Five Books about Baseball

As the 2008 baseball season nears its climax, it's time for addicts of the game to begin easing their looming withdrawal by laying in baseball books for the winter. Here to get you started are five classics of the genre:

Ball Four, by Jim Bouton (1970). Published at the end of the far-out decade, this is a hipster's guide to baseball written by one of its own, a journeyman pitcher who had nothing to lose by blowing the whistle on the then-rampant drug-taking, womanizing and drinking. (Oh, wait, they're still rampant, aren't they?) It's still an effective riposte to those who wax too sentimental about the game.

The Summer Game, by Roger Angell (1972). Angell's innovation was simple: Write about the sport as intelligently as you would about the operas of Mozart or the sonnets of Shakespeare. Angell's gift is to do so without sounding prissy. This collection of columns originally appearing in the New Yorker is the baseball book by which all others are measured.

The Boys of Summer, by Roger Kahn (1972). Seventy-two was the year of great baseball books by men named Rogers; this one explains what was so special about the late, great Brooklyn Dodgers (mostly that they played scrappily and well despite being overshadowed by the gold-plated Yankees).

Moneyball, by Michael Lewis (2003). A look at the nouvelle vogue of building a baseball team by the numbers, as practiced by Billy Beane, longtime general manager of the Oakland Athletics. Zeroing in on arcane but telling statistical trends, Beane has consistently produced contenders despite having one of the lowest payrolls in the game. (Or, rather, had consistently fielded them; Oakland has slipped recently, and the new exemplar of bargain-basement success is Tampa Bay.)

Three Nights in August, by Buzz Bissinger (2005). Published the year before the St. Louis Cardinals won their 10th World Series, this is an account of the Cards' manager Tony La Russa, one of the game's savviest, in action. In deconstructing a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs, Bissinger makes baseball akin to a great chess tournament.

What are your picks for books about America's Pastime?

-- Dennis Drabelle

By Rachel Hartigan Shea |  October 23, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Dennis Drabelle
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Not one of the best books ever written, but "The 33 Year Old Rookie" by Cris Coste is a great tale of a player that stuck with playing the game despite the odds.

Needs a new edition now that he started a World Series game, though.

Posted by: Kim | October 23, 2008 10:17 AM

One of the classes I took in college was the literature of baseball. Here is what we read:

"Shoeless Joe" by WP Kinsella
"The Celebrant" by Eric Greenberg
"Short Season and Other Stories" by Jerome Klinkowitz
"The Southpaw" by Mark Harris
"The Great American Novel" by Philip Roth
"The Seventh Babe" by Jerome Charyn
"The Universal Baseball Association" by Robert Coover
"The Natural" by Bernard Malamud

I look at this list now and I wonder how I read that all in one semester!

Posted by: debit | October 23, 2008 10:37 AM

Anything by the late Leonard Koppett, author of such entertaining and insightful books such as "A Thinking Fan's Guide to Baseball" and "Koppett's Concise History of Major League Baseball."

Ron Kaplan

Posted by: Ron Kaplan | October 23, 2008 11:00 AM

"Diamonds Are Forever: Artists and Writers on Baseball"

This is an anthology, here is part of the description from This handsome baseball classic collects the work of America’s finest writers and artists as they celebrate the passion and excitement of our national pastime. Published in cooperation with the Smithsonian Institution, Diamonds Are Forever collects paintings, drawings, photographs, and literary excerpts, illuminating every aspect of the game-the plays, the parks, the players, the fans. Work from John Updike, Andy Warhol, Stephen King, Edna Ferber, Neil Simon, Jacob Lawrence, Roger Angell, and dozens more make this volume an artistic tribute to the quintessentially American game.

My husband and I each had a copy of it when we merged our libraries together.

Posted by: CJB | October 23, 2008 12:27 PM

As a kid I loved Bob Uecker's "Catcher in the Wry." In fact, after reading this post I might be forced to track down an old copy.

Also, if any baseball fan hasn't read the first 50 pages Don DeLillo's "Underworld," then he or she should do so immediately. Or, if you're into the whole brevity thing, "Pafko at the Wall."

Posted by: | October 23, 2008 2:02 PM

Summer of 49, by David Halberstam.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 23, 2008 2:53 PM

Non-fiction: anything by Roger Angell. Fiction: another vote for "The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., Henry J. Waugh, Prop." Every fantasy league player should read this book, about a true fantasy league.
I'd also vote for The Great American Novel by Philip Roth -- at least the chapter called, I believe, The Visitor's Lineup.
Dave at

Posted by: Anonymous | October 23, 2008 3:57 PM

You must read 'Wait Till Next Year' by Joyce Kearns Goodwin. I love that book.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 24, 2008 1:29 AM

"The Teammates," by David Halberstam, about the friendship between Ted Williams and three of his Red Sox teammates. A poignant look at friendship and aging, with the added bonus of being a fast read.

Posted by: kleewrite | October 24, 2008 12:07 PM

"Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball" by George Will

"October 1964" by David Halberstam

Posted by: AlexBlackwell | October 24, 2008 9:33 PM

"The Glory of Their Times," (Lawrence Ritter). There are a lot of poorly-done oral histories out there, but Ritter's isn't one of them. I think the book was published in the late 1960s, and most of the interviews were with players from the 1900-1930. His subjects ranged from Hall of Famers to journeymen, but any one of their stories is a breath of fresh air if you need a break from multi-millionaires who can't hit their weight.

Posted by: 217RMD | October 27, 2008 10:00 AM

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