Here’s the voting, in alphabetical order: A-R (S-Z to follow)
Lords of the Realm (Helyar): If you’re truly a baseball fan, you need to understand how it works from the ownership level.
Ball Four (Bouton): No, they’re not angels.
Joe DiMaggio (Creamer): The definitive biography on one of baseball’s most talented and complicated stars
Sandy Koufax (Levy): ibid.
The Luckiest Man (Eig): Great bio on Gehrig and a study of baseball at that time.
The Big Bam (Montville): Of all the Ruth books, this best brings everything together.
Moneyball (Lewis). It’s vastly overrated and Lewis has way too much of a crush on Beane, but it opens a window into the modern game.
Game Time (Angell): The best baseball writer, this is a good collection of his works.
Dollar Sign on the Muscle (Kerrane): Best explains scouting and development.
A False Spring (Jordan): One of my favorite books, period.
I should have included something on Williams, Robinson, Beyond The Sixth Game by Gammons, Boys of Summer, the Great American Novel by Roth and a few others.
1/No Cheering in the Press Box – Jerome Holtzman
2/Babe – Robert Creamer
3/Sandy Koufax – Jane Leavy
4/Bo: Pitching and Wooing -Maury Allen
5/ Baseball Encyclopedia
6- The Boys of Summer- Roger Kahn
7 -Only the Ball was White – Robert Peterson
8-Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio? – Maury Allen
9-Glory of their Times- Lawrence Ritter
10-Luckiest man – Jonathan Eig
Babe Ruth by Bob Creamer
Hardball by Bowie Kuhn
Shut Out by Howard Bryant
The Glory of their Times by Lawrence Ritter
A Whole Different Ballgame by Marvin Miller
Fair Ball: A Fan’s Case for Baseball by Bob Costas
Ted Williams by Leigh Montville
Koufax by Jane Leavy
Baseball’s Great Experiment by Jules Tygiel
The Ultimate Baseball Book by Daniel Okrent and Harris Lewine
Full disclosure: I co-authored the Kuhn book and did public relations for the Williams and Koufax books; Creamer and Costas are personal friends. The first "history" that I read was Jack Rosenberg’s The Story of Baseball, which is out of print and ended with the early ’60s, but I have wonderful memories of reading it over and over. Harold Seymour’s first two volumes of his baseball history trilogy are the most thorough of baseball histories, but quite scholarly and not easy reads for someone just discovering the game. The best "lighter side" is still Joe Garagiola’s Baseball Is A Funny Game.
The Great American Novel / Philip Roth
–Funny, accurate and insane, not to mention that it contains a very early parody of sabermetrics before it was even known as sabermetrics.
Ball Four / Jim Bouton
The 1982 Baseball Abstract / Bill James
–Not the first one, but the first one most people saw.
The Glory of Their Times / Lawrence Ritter
–Still the marker by which all sports oral histories are judged.
The Politics of Glory / Bill James
–One of the greatest book titles ever was replaced by one of the worst book titles ever when it was released in paperback as Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?
Dollar Sign on the Muscle / Kevin Kerrane
Eight Men Out / Eliot Asinof
–A serious baseball book for adults published at a time when most sports books were aimed at boys.
Babe: The Legend Comes to Life / Robert Creamer
–There should be more baseball books like this, filled with photos you don’t see everywhere, wonderfully illustrating a very specific time period.
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game / Michael Lewis
“A Day of Light and Shadows,” by Jonathan Schwartz—A slender book, really no more than an article, but maybe the best thing ever written about the agony of being a fan. It is centered around the 1978, Yankees-Red Sox playoff game, a game that produced, in my opinion, more excellent writing than any other, single baseball game.
“The Glory of Their Times,” by Lawrence S. Ritter—One of the first books that drew me to baseball. Still holds up.
“Late Innings,” by Roger Angell—My favorite of his many, wonderful collections. It covers one of the most underrated ages of the sport—from 1977-1981—and includes his conversation with an aged Smokey Joe Wood, while they both watched Frank Viola duel Ron Darling in a college game. Can there ever have been a more provident alignment of the stars?
“The Boys of Summer,” by Roger Kahn—Although I would almost as soon pick up his “The Era,” or “October Men,” just for his sheer, storytelling ability.
“The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract,” by Bill James—This just about covers it. A joy to browse, anytime.
“Lucky Man,” by Jonathan Eig—The best telling of baseball’s most poignant story.
“The Catcher Was a Spy,” by Nicholas Dawidoff—A great account of the rhythms of the game, and one of its most eccentric characters.
“Pride of the Bimbos,” by John Sayles—The filmmaker’s wonderful novel about an old barnstorming team.
“The Celebrant,” by Eric Rolfe Greenberg—One of the best baseball novels.
“The Summer of ’49,” by David Halberstam—The story of a great pennant race, at a pivotal time in American history.
Willie’s Time by Charles Einstein, which might actually be my number one pick.
Iron Horse–Ray Robinson’s Lou Gehrig bio.
Diamonds in the Rough by Joel Zoss. The best secret history of baseball ever written.
Eight Men Out
Red Smith on Baseball
A Whole Different Ball Game (even if I wrote it)
Boys of Summer
Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever
Bill James Historical Abstract
A Day in the Bleachers, Arnold Hano.
The Summer Game, Roger Angell
Lords of the Realm, John Heylar
The New Bill James Historical Abstract
Nice Guys Finish Last, Leo Durocher with Ed Linn
The New Thinking Fan’s Guide to Baseball, Leonard Koppett
A False Spring, Pat Jordan
Dollar Sign on the Muscle, Kevin Kerrane
How Life Imitates the World Series, Tom Boswell
No Cheering in the Press Box, Jerome Holtzman
The Summer Game, Roger Angell
Lords of the Realm, John Heylar
The Boys of Summer, Roger Kahn
The Way it Is, Curt Flood
Ball Four, Jim Bouton
The Glory of Their Times, Lawrence Ritter
October 1964, David Halberstam
A Whole Different Ballgame, Marvin Miller
No Cheering from the Press Box, Jerome Holtzman
Phil Dixon on Negro Leagues
1. The Glory of their Times, Lawrence S. Ritter
This is my favorite and contains some great stories told in the voice of the players from the deadball era, great and small. If you don’t like this, you won’t like baseball. And the recently unearthed audio version with the original interviews is even better than the book.
2. Ball Four, Jim Bouton
So funny, so real. It would have been a great novel if it weren’t a real story about a now-legendary team, the 1969 Seattle Pilots. It sounds unbelievable that it would be so good. It would be great even if it didn’t deal with baseball.
3. The (New) Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract & The Politics of Glory, Bill James
I’d take either Bill James Historical Baseball Abstracts, but prefer the writing in the first one, even though the stats are better in the second, “New” one. The bible of sabermetrics. The Politics of Glory is known by another title, “Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame”, which must have been foisted on James by the publishers to better market the book, but the original title better fits the intent of the book. The new title makes it sound like a screed on how the original standards of the Hall and the goals of the Hall founders are being overlooked. James wends a story of the Hall as a place where there was never any there there. It’s a subtly irreverent look at politics of a place founded appropriately in the apocryphal birth place of baseball. It’s like a Ball Four on the Hall.
4. Eight Men Out, Eliot Asinof
All it needs is three witches sharing an eye to be Greek tragedy. Asinof has been criticized of late for jury-rigging some of the facts, but that should not detract from this great story of early baseball and American society in general in the early Twentieth Century. Also, a great movie.
5. Mark Harris’ Henry “Author” Wiggen trilogy (plus a novella): The Southpaw, Bang the Drum Slowly, It Looked Like For Ever, A Ticket for a Seamstress
The best baseball fiction I have ever read. It is baseball’s version of the John Updike “Rabbit” books, providing a full arc of a ballplayer’s career. It’s funny, human, and poingnant without being maudlin. It Seemed Like Forever is probably my favorite but they are all so good.
6. The (New) Thinking Fan’s Guide to Baseball, Leonard Koppett
This is a great introduction and is still a great read for the seasoned baseball fan. Very well written and steeped in the game.
7. The Pitch That Killed, Mike Sowell
An unbelievably well-researched look at an unbelievable but true baseball story. The Cleveland Indians lose star Ray Chapman, the only man ever killed in a major-league game, and go on to win the World Series. The dialectic Sowell sets up between Carl Mays, the dour pitcher who threw the deadly pitch, and the likeable Chapman, transcends the game.
8. Moneyball, Michael Lewis
This book was so important and so polarizing to the baseball world, that people forgot it is a great read. The basic idea is so simple—how does a team that does not have a tremendous amount of money find a way to stay competitive in the present baseball ecosphere? It examines how Billy Beane found his way and successfully changed the A’s to accommodate it. It doesn’t say that was the perfect way for all teams or that it will remain the way forever. It just opened the door to analyzing players a little differently. It is probably the most misunderstood baseball book of all time. It did capture the zeitgeist of the world of baseball analysis so well, that it is in danger of becoming dated already, just five years later. Who thought that OBP would incite such vitriol?
9. Veeck As In Wreck, Bill Veeck
It’s so good who cares that none of it is real? Veeck is such a great storyteller that the only thing that would top it is some unearthed audio version in Veeck’s own voice. It’s great Americana and great baseball stortelling.
10. The Great American Novel, Philip Roth
A sloppy comic masterpiece. Roth overtly recreates baseball as mythology with pitcher Gil Gamesh (who I always think of when I hear the name of actual pitcher Gil Meche), a better, bigger, and broader earlier version of Sid Finch. Even though it’s a novel, it probably contains more actual baseball stories, retold, than Bill Veeck’s books. You can tell that Roth really enjoyed himself with this one.
11. Sol White’s History of Colored Baseball, Sol White
A must read for anyone interested in this era of baseball and America. You cannot be left with anything less than utter respect for White, Rube Foster, and their colleagues and contempt for the rulers of the game who kept them out of the majors.
12. The Rules And Lore Of Baseball, Richard Marazzi
An invaluable resource for baseball rules or a great collection of baseball arcana and storytelling. Like “You Make the Call” in a more convenient pocket format.
The New Historical Baseball Abstract by Bill James – the original was better, but the extra 15 years matter
Baseball Anecdotes by Dan Okrent and Steve Wulf – Merkle’s Boner, Ruth’s Called shot, Ty Cobb’s temper, every story you should know as a baseball fan from the fact that Abner Doubleday didn’t invent baseball to Bill Buckner’s error is in this book.
The Numbers Game by Alan Schwarz – the history of baseball statistics
Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame by Bill James – James debunks the Hall of Fame, its inductees, and the process of electing them
Ball Four by Jim Bouton – the ultimate memoir
Baseball Confidential by Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo – a silly book from the ’80s that introduced me to Kangaroo Courts, Phantom Tags, and conversations between hitters and catchers, my first peek behind the curtain
Pure Baseball by Keith Hernandez – a meticulous look at every thought and decision that is made on the field and in the dugout over the course of a ballgame (actually, two) from one of the headiest players ever to play the game
Baseball Between the Numbers by Baseball Prospectus – The BP team’s definitive look at some of the debates raging in the game, such as whether or not there’s such a thing as clutch hitting and whether or not teams should return to the four-man rotation.
Moneyball by Michael Lewis – how the front office game is played in modern baseball
Juicing the Game by Howard Bryant – a frank history of the tainted Bud Selig era (full disclosure: I edited this one).
Ball Four- Bouton
Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game- Breslin
Eight Men Out- Asinof
The Catcher Was A Spy- Dawidoff.
DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life- Cramer
Damned Yankees- Klein/Madden
Bang The Drum Slowly- Harris
And, last, but not least…
The Life You Imagine- Curry/Jeter
Hey, if I don’t give myself a little love, who else will?
The Summer Game–Roger Angell
The Glory Of Their Times –Lawrence Ritter
The Boys of Summer–Roger Kahn
Ball Four–Jim Bouton
The Natural–Bernard Malamud
You Know Me Al–Ring Lardner
The Greatest Slump Of All Time–David Carkeet
The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubblegum Book–Brendan C. Boyd and Fred C. Harris
My Turn At Bat–Ted Williams with John Underwood
1. James, New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract
2. Durocher, Nice Guys Finish Last
3. Tygiel, Pastime
4. Eric Rolfe Greenberg, The Celebrant (best of the baseball novels)
5. Earl Weaver, It’s What You Learn After You KNow It All that Counts (manager books are better than player books)
6. Creamer, Babe: The Legend Comes to Life
7. Kinsella, The further Adventures of Slugger McBatt (short stories: "K-Mart" is what I return to in Kinsella’s work)
8. Heylar, Lords of the Realm
9. Whiting, You Gotta Have Wa
10. Shropshire, Seasons in Hell, or Bouton, Ball Four: bad teams make funny books.
If I was doing this strictly by the ones I revisit most often, as oppsoed to what I recommend to others, Bill James would probably hold the top five spots, plus the Neft/Cohen World Series book would be on there. It works the same with favorite records, I guess. The ones I play often would hardly be a suitable canon for a generic listener, or even the ones I’d define as "the best.".
Jimmy Breslin — Can’t Anyone Here Play This Game? (funny, brilliant Breslin)
Game of Shadows (not a baseball book, but essential to fully understand modern baseball, and an astonishing piece of reporting)
Bill James (take your pick, but maybe the Historical Abstract)
SI’s Great Baseball Writing (a self-serving entry, granted, but a pretty decent collection, edited by some obscure SI editor)
Moneyball by Michael Lewis
Robert Creamer — The Babe
The Summer Game Roger Angell
A False Spring
The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, original version.
A great catch-all, and a good mix of character bits and analysis that make you want to know more about, say, Indian Bob Johnson. The more recent version has its positives, but also many negatives, among them a reliance on the Win Shares system, some short cuts on key players, and a huge production/editorial letdown by the publisher.
Baseball: The Golden Age, by Harold Seymour
A very readable overview of the first 30 years or so of the game, with a good balance of on- and off-field developments.
The Natural, by Bernard Malamud
A downer of a novel compared to the film, but truer to life. The true purpose of heroes is to always come through for you—until they don’t. That’s an important lesson that we tend to overlook.
Babe: The Legend Comes to Life, by Robert Creamer
This is probably the most accessible life of one of the most important figures in the game’s history. Creamer isn’t a historian who breaks new ground, but he can tell a story.
The Glory of Their Times, by Lawrence Ritter
A sometimes funny, sometimes chilling oral history (the first) of the deadball days, when a ballplayer had to choose between taking Cobb’s spikes to the thigh and heading back to the coal mines.
Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever, by Satchel Paige
So maybe he made the whole thing up, or polished it up a bit (a lot), who cares? One of the greatest talents in the history of the game, one of the greatest characters, and beyond that, the story of a man doing everything he can to prosper in baseball in spite of the color line.
The Ultimate Baseball Book, by Dan Okrent etc.
A collection of excellent essays covering every era in the game’s history, plus lots and lots of great photographs.
The Baseball Reader, Charles Einstein, ed.
A greatest hits version of the first three Fireside Books of Baseball, the first and greatest baseball anthologies. The Fireside Books are your instant desert island baseball books, with a bit of everything in them –history, fiction, journalism, profiles, interviews, poetry, cartoons, and on and on. I don’t want to take up four spots with the four books, so I recommend this distillation for real flavor of the game stuff.
Veeck as In Wreck by Bill Veeck with Ed Linn
I don’t know if this is really a neophyte’s baseball book, and some of it is undoubtedly invented. Still, Veeck gives it to you from the owner’s point of view, something he had personal experience of from the 20s (when his dad ran the Cubs) through the 80s.
The basic record of everything. As Bill James observed, baseball stats can tell stories, and opening this book or others like it can reveal so many topics for further investigation. I went to sleep with this book every night when I was a teen. In a nice way, I mean. Stop snickering.
1. The Glory of Their Times, by Larry Ritter. For me this was the first baseball book I read that was truly important. Larry had visited players from the turn of the twentieth century, and their stories made the era come alive.
2. Baseball: America’s National Game, by AG Spalding. Published in 1911, Spalding tells a great deal about baseball in the nineteenth century. It is fascinating and invaluable.
3. The Boys of Summer, by Roger Kahn. If ever there was a book that combined history and great writing, this was it.
4. Ball Four, by Jim Bouton and Leonard Shecter. This was one of the first baseball books for adults. Without it, I doubt there would have been a Bronx Zoo or Balls.
5. Veeck as In Wreck, by Bill Veeck and Ed Linn. Bill Veeck was one of the great figures in the game, and Linn helped him bring his story to life.
6. Babe, by Robert Creamer. This sports illustrated writer does a masterful job retelling the life of The Bambino.
7 Joe DiMaggio, by Richard Ben Kramer. I knew Joe was nuts, but Ben Kramer tells us exactly how nuts. His research was remarkable and his writing first rate.
8. Bums. I like to think my oral history of the Brooklyn Dodgers rates in here somewhere. Or maybe the Yankee fans prefer Dynasty.
9. A False Spring, by Pat Jordan. Patsy, a close friend, calls himself the King of the 5,000 Sellers, but his sales do not reflect his talent. This book, an autobiography of a talent who didn’t make it, is one of the finest baseball books ever written.
10. Baseball As I Have Known It, by Fred Leib. This fine writer witnessed the Black Sox scandal in 1919 and lived to be over ninety years old. He is the author of many fine team histories, but this book was his best.
Bonus:. Nice Guys Finish Last, by Leo Durocher and Ed Linn. Another terrific autobiography co-written by Linn
1. Great American Novel, by Philip Roth (favorite baseball book; close to favorite book)
2. Eight Men Out … both essential and best
3. The Natural
4. Iowa Baseball Confederacy … Kinsella’s book that’s better than Shoeless Joe (though Joe is essential)
5. Moneyball … the book for how well it was written and the topic, not the derisive, incorrect cliche.
6. Nine Innings, Okrent
7. Mathewson’s Pitching in a Pinch. Essential …and edges Angell’s work, which is just so important because it is so elegantly written.
8. Ball Four, of course
9. Lords of the Realm, John Helyar … the book that tackled the business of baseball
10. October 1964, Halberstam
Bill James Historical Abstract (1985)
Bill James Historical Abstract (2001) (sorry, I couldn’t choose just one, and they’re totally different books)
Moneyball – Michael Lewis
The Glory of the Their Times – Lawrence Ritter
Babe – Robert Creamer
Once More Around the Park – Roger Angell
Bill James Guide to Managers
Baseball As I Have Known It – Fred Lieb
Diamonds Are Forever – Peter H. Gordon, editor
The Universal Baseball Association, Inc. – Robert Coover
1. Ball Four by Jim Bouton -the groundbreaking look behind the curtain at the ups and downs of a baseball player
2. Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn – a meditation on mortality and a brilliant, poignant study of the flawed beauty of the human organism, masquerading as a baseball book
3. The Summer Game, by Roger Angell – a lyrical account of baseball in the Sixties as seen through the eyes of one erudite fan
4. Seasons in Hell by Mike Shropshire – for my money, this gonzo account of the 1973-1975 Texas Rangers is funniest baseball book of all time
5. Nice Guys Finish Last, by Leo Durocher and Ed Linn – an agonizing choice between this and Veeck as in Wreck, ultimately decided by Leo the Lip’s role in the New York-centric golden age in the Forties and Fifties
6. Past Time: Baseball as History, by Jules Tygiel – a concise summary of nine trends that changed baseball, by one of the game’s unsung scholars
7. Lords of the Realm, by John Helyar – an often hilarious account of a century’s worth of labor versus management battles
8. The Glory of their Times, by Lawrence Ritter – the classic oral history of early 20th century baseball
9. The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading, and Bubble Gum Book, by Brendan C. Boyd and Fred C. Harris – two fans explore their love affair with those cardboard slabs and the memories they represent
10. The Numbers Game by Alan Schwarz – a wonderful exploration of the history baseball statistics, from the development of the box score to the onslaught of real-time Internet updates to the entry of performance analysis into front offices
Ball Four by Jim Bouton — Simply the funniest, most insightful, most readable, pick-it-up-any-time/any-year look into the human side of the game.
Men At Work by George Will — Intimate study of "The Craft of Baseball," as the subhead says, through four masters: La Russa, Ripken, Gwynn and Hershiser.
Season Ticket by Roger Angell — Collection of New Yorker pieces, roughly from the 1980s, by the best baseball writer ever. Probably any collection of Roger’s could be on here; I remember this fondly because I grew up in that era.
The Celebrant by Eric Rolfe Greenberg — History-based novel revolving around Christy Mathewson and the tradition of World Series rings, but the synopsis can’t do it justice. Remarkable on many levels.
Clemente by David Maraniss — Brilliantly written and researched bio that gives depth to a figure whose premature death has made him somewhat one-dimensional to many people. Offers riveting details of the circumstances of his plane crash.
The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn — Ever wonder what happened to all those baseball stars you thought you knew as a kid? This book reminds you there’s a long life after baseball for these heroes.
Nine Innings by Daniel Okrent — The guts of the game are all here; if you want to really know why things happen on the field, and know the stories and motivations that play into each individual game, it’s in this book about one game in June 1982 between the Orioles and Brewers.
This Time Let’s Not Eat The Bones by Bill James — A collection of Bill James’ writing, which too often gets overlooked because of his brilliance with numbers.
The Southpaw by Mark Harris — First-person novel written from the perspective of a pitcher named Henry Wiggen. "Bang The Drum Slowly" is a companion book that’s also great, and more famous because it was made into a movie. But this book was better, as I recall.
Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty by Buster Olney — Essential work on an important era of baseball by my predecessor at the Times, who is probably the finest baseball beat writer I have ever read.
* Honorable mention: Temporary Insanity by Jay Johnstone — I read this when I was probably 10 years old, and I doubt it’s a great work of literature. But I remember the stories of Johnstone’s clownish pranks as being uproariously funny.
Ball Four by Jim Bouton: The most intimate look at life in the big leagues ever written. Pretty damn funny too. I think I might go re-read this right now actually.
Dollar Sign on the Muscle by Kevin Kerrane: Does a terrific job of documenting where the baseball superstars of tomorrow come from and how teams fight over them. Just as relevant today as when it was written a quarter-century ago.
The Lords of the Realm by John Helyar: Major League Baseball is run by some very rich, very petty men. This book, at times, makes the characters from Helyar’s even more excellent Barbarians at the Gate look genteel by comparison.
Weaver on Strategy by Earl Weaver: The bible of baseball managing. It’s a shame many remember Weaver as a dirt-kicking hothead and not the managerial genius and pioneer that he was.
The New Bill James Historical Abstract: Brilliant writing, rich historical lore, wacky stories and fascinating analysis. Yes, please. I could have added every Bill James Abstract I read as a kid too. My dad knew what he was doing when he handed me my first Abstract when I was 9.
The Glory of Their Times by Lawrence Ritter: My favorite part of being a baseball writer is interviewing some of the more interesting players in the game, the ones with some real insight into what happens between the lines (I could talk to Pat Neshek or Howie Kendrick for hours, if they’d let me). In this book, Ritter wisely lets a number of old-time players have their say, without the filter of heavy editing or repackaging. I’d actually recommend the book on tape even more highly.
Summer of ’49 by David Halberstam: One of many rich, thoughtful books by the late, great master. Like Helyar, Halberstam’s best work may have arguably been done on non-sporting topics.
The Summer Game by Roger Angell: Or whatever other Angell book strikes your fancy. When I read someone like Angell or Halberstam, I liken it to listening to West Coast baseball games on the radio, in the dark on some long lost July night, lying in bed, up way past my bedtime.
The Iowa Baseball Confederacy by W.P. Kinsella: Mysticism and baseball go hand in hand, and this book combines the two as well as any I’ve read, better even than the more famous (and still excellent) Shoeless Joe. Kinsella’s the first author whose works (including short stories) I ever devoured beginning to end.
Baseball Between the Numbers by the authors of Baseball Prospectus: Partly because I’m a homer, sure. But also because the work done by such luminaries as Keith Woolner, Nate Silver, Steven Goldman, Neil deMause and others does such a good job of addressing such a wide range of interesting baseball topics. It’s an excellent primer for someone starting to get serious about watching the game. I’m humbled to have played my little role alongside such great baseball writers and analysts.
The Summer Game
Koppett’s Concise History
Boys of Summer
The Long Season
Baseball’s Great Experiment
To Every thing a Season
Don Baylor (my favorite "as told to" autobiography)
Eight Men Out
1. The Annotated Baseball Stories of Ring W. Lardner 1914-1919 Edited by George W. Hilton: The “You Know Me Al” stories are as funny as ever.
2: A False Spring. By Pat Jordan: An enduring piece of writing that set the nonfiction standard in this genre, so lyrical and knowing.
3. Pafko at the Wall: The Shot Heard Round the World. By Don DeLillo: Just a swell novella that puts you right there in the box seats with Jackie Gleason, Toots Shoor, Frank Sinatra and J. Edgar Hoover for Bobby Thomson’s historic home run.
4: Twilight of the Long-ball Gods: Dispatches from the Disappearing Heart of Baseball. By John Schulian: Schulian could bat clean-up in any literary lineup. This slim collection is a gem.
5. The Fireside Book of Baseball (Volumes 1-3) Edited by Charles Einstein: I loved these books as a boy and still do.
6. Veeck – As in Wreck. By Bill Veeck with Ed Linn. There were no others like him.
7. The Glory of Their Times: The Story of Baseball Told By the Men Who Played It. By Lawrence S. Ritter. This is another boyhood favorite that is full of wonderful tales.
8. Ball Four. By Jim Bouton Edited by Leonard Schecter: A funny yet poignant look into the bawdy side of baseball.
9. Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series. Eliot Asinof. Oh, what wicked webs we weave….
10. Bo: Pitching and Wooing. By Maury Allen, with the uncensored cooperation of Bo Belinsky: Not much pitching but lots of wooing.
Ball Four by Jim Bouton
The Long Season by Jim Brosnan
The Hustler’s Handbook by Bill Veeck
Lords of the Realm by John Helyar
Hidden Game of Baseball by John Thorn and Peter Palmer
Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn
Win Share by Bill James
Eight Men Out by Eliott Asinof
The Summer Game by Roger Angell
Babe by Roger Creamer
-ring lardner, "you know me al"
-larry ritter, "the glory of their times"
-david halberstam, "summer of ’49"
-jim bouton, "ball four"
-mark harris, "the southpaw"
-harold seymour’s three volume history of baseball
-"baseball, a literary anthology," nicholas dawidoff, ed.
-"total baseball," john thorn et al, eds.
-"bill james historical baseball abstract"
-"baseball before we knew it," david block
1. Red Smith on Baseball. "His OBP is still the best."
2. Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life by Richard Ben Cramer.
3. The Natural by Bernard Malamud.
4. The Boys of Summer by Roger Khan. "Always powerful."
5. You Know Me, Al, Ring Lardner’s classic short stories.
6. Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger.
7. Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game? The Improbable Saga of the New Your Met’s First Year by Jimmy Breslin.
8. Ball Four by Jim Bouton.
9. The Southpaw by Mark Harris.
10. Pafko At the Wall (the first 60 pages of Don DeLillo’s novel Underworld).
1. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract
2. Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball
3. Ball Four
4. The Glory of Their Times
5. We Played the Game
6. [Oral History of that Fan’s Favorite Team by Peter Golenbock, if available]
7. Total Baseball or the Baseball Encyclopedia (but only if it comes complete with articles and the latest edition covers the most recent season)…otherwise, I would substitute The latest Bill James Handbook, Baseball Prospectus, or The Hardball Times Baseball Annual because every fan needs a stat book for reference purposes to enjoy the season at hand
8. The Baseball Book by Sports Illustrated
9. The Numbers Game
[Biography of a Fan’s Favorite Old-Time Player] (too many to list but they include xlnt bios on Ruth, Robinson, Gehrig, Williams, Cobb, Mathewson, Johnson, etc.)
The Diamond Appraised
The Hidden Game of Baseball
Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia
The Baseball Draft (by Baseball America)
Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Lineups
Baseball’s Golden Age (The Photographs of Charles M. Conlan)
Ted Williams: The Science of Hitting
The Boys of Summer
[Any Book by Roger Angell]
The Bad Guys Won, Jeff Pearlman
Baseball Anecdotes, Daniel Okrent and Steve Wulf
A False Spring, Pat Jordan
Game Time: A Baseball Companion, Roger Angell
Men At Work, George Will
Moneyball, Michael Lewis
The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James
Snap Me Perfect, Darrell Porter
Spalding’s World Tour, Mark Lamster
White Rat, Whitey Herzog
These are not ranked in any particular order Alex but since loving baseball and telling stories are so happily linked together I start with the two classic oral histories.
1. Lawrence Ritter THE GLORY OF THEIR TIMES and
2. Jerome Holtzman NO CHEERING IN THE PRESS BOX. Both have expanded paperback editions that should be sought out.
3. Roger Angell THE SUMMER GAME the first of his many essential compilations from his New Yorker articles. Hard to choose among them –
later ones are FIVE SEASONS and LATE INNINGS
4. Bill Veeck VEECK AS IN WRECK with the assistance of the underappreciated Ed Linn. Still fresh nearly a half-century later.
5. Kevin Kerrane DOLLAR SIGN ON THE MUSCLE still the best book on the most unappreciated aspect of baseball, scouting.
6. Robert Creamer, BABE: THE LEGEND COMES TO LIFE
7. Robert Creamer, CASEY still the essential Stengel biography.
8. Jim Brosnan, THE LONG SEASON the first of the tell-almost-all books written by an active player who found out that unlike academia you publish and you perish.
9. Jules Tygiel, BASEBALL’S GREAT EXPERIMENT about the integration of baseball in the 1940s and beyond – still the essential starting place.
10. W. R. Burnett, THE ROAR OF THE CROWD here’s one you never heard of maybe – a little interview with an unidentified "old-timer" conducted by the author and screenwriter of such memorable films as "Little Caesar," "High Sierra" and "The Asphalt Jungle" – in the latter there is a great line of dialogue – Sam Jaffe telling Sterling Hayden that he doesn’t want a particular guy in the jewel heist gang because he’s a hooligan – "I hate hooligans – they’re like lefthanded pitchers, there’s always a screw loose."
If I can add one I must mention Harold Seymour’s histories (and not just because I won the medal), BASEBALL: THE GOLDEN AGE and the first one too
BASEBALL: THE EARLY YEARS. So will you allow me to double up the Creamers
with CASEY first and then BABE?
Thanks Alex – it’s an impossible chore to list 10 – you should see the deserving castoffs.
Eight Men Out
Glory of their Times
Veeck as in Wreck
No Cheering in the Press Bo
The Last Good Season: Brooklyn, the Dodgers and Their Final Pennant Race Together
Summer of ’49/October ’64
Creamer’s Casey Stengel bio/Babe bio
Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame
The Dixie Association by Donald Hays
you’d love this book. very well written
Ball Four: To me, this remains the lynchpin of baseball books. It was the first true tell-all, but was done in a writing style that doesn’t fit the stereotypical ballplayer. Very funny–and insightful.
Bronx Zoo: Phil Rizzuto, Bill White, and Frank Messer could only tell us so much about the Yankees of the late 1970s. Sparky Lyle filled in the blanks.
Curse of Rocky Colavito: Terry Pluto is one of the most underrated sportswriters around, and this might be his best book. You"ll learn more about Dennis Eckersley and Rick Manning than you could ever want to know.
The Final Season: One of the best contemporary baseball authors, Tom Stanton skillfully and sentimentally recalls the final season of Tiger Stadium, along with some of his memories of Tiger lore throughout the years.
Glory of Their Times: This is the bible of baseball’s early history, featuring some great storytelling from the game’s turn-of-the-century legends.
Historical Baseball Abstract: Bill James tells us much about the game’s history that other writers were afraid–or simply didn’t know how–to tell.
Shut Out: Howard Bryant’s exhaustive research sheds light on baseball’s institutional racism throughout the years.
Summer of ’49: Factual errors aside, David Halberstam weaves a compelling and colorful story of two teams embroiled in a heated pennant race. He treats both the Red Sox and Yankees with equal distinction, a tribute to his stylish writing and objective sense of fairness.
The Summer Game: Word for word, there is no better baseball writer than Roger Angell. And this is his best book.
Veeck as in Wreck: Veeck’s skill as an author comes as no surprise, given his success and creativity in running a myriad of ballclubs under trying conditions.
A False Spring by Pat Jordan
The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn
Ball Four by Jim Bouton
Moneyball by Michael Lewis
The Natural by Bernard Malamud
Alibi Ike by Ring Lardner
Me and DiMaggio by Christopher Lehman-Haupt
Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life by Richard Ben Cramer
Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever by Satchel Paige
The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. by Robert Coover
Some of them I haven’t read in years and are worth a re-read. A False Spring is so good that I look forward to reading it again.
The Glory of Their Times, by Lawrence Ritter
The New Bill James Historical Abstract, by Bill James
This Time Let’s Not Eat the Bones, by Bill James
Eight Men Out, by Eliot Asinof
Veeck as in Wreck, by Bill Veeck and Ed Linn
You Know Me Al, by Ring Lardner
The Natural, by Bernard Malamud
Season Ticket, by Roger Angell
The Curse of the Bambino, by Dan Shaughnessy
Juiced, by Jose Canseco
1-The Mick by Mickey Mantle with Herb Gluck. I read this when I was 15 years old, a high school kid in
2-Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy by Jane Leavey. What a wonderful combination of the perhaps the best and most complex player ever. And before you even start this, go back and read Tom Verducci’s 1999 story on Koufax.
4-Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy by Jules Tygiel. I read much of this, but not the whole thing, in high school for research on Jackie Robinson. This is as important a read about baseball as any book on MLK is about American history.
5-The Baseball Encyclopedia. It’s infinitely more fun to leaf through this than it is to google somebody’s stats. This is the most indispensable book in any baseball library.
6-Voices of the Game by Curt Smith. Baseball’s rich history includes the people in the booth. That’s how we first fell in love with the game. C’mon, you never did play-by-play of your own games as a kid?
7-Topps Baseball Cards: The Complete Picture Collection. This is my childhood and every other boy’s who grew up in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s…all in one book.
8-Maybe I’ll PItch Forever by Satchell Paige. I don’t remember much about this autobio except that I read it in high school for a book report and that I remember being entertained. I know this book is somewhere in my parents’ house. I’m gonna have to find it. I don’t think I’ve seen a copy of it for the last 20 years.
9-As many of those 4th grade reading level biographies you can find. Those were always fun to read as a kid.
10-A scorebook. Duh!
The New Historical Abstract
Doc Ellis in the Country of Baseball
A False Spring
The Pride of Havana
Universal Baseball Association
Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia
Just missed the cut:
Lords of the Realm
Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (Bill James; multiple editions)
Moneyball (Michael Lewis, 2003)
The Glory of Their Times (Lawrence S. Ritter, 1966)
Ball Four (Jim Bouton, 1970)
The Long Season (Jim Brosnan, 1960)
Veeck — as in Wreck (Bill Veeck & Ed Linn, 1962)
Walter Johnson: Baseball’s Big Train (Henry W. Thomas, 1995)
A Day in the Bleachers (Arnold Hano, 1955)
Ted Williams (Leigh Montville, 2004)
Bums (Peter Golenbock, 1984)
The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, by Bill James
This sweeping, sprawling, hefty walking tour of baseball history is like an old friend. Better, in my mind, than the New Historical Baseball Abstract because the old version is so much more quirky and wandering and, ergo, charming. Like all the best baseball scribes, James is a writer first.
October 1964, by David Halberstam
As a Cardinals fan, I’m partial to any narrative that focuses the rise of the "El Birdos" of the 60s. The 1964 season, so ably chronicled by Halberstam, marked the last gasp of the the Yankee dynasty of the day and the rise of the more thoroughly integrated National League. It remains an important and eminently readable work.
Baseball’s Great Experiment, by Jules Tygiel
The exhaustive retelling of Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the modern color barrier. The story is much more complicated than some renderings have made it out to be, and Tygiel captures the nuance of the struggle. A great and necessary work.
Babe, by Robert W. Creamer
The epic story of baseball’s most epic figure. The best sports biography I’ve ever read.
Nine Innings, by Daniel Okrent
Conversational and deeply learned, Nine Innings combines strategy discussions, casual history, and anecdotal detours with the framework of, well, nine innings. Unique in structure and thoroughly enjoyable in execution.
Lords of the Realm, John Helyar
I find the financial side of the game less than compelling, but Helyar’s soaring history of the business of baseball is irresistible. Despite dealing with a part of the game that most fans regard as mundane and frustrating, Lords reads like a pot boiler. Characters like Marvin Miller and Walter O’Malley come to life as they do in no other narrative.
Once More Around the Park, by Roger Angell
A collection of essays by baseball’s greatest prose stylist. Sometimes funny, sometimes moving, always memorable.
The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Baseball, Leonard Koppett
Leonard Koppett was thinking about the game in unique and subversive ways while my generation was still in the womb. If the Historical Abstract is baseball’s Bible, then this is its Catechism.
Red Smith on Baseball, by Red Smith
"Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again." Those are Red Smith’s opening words following the "Shot Heard ‘Round the World." It’s the best lede in the history of history. This collection of Smith’s baseball writings is like a class in sports journalism.
Champagne and Baloney, by Tom Clark
Clark’s lyrical tour of Charlie Finley and the Oakland A’s is the quirkiest and most incisive take on baseball in the early to mid 70s that I’ve ever run across.
OK, I’m just running through my own library … avoiding the 853 books on the Cincinnati Reds and my various copies of "The Soul of Baseball." Let’s see here. In no order (I’ll number them just so I will know when I get to 10):
1. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. It’s great reading AND the best baseball reference book going. For fun reading, Bill’s "This Time Let’s Not Eat The Bones" is probably the best book ever written with that bad a title.
2. The Boys of Summer.
3. Lords of the Realm. The best book ever written about the business of baseball.
4. Moneyball. Probably the most misread/misunderstood baseball book ever written; but that’s because many critics didn’t read it. Fascinating portrait of baseball in the new century.
5. The Glory of Their Times.
6. Ball Four.
7. A False Spring.
8. The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues. Really a remarkable achievement — biographical sketches of hundreds of Negro Leagues players.
9. Fireside Book of Baseball. I have the Third Edition, which is loaded with great stories. A baseball library without John Updike’s Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu is incomplete. I have it four or five different volumes; this one has a lot of other great things including Dave Anderson’s story on Reggie that helped him win the Pulitzer.
10. Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life. I know a lot of people weren’t crazy about it, but I’m a huge Richard Ben Cramer fan and I thought it was really good. I also loved Leigh Montville’s "Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero," especially the middle 300 or so pages when he was a player. And, of course, Clemente by David Maraniss was great. I can’t keep it to 10.
"Baseball Palace of the World" by Douglas Bukowski to show why people make such a fuss over old ballparks.
"Ballpark" by Peter Richmond to show why new ballparks can be good things, too.
"A Player For A Moment" by John Hough, Jr. to show why a fan would do well to stand behind the figurative velvet rope that separates him from his team.
"The Great American Beaseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Bum Book" by Brendan C. Boyd and Fred Harris to show what all the fuss is about those shoeboxes.
"Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?" by Jimmy Breslin to show losing is often a better story than winning.
"The Giants of the Polo Grounds" by Noel Hynd to show why franchise history matters.
"The Boys of Summer" by Roger Kahn to show why personal history matters.
"Five Seasons" by Roger Angell to show what happens when a great writer meets a great game.
"Ball Four" by Jim Bouton to show why players are human.
"Sandy Koufax" by Jane Leavy to show that a few players are superhuman.
1–BALL FOUR, Jim Bouton
2–THE GLORY OF THEIR TIMES, Lawrence Ritter
3–THE IMAGE OF THEIR GREATNESS, Lawrence Ritter
4–ONLY THE BALL WAS WHITE, Robert Peterson
5–THE SUMMER GAME, Roger Angell
6–THE BOYS OF SUMMER, Roger Kahn
7–BABE, Robert Creamer
8–MONEYBALL, Michael Lewis
9–SUMMER OF ’49, David Halberstam
10-BASEBALL’S GREAT EXPERIMENT, Jules Tygiel
A Day in the Bleachers, Arnold Hano.
Willie’s Time, Charles Einstein
Eight Men Out, Eliot Asinof
Glory of Their Times, Lawrence Ritter
Baseball America, Donald Honig
The Natural, Bernard Malamud
Babe, Robert Creamer
Cobb, Al Stump
Iron Horse, myself.
The Summer Game
Man on Spikes, Eliot Asinof.
Veeck as in Wreck.
The Duke of Havana.
Game of Shadows.
Lords of the Realm.
Boys of Summer.
Red Smith on Baseball.
Summer of ’49.