Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Help
Ten Essential Baseball Books
2008-04-30 10:20
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

Last month I received an e-mail from Chris Illuminati, the content editor of Phillyburbs.com. He told me he was asking different people for one baseball book that they'd consider essential. I picked "No Cheering From the Press Box," Jerome Holtzman's wonderful collection of interviews with old time sports writers, but sent Chris a list of ten essential books just for the fun of it. Shortly after the story ran I thought it'd be fun to ask a group of seamheads--historians, biographers, columnists, beat writers, screenwriters, novelists--for a list of their ten essential baseball books. Not the ten best books or even the ten most essential books just ten essential ones.

I deliberately rigged the question because there are more than just ten essential books in any self-respecting baseball libray. But I was more interested in lists that would reveal the quirks and personal tastes of each individual rather than trying to assemble an authoratative or comprehensive poll. 

The top vote getters are interesting--though not particularly surprising--and because the lists are so subjective there are no consensus selections. "Ball Four" and "The Glory of Their Times" and "The Bill James Historical Abstract" were the top picks, though some people distinctly went with the original Historical Abstract while others chose the new one.  Bill James got more votes than any individual writer followed by Roger Angell (the most common difficulty for the contributors seemed to be which Angell compilation to go with).

I heard back from 55 people via e-mail and even trooped to the far reaches of the upper east side to visit Ray Robinson and get his list (I also had some partial responses and decided not to include them). A total of 168 different books were selected.  Here are the results.  Tomorrow, I'll post the individual ballots.

Table 1: Here are the top 15 (7 or more votes):

Rank Title Author Total
1 Ball Four, by Jim Bouton Jim Bouton and Leonard Schecter 35
2 The Glory of Their Times Lawrence Ritter 29
3 The Bill James Historical Abstract Bill James 27
4 Boys of Summer Roger Kahn 20
4 Moneyball Michael Lewis 20
6 Veeck as in Wreck Bill Veeck and Ed Linn 16
7 Babe Robert Cremer 15
7 Lords of the Realm John Heylar 15
9 The Summer Game Roger Angell 14
10 Eight Men Out Eliott Asnoff 13
11 A False Spring Pat Jordan 10
12 The Summer of '49 David Halberstam 9
12 The Natural Bernard Malamud 9
14 Baseball's Great Experiment Jules Tygiel 8
15 Dollar Sign on the Muscle Kevin Kerrane 7

Table 2: Here's the entire list:

Rank Title Author Total
1 Ball Four, by Jim Bouton Jim Bouton and Leonard Schecter 35
2 The Glory of Their Times Lawrence Ritter 29
3 The Bill James Historical Abstract Bill James 27
4 Boys of Summer Roger Kahn 20
4 Moneyball Michael Lewis 20
6 Veeck as in Wreck Bill Veeck and Ed Linn 16
7 Babe Robert Cremer 15
7 Lords of the Realm John Heylar 15
9 The Summer Game Roger Angell 14
10 Eight Men Out Eliott Asnoff 13
11 A False Spring Pat Jordan 10
12 The Summer of '49 David Halberstam 9
12 The Natural Bernard Malamud 9
14 Baseball's Great Experiment Jules Tygiel 8
15 Dollar Sign on the Muscle Kevin Kerrane 7
16 The Southpaw Mark Harris 6
16 Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame (The Politics of Glory) Bill James 6
16 Dimaggio:The Hero's Life Richard Ben Cremer 6
16 Can't Anybody Here Play This Game Jimmy Breslin 6
16 Total Baseball John Thorn and Pete Palmer 6
16 The Long Season Jim Brosnan 6
22 Nice Guys Finish Last Leo Durocher and Ed Linn 5
22 No Cheering in the Press Box Jermone Holtzman 5
22 The MacMillion Baseball Encyclopedia N/A 5
22 A Whole Different Ball Game Marvin Miller and Allen Barra 5
22 The New Thinking Fan's Guide to Baseball Leonard Koppett 5
22 The Numbers Game Alan Schwarz 5
22 You Know Me Al Ring Lardner 5
22 Nine Innings Dan Okrent 5
22 Red Smith on Baseball Red Smith 5
31 Koufax Jane Leavy 4
31 Only the Ball Was White Rober Paterson 4
31 A Day in the Bleachers Arnold Hano 4
31 October, 1964 David Halberstam 4
31 Baseball Between the Numbers Baseball Prospectus 4
31 The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubblegum Book Brendan C Boyd and Fred C Harris 4
31 Maybe I'll Pitch Forever Satchial Paige 4
31 The Baseball Reader (vol 1-4) edited by Charles Einstein 4
31 The Universal Baseball Association, Inc Robert Coover 4
31 Game Time: A Baseball Companion Roger Angell 4
31 Five Seasons Roger Angell 4
42 Luckiest Man Jonathan Eig 3
42 The Celebrant Eric Rolfe Greenberg 3
42 The Great American Novel Phillip Roth 3
42 Clemente David Maraniss 3
42 Baseball:The Golden Age Harold Seymour 3
42 Bums Peter Golenbock 3
42 Season Ticket Roger Angell 3
42 Pakko at the Wall: The Shot Heard Round the World Don DeLillo 3
42 Bronx Zoo Sparky Lyle and Peter Golenbock 3
42 Prophet of the Sandlots Mark Winegardner 3
42 Dickson Baseball Dictionary Paul Dickson 3
53 B: Pitching and Wooing Bo Belinksy with Maury Allen 2
53 Shut Out Howard Bryant 2
53 Ted Williams Leigh Montville 2
53 The Ultimate Baseball Book Daniel Okrent and Harris Lewine 2
53 The Catcher was a Spy Nicholas Dawidoff 2
53 The Pitch That Killed Mike Sowell 2
53 Willie's Time Charles Einstein 2
53 Iron Horse Ray Robinson 2
53 Pure Baseball Keith Hernandez 2
53 Juicing the Game Howard Bryant 2
53 Pastime Jules Tygiel 2
53 Seasons in Hell Mike Shropshire 2
53 Game of Shadows Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams 2
53 Baseball as I Have Known it Fred Leib 2
53 Once More Around the Park Roger Angell 2
53 Bill James Guide to Managers Bill James 2
53 Men at Work George F Will 2
53 This Time Let's Not Eat the Bones Bill James 2
53 Baseball Before We Knew It David Block 2
53 Casey Robert Cremer 2
53 The Curse of the Bambino Dan Shaughnessy 2
53 Juiced Jose Canseco 2
53 The Duke of Havana Steve Fainaru and Ray Sanchez 2
53 Pitching in a Pinch Christy Mathewson 2
53 The Kid from Tomkinsville Jon R Tunis 2
53 Sholess Joe WP Kinsella 2
53 The Iowa Baseball Confederacy WP Kinsella 2
53 Koppett's Concise History of Baseball Leonard Koppett 2
53 The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers Rob Neyer and Bill James 2
82 Where Have you Gone, Joe Dimaggio? Maury Allen 1
82 Hardball Bowie Kuhn 1
82 Fair Ball: A Fan's Case for Baseball Bob Costas 1
82 A Day of Light and Shadows Jonathan Schwartz 1
82 Late Innings Roger Angell 1
82 Pride of the Bimbos John Sayles 1
82 How Life Imitates the World Series Tom Boswell 1
82 The Way It Is Curt Flood and Richard Carter 1
82 Negro Leages (Find Title) Phil Dixon 1
82 Baseball Anecdotes Daniel Okrent and Steve Wulf 1
82 Baseball Confidential Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo 1
82 The Life You Imagine Derek Jeter and Jack Curry 1
82 Bang the Drum Slowly Mark Harris 1
82 Damn Yankees Moss Klein and Bill Madden 1
82 The Greatest Slump of All Time David Carkeet 1
82 My Turn at Bat Ted Williams and John Underwood 1
82 It's What You Learn After You Know it All That Counts Earl Weaver and Terry Pluto 1
82 The Further Adventures of Slugger McBatt WP Kinsella 1
82 You Gotta Have Wa Robert Whiting 1
82 SI's Great Baseball Writing edited by Rob Fleder 1
82 Baseball: America's National Game AG Spalding 1
82 Diamonds are Forever edited by Peter H Gordon 1
82 Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty Buster Olney 1
82 The Annotated Baseball Stories of Ring W Lardner 1914-1911 Ring Lardner (edited by George W Hilton) 1
82 Twighlight of the Long-ball Gods: Dispatches from the Disappearing Heart of Baseball John Schulian 1
82 The Hustler's Handbook Bill Veeck and Ed Linn 1
82 The Hidden Game of Baseball John Thorn and Pete Palmer 1
82 Win Shares Bill James 1
82 Baseball: A Literary Anthology Nicholas Dawidoff 1
82 Last Days of Summer Steve Kluger 1
82 The Baseball Book Sports Illustrated 1
82 The Bad Guys Won Jeff Pearlman 1
82 The White Rat Whitey Herzog 1
82 Spalding's World Tour Mark Lamster 1
82 Snap Me Perfect Darrell Porter 1
82 The Roar of the Crowd W R Burnett 1
82 Stepping Up Alex Belth 1
82 The Last Good Season: Brooklyn, the Dodgers and Their Final Pennant Race Together Michael Shapiro 1
82 The Final Season Tom Stanton 1
82 The Curse of Rocky Colavito Terry Pluto 1
82 The Mick Mickey Mantle and Herb Gluck 1
82 Voices of the Game Curt Smith 1
82 A Scorebook N/A 1
82 Topps Baseball Cards: The Complete Collection Topps 1
82 Walter Johnson: Baseball's Big Train Henry W Thomas 1
82 Champagne and Baloney Tom Clark 1
82 The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Leagues James Riley 1
82 The Image of Their Greatness Lawrence Ritter 1
82 Baseball I Gave You all the Best Years of My Life aka Baseball Diamonds edited by Kevin Kerrane and Gossinger 1
82 Baseball in '41 Robert Creamer 1
82 Negro League Baseball Neil Lanctot 1
82 Strange but True Baseball Stories Furman Bisher 1
82 Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia edited by 1
82 Doc Ellis in the Country of Baseball Doc Ellis and 1
82 To Every Thing a Season Bruce Kuklick 1
82 Don Baylor: Nothing But the Truth, A Baseball Life Don Baylor and Claire Smith 1
82 The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball, 2nd edition edited by Jonathan Light 1
82 Game of Inches (2 volumes) Peter Morris 1
82 Branch Rickey: Baseball's Ferocious Gentleman Lee Lowenfish 1
82 Ladies and Gentleman, The Bronx is Burning Jonathan Mahler 1
82 The Wrong Stuff Bill Lee and Dick Lally 1
82 Hang Tough, Paul Mather Alfred Slote 1
82 The Donald Honig Reader Donald Honig 1
82 O Holy Cow: The Verse of Phil Rizzutto Phil Rizzutto 1
82 Baseball Palace of the World Douglas Bukowski 1
82 Ballpark Peter Richmond 1
82 A Player for a Moment John Hough, Jr 1
82 The Giants of the Polo Grounds Noel Hynd 1
82 The Big Bam Leigh Montville 1
82 Paths to Glory Mark Armour and Dan Levitt 1
82 The Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball 2007 Neft, Cohen and Neft 1
82 Bill James Baseball Abstract 1988 Bill James 1
82 Bill James Baseball Abstract 1983 Bill James 1
82 Baseball Babylon Dan Gutman 1
82 The Physics of Baseball Robert Adair 1
82 Diamonds in the Rough Joel Zoss 1
82 Behind the Mask Dave Pallone and Alan Steinberg 1
82 Yankee Century Glenn Sout and 1
82 The Hidden Language of Baseball Paul Dickson 1
82 The Science of Hitting Ted Williams and John Underwood 1
82 The World Series David Neft and Richard Cohen 1
82 Squeeze Play Jane Leavy 1
82 The Mental Game of Baseball H. A. Dorfman and Karl Kuehl 1
82 Alibi Ike Ring Lardner 1
82 Me and DiMaggio Christopher Lehman-Haupt 1
82 Baseball America Donald Honig 1
82 Cobb: A Biography Al Stump 1
82 Bill James Baseball Abstract 1982 Bill James 1
82 A Six-Gun Salute: An Illustrated History of the Houston Colt .45s Robert Reed 1
82 Wait Til Next Year William Goldman and Mike Lupica 1
82 Forging Genuis Steven Goldman 1

Table 3: Author counts.  First, the top 15 vote getters:

Author Total
Bill James 41
Jim Bouton and Leonard Schecter 35
Lawrence Ritter 30
Roger Angell 28
Michael Lewis 20
Roger Kahn 20
Bill Veeck and Ed Linn 17
Robert Cremer 17
John Heylar 15
David Halberstam 13
Eliott Asnoff 13
Jules Tygiel 10
Pat Jordan 10

Table 4: Now the full author list:

Author Total
Bill James 41
Jim Bouton and Leonard Schecter 35
Lawrence Ritter 30
Roger Angell 28
Michael Lewis 20
Roger Kahn 20
Bill Veeck and Ed Linn 17
Robert Cremer 17
John Heylar 15
David Halberstam 13
Eliott Asnoff 13
Jules Tygiel 10
Pat Jordan 10
Bernard Malamud 9
John Thorn and Pete Palmer 7
Kevin Kerrane 7
Leonard Koppett 7
Mark Harris 7
N/A 6
Jim Brosnan 6
Jimmy Breslin 6
Richard Ben Cremer 6
Ring Lardner 6
Marvin Miller and Allen Barra 5
Red Smith 5
Alan Schwarz 5
WP Kinsella 5
Dan Okrent 5
Jane Leavy 5
Jermone Holtzman 5
Leo Durocher and Ed Linn 5
Robert Coover 4
Satchial Paige 4
Arnold Hano 4
Baseball Prospectus 4
Brendan C Boyd and Fred C Harris 4
edited by Charles Einstein 4
Howard Bryant 4
Rober Paterson 4
Paul Dickson 4
Phillip Roth 3
Nicholas Dawidoff 3
David Maraniss 3
Mark Winegardner 3
Don DeLillo 3
Eric Rolfe Greenberg 3
Harold Seymour 3
Peter Golenbock 3
Jonathan Eig 3
Leigh Montville 3
Sparky Lyle and Peter Golenbock 3
Rob Neyer and Bill James 2
Steve Fainaru and Ray Sanchez 2
Keith Hernandez 2
Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams 2
Jose Canseco 2
Ray Robinson 2
Charles Einstein 2
Bo Belinksy with Maury Allen 2
Jon R Tunis 2
Christy Mathewson 2
Dan Shaughnessy 2
Daniel Okrent and Harris Lewine 2
David Block 2
Ted Williams and John Underwood 2
Donald Honig 2
Mike Shropshire 2
Fred Leib 2
George F Will 2
Mike Sowell 2
Whitey Herzog 1
Henry W Thomas 1
Terry Pluto 1
Peter Morris 1
Furman Bisher 1
Jeff Pearlman 1
Mark Armour and Dan Levitt 1
Sports Illustrated 1
edited by Rob Fleder 1
edited by Peter H Gordon 1
edited by Kevin Kerrane and Gossinger 1
edited by Jonathan Light 1
Moss Klein and Bill Madden 1
edited by 1
Earl Weaver and Terry Pluto 1
Douglas Bukowski 1
Mickey Mantle and Herb Gluck 1
Robert Creamer 1
Don Baylor and Claire Smith 1
Doc Ellis and 1
Derek Jeter and Jack Curry 1
Mark Lamster 1
Steve Kluger 1
David Carkeet 1
Ring Lardner (edited by George W Hilton) 1
Darrell Porter 1
Daniel Okrent and Steve Wulf 1
John Hough, Jr 1
John Sayles 1
Peter Richmond 1
Curt Smith 1
Curt Flood and Richard Carter 1
John Schulian 1
Buster Olney 1
Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo 1
Bruce Kuklick 1
Neft, Cohen and Neft 1
Bowie Kuhn 1
Bob Costas 1
Topps 1
Tom Boswell 1
Bill Lee and Dick Lally 1
Phil Dixon 1
Tom Clark 1
Neil Lanctot 1
Maury Allen 1
Alfred Slote 1
Alex Belth 1
Phil Rizzutto 1
AG Spalding 1
Steven Goldman 1
Noel Hynd 1
Tom Stanton 1
Lee Lowenfish 1
Jonathan Mahler 1
Jonathan Schwartz 1
W R Burnett 1
Robert Whiting 1
Michael Shapiro 1
James Riley 1
Dan Gutman 1
Robert Adair 1
Joel Zoss 1
Dave Pallone and Alan Steinberg 1
Glenn Sout and Richard Johnson 1
David Neft and Richard Cohen 1
H. A. Dorfman and Karl Kuehl 1
Christopher Lehman-Haupt 1
Al Stump 1
Robert Reed 1
William Goldman and Mike Lupica 1
Comments
2008-04-30 11:04:36
1.   Xeifrank
hmmm, the book I'd list as #1 isn't on this list. The Book, Playing The Percentages In Baseball, by Tom Tango, Mitch el Lichtman and Andrew Dolphin.
vr, Xei
2008-04-30 11:05:41
2.   Josh Wilker
Oh, boy, what a gift this list is. A lot of books I know and love, a lot of books I've been meaning to read, and a lot of books to add to the on-deck circle. Great job, Alex.

I'm surprised Donald Honig didn't get a little more love. I think his oral histories are freakin' incredible, the equal of the immortal The Glory of Their Times.

2008-04-30 11:08:47
3.   Alex Belth
What was a lot of fun for me was to see how many great books I haven't read yet. I'm especially eager to read "The Celebrant."
2008-04-30 11:13:30
4.   dianagramr
Crazy '08 didn't crack the list?

Hidden Game of Baseball only 82nd?

2008-04-30 11:20:21
5.   JL25and3
I agree completely with the first two. I'm disappointed that there wasn't more love for You Know Me Al, which is the third in my triumvirate.
2008-04-30 11:22:45
6.   JL25and3
1 The Book is excellent, for what it does. But I don't think it's the compelling read that the other books are. They're stat guys, not stylists.
2008-04-30 11:38:14
7.   Shaun P
Its short, and not a literary baseball work on the level of many of these, but where is "Weaver on Strategy"?
2008-04-30 11:42:57
8.   Cliff Corcoran
4 See today's Cardboard Gods
2008-04-30 11:57:06
9.   Alex Belth
There is one error. Tom Boswell should have two votes for "How Life Imitates the World Series" not one.
2008-04-30 12:00:42
10.   Tangotiger
Thanks for the kind words.

Being just one vote behind The Hidden Game suits me fine. I am simply shocked that there would be only one vote for what is basically the foundation of sabermetrics (though I suppose some people voted for Total Baseball).

2008-04-30 12:13:11
11.   studes
I didn't list the Hidden Game of Baseball (though I came close) because I thought many of its findings would be outdated today.
2008-04-30 12:54:32
12.   Mattpat11
Billy Martin's autobiography was fascinating, if nothing else.

I thought Bronx is Burning was great.

I'm about to start reading Kurkjian's new book as well.

2008-04-30 13:12:34
13.   vockins
I pick up Yogi: It Ain't Over about three times a week and read two pages a time. Best bathroom baseball book ever.
2008-04-30 13:12:40
14.   unmoderated
i am happy to say i have fifty-nine (!) of those on my shelves.

great to see satchel paige's book on there, as well as jane levy's on koufax, two of my faves.

2008-04-30 13:30:53
15.   scareduck
I found myself dozing off when reading Ball Four. It reads like a diary of somebody who's trying hard to tell the truth, but for all that it was pegged as a salacious tale, it reminds you of just how dull life as a major leaguer really is.

The Boys of Summer reminds me of Hemingway's quip that Twain cheated in the second half of Huckleberry Finn. Much (not all) of the second half feels like filler. The first half is riveting.

2008-04-30 13:31:42
16.   scareduck
At least Three Days In August didn't make the list.
2008-04-30 14:05:30
17.   Alex Belth
There's a good follow-up post in that...what are the best books that weren't mentioned? "The Diamond Appraised" leaps to mind.
2008-04-30 14:33:09
18.   Shaun P
17 Field of Schemes covers more than just baseball, but that would be on my list.
2008-04-30 15:44:00
19.   godvls
Did I miss it, or was The Unforgettable Season by G.H. Fleming not mentioned? This was an incredible account of the 1908 National League pennant race presented. Flemmeing used newspaper articles from the season to weave the tale of this amazing pennant race between the Pirates, Cubs and Giants. I found this account of the 1908 season to be much more alive and entertaining than Crazy '08.

My essential 10:
Five Seasons, Roger Angell
The Glory of Their Times, Lawrence Ritter
The Summer Game, Roger Angell
The Unforgettable Season, G.H. Fleming
Baseball Reader/Fireside Books of Baseball, Charles Einstein (editor)
Baseball's Great Experiment
Dollar Sign on the Muscle
Late Innings, Angell
Only the Ball Was White, Robert Peterson
We Are The Ship, Kadir Nelson

We Are The Ship is classified as a children's picture book about the Negro Leagues. One look at the art by Nelson tells you this goes well beyond the typical children's genre. The art is absolutely phenomenal. This is a GREAT baseball book.

I've started reading Ball Four several times, but just can't seem to get into it. While it's a different sort of book, I much prefer Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball.

I counted 45 books on the list that are in my baseball library, but there are so many more listed that I'd like to read. The Celebrant tops the list. I've been hearing about it for the past 20 years and for quite awhile it was out of print, but I believe it's been readily available for a few years now.

2008-04-30 16:06:26
20.   Marty
The Great American Novel is my favorite baseball book. I'm a Rupit Rootah
2008-04-30 16:07:01
21.   yankee23
9 Thank god! Still, I would think Boswell would get more votes for such a great collection of pieces.
2008-04-30 16:10:43
22.   yankee23
I also found Jordan's A Nice Tuesday to be a good read.
2008-04-30 16:56:32
23.   Jeb
Great list, Alex. I am really psyched to have a great reference for all the books I need to add to my library.

I was a bit disappointed to only see "Boys of Summer" by Roger Kahn (though it's a great read). He's a great writer and I absolutely love his other books too. I'd rank "Good Enough to Dream" in my top-5 baseball books of all time

2008-05-01 11:43:12
24.   Rich Lederer
FWIW, I listed The Diamond Appraised and The Hidden Game of Baseball at the top of my honorable mentions.
2008-05-01 16:27:55
25.   Start Spreading the News
I second "Bronx is Burning"
2008-05-02 06:28:02
26.   Steve Strickland
Ball Four is one of the funniest books I've ever read, and I also enjoyed the follow-up, I'm Glad You Didn't Take it Personally. However, I cut my teeth reading the "Baseball Joe" series, written in the early 20th century for young readers. Though the tales of Baseball Joe Matson were exceedingly corny, they led to my lifelong love of the game.
2008-05-02 10:33:49
27.   debris
Great list, Alex. Two books I'm sorry to see missing are Jerome Charyn's "The Seventh Babe" and Darryl Brock's "If I Never Get Back." Well, and Darryl's "Havana Heat" was pretty good as well.
2008-05-02 13:15:19
28.   Mike J
I'm wondering where "Soul of Baseball" by Joe Posnanski is. Also, Bill Simmons "Now I can Die in Peace" was good, too.
2008-05-03 04:29:09
29.   debris
Alex,

You've misspelled Glenn Stout's name on the list. I haven't read his and the late Dick Johnson's Yankee Century, but if it's half as good as their Red Sox Century, it's worthy of inclusion on this list.

Comment status: comments have been closed. Baseball Toaster is now out of business.