Thursday, May 1, 2008

Ten Essential Baseball Books

Fellow blogger Alex Belth of Bronx Banter asked 55 serious baseball fans to name their 10 essential baseball books (read the entire post here). I don't know Alex and he didn't ask me for my thoughts, but I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon and provide my list.

As an obsessive, I've got over 250 baseball books in my library at home (actually, they're in boxes in my garage, sorted alphabetically by author so I can find them; I keep track of them using cool Mac software called Delicious Library).

Anyway, my list of 10 essential baseball books, organized into 10 topics.

1. General history: Every baseball fan should own a general history of the game. I have a strong affection for an old book called The Image of their Greatness by Lawrence Ritter, but it's been out of print for years. So I would recommend The Ultimate Baseball Book by Dan Okrent.

2. Business: Baseball fans should know about the business of baseball, and one recent book in particular give the clearest explanations of that subject--Moneyball by Michael Lewis. It's also a great story, told by a master storyteller.

3. Negro leagues: These leagues are as much a part of the history of the game as Babe Ruth, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and Willie Mays. There are a number of wonderful books out there, and a lot of people still recommend the first book on the subject, Only the Ball Was White, which was published in the late 1960s. I think the more recent books do a better job describing what life in the Negro leagues was really like, so I'm going to recommend Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball, edited by Lawrence Hogan.

4. Jackie Robinson: There's no shortage of books on the topic of Jackie Robinson and the breaking of baseball's color line, including a new book, Opening Day, about his first season. I'm going to recommend the first true study of the event--Baseball's Great Experiment by Jules Tygiel, now available in a new edition.

5. Statistics: The best statistical analysis year in, year out is produced by the gang at Baseball Prospectus. I recommend that everyone get the latest Baseball Prospectus annual, where they'll get analysis not only of stats but also of acquisitions, managerial decisions, and more. It really will change the way you look at baseball.

6. Essays: One of the best baseball writers of all time is Roger Angell, and you can't go wrong with any of his collections. I'll offer up one his book that anthologizes his writings: Once More Around the Ballpark

7. Biography: My favorite baseball biography isn't the classic biography of Babe Ruth by Robert Creamer, which a lot of people love, but rather the recent book Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life by Richard Ben Cramer. It presents an unvarnished portrait of what it was like to be the most famous ballplayer in America. A lot of people don't like it because it presents DiMaggio's flaws alongside his virtues, but that's exactly what I do like about it.

8. Autobiography: Lots to choose from here, but I'm going to go with a classic--Ball Four by Jim Bouton. It's smart, it's funny, it's revealing, and it drove baseball executives crazy when it was published in 1970.

9. Bill James: Bill James deserves a category all to himself because he has influenced so many of today's baseball writers and thinkers, everybody from columnist Rob Neyer to Oakland A's GM Billy Beane to myself. He has a new book out called The Bill James Gold Mine, but the book to get is The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. It has everything: history, stats, player rankings, untold stories, you name it.

10. Fiction: I have to admit that I don't read much fiction, but I have read these four classic baseball novels--Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella, The Natural by Bernard Malamud, The Southpaw by Mark Harris, and The Great American Novel by Philip Roth. I can't really pick between them, so I'm going just going to list all of them.

So there you go: the books you need to start or augment your baseball library. Happy reading!

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