The Matheny Manifesto | by Mike Matheny

The Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager’s Old School Views on Success in Sports and Life
by Mike Matheny, with Jerry B. Jenkins
(Crown Archetype, 2015, 221 pages)

The Matheny Manifesto came about when a group of parents asked Mike Matheny if he would coach their youth baseball team. Being a Christian man, Matheny decided he needed time to think and pray about his decision. As part of his decision process he felt that he needed to express to the parents exactly what they could expect from him as their coach and also what he expected from them as his players and parents: all or nothing. He wanted to get everything out in the open so they could, in turn, see if they still wanted him to coach so he wrote them a five page letter. It wound up on the internet, went viral, someone called it a manifesto and then, voila, you have the Matheny Manifesto.

Matheny is the narrator in the book and he, of course, talks a lot about coaching both the youth ball teams and also the big leagues, but he also talks about his life as a ball player. He gives some great insight on how the game should be played at all ages.

Matheny’s powerful lesson of ‘do the right thing because it is the right thing to do’ was highlighted throughout his book. He stresses the importance of teaching this to children so they will have the tools to live honorably wherever life leads them. You don’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate Matheny’s class and dignity and just how humble he is on and off of the field. This is an inspirational read that is well written and has a lot of food for thought.

Concussion | by Jeanne Marie Laskas

Concussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas
(Random House, 2015, 259 pages)

I really wanted to read this book before I see the movie. I was glad to find it on one of our library displays. It tells of the discovery of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) in NFL players by Dr. Bennet Omalu. Dr. Omalu left Nigeria for the United States to become a pathologist. While working at the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office in Pittsburgh in 2002, Dr. Omalu performed the autopsy of famous football player, Mike Webster. After careful study of Webster’s brain, Dr. Omalu believed Webster suffered from dementia caused by repeated blows to the head similar to those of boxers. More examinations were done. Large accumulations of T-protein clumps were found in Webster’s brain, which affected Webster’s mood, emotions, and executive functions. Dr. Omalu concluded that Webster’s CTE was caused by concussions he suffered while playing football.

Dr. Omalu and his colleagues published the first paper on CTE in 2005. Over the next ten years, Dr. Omalu examined the brains of other deceased NFL players and found the same evidence. What’s surprising is that repeated mild concussions can cause CTE as well. Throughout the course of the investigation the NFL fought hard to suppress the truth. Many retired NFL players continue to struggle with cognitive and intellectual impairment, mood disorders, depression, drug abuse, and suicide attempts. It’s heartbreaking to read stories of how these concussions destroyed football players’ lives and their families. About half of the book is devoted to Dr. Omalu’s personal life and how he achieved the American dream. I found that some of transitions between Dr. Omalu’s life and the concussion research were not as smooth as they could have been. Still, it’s a fantastic and captivating read. If you only have a moment, PBS has created a Timeline of the NFL’s Concussion Crisis. I highly recommend this book to people who are interested in medicine and contact sports and to the parents who will decide what sports their kids will play.

Here’s what happens when players’ helmets make head-to-head contact as described by Dr. Omalu on page 99:

Football players wear helmets, good protection for the skull. So it would be reasonable to think that the brain would be spared damaging impact… Anybody who knew anything about the anatomy of the head knew better. It was a simple matter of physics. The brain floats, is suspended in a kind of thick jelly inside the skull. If you hit the head hard enough, that brain is going to move, no matter what kind of protection you put around the skull. A helmet protects the skull. A helmet can’t keep the brain from sloshing around in that skull. If you hit your head hard enough, the brain goes bashing against the walls of the skull.

Molina | by Bengie Molina with Joan Ryan

Molina: The Story of the Father Who Raised an Unlikely Baseball Dynasty
by Bengie Molina with Joan Ryan
(Simon & Schuster, 2015, 259 pages)

I love the game of baseball and am a die-hard Cardinals fan so as soon as I saw the book Molina I knew it was a must-read for me. I was expecting to read a lot about baseball with a touch of Bengie Molina’s personal life. It was the complete opposite and I was wonderfully surprised.

It was enlightening to see Bengie not just as a World Series Champion (twice) and a Gold Glove winner (twice) but as a real human being. He goes into very vivid details of the triumphs and struggles he has endured in his personal life as well as in his baseball journey. Growing up in the Molina house meant that your life revolved around baseball. Bengie’s father, Pai, was a terrific athlete himself. As the boys (Bengie, Jose, and Yadier) grew older, Pai was their coach in little league and taught them everything he knew of the game. Along with teaching them the rules of the game, he taught them the rules of life which were all about love and respect. Bengie, Jose, and Yadier have taken these lessons to heart and they have led them to great accomplishments on and off the field.

Molina has a very close relationship with his parents, Pai and Mai, and his brothers, Jose and Yadier, whom he talks so highly of and tells some wonderful stories about. Reading this book you can see just how humble the Molina family is. The sacrifices made by Pai for his sons and the love, respect and support that they all show for each other is nothing short of inspiring. I think what amazed me the most was the fact that Bengie does not credit himself for any of his accomplishments but rather gives it all to Pai, Mai, Jose, and Yadier.

I highly recommend this book. You don’t have to know a lot about baseball to appreciate the compassion that this family shows towards one another and the desire to chase their lifelong dreams. Anyone who chooses to read this book will be touched.

Thank you to Bengie Molina for sharing such intimate details of your life with us so that we can come to know and love the three Molinas behind the mask! 🙂

Tales from the Deadball Era | by Mark S. Halfon

Tales from the Deadball Era

Tales from the Deadball Era: Ty Cobb, Home Run Baker, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and the Wildest Times in Baseball History by Mark S. Halfon
(Potomac Books, 2014, 248 pages)

Modern baseball has been scandalized by steroid use, labor disputes, and inflated salaries. It’s enough to get anyone nostalgic for the good old days when ballplayers played hard, clean, and for the love of the game. Well, if this era ever really existed, it wasn’t during the Deadball Era. The Deadball Era, which stretched from about 1900 through 1919, was an era known for its gritty play, high batting averages, and trick pitches. According to Halfon though, it was also marked by rampant cheating and violence (on the part of players and fans). The 1919 Black Sox scandal is the most notorious of baseball scandals, but Halfon insists that “throwing” games was part of the culture of baseball in the Deadball Era. It would seem that corruption has always been an integral part of the game.

Lawrence Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times is still the best book on Deadball Era baseball. However, Halfon contributes some fascinating new insights. One of Halfon’s goals is to dispel the myth that baseball faced a crisis after the Black Sox scandal and was only saved by the popularity of Babe Ruth and the new “lively” ball. While the game certainly changed dramatically in 1920, with home run totals skyrocketing, Halfon convincingly argues that there was never any dip in baseball’s popularity after the scandal – it would seem that fans had accepted such scandals as part of the game. As evidence of this, Halfon brings to light the fact that in addition to throwing the 1919 World Series, there is plenty of evidence to show that the White Sox also took a dive in the 1920 pennant race. He takes the high attendance and huge national following for the 1920 World Series as an indication that corruption never seriously challenged the popularity of baseball.

For all the differences between Deadball Era and contemporary baseball, a little historical investigation of this bygone era reveals all sort of issues that feel familiar. These insights and stories should hold the interest of any baseball fan.

One Last Strike | by Tony La Russa with Rick Hummel

One Last Strikeby Tony La Russa with Rick Hummel
(William Morrow, 2012, 420 pages)

One Last Strike by Tony La Russa with Rick Hummel is the true story of Tony La Russa’s career in baseball with an emphasis on the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals championship season. In One Last Strike, La Russa explains his baseball philosophy, his management style, and his rise through the baseball ranks. La Russa has managed the Chicago White Sox, the Oakland A’s, and the St. Louis Cardinals. When he is eligible, Tony La Russa will be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In One Last Strike, La Russa explains some of the strategies, pep talks, and motivational techniques that he used to help the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series. He talks about specific decisions that he made in the 2011 playoffs. La Russa also details his decision to retire and his bout with shingles.

One Last Strike is a must read for a St. Louis Cardinal fan. It can also be enjoyed by baseball fans in general. One Last Strike is well written and includes photographs of some of the highlights of La Russa’s career. One Last Strike is worth the read.