Category: S- Sports

The Boys In The Boat by Daniel James Brown

May 1st, 2015 — 5:23pm

THE BOYS IN THE BOAT by Daniel James Brown

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 5.20.02 PMDaniel James Brown is an author who describes himself as someone who writes narrative non-fiction which brings compelling historical events to life. That is exactly what he does in The Boys in the Boat. To most contemporary Americans, competitive rowing is not high on the list of sporting events to follow. Even if you have heard about the 1936 Berlin Olympics, you might only think of Jessie Owens, the black track star , who won a gold medal in the face of Hitler proclaiming his master race ideas. However, there is another story that you should know about those Olympic games .

This book tells the story of nine young men from the University of Washington who had an amazing journey that also took them to the 1936 Berlin Olympics to win a gold medal. It is about much more than their Olympic triumph. It is about what they needed to overcome and how they learned to work together in a manner which transcended the teamwork required for other sports. These young men came from farms, logging towns, and other difficult backgrounds. They struggled to get to the University of Washington and then to earn a spot on the rowing team. It is also a story about their coach, Al Ulbrickson and how he coached them and treated them as individuals and as a team. It is also about George Pocock, a boat-builder who not only built the rowing shell for the University of Washington team but also for most collegiate teams throughout the country. Pocock grew up in England and intimately understood rowing from his experience with the boats on the famous Thames River. It was his wisdom and support which sustained the University of Washington team almost as much as their esteemed coach.

Mr. Brown, the author, became interested in this subject when he had a discussion with a neighbor who was the daughter of one of these rowers. He ultimately met her father, Joe Rantz, a few years before he died. He heard this story firsthand and was able to review various documents and diaries not only of this man but of the other members of the rowing team as he was introduced to their families. The result is a book which reads like a page turning novel with events and insights into the people about whom the book was based.

There is a parallel story, which the author chooses to chronicle and which adds to the significance of the triumph of the University of Washington team at the 1936 Olympics. That is the events going on in Germany as Adolf Hitler came to power and began to oppress and ultimately murder the German Jews and others. The temporary easing up by Hitler of his cold-blooded extermination plans in order to deceive the world at his showcase Olympics, was clearly spelled out in this book.

I found the author’s discussion of the German filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl, quite interesting and revealing. She was given carte blanche by Hitler to film the Olympics from every angle in order to showcase Hitler’s Germany in a glorious positive image for the entire world. She worked extremely closely with Hitler and Goebbels (the Nazi Propaganda Minister) and may have been literally in bed with them. She filmed all the athletes from the best angles, sometimes from specially built trenches so she could show the marching Germans from an upward looking view. Interestingly enough, after the American team from the University of Washington won their gold medal (in a most exciting well-described come from behind victory), she was given permission to bring her cameras into the University of Washington’s boat for a special ride with them. The results can be seen in a well-preserved video of a preliminary heat won by Germany and the final won by the US for the gold medal  (see YouTube video-English  version or German  narration version  ) where she intermixes cuts of long views of the race with close ups of the rowers. Riefenstahl subsequently tried to distance herself from her close association with Hitler after the war ( see interview with Riefenstabhl). No matter what her culpability in Hitler’s propaganda show, the wonderful video of these nine men, whose self-determination, hard work, and comradeship, was very well done and will allow future generations to enjoy watching their accomplishment.

One reviewer in Publishers Weekly called this book a Nautical Chariots of Fire, which seems a very apt description. It is also rumored that the Weinstein Brothers have optioned this book for a movie which may be soon available as you read this review. I am sure it will be an exciting film but this book alone captures a vivid picture of the Boys In The Boat that you will not forget.

Comment » | HI - History, S- Sports, T - Recommended for Teenagers

The Victory Season by Robert Weintraub

July 6th, 2014 — 2:07am

The Victory Season: The End of World War II and the Birth of Baseball’s Golden Age by Robert WeintraubScreen Shot 2014-07-05 at 9.39.58 PM

In order to determine if you might like this book please take the following quiz. Match the names or phrases in column I with those in column II.There may be more than one answer for each entry in column I. Answers are at the end of the review.

I                                                            II


!- “The Man”                                                 a- Joe Cronin

2- Wife’s name is Rachel                                  b- Stan Musial

3- New York Yankees                                      c- Jackie Robinson

4- Brother of “The Hat”                                  d- Enos Slaughter

5- Known for great base running                       e- Ted Williams

6- Brooklyn Dodgers                                         f- New York Yankees

7- Wore number 42                                          g- Dixie Walker

8- “Country”                                                h- Joe DiMaggio

9-“The Cat”                                                 i- Harry Bracheen

10-Married actress Laraine Day                          j- St. Louis Browns

11- “The Splinter”                                          k- Pete Reiser

12- Korean War Fighter Pilot                             l- N.Y. Giants

13- “The Thumper”                                      m- Leo Durocher

14-Played for Montreal Royals                          n- Dom DiMaggio

15-Hero of 1946 World Series                           o- St. Louis Cardinals

16-“The Little Professor”                               p- Boston Red Sox

17- Participated in 1946 World Series                  q- Branch Rickey

18- Larry MacPhail

19-“The Lip”

20-1946 Most Valuable Player Award


There are 37 correct answers by my count. So if you get 12 or more correct , you are batting over 300 which I believe means that you will feel at home with this book. Likewise if you are of a certain age and followed baseball as a kid, chances are you will get great pleasure from this book. Finally, if you are younger than a certain age and just enjoy the history of baseball, you probably will find this book quite interesting.

The book focuses mainly on 1946, the year after the end of World War II but the author Robert Weintraub will frequently dip into the past for background or give some glimpses into what happened to various people years to come after this year. He also includes interesting tidbits about the Nurenberg Trials of Nazi war criminals that were going on during 1946 which are quite fascinating. The book also covers the war experiences of many prewar major leaguers who went off to war, some of whom came back to become household names as major league stars. There is also the account of some baseball players who went off to fight but did not come back or were never able to resume their careers.

1946 was also the year that Branch Rickey decided that he was going to integrate baseball and found a great UCLA athlete to be the baseball player to do it. In this year Jackie Robinson was made a member of the Dodger’s number one farm team, the Montreal Royals. The account of this adventure and the final bringing Robinson into the big leagues the following season, is a good enough reason by itself to read this book. I thought I knew this story quite well but I never realized that when the club owners all voted upon whether to bring him into major league baseball, the vote was 15-1 against doing it with only Rickey voting yes. The account goes on to explain how Rickey was able to pull things off despite this vote by the other owners.

Ted Williams and all the nick names he was given is amply covered in several chapters of this book. The case is made that he probably was the greatest player of his generation despite a mercurial personality that was hard to understand. No doubt he was a great competitor and did mature during his career. He probably was the only player in baseball history who received a standing ovation when he decided to bunt down the third baseline. You may remember there was the “Williams Shift” where the infield was moved around to the right with a short right fielder in place since that is where powerful Williams would usually slam the ball. Williams was usually reluctant to take a nearly sure thing rather than try to power away and pull the ball. He also probably was close to all time high in walks since most pitchers were reluctant to pitch straightway to him anyway.

As someone who grew up in Brooklyn I was most familiar with the Brooklyn Dodgers with Yankees and Giants being also known to me. Even though I was well below my adolescence during the pivotal year of 1946 which this book centers upon, so many of the characters who played a role in this year continued their careers for at least another 8-10 years that they were well known to me. I will have to give credit to Red Barber, Connie Desmond and the then young Vin Sculley who were the Dodger radio announcers and always had great stories about all the players. While I had a familiarity with many of the key players I did not recall much about the pennant race of 1946 and particularly about the World Series. Author Weintraub provided all the details and laid them out as if they unfolding before the avid baseball fan that I was in my younger days. Sometimes, particularly in the World Series, I felt I was almost in the stands watching the Red Sox and Cardinals battle it out and somehow I had stake in the outcome.

The “piece de resistance” was the author’s detailed description and even more detailed analysis of the “Mad Dash.” This was the play where Enos “Country” Slaughter scored what turned out to be the winning run in the final game of the 1946 World Series, from first base on a base hit that was probably just a single by Harry “The Hat” Walker. Exactly how the ball was fielded by Leo Culberson and a microscopic analysis of how Johnny Pesky handled making the relay throw to the plate is only something a true lover of baseball could appreciate. If this is up your alley you are sure to enjoy this book.

Answers: 1bo 2c 3h 4g 5cdk 6cgkmq 7c 8dof 9i 10m 11e 12e 13e 14c

15d 16n 17 abdinop 18f 19ml 20be


Comment » | S- Sports

Back to top