Not too long ago, a friend asked for suggestions of books about baseball that she should read. If you know me at all, you know two things: I love baseball and at one point in my life, I was a high school English teacher. Naturally, I had a few suggestions for her. That got me thinking: just how many baseball books have I read over the years? I went through my entries on the website goodreads.com, and came up with the following books, and I thought I’d share these titles with my baseball-loving, book-reading brethren. And these are just the books I know I’ve read. I remember reading several books by Matt Christopher when I was a kid–all about kids who are going through something in life (divorce, a move, death in the family, etc) and playing youth sports at the same time. If you have elementary school aged kids, his books might be worth checking out at some point.
The books are grouped in to three categories: the 1st are books that if you haven’t read yet, you should be starting within the next week or two. The 2nd set are books that if you ever get around to it, check them out. As for the last group, if you never get around to them, no skin off my back. Other than that, they are in no particular order, mostly non-fiction.
Must Read As Soon As Possible:
The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America by Joe Posnansk. A friend suggested I read this one after reading Buck O’Neil’s autobiography. I had it done in under three days. An absolutely fantastic read about one of America’s true treasures. If you’re going to read any of these books, start with this one. And buy it, you’ll want others in your family to read it as soon as you’re done with it.
Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella. The book that became “Field of Dreams.” It’s one of my favorites, and it’s VERY different from the film (for good reason). If you liked the movie starring Kevin Costner, buy a copy of this because you’ll probably end up reading several times of the years.
The Victory Season: The End of World War II and the Birth of Baseball’s Golden Age by Robert Weintraub. This was about the Major Leaguers who went off to fight in WWII, and what they did that first season back after the war. It combined my love for baseball and American history but at times it was pretty slow. One thing really bothered me, though: there was not one mention of former New York Yankees 2nd baseman and Hall of Fame Broadcaster, Jerry Coleman. I get that Lt. Col Coleman was in the minors for 2 years after the war, but he was the ONLY MLBer to see combat in both WWII and the Korean War. That’s going to bother me for a long time, I think.
Jackie Robinson: A Biography by Arnold Rampersad. I’ve seen three movies about Mr. Robinson: “The Jackie Robinson Story,” “The Court Martial of Jackie Robinson,” and “42.” None of them did justice to his life. He was such a fascinating man, and this is the book that anyone who is remotely interested in him should read. For my money, Mr. Robinson was more important to American History than he’s given credit for, and he was so much more than just the 1st African-American to break MLB’s Jim Crow rules.
Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series by Eliot Asinof. It’s the book that the film “Eight Men Out” was based on, and for my money, it was better than the movie–it just gets more in-depth into the personalities of the players and why they took the money better than the film could in 2 1/2 hours. I had never heard of the 1919 White Sox until I saw “Field of Dreams,” and knowing the story of why those guys (not just Joe Jackson) were banned from baseball is a fascinating part of American history.
Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend by James S. Hirsch. Every Giants fan should have this in their personal library. Over the years, Mays earned a reputation with the media for being–oh, let’s call it grouchy–and you learn why. You’ll learn how loved he was in the minor leagues in Minnesota, and later in New York.
The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg by Nicholas Dawidoff. Moe Berg was another interesting character of 1930′s & 40′s baseball. He wasn’t a great ball player, and no one who knew him really got to know him. Some says he was a CIA agent during WWII; some say he was a fraud who lived off the kindness of friends. I don’t know what’s true and what’s not, but it’s a good story!
The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant by Douglass Wallop. Published in the mid-1950′s, this book would eventually become the Broadway musical “Damn Yankees.” A middle-aged Washington Senators fan sells his soul to the Devil, and in exchange becomes the kind of player (think Willie Mays, but better) the Senators need to finally beat the Yankees and the win the American League. This was Shoeless Joe long before Kinsella published his masterpiece, and just as fantastic to read. Side note: I was at Opening Night of the revival in October of 1993 at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego. Such a great show!
Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports by Mark Fainaru-Wada. This changed my mind on the whole steroid “thing” (well, it solidified my opinion on it, anyway).
Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Antihero by Jeff Pearlman. A great book about one of the most polarizing figures in baseball history. Barry Bonds fans probably will want to burn this book after they read it because he does not come off as a likeable human being (when your college teammates want to kick you off the team, you have issues).
Put Them On Your “To Read” List, Get To Them When You Can:
- I Was Right on Time by Buck O’Neil
- Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend by Larry Tye
- The Natural by Bernard Malamud
- The Dixie Cornbelt League and Other Baseball Stories by W.P. Kinsella
- The Iowa Baseball Confederacy by W.P. Kinsella
- Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa: Stories by W.P. Kinsella
- The Thrill of the Grass by W.P. Kinsella
- Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris
- The Kid Who Only Hit Homers by Matt Christopher
If You Never Get To These, You’re Really Not Missing Much:
- Hanging Curve by Troy Soos
- The Goose is Loose by Richard Gossage and Russ Pate
- All the Babe’s Men: Baseball’s Greatest Home Run Seasons and How They Changed America by Eldon L. Ham
- Juan Marichal: My Journey from the Dominican Republic to Cooperstown by Juan Marichal
- A Band of Misfits: Tales of the 2010 San Francisco Giants by Andrew Baggerly
- My Favorite Summer 1956 by Mickey Mantle
- Juiced: Wild Time, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big by Jose Canseco