Alex Belth asked 55 different baseball nuts, including yours truly, for their list of ten essential baseball books. I didn’t put the number one choice on my list at all. In fact, I think it’s pretty non-essential these days, though it was great for its time. Just in case you’re interested, here are my comments to Alex…
Okay, Alex. Here’s my take on ten essential baseball books.
– Pure Baseball, by Keith Hernandez. You watch a game with Hernandez, at bat by at bat, and he comments throughout the book on strategy, batter/pitcher matchups, etc. Baseball heaven.
– The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. I think this is the best, most accessible reviews of baseball history I’ve read. I personally like the first one better — maybe because it made a great first impression. The second one bogged down a bit, I thought.
– Shoeless Joe, by WP Kinsella. My favorite book of baseball fiction and the basis for the movie “Field of Dreams.” I’d also recommend his other books, particularly the collections of short stories. No one will put you in touch with the magic of baseball better than Kinsella.
– The Glory of their Times by Lawrence Ritter. Of course.
– The subject of Jackie Robinson would be required reading, but I’m not sure which one I’d recommend. Baseball’s Great Experiment, by Jules Tygiel, is the one that comes to mind. But I also enjoyed Jonathan Eig’s “Opening Day,” published last year.
– Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame (originally called “The Politics of Glory,” which I thought was a much better title) is a fine primer on the Hall, by Bill James. This list needs a Hall of Fame book, and I think this one is the best. The first chapter, which includes a history of how the Hall came to be in Cooperstown, is the best writing I’ve seen on that particular subject.
– Got to have Roger Angell on this list. I’d go with “Five Seasons”, though I’m no expert on the Angell books. I just like to read his work.
– “Lords of the Realm” by John Helyar. The best book about the ownership cult and the business of baseball. As a secondary pick, I’d choose Howard Bryant’s Juicing the Game, which picks up where Helyar’s book left off.
– I struggled with picking a pure sabermetrics book for this list, and I don’t think I can do it. The classic, The Hidden Game of Baseball (by Thorn and Palmer) is probably just a little too outdated at this point. Instead, I’d recommend Alan Schwarz’s “The Numbers Game,” which is a history of those who have tracked baseball stats through the years.
– I have to select another James book for my final pick: the James Guide to Baseball Managers. Managers are an important part of baseball lore and strategy, and I’ve not read anything better about the subject. In fact, this is my favorite James book.
That’s it, but can I add a few comments? Two overlooked areas on my list: Babe Ruth (I’d recommend Creamer’s biography, but I haven’t read Montville’s) and the minor leagues (Not sure. Pat Jordan’s book, Alex?). Among straightforward baseball “as told to’s”, three of my favorites are “Casey at the Bat” (Stengel), “Crash” (Dick Allen) and “Nice Guys Finish Last” (Durocher).