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12 of the Best Books to Get You Through Baseball Season

We're deep into baseball season, yet again, and I couldn't be happier. I'm an Astros fan, for the better part of twenty-five years now, sue me. I could go on and on and on about the World Series win, but I know none of you care, that is, of course, unless you're also Astros fans. 

 

Altuve dancing

Via Giphy

 

Baseball is America's past time, allegedly. Considering how often the men cohabitating our offices put on the game and talk shit about my beloved Astros (they're all Yankees and Mets fans, of course), I'd say baseball is still deep in the hearts of most Americans. As such, there's probably a few people who would love to add some baseball books to their home library. We've picked ten of our favorites and supplied the Amazon descriptions, so you know just what you're getting.

 

12. Seasons in Hell: With Billy Martin, Whitey Herzog and The Worst Baseball Team in History―The 1973–1975 Texas Rangers by Mike Shropshire

 

Seasons in Hell

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You think your team is bad? In this landmark work on one of the most tortured franchises in baseball, one reporter discovers that nine innings can feel like an eternity.
 

In early 1973, gonzo sportswriter Mike Shropshire agreed to cover the Texas Rangers for the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram, not realizing that the Rangers were arguably the worst team in baseball history. Seasons in Hell is a riotous, candid, irreverent behind-the-scenes account in the tradition of The Bronx Zoo and Ball Four, following the Texas Rangers from Whitey Herzog’s reign in 1973 through Billy Martin’s tumultuous tenure. Offering wonderful perspectives on dozens of unique (and likely never-to-be-seen-again) baseball personalities, Seasons in Hell recounts some of the most extreme characters ever to play the game and brings to life the no-holds-barred culture of major league baseball in the mid-seventies.

 

11. Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?: The Improbable Saga of the New York Met's First Year by Jimmy Breslin

 

Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?

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Here, back in print, is Jimmy Breslin's marvelous account of the improbable saga of the New York Mets' first year, as Bill Veeck notes in his Introduction, "preserving for all time a remarkable tale of ineptitude, mediocrity, and abject failure." Indeed the 1962 Mets were the worst major league baseball team ever to take the field. (The title of the book is a quote from Casey Stengel, their manager at the time.) Breslin casts the Mets, who lost 120 games out of a possible 162 that year, as a lovable bunch of losers. And, he argues, they were good for baseball, coming as a welcome antidote to "the era of the businessman in sports...as dry and agonizing a time as you would want to see." Although they were written forty years ago, many of Breslin's comments will strike a chord with today's sports fan, fed up with the growing commercialism of the games. Against this trend Breslin sets the exploits of "Marvelous" Marv Throneberry, Stengel, and the rest of the hapless Mets.

 

10. October 1964 by David Halberstam

 

October 1964

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"October 1964 should be a hit with old-time baseball fans, who'll relish the opportunity to relive that year's to-die-for World Series, when the dynastic but aging New York Yankees squared off against the upstart St. Louis Cardinals. It should be a hit with younger students of the game, who'll eat up the vivid portrayals of legends like Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris of the Yankees and Bob Gibson and Lou Brock of the Cardinals. Most of all, however, David Halberstam's new book should be a hit with anyone interested in understanding the important interplay between sports and society."

 

9. Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy by Jules Tygiel

 

Baseball's Great Experiment

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In this gripping account of one of the most important steps in the history of American desegregation, Jules Tygiel tells the story of Jackie Robinson's crossing of baseball's color line. Examining the social and historical context of Robinson's introduction into white organized baseball, both on and off the field, Tygiel also tells the often neglected stories of other African-American players--such as Satchel Paige, Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron--who helped transform our national pastime into an integrated game. Drawing on dozens of interviews with players and front office executives, contemporary newspaper accounts, and personal papers, Tygiel provides the most telling and insightful account of Jackie Robinson's influence on American baseball and society. The anniversary issue features a new foreword by the author.

 

8. The Wrong Stuff by Bill Lee and Richard Lally

 

The Wrong Stuff

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Bill Lee, a Pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos, describes his life and career and his outlook on baseball. "I can think of a lot worse things in baseball than marijuana or peyote, if used in moderation," he wrote. "Things such as walks, designated hitters, and astro-turf."

 

7. A Day In The Bleachers by Arnold Hano

 

A Day in the Bleachers

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From the subway ride to the ballpark, through batting practice and warm-ups, to the game-winning home run, A Day in the Bleachers describes inning by inning the strategies, heroics, and ineluctable rhythms of the opening game of the 1954 World Series. Here are the spectacular exploits of the Indians and Giants, and of a young player named Willie Mays, who made the most-talked-about catch in baseball history.

 

6. The Pitch That Killed: The Story of Carl Mays, Ray Chapman, and the Pennant Race of 1920 by Mike Sowell

 

 

The Pitch That Killed

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Since major league baseball began in 1871, there have been roughly thirty million pitches thrown to batters. Only one of them killed a man. This is the story of Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Indians, a popular player struck in the head and killed in August 1920 by a pitch thrown by Carl Mays of the New York Yankees. Was it, as most baseball observers thought at the time, a tragic but unavoidable accident? Mike Sowell's brilliant book investigates the incident and probes deep into the backgrounds of the players involved and the events that led to one of baseball's darkest moments.

 

5. Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis

 

Moneyball

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Moneyball is a quest for the secret of success in baseball. Following the low-budget Oakland Athletics, their larger-than-life general manger, Billy Beane, and the strange brotherhood of amateur baseball enthusiasts, Michael Lewis has written not only "the single most influential baseball book ever" (Rob Neyer, Slate) but also what "may be the best book ever written on business" (Weekly Standard).

 

4. Only the Ball Was White: A History of Legendary Black Players and All-Black Professional Teams by Robert Peterson

 

Only the Ball Was White

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Early in the 1920s, the New York Giants sent a scout to watch a young Cuban play for Foster's American Giants, a baseball club in the Negro Leagues. During one at-bat this talented slugger lined a ball so hard that the rightfielder was able to play it off the top of the fence and throw Christobel Torrienti out at first base. The scout liked what he saw, but was disappointed in the player's appearance. "He was a light brown," recalled one of Torrienti's teammates, "and would have gone up to the major leagues, but he had real rough hair." Such was life behind the color line, the unofficial boundary that prevented hundreds of star-quality athletes from playing big-league baseball.

When Only the Ball Was White was first published in 1970, Satchel Paige had not yet been inducted into the Hall of Fame and there was a general ignorance even among sports enthusiasts of the rich tradition of the Negro Leagues. Few knew that during the 1930s and '40s outstanding black teams were playing regularly in Yankee Stadium and Brooklyn's Ebbets Field. And names like Cool Papa Bell, Rube Foster, Judy Johnson, Biz Mackey, and Buck Leonard would bring no flash of smiling recognition to the fan's face, even though many of these men could easily have played alongside Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Hack Wilson, Lou Gehrig--and shattered their records in the process. Many baseball pundits now believe, for example, that had Josh Gibson played in the major leagues, he would have surpassed Babe Ruth's 714 home runs before Hank Aaron had even hit his first. And the great Dizzy Dean acknowledged that the best pitcher he had ever seen was not Lefty Grove or Carl Hubbell, but rather "old Satchel Paige, that big lanky colored boy."

In Only the Ball Was White, Robert Peterson tells the forgotten story of these excluded ballplayers, and gives them the recognition they were so long denied. Reconstructing the old Negro Leagues from contemporary sports publications, accounts of games in the black press, and through interviews with the men who actually played the game, Peterson brings to life the fascinating period that stretched from shortly after the Civil War to the signing of Jackie Robinson in 1947. We watch as the New York Black Yankees and the Philadelphia Crawfords take the field, look on as the East-West All-Star lineups are announced, and listen as the players themselves tell of the struggle and glory that was black baseball. In addition to these vivid accounts, Peterson includes yearly Negro League standings and an all-time register of players and officials, making the book a treasure trove of baseball information and lore.

A monumental and poignant book, Only the Ball Was White reminds us that what was often considered the "Golden Age" of baseball was also the era of Jim Crow. It is a book that must be read by anyone hoping not only to understand the story of baseball, but the story of America.

 

3. The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It, edited by Lawrence Ritter

 

The Glory of Their Times

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Baseball was different in earlier days—tougher, rawer, more intimate—when giants like Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb ran the bases. In the monumental classic The Glory of Their Times, the golden era of our national pastime comes alive through the vibrant words of those who played and lived the game.

 

2. Red Smith on Baseball: The Game's Greatest Writer on the Game's Greatest Years by Red Smith

 

Red Smith on Baseball

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"August Adolphus Busch Jr., the new president of the Cardinals, is a chubby gentleman called Gussie, about the size of a St. Louis brewer. He has horn-rimmed glasses, a zillion dollars and an air of pleased bewilderment. He rides to the hounds and travels by bus." It's not hard to pluck a memorable passage from the sportswriting of Red Smith. In more than fifty years as a newspaperman, notably with the New York Herald Tribune and the New York Times, he earned a reputation as the best writer ever to confront the game of baseball―astute, clever, witty, and stylish. In this bountiful selection of his most memorable columns―175 of them, from 1941 to 1981―baseball fans can recapture some of baseball's greatest moments and most unforgettable characters. Jackie Robinson's debut is here, and so is Hank Greenberg hitting home runs; Enos Slaughter scoring the winning run in the seventh game of the 1946 World Series; Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Boudreau; the sly antics of Charles Dillon Stengel; Durocher's lip; Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra, and scores of others. It's a baseball feast. Readers who are not baseball fans will have to be satisfied with just wonderful writing. With 14 black-and-white photographs.

 

1. Five Seasons: A Baseball Companion by Roger Angell

 

Five Seasons

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Five Seasons covers the baseball seasons from 1972 through 1976, described as the “most significant half decade in the history of the game.” The era was notable for the remarkable individual feats of Hank Aaron, Lou Brock, and Nolan Ryan, among others. It also presented one of the best World Series of all time (1975), including still the greatest World Series game ever played (Game Six).

Along with visiting other games and campaigns, Roger Angell meets a trio of Tigers-obsessed fans, goes to a game with a departing old-style owner, watches high-school ball in Kentucky with a famous scout, and explores the sad and astounding mystery of Steve Blass’s vanished control. Angell’s Five Seasons is a gem and a gift for baseball lovers of all ages.

 

Featured Image Via Wikipedia.