1. â€‹The Numbers Gameâ€‹ by Alan Schwarz
Having devoured Moneyball a year earlier, I was ridiculously excited to read The Numbers Game by Alan Schwarz seven years ago when I happened across it at the bookstore. Yes, I used to go to the bookstore every couple of weeks and just peruse the shelves. Is that even possible these days? In Game, Schwarz tours the rich history of statistics in baseball from Henry Chadwick to Allan Roth to Bill James in a riveting 258 pages leaving no statistical stone unturned.
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. â€‹The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract â€‹by Bill James
The Bill James New Historical Baseball Abstract may not be the best baseball book of all time, but it's far and away my favorite. It's my favorite because of when it came along, just as I was becoming more aware of the game's complexity and stats. Just as I left college and had time to delve into a book for fun. And just as I was craving more baseball after a terrific 2001 season that saw the Twins finally show some life again. So when Rob Neyer started talking up this thousand-page love letter to the game, I knew what I would be reading in the fall of 2001.
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. â€‹The Bullpen Gospels â€‹by Dirk Hayhurst
I had front-row seats behind the visitors' bullpen for the Giants game on August 23, 2008—a birthday gift from a close friend. Then a penny-pinching high school graduate set to head off to college a week later, I crossed my fingers and hoped to find myself a foot away from Jake Peavy or Greg Maddux for this rare treat. But when I looked up the pitching probables for that afternoon, I found that a 27-year-old I had never heard of would be warming up in front of me for his first big-league start. No Peavy, no Maddux, just a minor-league veteran with major-league dreams.
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 Fourâ€‹ by Jim Bouton
A sitcom adapted from the seminal baseball book Ball Four was part of CBS's prime-time lineup in the fall of 1976. The show only lasted five weeks before being canceled, but it piqued my interest enough to check the book, written by former major-league pitcher Jim Bouton, out of my school library. In retrospect, I'm surprised my school had Ball Four on the shelves, because it was very controversial for its time. Ball Four was Bouton's diary of spending the 1969 season with the expansion Pilots and Astros. Much of it was a humorous look at the frivolous stuff that goes on in major-league clubhouses, hotels, airplanes and buses. However, Bouton was also the first person to pull back the curtain to expose the fact that many players liked to chase women, drink heavily, and abuse amphetamines. It marked the end of innocence for professional athletes. The media began ending its chummy relationship with the players and began covering them more objectively. Bouton also ended Ball Four with this memorable line: "All these years you think you're gripping the ball, but it is really the ball that is gripping you." Little did I know in my preteen days, but that line would wind up describing most of my adult life as well." —John Perrotto
5. â€‹Breaking into Baseball: Women and the National Pastime â€‹by Jean Hastings Ardell
I'm Captain Obvious, so I'll go ahead and state the obvious: A lot of guys write baseball books. And a lot of guys have played baseball. However, women have contributed to the national pastime for decades, and not just by serving as eye candy for clubhouse reports, cleat chasers, or a bikini-clad pool attendant for the Miami Marlins. Women have contributed as overexcited broadcasters, but apart from that, there have also been professional female players, umpires, trainers, executives, owners, scribes, and historians.
I received a copy of â€‹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. Skinnybonesâ€‹ by Barbara Park
Considering how many times I read it, I'm embarrassed to admit how few specifics I can recall about Skinnybones, a young-adult novel about a boy who is skinny and plays baseball against boys who aren't. (One thing I do recall is his complaint that his bones are actually normal-sized; it's the lack of fat and muscle that makes him skinny, and his nickname a lie.) I can't recommend the book enough, especially if you're around 11 years old and skinny. But rather than bluff on details, I'll just quote a fifth-grade book report I found online:
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 Timesâ€‹ by Lawrence S. Ritter
Step one: Buy a tape recorder. Step two: Spend several years tracking down old ballplayers from the turn of the century, most of whom have fallen off the map. Step three: Talk to them, and remember to hit record. Step four: Transcribe.
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 Realmâ€‹ by John Helyar
In 1990, John Helyar and Bryan Burrough chronicled the leveraged buyout of corporate giant RJR Nabisco in Barbarians at the Gate, a book that defined Wall Street’s wild ride in the ‘80s. Where does a writer turn for a worthy subject after tackling the unholy marriage of egos, betrayals, mergers and greed on Wall Street? The boardrooms and ownership groups of Major League Baseball, of course.
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 Naturalâ€‹ by Bernard Malamud
During my formative years as a baseball fan, I read Bernard Malamud's The Natural. I'm pretty sure it was 1984, but that period is a blur these days, so I could be off by a year or three. Anyway, I've forgotten much about the book beyond the fact that it was beautiful and heartbreaking. And that it was beautiful because it was heartbreaking.
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
While its quite common [and easy] to dismiss the sensationalized fluff of a fame-starved narcissist as nothing more than adolescent bluster, it’s a more rewarding exercise to view the content as an articulate portrait of contemporary life in major-league baseball, documented by the pen of a modern realist, the José Maria de Eça de Queiroz of former steroid users. With the prose of a skilled 6-year-old and the nuance of a bowling ball, Jose Canseco takes us on a journey inside the secret world of a professional athlete, pulling the curtain back on the banality of daily life through the advanced technique of monosyllabic busts and poorly-constructed thought. In Chapter Eight—Imports, Road Beef, and Extra Cell Phones—Canseco delivers his ultimate critique of modern society, opening the eyes of the audience to the routines of our heroes, the great men with great flaws. My five favorite quotes from Chapter Eight, which I think sum up the chapter (and the book) with a pure and direct honesty rarely found in modern literature:
“We’re men; we have egos, and libidos, and that's a tough set of forces to combat.”
“Did I sleep with a lot of those women? Sure I did."
“It was much better to hook up with a beautiful stripper and then go back to your place.”
“Oh my God, I’m 0-for-20. I’m going to get the ugliest girl I can find and have sex with her.”
“But here’s the point I want to emphasize: what happens to your testes has nothing to do with any shrinking of the penis.”
Juiced: A Modern Classic. —Jason Parks
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