It’s a month away from the launch of the annual attempt to read and review 30 baseball books during the 30 days of April — the challenge gets tougher at the dwindling titles become less appealing, but that’s really the point to this.
But we have other titles on the nightstand to provide more bending of the brain waves.
(Reminder to self: Schedule optometrist appointment sooner rather than waiting another few years because the words on the pages keep shrinking).
So among the four we’d recommend picking up in the meantime:
“Breaking Away: A Harrowing True Story of
Resilience, Courage and Triumph,”
by Patrick O’Sullivan with Gare Joyce
(Harper Collins, 322 pages, $32.99):
= The bright, young centerman from North Carolina by way of Toronto who came up with the Kings and had three seasons in L.A. from 2006-09 before finishing an NHL career at age 27 finally has the platform and foundation to explain his life story, which centers on survival from an abusive father and how he has made it a new launching point for his life.
O’Sullivan explains right from the start how at age 16 he had enough verbal and physical punishment from his father, a one-time minor league hockey player who dreamed too hard about having a son in the NHL. This was much more than a helicopter parent here. It is the dark side of something you hope kids in youth sports never had to experience.
Several L.A.-related stories are worth noting.
One is a comforting meeting with Wayne Gretzky at the NHL draft , where The Great One said he and his wife Janet read about O’Sullivan’s story in ESPN The Magazine in 2003. Both cried and wanted him to know they support him.
“If I’d had someone like Walter Gretzky as my father, my draft day would have played out differently,” O’Sullivan writes. “Maybe I would have been a first-round pick without what the scouts considered ‘baggage.’ Even if I hadn’t been, even if I had still dropped in the draft, I’d have felt better about myself and would have had a family at my back. I wouldn’t have to count on the kindness of strangers and a legendary player for a pat on the back.”
In Chapter 32, O’Sullivan writes about his rookie year dealings with former Kings coach Marc Crawford, who “more than anybody else I met in the game, reminds me of my father. … Crawford would go completely irrational … It was spooky how similar my father and ‘Crow’ were in some ways … He emphasized the negative. He was the bad cop … I was the guy he made a complete example of.” At one point, Crawford physically kicked O’Sullivan in the backside during a game, which caused O’Sullivan to turn and scream: “Do that again and I’m going to f—n’ drive you.”
(Probably also not the greatest thing for the Kings either to have Sean Avery be O’Sullivan’s roommate on road trips, as O’Sullivan says in a recent interview about the book).
Then, in Chapter 37 — O’Sullivan’s career was over, and he found himself at a treatment center in Santa Monica in November, 2012. Every day for 30 days he poured everything out on paper.
“It turns out I could write things that I could never talk about, not with my friends, not with (wife) Sophie, not with an analyst … the act of writing takes more time and forces you to think harder about each and every word.”
There should be no need for us to use more words here.
O’Sullivan, living with his wife and two sons in Florida, has a strained relationship involving his mom and sisters and is dealing with his PTSD very publicly now as this book came out in late 2015.
Don’t be surprised if there are movie rights to sell here.
Interesting that the publishers sought Todd Marinovich to write a review for the back cover, which reads in part: “Patrick’s memoir will both console and inspire those who feel broken by life.”
“Redskins: Insult and Brand”
by C. Richard King
(University of Nebraska Press, 256 pages, $24.95)
= The cover of this book should be a wall-sized poster, hanging in the offices of the NFL marketing department, a constant reminder that they continue to propagate a denigrating, racial slur. The league, and those in the media who continue to use it.
Even though it’s been going on years, the debated heated up about three years ago again, and sparked us to wonder why, in the days when Jack Kent Cooke owned both the league’s Washington franchise as well as the Los Angeles Daily News for a 13-year period until 1998, the newspaper never had anyone take a stance on this.
King, a comparative ethnics professor at Washington State whose previous books have included “Media Representations of Native Americas” and “Native Athletes in Sport and Society” for this publisher, incorporates arguments made in recent months by major media voices and is baffled why the league turns a deaf ear, blind eye and frozen conscious in perpetuating the nickname of the Washington franchise.
But this is more than just a King lecture. The core is going far more into depth and context as to how the name came about, what it has meant to those associated with it over the years and how, at this point in time, it might be too far into profits and margins to change the course of its future.
King has included a page after the acknowledgements to explain how he spells the word “R*dskin” to underscore its unspeakable, problematic nature.
“Persistent reiteration makes it appear reasonable and even appropriate, a pattern that I think important to disrupt and undermine.”
They key to using C. Richard King’s work going forward is asking two important questions, as he points out: How do we stop the dehumanization of indigenous peoples? And how do we create new stories and spaces, reimagine self and society and otherwise transform traditions to rehumanize them?”
“This Is Your Brain on Sports: The Science of Underdogs,
The Value of Rivalry and What We Can Learn from the T-Shirt Cannon,”
by L. Jon Wertheim and Sam Sommers
(Crown Archetype, 288 pages, $26)
= Not to be confused with a book by a similar title a few years ago that dealt with how to overcome slumps and anxiety disorders in a sports context, this one by the Sports Illustrated executive editor and writer, along with an experimental psychologist at Tufts who wrote the book “Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World” gets into the head games of fans and athletes, seeking explanations as to why a perceived negative can be an interesting positive, or visa versa, based on the way we are all wired.
Part ESPN “Sports Science” and part Jerry Seinfeld observational humor, “Brain on Sports” has evolved from a podcast to a sweet, innocent book of interviews and magazine-length stories to better attempt connecting dots and synapses, much better than our old high school biology teacher/JV basketball coach could.
The book, released in early February, served as a Sports Illustrated Super Bowl cover story that got into why the quarterback of a football team better be pretty good looking or the team could be doomed. (They back this up).
The T-shirt cannon example is the most playful one that Wertheim seems to get asked most about when he’s been doing media-related interviews about this project. Why we jump out of our seats, climb over people we don’t know and wrestle for the right to a piece of cotton with sponsorship all over it and the probability that it’s not even in our size. It may also explain the pursuit of a foul ball at a baseball gamel, or the joy in finding someone’s lost golf ball on a course. It’s free. There’s something in the brain that processes that as having an edge, no matter how luck is involved, or the thing being thrown in our general direction.
Packed more into this is dispelling myths (sex before a big game, does winning feel better than losing), reinforcing others (“Why Giving Every Little League Kid a Trophy Is Such a Lousy Idea” and how rivals bring out the best in each other), and even connecting two things that you’d never think belong together (like, being a New York Mets fan and building a desk from IKEA … it’s all about the process). There are no real Southern California-centric things here, so maybe those of us who live in a land where sports isn’t always this end-all and be-all can have can experience a little more perspective as to why others get so wrapped up in things. It really does, in some ways, give “us” a better understanding of “them.” But we’d never do such things as expect a freebie.
“NFL Confidental: True Confessions From The Gutter of Football,”
by Johnny Anonymous
(Dey Street Books./Harper Collins, 256 pages, $26.99)
= Who wrote it? At this point, maybe it should be: Who cares?
The publishers’ PR people will only say it’s a “four-year offensive lineman for the NFL” who under another pseudonym also contributes to FunnyOrDie.com.
By now (the book came out in early January), we figured “J.A.” would have either come out or been outted, but it seems the content of the book didn’t warrant such a reveal. We’ve heard the stories before, seen them portrayed in movies and aborted ESPN mini-dramas, heard the language and aren’t stunned to know “racism does exist in the NFL” or “players sleep around” or “it’s actually really easy to get away with drinking and doing street drugs as an NFL player.”
Still, no outings on Deadspin.com or TheBigLead.com or Fark.com or ProFootballTalk.com or HuffingtonPost.com or … Do these sites even do their jobs any more?
Someone at NPR knew his identity, and confirmed it, before putting him on the air as part of the book promotional tour.
And there is someone on SBNation.com, through Reddit, who thinks it’s the Eagles’ David Molk — milk that for what it’s worth.
We actually agree with a piece on this by the New York Times that a better newish read about this kind of stuff was the 2013 book by Nate Jackson called “Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival From the Bottom of the Pile.”
Again, that was Nate Jackson, former Denver Broncos receiver, who wrote it. At least he didn’t use the name Nate Incognito.
(Hey, maybe it was famous NFL bully Richie Incognito who wrote this … right there in front of us the whole time.)