February 23, 2004
Baseball Books

With spring training in session (for pitchers, catchers and voluntary workouts), I find myself devouring every bit of news about my favorite team (the Phillies) and anticipating the upcoming season.

I am especially fond of interesting baseball books, here are my favorites of the moment:

The Great American Novel, by Philip Roth: I've read this wartime farce several times, and I'm always laughing out loud throughout the book.

The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., by Robert Coover: This is an amazing novel that follows a clerk and his fascination with his dice-based baseball simulation. Eventually the lines between reality and fantasy begin to blur, and that's where the novel takes off. I particularly enjoyed this book because I played baseball board games as a kid. My brother and I would eagerly await each year's shipment of the Strat-O-Matic cards, and draft our own teams for our own league.

You Gotta Have Wa, by Robert Whiting: Superficially, this book examines Japanese baseball and its differences with the American game, but it actually transcends that and examines both Japanese and American culture.

The Catcher Was A Spy: The Mysterious Life Of Moe Berg, by Nicholas Dawidoff: Major league catcher Moe Berg was a riddle wrapped in an enigma. A Princeton graduate with a Columbia law degree, Berg played 15 major league seasons, spied in World War II for the OSS and was a mystery to almost everyone during his lifetime. This book tries to open his life to the world.

Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, by Bill James: Bill James is a leader in statistical analysis of baseball, and his theories are taking hold in the evaluation and valuation of players and strategy.

Veeck As In Wreck: The Autobiography of Bill Veeck, by Bill Veeck: Baseball's master showman shares his history.

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis: Billy Beane, young GM of the Oakland Athletics, has turned the baseball world on its head with an emphasis on statistic-based scouting. The book manages to make the subject come alive.

Summer of '49, by David Halberstam: Chronicling the 1949 pennant race between the Yankees and Red Sox, Halberstam (my mother-in-law's high school classmate) writes of the titans of the day, Dimaggio and Williams while postwar America.

Bang The Drum Slowly, by Mark Harris: If you have only seen the movie (my favorite baseball film, by far), you are in for a treat when you read the book.

Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy, by Jules Tygiel: This is an excellent look into the integration of major league baseball, but the book is more than that. The state of baseball (as well as the country) before and after integration is studied, in both the Negro and major leagues.

In honor of the national pastime, does anyone have a favorite baseball tome I may have missed? This seems like a great time to read a baseball book...

Posted by david on February 23, 2004

The two that are "baseball related" that pop to mind are DeLillo's Underworld and Chabon's Summerland. Underworld is my favorite DeLillo, and Summerland my least favorite Chabon.

Posted by: erik on February 23, 2004 08:52 AM

omg - thanks so much for this list! my fiance loves loves loves baseball (cubbies, not phillies)... and since he loves spy novels, i think i'm going to buy him "the catcher was a spy" for his birthday.

Posted by: janelle on February 23, 2004 10:08 AM

That a pretty comprehensive list. You might also check out Ball Four by Jim Bouton, a little dated but still a good read.

Posted by: Jeff on February 23, 2004 10:17 AM

I've read Ball Four and Summerland, and have Underworld on my nightstand in my ever-growing "to read" pile. I'm a sucker for books like "Ball Four," athlete's memoirs and exposes, though few are as well-executed as Bouton's book.

Posted by: david on February 23, 2004 10:22 AM

What about Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella? He has a number of other baseball books as well.

Posted by: gs on February 23, 2004 10:35 AM

Thanks for the list. You might want to add "Long Gone" by Paul Hemphill. It's about the Graceville (FL) Oilers, a minor-league team in the Florida-Alabama league in the 50s. The team is captained by Stud Cantrell, an aging boozer, and has a roster of has-beens. You know how the story ends, but it's a nice & easy summer read. HBO made a movie out of it in the late 80s starring William Pedersen that's highly recommended.

Posted by: Doug on February 23, 2004 10:39 AM

The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn, is a great book detailing the 1952-53 Brooklyn Dodgers during the time of Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Carl Furillo, Carl Erskin, Preacher Roe, and others. It is a great book that is as much about the author and the era as it is about the Dodgers. It is, by far, my favourite baseball book (non-fiction).

The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, by W.P. Kinsella, is a sureal story about a 40 day baseball game between a small town team and the 1908 Cubs. The novel is not up to par with Kinsella' more famous novel, Shoeless Joe, but it is fun to read.

Posted by: Todd on February 23, 2004 11:10 AM

some of the classics are "boys of summer" and "the head game"by Kahn, "the teammates" by Halberstram, "the baseball literary anthology" by Dawidoff, and one of my all time favorites, also by halberstram "summer of 64" about the yanks-cardinals seasons.

Posted by: rob on February 23, 2004 11:15 AM

Shoeless Joe is worse than the movie (Field of Dreams).

I'd like to stress how fantastic the Bill James Historical Abstract is. He finds something unique to say about every player. It is funny and creative and is one of the few reference books of any subject that makes for a compelling start-to-finish read.

And, for that baseball nerdy fix, there's always http://baseballprospectus.com, worth the $40 subscription.

Posted by: Jeff on February 23, 2004 11:16 AM

I almost forgot - since you also are exploring the "graphic novel" you should check out James Sturm's The Golem's Mighty Swing.

Posted by: Erik on February 23, 2004 11:28 AM

I remember a business trip to St. Louis several years ago. I was in a downtown hotel and stepped outside. The stadium was only a block or two away. The game was about to start. A ticket scalper walked up and handed me two tickets -- no questions asked, no money asked for. They were just tired of trying to scalp them and gave them to me. It was a game with Sosa and McGwire - when they were in hot competition! lol

Posted by: Terry on February 23, 2004 11:48 AM

I've read the Kinsella books, and didn't fall in love with them. Roger Kahn was a favorite when I was growing up, I remember savoring "The Boys Of Summer." The Hemphill book is good, too, it would probably make my second ten, I have an autographed copy a friend gave me as a gift that I cherish. Ahhh... the Baseball Prospectus... I've lusted over it for years. I have an old copy of "The Baseball Encyclopedia" that always gets pulled out when I wax nostalgic about the stars of my youth.

Posted by: david on February 23, 2004 03:35 PM

Great choices on the baseball book list. If you like "Ball Four", I'm sure you'll love "The Wrong Stuff" the autobiography of Bill "Spaceman" Lee.

Posted by: Drs on February 23, 2004 05:21 PM

Check out "California Rush" by Sherwood Kiraly.

Kirsten (sportslady.blogspot.com) can't stop talking about how great it is (she just finished the book last week).

The best part is she picked it up @ the Dollar Tree in Columbus, GA.

Go! Scour for it! You'll be glad you did.

Posted by: Cory on February 27, 2004 01:06 AM

"The Glory of their Times" by Lawrence Ritter is a must-have on any baseball reading list. In the early 1960s, Ritter went and interviewed a bunch of forgotten turn of the century baseball players and then told their stories in their own words. Truly great writing/editing and one of the pioneer books in the oral history field.

Since you listed "Bang the Drum Slowly," I'm assuming you've also read the first and third books in the Harris series--"The Southpaw" and "A Ticket for a Seamstitch." The latter, an especial favorite, is a great comic novella about Henry Wiggen's greatest fan coming to visit him in New York.

Posted by: Casey on February 27, 2004 03:08 PM

i'm a huge baseball fan and since i've just moved from nyc back to houston - and brought andy pettite and roger clemens with me! - i'm very excited about astros baseball this year. these lists are excellent. i'm reading the dawidoff anthology right now. my daddy gave me a book that is a remake of one he read as a boy - the kid who batted 1.000 by troon mcallister.

Posted by: kkelly on March 8, 2004 11:23 AM

Summerland by Michael Chabon--absolutely magical. Ball Four--hysterical and enlightening. This Ain't Brain Surgery, by Larry Dierker--I liked it, but probably not that interesting if you're not an Astros fan.

Posted by: carly on April 2, 2004 11:37 PM

what are the similarities between the negro and major leagues.........plz tell me becasue i need to know for myproject andif i dont then i will get in big big big gib troubl HEp

Posted by: on April 25, 2004 11:42 AM

"Lost Summer : The '67 Red Sox and the Impossible Dream" by bill reynolds

Even though I'm a phillies fan, I go to school up in MA and have roommates that are sox fans...a good read regardless of the team you follow.

Posted by: brendan on August 5, 2004 02:17 PM

Ted Williams: the biography of an American hero by Leigh Montville. The last giant of baseball to walk the earth. read this and be amazed by a most spectacular man who marked his place at the pinnacle of baseball, military, fishing and American history. Unreal stories and a poignancy many never knew was there.

Posted by: on September 1, 2004 10:30 PM

Lords of the Game by John Helyar.

A giant-ass book on the rise of the Major League Baseball Player's Association and how major league baseball truly got to be Major.

Yeah, I know, it sounds boring even for diehard baseball fans, but this has been the best baseball book I've ever read -- Helyar was one of the authors Barbarians at the Gate about the RJR takeover of the mid '80s, so not only is he an amazing researcher, but he also has an eye for vivid detail and a gift for telling compelling stories.

Posted by: petitio on October 9, 2004 12:26 PM

if you liked tropic of hockey, you'll probably like baseballissimo, bidini's book about spending a summer following around an italian minor league team.

Posted by: simon on November 8, 2004 12:21 AM
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