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Book Notes

March 20, 2014

Book captures both sides of 'Splended Splinter'

Ted Williams is an American icon. As the mainstay of the Boston Red Sox from 1939-1960 he was one of baseball’s all-time greats, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and perhaps the greatest hitter the sport has ever known. He was admired for his devotion to the game, his service to his country, and his support for children with cancer. But there was an ugly side to him too. Williams’ life was a set of contradictions where his talent and humanity were offset by fits of rage and cold-heartedness.

The word that might best describe Williams is “intense.” He was not only a great hitter with tremendous eyesight (20/15), but he worked on his hitting all the time. He would simulate his swing in front of a mirror, study pitchers endlessly, and talk hitting with anyone who would listen. He would take the same approach to his lifelong love of fishing where he became one of the best fly fishermen in the country.

It’s not surprising that Williams is baseball’s last .400 hitter, batting .406 in 1941. In 1957, at the age of 39, he led the majors with a .388 average. His lifetime average of .344 ranks fourth all-time and he hit 521 home runs. He was coveted with such nicknames as “the Kid,” “Teddy Ballgame” and “the Splendid Splinter.”

Williams is also remembered for his charitable acts towards children with cancer. He would make countless visits to hospitals to visit sick kids without any publicity whatsoever. In fact, he threatened any journalist that he would stop going if it was publicized. He was clearly a man with a warm heart.

On the other hand, he also had a dark side. Williams had a temper that was over the top. He would offend friends, family and innocent bystanders for no good reason. He once punched out his beloved dalmatian. A psychologist referred to him as a “swinging door, bipolar personality.” For all his good works they were more than offset by his abuse of people (and one dog).

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Book Notes
  • Early 'blahs' sometimes hide a gem There are often films that sound rather "blah" when you first notice them and have no interest in seeing. It's usually due to the preview either being really stupid or the producers wanting to avoid giving away too much of the plot. If it's the latter category you must be careful. Sometimes there's a gem of a movie hidden behind the facade.

    July 24, 2014

  • 'Moneyball' author tackles Wall Street with 'Flash Boys' Have you ever read a book that feels like it's in a foreign language? It covers a subject you know is important and figure at some point it will all make sense. What do you do when that doesn't happen? Obviously, the easiest solution is to toss the book aside. But what if the underlying message is something you "get" and don't want to give up on? I faced that dilemma recently.

    July 17, 2014

  • MacNeil reading highlights novels Several weeks ago I had the good fortune to attend a talk by Robert MacNeil at the Guilderland Public Library. MacNeil is best known as the former co-host of the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour on PBS. He retired in 1995 but has continued to write both fiction and non-fiction. His talk at Guilderland focused on two of his novels, "Burden of Desire" written in 1992, and its sequel, "Portrait of Julia," which was published last year.

    July 10, 2014

  • 'The Monuments Men' shows important history World War II continues to hold a special place in the hearts of readers and movie goers. The reasons are many but much of it can be traced to the endless number of storylines from that conflict. There is literally a treasure trove of material that keeps emerging. The latest example is the movie, “The Monuments Men.â€�

    July 3, 2014

  • Authors not afraid to think like freaks Conventional wisdom is something we automatically take for granted. It can be something as simple as assuming there is no cure for the common cold or political polls being a good indicator of who will win an election. Common assumptions of course can be wrong but we usually just accept them as fact. However, in many cases it would be much better to think "outside the box" and consider an alternative way of looking at the world.

    June 26, 2014

  • Book goes further into Armstrong's lies There hasn't been a shortage of elite athletes that have fallen from grace in recent years. Most of them have been baseball players who have been caught using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and then lying about it. Golfer Tiger Woods fell from his pedestal because of extra-marital affairs. He has yet to regain his previous aura and perhaps never will. But the loudest crash of all came from cyclist Lance Armstrong who was not only a liar and a cheat but ruined other people's lives in the process.

    June 19, 2014

  • Documentary proves Butch, Sundance still enchant "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" is one of the most popular films of all-time. The 1969 Western is based on the real life exploits of two infamous outlaws whose specialty was robbing trains. They became folk heroes because they supposedly never shot anyone.

    June 12, 2014

  • Pohl's call-up reminds me of Feinstein book We recently learned that Cooperstown native and professional baseball player Phillip Pohl was promoted to the AAA farm team of the Oakland Athletics where he played for nearly a month. For those that don't know, AAA is the highest minor league before reaching the major leagues.

    June 5, 2014

  • Movie gives clues into real Disney Everyone has heard of Walt Disney. How can you not when Disneyland and Disney World are the most popular family vacation spots around. Add in his historic cartoons and animated features and you have a Hollywood legend. But how many people know what the man himself was like?

    May 29, 2014

  • Wooden bio by Davis feels definitive Any long-time observer of college basketball knows that one school and one coach stand out above all others. In the 1960s and 1970s the John Wooden-led UCLA Bruins won ten championships in twelve seasons. Their level of achievement is so remarkable that it will probably never be equaled. Forty years after his last championship the ghost of John Wooden still reverberates at the university.

    May 22, 2014