I just finished reading James Hirsch‘s outstanding biography of Willie Mays, The Life, the Legend, and it occurred to me that I’ve never written the baseball books post. Time to remedy that.
I have hundreds and hundreds of baseball books. I have more baseball books than I have shelf space for, so they pile up on the floor, making for a rather untidy office. Does anybody have an extra bookcase they could give me?
Here is a list of ten baseball books that I especially enjoyed. You could call this my recommended reading list, I suppose.
In no particular order:
A False Spring by Pat Jordan. Jordan was a hot-stuff high school pitcher who signed a professional contract and entered the low minor leagues as a teenager. Far from home for the first time in his life, he struggles on the field, questions his coaches, experiences self-doubt, gets injured, and flames out. Luckily, he could write – and this book is an extraordinarily well-written journal of a young man experiencing failure.
The Bronx Zoo by Sparky Lyle. First came Jim Brosnan, then came Jim Bouton, and then we had Sparky. I think each generation has its favorite player-author. Bouton’s Ball Four remains the class of this field, but my contemporary was The Bronx Zoo. I read this as a teenager, and unlike Bouton’s book in this one I knew who all of the players were. This book details the New York Yankees 1978 season in a day-by-day diary. As it was being written, Lyle had no idea that the Yankees were going to pull off a miracle comeback and beat the Red Sox in a one-game playoff. The book contains hilarious anecdotes on George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, Lou Piniella, Mickey Rivers… you name it.
Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever by Satchel Paige. If you’ve never read Ol’ Satch’s autobiography, add it to your list. His stories from the Negro Leagues and barnstorming days are classic baseball tales, and then he becomes the oldest rookie in MLB history. Highlights include the story of when Ol’ Satch called in his outfielders, and of course his legendary list entitled “How To Keep Young.”
Babe: The Legend Comes To Life by Robert Creamer. This is the Mount Everest of baseball biographies. It’s difficult to imagine just how popular Babe Ruth was in the 1920s and 30s – until you read this book. Creamer spent decades as a writer for Sports Illustrated; he was an extremely talented sportswriter. He wrote this book in 1974.
Baseball Dynasties by Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstein. Full disclosure: Neyer is a friend of mine. This is an excellent and entertaining work that reviews and compares the 25 best teams in MLB history, and the authors reach a conclusion deciding which was the best of all-time. While the authors do use advanced statistical analysis to compare the teams, stats are a mere fraction of the book: there are plenty of stories and historical anecdotes about each of the great teams. Unfortunately, this book was published in 2000 – one year before the Mariners won 116 games.
Veeck as in Wreck by Bill Veeck. Veeck was baseball’s great promotional owner. He bought and sold teams, battled with baseball’s old guard, and tried all kinds of marketing tricks. Veeck was the first to put names on the back of uniforms, he invented scoreboard entertainment, he oversaw Disco Demolition Night… this is the man who signed Eddie Gaedel, a dwarf actor, to a major league contract and sent him to the plate (he walked on four pitches). Veeck had a wooden leg with an ashtray built into it, for crying out loud. All of the stories are in here, and it’s entertaining.
The New Historical Abstract by Bill James. James gets pigeon-holed as a stats guy, but he can really write. This book is a class in baseball history, with enough entertaining sidebars to keep you turning the pages. I actually try to avoid this book because if I open it up to a random page and start reading, there goes the afternoon.
Moneyball by Michael Lewis. Don’t go see the movie – read the book, its way better. Seriously. Lewis is such a great writer that he makes seemingly boring subjects exciting. One of the fun parts of watching PCL baseball over the last ten years was seeing all of these draft picks in Sacramento. The chapter on Gig Harbor resident Scott Hatteberg is outstanding.
Dollar Sign On The Muscle by Kevin Kerrane. Kerrane, a university professor, delves into the mystery of baseball scouts. In 1981 the Phillies gave him access to their scouts, and he spent the year meeting with them. The scouts share stories on their hits and misses, and the book also gives a history of baseball scouting. If you are interested in scouting, or if you want to read some great scouting stories, this is a good read.
Hoopla by Harry Stein. The only fiction on the list, this is historical fiction. Stein uses a duel first-person narrator structure: one narrator is Buck Weaver of the Chicago White Sox, and the other is a fictional newspaper writer who breaks the story of the 1919 Black Sox scandal. Both characters are brilliantly developed, and the author does a wonderful job presenting the era. This book has been out of print for decades and is nearly impossible to find in a bookstore – but you can order it online with ease.
One bonus book, Mariners style:
Out Of Left Field by Art Thiel. As far as I know, this is the only history on the Seattle Mariners. From the expansion days to the ugly teams in the Kingdome to the miracle of 1995 to the building of Safeco Field to the 116 wins – it’s all in here.
There, that should keep you busy for a while. All eleven book reports are due on my desk by Opening Day.