made good on his threat to pull Orioles pitcher Rick Dempsey out of a game. Dempsey was so enraged, he threw his protective gear at Weaver in the locker room, and as their shouting match continued, got Weaver all wet when he turned on the shower.

Read the book to learn of other amusing episodes.

Foxcatcher

The Book of the Week is “Foxcatcher” by Mark Schultz with David Thomas, published in 2014. This autobiography discusses the author’s experiences in high school, college and professional wrestling in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s, and his association with John du Pont.

Wrestling is comprised of technique, conditioning and luck. The season runs from November through March, and fans can be loud, obnoxious and profane. Schultz and his older brother, Dave, were passionate wrestlers. In 1983, they competed in the World Championships in Kiev, Russia. In 1984, they were the first brothers in United States wrestling history to win Olympic gold medals. During a time in his career when he struggled to make a living, Schultz put on wrestling clinics. He was employable in this capacity because he had been a global wrestling celebrity, hired by high school wrestling coaches. Wrestling is a nonrevenue sport. On the other hand, Russian wrestlers are paid to train and compete on the Olympic team.

John du Pont was an eccentric, super-rich donor to Villanova University who decided to start a wrestling program there in the mid 1980’s. Schultz assisted with that effort. John du Pont broke the NCAA rules in various ways because he could, just to be controlling. He produced awards ceremonies for himself. “John got a kick out of manipulating people to see if they would go against their principles in exchange for money.”

Read the book to learn the details of Schultz’s wrestling life, and du Pont’s actions in connection therewith.