10 Awesome Baseball Books

There are a lot more than 10 out there, of course. But if you’re building a list of essential baseball books, here’s a good starting point.

Veeck–As In Wreck: The Autobiography of Bill Veeck: The best sports autobiography I’ve ever read. Where to even start? Incredibly funny, brutally honest, politically incorrect, thoughtful, insightful, so much fun you’ll never want to put it down.

Ball Four: 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: The World of Baseball Scouting: 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 more than a quarter-century ago. One drawback: Cheapest Amazon price is $37, used. Get someone to buy it for you as a gift, if necessary.

The Lords of the Realm: Major League Baseball is run by some very rich, very petty men. This book, at times, makes the characters from John Helyar’s even more excellent Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco (my favorite business book of all-time, even better than Liar’s Poker) look genteel by comparison.

Weaver on Strategy: The Classic Work on the Art of Managing a Baseball Team: 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 Baseball 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: The Story of Baseball Told By the Men Who Played It: 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 Gabe Kapler or Fernando Perez 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 audio version even more highly.

Summer of ’49: One of many rich, thoughtful books by the late, great master. Like Helyar, David Halberstam’s best work may have been done on non-sporting topics.

The Summer Game: Or whatever other Roger Angell book strikes your fancy. When I read someone like Angell or Halberstam, I imagine 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: A Novel: 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. W.P. Kinsella’s the first author whose works (including short stories that often have little to do with baseball) I ever devoured beginning to end.



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Jonah Keri is the author of The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First -- now a National Bestseller! Follow Jonah on Twitter @JonahKeri, and check out his awesome podcast.


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Matt Klaassen
Member
Member

Here is “Scout’s Honor?”

Matt Klaassen
Member
Member

Make that “where.”

Sigh.

DWrek
Guest
DWrek

was this sarcasm? sorry if it went over my head.

Matt Klaassen
Member
Member

Suuurrreee it isn’t.

Jason
Guest
Jason

What, no Bullpen Gospels?

André
Guest
André

Do Notgraphs readers really need to learn about Bullpen Gospels?

Scooter
Guest
Scooter

Two more suggestions:

The Science of Hitting by Ted Williams
Wrecking Crew by John Albert

DWrek
Guest
DWrek

Personal fav… The Last Best League by Jim Collins

daiheide
Guest
daiheide

Absolutely loved Baseball Confidential as a kid. Picked it up again a couple of years ago and it is still terrific: a bunch of behind-the-scenes stories, both about playing the game and about stuff that happens off the field.

http://www.amazon.com/Baseball-Confidential-Bruce-Nash/dp/0671692178

CajoleJuice
Guest

Baseball Between the Numbers is a wonderful primer on sabermetrics that’s much more accessible than The Book. I’m sure Jonah didn’t want to pimp the book he edited, though, so that’s why I’m doing it here.

Albert Lyu
Member

I absolutely loved Lord of the Realms. I also liked Marvin Miller’s autobiography.

Dan G
Guest
Dan G

Thanks for the recommendations – I’ll definitely pick up the Bill Veeck book.

I’ll second your recommendation for Ball Four and Bill James Historic Almanac.

Like, Albert Lyu, I read Marvin Miller’s autobiography and enjoyed it.

Krog
Guest
Krog

Veeck as in Wreck is phenomenal. I’m currently reading Bill Veeck’s “The Hustler’s Handbook” which is also quite good. His stories about players and general managers, many of whom I had never heard of prior, are hilarious.

Mims featuring Mims
Guest
Mims featuring Mims

A False Spring – a good book about the minors, growing up, and handling defeat

jirish
Guest
jirish

That’s my pick too.

I also enjoyed Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris and the Clemente biography by David Marriness.

Jim Haug
Guest
Jim Haug

If you like Bang the Drum, get The Southpaw, which is the prior Wiggen story and is a much better book

camisadelgolf
Guest
camisadelgolf

Moneyball? Or is that too obvious and/or not good enough?

Harvey Manfrenjensenden
Guest
Harvey Manfrenjensenden

Among other things, Halberstam was present at/reported on the self-immolation of the Vietnamese monk in 1963 – a good (if sad) read in and of itself. Interesting dude.

Mike B.
Guest
Mike B.

Amen. Big fan of a lot of things he wrote. Was really happy Summer of 49 made the list.

bowie
Guest
bowie

I can’t listen to or read anything by George Will as an adult, but when I was 16 I read Men at Work and it blew me away.

Michael
Guest
Michael

Bang the Drum Slowly
Mark Harris

drmagoo
Guest
drmagoo

That’s a great list. Since reading Lords of the Realm, I have sided with the players in every labor dispute – the owners were that stupid.

I’d read a grocery list put together by Kinsella. His short stories about life on reservations in Canada are wonderful.

souldrummer
Guest

Can’t agree with you more. I need to read the updated version that goes over the 1994 strike. You read that book and you realize how much baseball just doesn’t get it and how the owners are addicted to less than skillful commissioners.

Bobby Mueller
Member
Member

The Soul of Baseball, by Joe Posnanski, is a must read for baseball fans.

Another great book: Brothers K.

Daern
Guest
Daern

No baseball book list is complete without Soul of Baseball. I cried so much during that book, I lost count. Posnanski is truly one of the best sportswriters, and probably one of the best writers in general, I’ve ever read.

souldrummer
Guest

Two awesome rec’s. I need to consider rereading Brothers K. Duncan is such an awesome, awesome writer and I recommend “The River Why” without qualifications as well. Great writer and has a heart and soul as well.

Ben
Guest
Ben

No Boys of Summer? All of those are good books, but none match the poetry that is a Roger Kahn book.

Justen
Guest
Justen

“have glove, will travel”…fantastic book!!

Phil
Guest
Phil

Amen on Moneyball, Camisadelgolf. Talk about a page-turner. It’s got to be on the list.

Updike’s “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” is not quite a book, but is as good as anything on the list. Details Ted Williams’ final game. It’ll knock you flat.

souldrummer
Guest

Interesting. New Yorker just came out with a Best Sportswriting from the magazine and that article is in it.

souldrummer
Guest

Kudos for your for picking “The Summer Game”. I think I was directed to that book by the Bill James Historical Abstract you’ve got on your list. It’s a great book and totally makes you realize how the lack of how the hustle to get stuff out quickly these days has come at the expense of rich and expressive language. Also, I appreciate that book so much because it talks a lot about the fan experience. “The Go Shouters” that praise the early days of the Mets fans reminds you about how much that franchise has strayed from its roots.

Anything Bill Veeck is classic as well. Didn’t realize how much a progressive he was in helping diversity in the game.

I’d also recommend the Satchel Paige biography. [Can’t remember the author offhand] and The Big Bam which is a great biography of Babe Ruth.

rcbuss
Guest
rcbuss

The Celebrant by Eric Rolfe Greenberg

Jon J.
Guest
Jon J.

Pafko At The Wall By Don DeLillo
It became the opening chapter of Underworld. Bobby Thompson’s home run and the launch of Sputnik. Brilliant writing.

If I never Get Back by Daryl Brock
A guy somehow gets sent back in time and travels with the 1875 Cincinatti Reds, the first pro baseball team. Mark Twain puts in an appearence as does the transcontinental railroad.

Oldie but goodie:
Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn
tracking down the ’55 Dodgers years after the fact.
Good Enough to Dream by Kahn
Kahn owns an unaffilated team in short season single A NY-Penn league.

Jay
Guest
Jay

A big second for If I Never Get Back! Love that book…

Albert Lyu
Member

Books I have acquired since this post:
The Glory Of Their Times
Veeck–As In Wreck
The Bullpen Gospels
Scorecasting

I think I’m going to start with the Bullpen Gospels, which I think Jonah is only just starting. Scorecasting isn’t really a baseball book I suppose, but it’s all the rage with its homefield advantage study, so I thought I’d take a look too.

Aaron Whitehead
Guest

Only the Ball Was White — still the best and most accessible general look at the Negro Leagues. And I really loved the set of Baseball Stars of the Deadball Era put out by SABR. Fantastic research and incredibly readable.

Also, it’s not really a book, but there’s a great play by Lee Blessing called Cobb. It features three actors playing Ty Cobb at different stages of his life, fighting to tell his story in their own way. This process is interrupted by a fourth character — Oscar Charleston.

yt
Guest
yt

What about Stephen Jay Gould’s stuff on baseball?

André
Guest
André

The Universal Baseball League, Inc, J. Henry Waugh, Prop, by Robert Coover is pretty great.

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