June 6, 2012
The Lineup Card
10 Favorite Baseball Books
1. The Numbers Game by Alan Schwarz
This book took my baseball fandom to another level. Moneyball was the impetus for me to dive headlong into the stats craze and learn more about it, while Game was my first venture into the middle of the pool preparing me for my 2006 venture into the deep end of the pool when BP’s very own Baseball Between the Numbers was released. I absorbed all of it.
I grew up a baseball diehard in suburban Detroit; I loved playing for hours at the park at the end of our block then nerding out over packs of baseball cards, spending hours playing RBI Baseball video games, and keeping my own stats in reams of notebooks before eventually discovering the greatness of Front Page Sports ’98 on the computer in high school (what. a. dork!).
These books, and Game especially, were the natural progression of my fandom in my early and mid-20s culminating with the unthinkable: a writing position with Baseball Prospectus to start my 30s. —Paul Sporer
2. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract by Bill James
I remember buying the Abstract on the day it came out, and walking around with it for a month or so. I read it while I walked to work from the parking lot. I read it at lunch. I read it while I watched baseball. I read it in bed. What spoke to me about James' book was not the complicated Win Shares system he briefly described in the back, nor the rankings of the players (though that was fun). It was the stories James told about the game that traced its evolution through vignettes and with irreverence. Reading it taught me not just about the game itself, but about how much I liked the game and why. Because I devoured every single page in James' book, and when I was done, I wanted more. The sheer volume of information in that book is still mindboggling. It's still one of my favorite books to turn to when doing research or when I just want to kill a few minutes by rereading a couple stories. —Michael Bates
3. The Bullpen Gospels by Dirk Hayhurst
Two years later, that pitcher was the author of my favorite baseball book—a book about the years he spent toiling in A-ball for the chance he finally got that August day. As fans, we can learn how to analyze baseball for ourselves, and we can read recaps of games on the field and transactions upstairs from beat writers. An inside look at clubhouse culture and minor-league life from a player submerged in it is the rarest of treats—the equivalent of front-row seats for a starving college student. And The Bullpen Gospels by Dirk Hayhurst provided that window from all angles, personal and professional, better than any other book I've read. (The sequel, Out of My League, is lying next to me, half-finished.)
I had to look up the final score of that game, and I couldn't have given you a single number from Hayhurst's first career line. But because of The Bullpen Gospels, I'll never forget that I sat a foot away from Dirk Hayhurst as he prepared for his major-league debut. —Daniel Rathman
4. Ball Four by Jim Bouton
5. Breaking into Baseball: Women and the National Pastime by Jean Hastings Ardell
I received a copy of Breaking into Baseball: Women and the National Pastime, from one of those contributors, Christina Kahrl, as a gift. I admit, though I do love baseball history, my knowledge of women in the game was sorely lacking. Jean Hastings Ardell narrows the gap, delving into seven major ways women have contributed to the game, and helping us understand that women have always had a significant involvement in the game. Unlike many baseball books, Breaking into Baseball is written more from a female perspective; just a few of the baseball journeys chronicled are those of Kim Ng, Justine Siegal, Marge Schott, and Bernice Gera. Yes, gents: Morganna makes a flash appearance. —Stephani Bee
6. Skinnybones by Barbara Park
In the beginning of the book, Alex is talking about his cat and he is sending in a slip to try to get on T.V. Then, Alex talks about how bad he plays baseball. He always gets the most improved player award at the Awards Assembly. He starts out reeking and ends up stinking. Next, he has a pitch out with T.J Stoner and he ends up losing. Then he has a baseball game and T.J Stoner is pitching for the other team. If T.J wins it will be his 125th straight game that he wins. Finally, Alex feels great even though T.J got to go on T.V. because Alex’ entry slip for kitty fritters won!
Okay, yeah, that's just a perfect description of Skinnybones, my favorite baseball book. —Sam Miller
7. Glory of Their Times by Lawrence S. Ritter
Players like to tell stories, and Lawrence Ritter let them. Inspired by the death of Ty Cobb in 1961, Ritter spent the next five years following the four steps outlined above. The result was The Glory of Their Times, an oral history of baseball in the late 19th and early 20th centuries “told by the men who played it.” Several of those men were Hall of Famers whose names you probably know. If you read it, you’ll know much more than their names.
There are many reasons to buy the book: to be entertained, of course, and to learn about baseball, but also to learn about life in the United States a century ago, the nature of nostalgia, and the art of telling stories. There are embellishments, and there are almost certainly inaccuracies, but take the book for what it is—old men remembering being young men, with both the wisdom and the selective memory of advanced age—and you’ll get a lot out of it. Some of the players thought the game, and the world, had gone downhill since their day. Others were much more optimistic. And most of them said things like “what the dickens” and “a real humdinger.”
8. Lords of the Realm by John Helyar
Helyar’s next project, Lords of the Realm, provides a definitive history of the business side of baseball, and the cast of characters is irresistible: Judge Landis and Charles Comiskey, Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson, Bowie Kuhn and Marvin Miller, Charlie Finley and Gussie Busch, Bud Selig and Jerry Reinsdorf. Helyar puts you inside their deliberations and arguments at crucial moments throughout the game’s history.
The book also delivers a long line of laughs. In one memorable exchange, yacht-racing aficionado Ted Turner addressed his new colleagues at his first owners meeting after buying the Braves: “I’m glad to be here because I love competition. There’s nothing like being on the ocean, with the strong winds blowing and the wind in your face and not knowing your destiny.”
“Son,” replied longtime Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley, “you came to the right place.” —Jeff Euston
9. The Natural by Bernard Malamud
A quick check of Wikipedia, bastion of truth, reveals that the movie was released in 1984. I definitely read the book before the movie came out, because when that happened, I very much wanted to see it. And then I heard about the ending.
For those who haven't read or seen The Natural, I'll just say that a central plot point—perhaps the central plot point—was altered for Hollywood. It changed the entire meaning of the story and its lead character.
I still haven't seen the movie. I've heard wonderful things about it, and I'm sure many of them are true. But for me, watching the movie version would be a bit like watching an adaptation of Lord of the Rings that had Sauron winning. It might be interesting, and even good, but it's not the story I know and love.
Or the story I knew and loved. Like I say, it's been a while. I'll have to read it again. —Geoff Young
10. Juiced by Jose Canseco
Juiced: A Modern Classic. —Jason Parks