Some Great Books on Baseball–My Starting Nine

As someone who has probably read over 500 books on baseball over my lifetime it is a difficult task to pick my all-time favorites.  My starting lineup if  you will.  Over the past several years there have been some wonderful books written and available for you at TSCPL.   For example—Clemente by David Maraniss;  The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the end of the American Childhood, and Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy both by Jane Leavy.   It was pretty difficult to pick a starting nine, but here’s my list. 

1.  Excellent biographies by Robert Creamer on Casey Stengel and  Babe Ruth are worth your time.  Creamers’ book on Babe Ruth is considered the defining biography on the Bambino.

2.  I reccomend picking up any of the outstanding collection of essays by Roger Angell.  One of the most striking items from Angell’s essays is one ultimately published in “Season Ticket“, involving a spring training trip to see the Baltimore Orioles. While there, Angell interviews Earl Weaver, then the former Orioles manager, about Cal Ripken, Jr., who was about to start his rookie season. Angell quotes Weaver as saying about Ripken that, at whichever position the team decides (between shortstop and third base), “his manager can just write his name into the lineup every day for the next fifteen years; that’s how good he is”. Starting that year, Ripken in fact was written into lineups every day for more than fifteen years, setting the all-time consecutive games-played streak of 2,632 games. Angell’s quote of Weaver stands as one of the most incredibly prescient (and well-documented) “first-guesses” in recorded literature. 

View full image.

3.  Ball Four by Jim Bouton.  Written during the 1969 baseball season, the author a once a star pitcher for the Yankees kept a diary about life as a baseball player trying to hang on for one more year.  Set in the 1969 season, the author is a struggling pitcher for the Seattle Pilots.   who keeps a diary of his season Published in 1970 Ball Four is a funny, often poignant look at the life a major leaguer.  Written in diary form the author tells never before told stories of what life was really like in a major league clubhouse.  Bouton has written several other books but this is by far his best.  In fact the New York Times listed this book as one of the most important books of the 20th century.

View full image.

4.  The Glory of their Times, by Lawrence Ritter. You need to be a bit of a baseball historian to read this one, but it tells the story of the early days of professional baseball by the men who played it. The author spent a lot of time travelling and interviewing players, some of them great ones some of them obscure ones.   The Glory of Their Times was published in the mid 1960’s and has been reissued several times since.  Beyond a sports book you get a glimpse of what life was like in our nation in the first thirty years of the 20th century

View full image.

5.  I Was Right on Time by Buck O’Neil and The Soul of Baseball, by Joe Posnanski.  Both books deal with the same person– the legendary John “ Buck” O’Neil.   In my mind these are not simply biographies about an old baseball player.  They focus on a remarkable human being.  In learning about O’Neil you will find an example of a man who refused to let injustices hold him back.    They tell the history of where we have been and where we are headed as a nation. Both of these books were written from the heart.  Without becoming too preachy, in my opinion if you read these books closely they will open your heart to live life in a better way.

6.  The Boys of Summer, by Roger Kahn.  A  memoir and story of the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950′s.  Kahn who was a reporter for the Dodgers, tells of the players career and life after baseball.   I consider this book one of the best books ever written 

7.  Teammates, by David Halberstram.  Published in 2003, Teamamtes is a story of friendship of four great baseball players.  Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky, Dom Dimaggio, and Ted Williams.  The book centers on a road trip to visit Ted Williams before his death.  It ultimately is a story not just about sports, but about friendship, and staying connected with each other as they aged. 

8.  Wait Till Next Year, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, is her touching memoir about growing up in post war America.  The two loves of her life were her family and the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Goodwin recreates the 1950′s when the corner store was the place to share stories and discuss the virtues of your favorite team.

9.  Stan Musial, An American Life,  by George Vescey.   This is the most current book on my list.  Vesceys book tells the career of Stan the Man, arguably baseballs greatest living player. 

As a reader I’m hoping that the interest in quality baseball literature will never die. When I read and reread these books, I often find I’m reading more than a story about our national past time.  They give us a glimpse into issues our nation has had to live through and find ways to solve.   In so doing they become a medium to teach us about our history.  

Let me hear from you.  What are your favorite baseball books.  By the way.  These books and many more great reads are available in the Sports Neighborhood at the Library. Section 792.84 —796.756, in the West Wing of the Library.

  • Brian Herder

    It’s fiction but Douglas Wallop’s “Damn Yankees” is one of my favorite baseball books. For such a quick, easy read it is pretty clever and even deals with some heavy themes under the surface. I haven’t seen the movie or musical and don’t plan to. For the record I have tried twice to get through Bernard Malamud’s “The Natural” and it couldn’t hold my interest, despite loving the movie.

    My favorite nonfiction book that isn’t simply a collection of statistics to pore through is probably “The Baseball Literacy Book” which has several different editions. I can’t think of any single volume that does a better job of giving a baseball novice or moderate fan a more broad, usable knowledge about the game without being overwhelming. It’s a great way to get a good base knowledge before choosing more detailed aspects of the game to delve into. For a hardcore fan I suspect it is still a fun, breezy read.