Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing the 2021 Allen & Ginter baseball set, which arrives the week of July 14:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a Gray Flannel Auction sale of Kobe Bryant memorabilia, along with Michael Jordan items:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about artist Paul Jennis, who is creating cards for Topps' Game Within The Game promotion:
Here is a longer version of a book review I wrote of Paul Knepper's "The Knicks of the Nineties." This was for Sport In American History."
I remember the first time I saw Andre the Giant in person. It was sometime during 1974 at the West Palm Beach Auditorium. Andre was appearing for Eddie Graham’s NWA pro wrestling promotion in Florida, and before his match he stood in the back as kids swarmed around him.
I was 17 at the time, and Andre appeared to be two feet taller than me. He probably was.
Andre’s height and weight were always open to question. It was part of his mystique. He had been listed as tall as 7-foot-4 and at times, more than 500 pounds. And there was that frizzy shock of hair, a perfect complement to the Afro hairstyle of the 1970s.
There was one match against the Iron Sheik, for instance, where the referee announced Andre at 403 pounds.
“Well, the timekeeper obviously (is) misinformed as to Andre’s weight,” announcer Gorilla Monsoon noted. “However, we clarified it correctly on your screen (at 492 pounds).”
For many years, the Houston Astrodome was called the eighth wonder of the world. But pro wrestling took the phrase and applied it to Andre Roussimoff.
It wasn’t a bad idea.
Wrestlers tell the best stories — there are plenty of autobiographies as evidence — but during the era of “kayfabe,” they always managed to keep facts at an arm’s length while perpetuating myths to enhance their brand.
And Andre always had a mystique about him that few people could pierce.
Until now. Writers Bertrand Hébert and Pat Laprade have put together a biography that shatters myths and sticks to the facts.
The Eighth Wonder of the World: The True Story of Andre the Giant (ECW Press; hardback; $26.95; 421 pages) is a marvelous read, and the authors have done their homework. There are facts in their work that even seasoned wrestling fans might not have known about.
Before the internet, it was easy to weave a compelling narrative about a wrestler that was rarely challenged. Pro wrestling was divided into territories, where promoters carved out a niche and traded wrestlers and story lines freely. The NWA, AWA and WWWF were the Big Three of the squared circle, but people in New York, for example, rarely knew what was going on in San Francisco. Even the wrestling magazines were several months behind in reporting the “news.”
Those unwritten rules held until Vince McMahon Jr. took over his father’s promotion (WWWF) and revolutionized pro wrestling. McMahon snapped up territories, pioneered pay-per-view events and sold-out arenas with events like WrestleMania and the Royal Rumble. McMahon aggressively marketed his wrestlers and turned the WWWF into the WWF and finally, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).
Andre’s height and weight were never confirmed, but promoters tossed out numbers for years that seemed reasonable. And why not? Wrestling promoters at heart are descended from the huckster-like tactics of P.T. Barnum, who also never let the facts get in the way of a good story.
Thankfully, Hébert and Laprade stick to the facts. There is plenty to chew on in this book.
For example, I did not know that Andre’s paternal family came from Bulgaria. Also, his relationship with his daughter, Robin, is given balanced, fair treatment. There is not much in the way of romantic encounters involving the Giant, although the authors do some teasing and winkingly bring up his size, inferring that, well, he was large all over.
Andre had to deal with acromegaly, a disorder that occurs when the pituitary gland produces too much hormone. The result is that a person’s bones — particularly the hands, face and feet — grow larger as a person ages. The disorder would cause Andre plenty of discomfort through the years. Ultimately, it caused Andre’s death in 1993 at the age of 46.
Some other tidbits — Andre was involved in an accident during the late 1960s that killed a moped driver. Andre also loved his role as Fezzik in the 1987 movie, “The Princess Bride,” and carried around VHS tapes (remember those?) and played them when he was on the road, viewing them with anyone who would sit with him.
The authors properly point out that Andre’s match against Hulk Hogan in WrestleMania III was a crucial event for McMahon’s promotion. What is gratifying, though, is how they detail Andre’s relationship with McMahon’s father, Vince McMahon Sr. The elder McMahon was from the old school of promoters, where a handshake was a person’s bond. Andre respected that and delivered for McMahon Sr., who in turn protected the Giant.
Yet, Andre’s fame had been established long before he wrestled for McMahon Sr. in the Northeast. The authors examine Andre’s career in the Montreal promotion and his forays to Japan. Wrestling fans will enjoy the detail as Andre carves out his legend and will realize the grueling schedule that pro wrestlers had to endure.
The authors also dispel myths about Andre never losing a match until late in his career (he had), or never being body-slammed until Hogan hoisted him up in WrestleMania III (he had), but also give the reader a view from the locker room.
Andre enjoyed the camaraderie with other wrestlers and was loyal to a fault, enjoying card games and excessive drinking binges. After all, Andre was a man with giant appetites, and some of the wrestlers still speak in awe about his ability to put away prodigious amounts of wine and beer.
The authors also discuss Andre’s snoring (loud) and flatulence (monumental), while recounting a rather gross episode in the ring that left Bad News Brown as an unfortunate victim.
“Andre’s life was always a matter of interest, not only for wrestling fans,” the authors write.
Cross him, though, or come across as being cocky without paying your dues as a wrestler, and Andre could turn a huge cold shoulder. Several wrestlers were more than terrified, wondering if Andre could turn a “work,” which was the scripted scenario, into a “shoot” — the real thing. Given Andre’s size, it was a major concern. Wrestlers live on the edge to begin with, and if an opponent does not sell a move properly — through ineptitude or indifference — it could cause major injuries.
The authors also highlight some of the major stars Andre faced during his career, including Don Leo Jonathan, Shohei Baba and Antonio Inoki. They also document how Andre was unable to live an ordinary life due to his size. There was a marked sadness to the man, who basked in his fame but was tortured by the idea that some fans viewed him as a freak.
The research in this book is deep and detailed, and peppered with interviews with Andre’s surviving relatives.
Both men are familiar with the wrestling world. Laprade was a field producer for HBO’s 2018 documentary about Andre. Hébert co-authored Pat Patterson’s 2016 biography, Accepted, and also the 2017 biography, Mad Dog: The Maurice Vachon Story. Hébert also wrote the 2013 book, Mad Dogs, Midgets and Screw Jobs: The Untold Story of how Montreal Shaped the World of Wrestling.
In The Eighth Wonder of the World, Laprade and Hébert portray Andre as he was: A top gate attraction in wrestling, a fun-loving friend, a major drawing card for promoters, and an enigma even 27 years after his death. Wrestling fans will enjoy the book, and so will mainstream readers.
“Even if this book tells the truth behind the myths, one must not forget that these myths carried Andre’s legacy,” the authors write.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing the 2021 Topps Museum Collection baseball set:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily, previewing the 2020 Panini Limited football set:
I love to blog about sports books and give my opinion. Baseball books are my favorites, but I read and review all kinds of books.