The late historian and public intellectual Jacques Barzun once said, “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game.” The time has long since passed when that was true, if it ever was. Nonetheless, there is a healthy portion of the world that looks forward to the blossoming and unfolding of yet another season of baseball at every level, from Little League to the major leagues. And one thing that baseball provides more than any other sport is a rich and varied bibliography covering its heroes, golden moments, and colorful history. Every year, dozens of baseball books are published. George Plimpton once proposed what he called the Small Ball Theory: “There seems to be a correlation between the standard of writing about a particular sport and the ball it utilizes—that the smaller the ball, the more formidable the literature.” Here’s a different theory: baseball literature is distinguished because there are simply so many books about the sport that some works are bound to become “formidable.” This year alone will see at least 15 titles published before the All-Star Game is even played. Here’s a rundown of them.
The Baseball Trust: A History of Baseball’s Antitrust Exemption By Stuart Banner
Legal historian Stuart Banner covers everything you might want to know about Major League Baseball’s legal exceptionalism, quoting cases from 1890 to the present, especially Federal Baseball Club v. National League, the 1922 Supreme Court case that held that federal antitrust laws did not apply to baseball.
In true American fashion, former Lehmann Brothers trader Joe Peta worked baseball stats to gamble his way to riches. Turning Moneyball on its head, Peta took a sabermetric approach to predicting team performance in individual games and over an entire season, with uncanny and rewarding results.
Inside the Baseball Hall of FameBy the National Baseball Hall of Fame
Cooperstown, New York, is both baseball’s shrine and archive. This volume is informative and well illustrated, and properly reverential with an introduction by Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson.
Keepers of the Game: When the Baseball Beat Was the Best Job on the Paper By Dennis D'Agostino
Baseball being a game that many fans like to read and speculate about rather than watch, daily newspaper baseball writers were at one time the unacknowledged legislators of their sport. This book devotes its nine chapters to nine winners of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the baseball writing profession’s highest honor: Ross Newhan, Hal McCoy, Murray Chass, Peter Gammons, Bob Elliott, Rick Hummel, Tracy Ringolsby, Nick Peters, and Bill Madden.
Beyond Home Plate: Jackie Robinson on Life After BaseballBy Michael Long
Baseball deity Jackie Robinson was committed to social progress as this anthology of his columns for The New York Post and the New York Amsterdam News exhibits. Something to read while you wait for the forthcoming movie 42, on Robinson’s struggles to play in the major leagues.
Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the GameBy John Sexton, Thomas Oliphant, and Peter J. Schwartz
New York University president Sexton has taught a course utilizing baseball to demonstrate the features of a spiritual life. This book advocates for the sport as pathway to a more transcendent view of life. Who knew?
Francona: The Red Sox YearsBy Terry Francona and Dan Shaughnessy
The former Red Sox manager collaborates with Boston columnist and sports éminence grise Dan Shaughnessy, to peel layers off the mythology-prone Red Sox Nation, opining that the Sox became more about money than winning. Having led the team to its first World Series win since 1918, Francona knows what he’s talking about.
Long ShotBy Mike Piazza with Lonnie Wheeler
Drafted by the Dodgers in the 62nd round of the 1988 Major League Baseball amateur draft, the 1993 National League rookie of the year, and holder of the record for home runs hit by a catcher, this autobiography touches on the historic 2000 Subway Series between the New York Mets and the Yankees, his dramatic confrontation with Roger Clemens in that series, the steroid controversy, and assorted inside baseball stories from his 15-year major-league tenure.
This is a sepia-tinged account of the postwar return of stars like Ted Williams, Stan Musial, and Joe DiMaggio, which featured the 1946 World Series and Jackie Robinson’s appearance on the major-league scene.
The narrative of future major leaguers Johnny "Blue Moon" Odom, Tommie Reynolds, and Bert Campaneris playing on a minor-league team run by future and former Red Sox owner Haywood Sullivan in racially segregated and explosive Birmingham, Alabama, during the 1960s is as good a snapshot of social history as a sports book in recent years.
The time machine travels back to the 1880s as brewer Chris von der Ahe purchases the forerunner of the St. Louis Cardinals, with the singular purpose of selling more beer. In 1884, the St. Louis team played in the American Association known as the Beer and Whiskey Circuit that helped baseball become America’s pastime. While the National League targeted the upper-middle class, the teams of American Association featured alcohol, 25-cent admission, Sunday games, and colorful characters such as Fleet Walker and Pete Browning.
The subtitle says it all—three brothers, Joltin’ Joe, Dom, and the older and much ignored Vince DiMaggio, devoted to baseball, playing for storied baseball franchises (Red Sox, Yankees, Giants) when the sport was the great American pastime. Nostalgia reigns.
During the Great Depression car dealer Neil Churchill assembled a baseball team in Bismarck, North Dakota, with the best talent he could find. Dunkel’s account focuses on the team’s 1935 season and the first National Semi-Pro tournament in Wichita, Kansas, with all brother, prison, and religious teams competing. It’s a little-known but charming narrative that affirms baseball as a cornucopia of good stories.
The Bird: The Life and Times of Mark FidrychBy Doug Wilson
The first athlete to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone, Detroit Tiger pitcher Mark Fidrych was Rookie of the Year in 1976 and much loved during his all-too brief four-year-long major-league career. Known for talking to the ball and patting the grass around the mound, Fidrych was nicknamed the Bird because of his resemblance to the Sesame Street character “Big Bird.” Because of his manifold idiosyncrasies, his disavowal of the normal baseball protocols (no sports agent), and a modest lifestyle, he was much loved and admired. He died in a bizarre accident in 2009.
So You Think You Know Baseball?: A Fan's Guide to the Official RulesBy Peter E. Meltzer and Rich Marazzi
One of the joys of being a real baseball fan is being able to quote its multitudinous, arcane rules. This tome makes ball-field jurisprudence easier.