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Essential Baseball Books: The Ballots (Part II)
2008-05-01 10:30
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

 More voting...(S-W)

 

John Schulian 

1. "The Baseball Encyclopedia":  What would the game be without all those numbers?  More to the point, where would Bill James and all the stat addicts who have come after him be without them?

2. "Ball Four" by Jim Bouton (edited by Leonard Shecter, a glorious curmudgeon who was a splendid writer):  Nearly 40 years after my first reading, I still quote from it, still recall my favorite anecdotes.  And if I sat down today to read it yet again, it would still double me up with laughter. 

3. "The Long Season" by Jim Brosnan:  He was the writer Bouton wasn't, and he came a decade earlier.  Which is to say that without "The Long Season," there might never have been a "Ball Four."

4. "Veeck as in Wreck" by Bill Veeck (with Ed Linn):  Veeck was baseball's last maverick owner, a true original.  There'll never be another like him, which is why everybody who never knew him should read this book to see what they missed. 

5. "Moneyball" by Michael Lewis:  I buy some of what Lewis' subject, Billy Bean, is selling, but not all of it.  Still, this is a riveting study of a general manager who's forced to be smarter than the competition because he doesn't have anything resembling the competition's bankroll.

6. "Only the Ball Was White" by Robert W. Peterson:  Read about the days of the color line and weep for what blind, bigoted baseball missed out on. 

7. "A False Spring" by Pat Jordan:  A former phenom tells the tale of how he flamed out far from the big leagues that seemed to be his destiny.  There's never been a truer story about the reality of professional baseball. 

8. "Eight Men Out" by Eliot Asinof:  The tale of the Black Sox, the worst of whom were bums, and yet they had an owner who was even worse in his way than they were.  Call me soft-headed, but I'll never stop feeling sorry for Shoeless Joe Jackson. 

9. "Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?" by Jimmy Breslin:  A great New York columnist on the 1962 Met, the funniest team ever, with the funniest manager.  Hey, open the door for Marvelous Marv Throneberry, would you? 

10. "The Summer Game" by Roger Angell and "How Life Imitates the World Series" by Thomas Boswell (tie):  Here they are, 1 and 1A among modern baseball writers.  These are collections of some of their best work -- elegant, insightful and worthy of keeping in print forever.

  

Alan Schwartz

 

1) Lords of the Realm (John Helyar)
2) October '64 (David Halberstam)
3) The 1983 Baseball Abstract (Bill James)
4) Ball Four (Jim Bouton with Len Shecter)
5) The Long Season (Jim Brosnan)
6) Veeck as in Wreck (Bill Veeck with Ed Linn)
7) The Dickson Baseball Dictionary (Paul Dickson)
8) The Physics of Baseball (Robert Adair)
9) Baseball Babylon (Dan Gutman)
10) Total Baseball (Thorn et al)

 

Joe Sheehan 

"Lords of the Realm" by John Helyar. It's a bit dated, but is the best overview of the business of the game ever written. 

"The Glory of Their Times" by Lawrence Ritter. Similarly, the most entertaining and informative book about the early days of the game. The best oral history ever. 

"Baseball Between the Numbers" by Baseball Prospectus. Self-check, to be sure, but it addresses so many basic questions about the game in an accessible manner. 

"Bill James Baseball Abstract 1988" by Bill James. IMO, the best of the series, and also the last. James' combination of analysis and wit peaks in this volume. "Sam Horn runs like an anvil." Most people will cite the Historical Abstract as essential James, but this one is better. 

"Ball Four" by Jim Bouton. As responsible as anything else for the (IMO, good) leveling of the myth of baseball players as icons. They're people like everyone else. Examination of the anti-intellectual strain within the game foreshadows the challenges analysts face two generations hence. 

"The Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball 2007" by Neft, Cohen and Neft. This is the most recent encyclopedia I own, and stands in as a placeholder for the idea that any list of essential books needs to include a reference of this nature. So whatever the most recent edition of this or The Baseball Encyclopedia exists goes in this space. 

"The Politics of Glory," by Bill James. The best long-form James work and the best history of the Hall of Fame ever written. 

"Paths to Glory," by Mark Armour and Dan Levitt. How great teams were built. Take Prospectus-caliber analysis and add in two historians who can write. 

"A Whole Different Ball Game," by Marvin Miller. The wars of the 1960s through 1980s through the eyes of the man who fought them. Miller didn't change the game himself, but he led the people who did, kicking and screaming in some cases. 

"Season Ticket," by Roger Angell. Because he's a wordsmith, and no list of essentials is complete without a writer of Angell's skill.  

 

Al Silverman

As to the baseball books, No. 1 for me Is The Glory of Their Times. In fact Larry's book gave me the courage to do The Time of Their Lives, which is a hybrid -- part narrative, part oral history. 

Then comes The Boys of Summer. This is a personal thing, too, because in my last year with Sport, I got to publish four pieces from that book well before it was a book. We paid Roger $500 for each first serial right (thus cutting out SI). It came in the season when Sport was celebrating its 25th birthday.

These others I really loved:

Veeck as in Wreck

also from Ed, Nice Guys Finish Last (Durocher)

The First Fireside Book if Baseball by Charlie Einstein(maybe because i am in it)'

Prophet of the Sandlots, Mark Weingardner

Pitching in a Pinch, Christy Mathewson.

Two I had something to do with –

Baseball in '41. Bob Creamer and  The Curse of the Bambino, Dan Shaughnessy.

The Summer Game by Roger Angell. 

 

Emma Span

1. Anything by Roger Angell….Ok, Game Time.

2. The Glory of Their Times, Lawrence Ritter -- This book has a terrible title and generally sounds like it should be unbelievably, soul-crushingly dull, but is instead completely fascinating, and left me nursing a bizarre crush on Wahoo Sam Crawford. Good luck convincing anyone to read it, though.

3. Red Smith on Baseball -- I would absolutely, without hesitation, sell my soul to write like this.

4. Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?, Jimmy Breslin - Will make you desperately wish you'd been around to be a Mets fan in 1962. Great, hilarious, breezy read with a thousand terrific anecdotes. Somebody needs to make this into a movie.

5. Bill James, The New Historical Baseball Abstract.

6. Veeck as in Wreck, Bill Veeck-- I flat-out love Bill Veeck, he's one of my heroes. Okay, so he didn't have a very high opinion of women's baseball knowledge... I'm over it. He was progressive in just about every other way, had a truly awesome sense of humor and perspective, and was the sworn enemy of pomp and pretension everywhere. Many of his observations about the baseball establishment still hold completely true - he would have utterly loathed Bud Selig. But in a fun and entertaining way.

7. Moneyball, Michael Lewis -- What people tend to overlook, caught up in the steel cage death match between the pro- and anti-sabermetric forces, is that Michael Lewis is a really good writer.

8. Jim Bouton, Ball Four -- seems pretty tame considering what we know these days about players' private lives - it's hard to believe it caused such a huge stir. But it's still a fun, gossipy, behind-the-scenes read.

9. Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Burning

10. The Boys of Summer -- Overrated and suffocatingly nostalgic, but still worth reading for its portrayal of athletes post-retirement, back when that meant working as a bartender or factory worker. Will make you appreciate the Player's Union.

 

Greg Spira

Since you said it was only ten essentials and not the ten most essential, I decided to go with some of the lesser known works and avoid the desert island scenario.


The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball, 2nd edition by Jonathan Light - A massive, comprehensive, well-researched exploration of virtually every aspect of baseball's culture

The Pitch That Killed by Mike Sowell A tour de force piece of baseball history that focuses on the only major league baseball player ever killed by a pitched ball.  The story of how it came to happen and the event's aftermath is not just trivia, but the story of how baseball radically altered itself for the third decade of the 20th century.

Dollar Sign on the Muscle by Kevin Kerrane Outstanding look at the lives of baseball scouts and the work they do.

The Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson & His Legacy by Jules Tygiel - Robinson's story has been told a thousand times, but Tygiel's book remains the definitive book on the integration of baseball.

Prophet of the Sandlots by Mark Winegardner - This account of the life of Phillies scout Tony Lucadello is a compelling read even for non baseball fans, but for those who follow the sport closely it provides an unparalleled way to connect

Dickson Baseball Dictionary by Paul Dickson - Baseball has a language all its own, and understanding it is vital to a full appreciation of the game.  Dickson's thoroughly researched reference book tells the story of baseball from a unique vantage point.

Veeck as in Wreck by Bill Veeck and Ed Linn - Veeck is the classic baseball character, and Linn was perhaps the best co-writer baseball figures have ever regularly worked with.

A Game of Inches (2 volumes) by Peter Morris - An astonishingly wide-ranging guide to the history of baseball's innovations on and off the field

Branch Rickey: Baseball's Ferocious Gentleman by Lee Lowenfish - This recent biography covers one of the great figures of baseball history, and through him it covers virtually every important development in major league baseball in the 20th century after the founding of the American League.

The original Bill James Historical Abstract, paperback version - James' most enjoyable work is this idiosyncratic roller coaster survey of baseball's decades and its greatest players

Other essential baseball books that you definitely want to have in your baseball library

2008 ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia by Gary Gillette and Pete Palmer

Ball Four by Jim Bouton

The Ultimate Baseball Book by Daniel Okrent

Once More Around the Park: A Baseball Reader by  Roger Angell (or any other Angell baseball book published before 1995)

Baseball : A History of America's Game by Benjamin Rader  (or, for those with more time, the multi-volume histories of baseball by David Voight and Harold Seymour)

The Glory of Their Times by Lawrence Ritter

 

Glenn Stout

TOTAL BASEBALL 

Sports Encyclopedia Baseball 

(yet virtually all stat books are now redundant given what’s available on-line) 

Baseball I Gave You all the Best Years of My Life aka Baseball Diamonds edited by Kerrane and Grossinger 

The Southpaw by Mark Harris 

You Know Me Al by Ring Lardner 

Ball Four by Jim Bouton

Boys of Summer by Kahn 

Dollar Sign on the Muscle by Kerrane 

Prophet of the Sandlots by Mark Winegardner 

Harold Seymour’s first two books

 

Studes 

- Pure Baseball, by Keith Hernandez.  You watch a game with Hernandez, at bat by at bat, and he comments throughout the book on strategy, batter/pitcher matchups, etc.  Baseball heaven.

- The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract.  I think this is the best, most accessible reviews of baseball history I've read.  I personally like the first one better -- maybe because it made a great first impression.  The second one bogged down a bit, I thought.

- Shoeless Joe, by WP Kinsella.  My favorite book of baseball fiction and the basis for the movie "Field of Dreams."  I'd also recommend his other books, particularly the collections of short stories.  No one will put you in touch with the magic of baseball better than Kinsella.

- The Glory of their Times by Lawrence Ritter.  Of course.

- The subject of Jackie Robinson would be required reading, but I'm not sure which one I'd recommend.  Baseball's Great Experiment, by Jules Tygiel, is the one that comes to mind.  But I also enjoyed Jonathan Eig's "Opening Day," published last year.

- Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame (originally called "The Politics of Glory," which I thought was a much better title) is a fine primer on the Hall, by Bill James.  This list needs a Hall of Fame book, and I think this one is the best.  The first chapter, which
includes a history of how the Hall came to be in Cooperstown, is the best writing I've seen on that particular subject.

- Got to have Roger Angell on this list.  I'd go with "Five Seasons," though I'm no expert on the Angell books.  I just like to read his work.

- "Lords of the Realm" by John Helyar.  The best book about the ownership cult and the business of baseball.  As a secondary pick, I'd choose Howard Bryant's Juicing the Game, which picks up where Helyar's book left off.

- I struggled with picking a pure sabermetrics book for this list, and I don't think I can do it.  The classic, The Hidden Game of Baseball (by Thorn and Palmer) is probably just a little too outdated at this point.  Instead, I'd recommend Alan Schwarz's "The Numbers Game," which is a history of those who have tracked baseball stats through the years.

- I have to select another James book for my final pick: the James Guide to Baseball Managers.  Managers are an important part of baseball lore and strategy, and I've not read anything better about the subject.  In fact, this is my favorite James book.

That's it, but can I add a few comments?  Two overlooked areas on my list: Babe Ruth (I'd recommend Creamer's biography, but I haven't read Montville's) and the minor leagues (Not sure.  Pat Jordan's book, A False Spring.)  Among straightforward baseball "as told to's", three of my favorites are "Casey at the Bat" (Stengel), "Crash" (Dick Allen) and "Nice Guys Finish Last" (Durocher).

  

Cecilia Tan

Total Baseball
The World Series, Neft & Cohen
The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers
Dickson Baseball Dictionary
Yankees Century
Behind the Mask, Dave Pallone
The Mental Game of Baseball, Dorfman & Kuehl
Squeeze Play, Jane Leavy (it's fiction, but it's so true...)
The Science of Hitting, Ted Williams
The Hidden Language of Baseball, Paul Dickson

 

Steve Treder

1. Game Time.   Any of the Roger Angell anthologies.  The Summer Game was the first, but not necessarily the best; among the many phenomenal aspects of Angell's writing is how he's managed to remain as fresh and enthusiastic and sharp and witty and insightful as ever, decade upon decade.

2.  Something by Bill James.  I suppose The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract from 2001 is the default choice, but in some ways the original BJHBA from 1986 was better.  And his Book of Baseball Managers is just as terrific.  And, of course, one could hardly go wrong just taking one of the annual Abstracts from the 1980s. 

3.  The Thinking Fan's Guide to Baseball, by Leonard Koppett.  If only most newspaper-beat sportswriters exhibited one-tenth of the intelligence and style of this tremendous thinker and writer.  

4.  A Day in the Bleachers, by Arnold Hano.  Quite simply, the best ballgame-as-experienced-from-the-stands account ever written.  Nothing else really comes close. 

5.  The Lords of Baseball, by John Helyar.  The stunningly good history and examination of how MLB really operates.

6.  Juicing the Game, by Howard Bryant.  Picks up where Helyar left off, and presents the authoritative history of MLB in the modern era. 

7.  The Glory of their Times, edited by Lawrence Ritter.  The first of the great oral histories, and in many ways still the best.  Danny Peary's We Played the Game is a close rival. 

8.  Ball Four, by Jim Bouton with Leonard Schecter.  Yes, Jim Brosnan's The Long Season was nearly as good, but not quite.  Bouton's is the best insider's account yet presented.  

9.  Eight Men Out, by Eliot Asinof.  Pick it up, and try to put it down.  I dare ya. 

10.  The original MacMillan Baseball Encyclopedia, from 1969.  Others have come along and overtaken it, and of course today one just turns to baseball-reference.com.  But every statistical reference work since stands upon MacMillan's robust and towering shoulders.

This leaves out a gazillion worthy contenders, of course.  I'm sure as soon as I send this, I'm gonna slap my forehead and say, "D'oh!  How could I have forgotten that one!"  But every one of these ten is fundamental.

  

Jules Tygiel

Lawrence Ritter, The Glory of their Times
Roger Kahn, The Boys of Summer
Jim Bouton, Ball Four
Robert Peterson, Only the Ball Was White
Bill Veeck, Veeck As in Wreck
David Block, Baseball Before We Knew It
Robert Creamer, Babe
Bill James, The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract
Pat Jordan, A False Spring
Neil Lanctot, Negro League Baseball

 

Jon Weisman 

1)The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Baseball – Leonard Koppett

2) Strange but True Baseball Stories by Furman Bisher - aimed for kids, but a good intro into baseball's idiosyncrasies.

3) The Kid from Tompkinsville by John R. Tunis - aimed for youth as well, but I reread as an adult and thoroughly enjoyed. Though written nearly 70 years ago, captures the mythos of baseball as well as anything/ 

4) Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella - Fiction that relates baseball to a grown-up life.

5) The Natural by Bernard Malamud - Visiting baseball's darker side through fiction. If you're on fiction overload by this point, though, perhaps switch to Eight Men Out by Eliot Asinof. 

6) Babe by Robert Creamer - Assuming it holds up from when I read it as a boy - and why shouldn't it - a worthy bio of baseball's iconic figure  

7) Five Innings by Roger Angell - You could pick any Angell collection from his heyday, but this one always stood out to me. 

8) Summer of ‘49 by David Halberstam.  I'd like a great pennant race book in there. I loved "The Miracle at Coogan's Bluff" by Thomas Kiernan as a kid, but it's out of print.

9) A Whole Different Ballgame by Marvin Miller - worthwhile to know the game's economic history, etc. Choosing this in a narrow race vs. Lords of the Realm by John Helyar.

10) Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract - Your graduation present.  Now that you're hooked, start learning about its history in a progressive way.

 

Josh Wilker

The Southpaw, Mark Harris
My favorite baseball novel; I read it once every few years

Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book, Brendan C. Boyd, Fred C. Harris

Possibly the funniest baseball book ever written, and also one that not only celebrates the magic of baseball cards but gives voice to everyone who ever collected them

The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract
Maybe THE essential baseball book

The Donald Honig Reader
Oral baseball history at its best. I like Honig's work even better than Lawrence Ritter's more ballyhooed  (and also great) The Glory of Their Times. My copy of the Honig anthology is crumbling from repeated re-readings.

Hang Tough, Paul Mather, Alfred Slote
A perfect and heartbreaking young adult novel about a star little league pitcher who gets leukemia. It made me cry as a kid and still makes me cry when I reread it as an adult.

The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry
Waugh, Prop., Robert Coover
If baseball is a game of the mind, this is the novel that goes deepest into the weirdest and most amazing reaches of that mind.

Five Seasons, Roger Angell
The master at work.

Pafko at the Wall, Don DeLillo
The brilliant DeLillo turns his eye to the 1951 Bobby Thompson game in this novella (also a part of the giant novel Underworld)

The Wrong Stuff, Bill Lee
A personal favorite; The Bronx Zoo and Ball Four are great, too, but I like Lee's cracked p.o.v. the best.

O Holy Cow (The verse of Phil Rizzuto)
This may seem like an ironic pick, but it isn't. Besides providing a lot of belly laughs this book also gives one of the best senses of any book of the wide-open spaces (for digression, memories, imagination) baseball and only baseball can offer up.

 

 And lastly, a note from Leigh Monteville...

Alex -

I'm sure you have the usual bases covered already from everybody else - that's baseball jargon, to set the mood - so let me just add a book that often seems to be overlooked. This is 'The Brothers K' by David James Duncan. Fiction. Wonderful. I give this book to friends, relatives on substantial birthdays, happy occasions, my little nomination as The Great American Novel. I'd lay the passages in here about baseball, word for word, against anything that ever has been written about the game. I'm also a big fan of 'Bang The Drum Slowly' by Mark Harris, more fiction, terrific.

Best,
Leigh Montville

Comments
2008-05-01 11:44:01
1.   Josh Wilker
I second Mr. Montville's praise of The Brothers K. It might be overlooked as a baseball book because it ends up venturing far from the diamond to get pretty deep into the general cultural upheaval of the 1960s, especially the Vietnam War.
2008-05-01 13:15:06
2.   Bob Timmermann
Alex apparently knew that I don't know how to read.
2008-05-01 13:18:25
3.   mbtn01
Really enjoyed this -- thanks.

Just an observation -- Breslin's "Can't Anyone Here Play this Game" is great fun and all but I'm not sure even 50% of it ever happened. On the other hand "Joy in Mudville" by George Vescey, pictured on the bookshelf, is a fun, well-written and verifiable history of the early Mets that probably doesn't get enough love.

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