My Ten Favorite Baseball Books
It can be argued that baseball is a sport past its time, but even conceding football's dramatic action or basketball's fluid motion (until the last five minutes of a game), no major sport lends itself to great storytelling the way baseball does. I've read a lot of baseball books, and here are my ten favorite.
- •THE BRONX ZOO by Sparky Lyle and Peter Golenbock (1979)Golenbock worked on the autobiographies of four members of the 1978-1979 Yankees. They are all excellent, but this is the best of the lot.
- •BALLS by Graig Nettles and Peter Golenbock (1984)Sparky Lyle's account of the craziness on those Yankees teams is full of angst and drama, but Graig Nettles tells a calmer story, with less drama and more baseball.
- •THE UMPIRE STRIKES BACK by Ron Luciano and David Fisher (1982)This should be required reading for any fan of the game. Understanding the challenges of umpiring opens up new dimensions of appreciation for the sport, and Ron Luciano's outrageous stories give one a little bit of sympathy for the men in blue. Followed by three sequels, one of which is pretty good.
- •TEMPORARY INSANITY: THE UNCENSORED ADVENTURES OF BASEBALL'S CRAZIEST PLAYER by Jay Johnstone (1985)Jay Johnstone isn't in anyone's hall of fame, but his stories of the clubhouse and dugout are fun and humanizing, especially if you remember the Dodgers of the early 80s with any fondness. Hilarious accounts of dugout pranks make this supremely re-readable. Followed by a few sequels of declining entertainment value.
- •GOOD ENOUGH TO DREAM by Roger Kahn (1985)Roger Kahn's story of how he, a lifelong baseball writer, purchased a double-A minor league team. The baseball parts are great; the rest is even better. This is perhaps the sweetest baseball book I've read.
- •MONEYBALL: THE ART OF WINNING AN UNFAIR GAME by Michael Lewis (2003)Michael Lewis's explanations of the economics of baseball, as told through the team who found a way to compete against the high-rollers. A great book made into a pretty good movie, and Lewis can explain anything to anyone better than most teachers I know.
- •NINE INNINGS: THE ANATOMY OF BASEBALL AS SEEN THROUGH THE PLAYING OF A SINGLE GAME by Daniel Okrent (1985)An amazing, wonderfully geeky breakdown of a baseball game, pitch-by-pitch, with narrative backstory and forestory by one of fantasy baseball's Founding Fathers. A book only for the hardest core.
- •BALL FOUR: MY LIFE AND HARD TIMES THROWING THE KNUCKLEBALL IN THE BIG LEAGUES by Jim Bouton (1970)The baseball book that ushered in a new era in sports writing, BALL FOUR broke the sanctity of the clubhouse and served as confessional for an aging knuckleballer clinging to a fading career.
- •CATCHER IN THE WRY: OUTRAGEOUS BUT TRUE BASEBALL STORIES by Bob Uecker (1982)Catchers tell the best baseball stories, and Bob Uecker tells them better than anyone (see also: books by Joe Garagiola and Tim McCarver). And yes, there's a chapter on the Lite Beer commercials. This book belongs in the FRONT ROOOOOOW of your library.
- •THE EXTRA 2%: HOW WALL STREET STRATEGIES TOOK A MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL TEAM FROM WORST TO FIRST by Jonah Keri (2011)It's like MONEYBALL plus. Jonah Keri isn't nearly the writer Michael Lewis is, but with less story and more nuts-and-bolts, his version of the new baseball gives a better picture of what teams today are doing with the math.