The best novels about baseball

Terry McDermott Author Of Off Speed: Baseball, Pitching, and the Art of Deception
By Terry McDermott

Who am I?

I grew up in rural Iowa in the 1950s and 60s, a place far removed from most of the world. Our town had no movie theater, no library, no anything except for a truly excellent baseball field. So we played – day, night, with full teams or three brothers or all by yourself. We also were tasked by our father with caring for the diamond, which was the home park for the local semi-pro team, the Cascade Reds. When I left town – fled would be a better description – I took my love of baseball with me. I played baseball in Vietnam, watched games in Hiroshima, Japan, Seoul, Korea, LA, Chicago, Seattle, Kansas City, and St. Louis. I could go on like this for a long time, but I think you get the picture.

I wrote...

Off Speed: Baseball, Pitching, and the Art of Deception

By Terry McDermott,

Book cover of Off Speed: Baseball, Pitching, and the Art of Deception

What is my book about?

Off Speed: Baseball, Pitching and the Art of Deception is about one-third a history of the game, one-third a detailed examination of a single game – Felix Hernandez’s 2012 perfect game, and tucked in there somewhere a history of my personal fandom which means lots of Iowa, lots of fathers and sons and Seattle and Dave Niehaus and all kinds of other stuff. These are, of course, all mixed together so you have to read the parts you didn’t know you’d like to get to the parts you did. Tricky, huh?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of It Looked Like For Ever

Why did I love this book?

This is the fourth and last of Mark Harris’s Henry Wiggen novels. All four novels are narrated in a charming colloquial voice by Wiggen, a star lefthanded starting pitcher for the New York Mammoths. The books trace the all-star career of Wiggin, from his rookie year through to the end of a long career. The time frame of the novels is the 1950s through the 1960s, moving beyond the innocence of the beginning (when players still had off-season jobs to pay the rent – Wiggen sold insurance) to a kind of melancholy at the end. The novel chronicles the end of Wiggen’s excellent career, an end Wiggen, as the wistful title suggests, never saw coming until too late. It’s funny, sad, and heartfelt.

By Mark Harris,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked It Looked Like For Ever as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Henry Wiggen, the bedraggled six-foot-three, 195-pound, left-handed pitcher for the New York Mammoths, returns to narrate another novel in his inimitable manner. Fans who loved him in Bang the Drum Slowly, The Southpaw, and A Ticket for a Seamstitch (all Bison Books) will cheer his comeback. Wiggen is now thirty-nine, a fading veteran with a floating fastball, a finicky prostate, and other intimations of mortality. Released from the Mammoths after nineteen years, the twenty-seventh winningest pitcher in baseball history (tied at 247 victories with Joseph J. "Iron Man" McGinnity and John Powell), Wiggen is not ready to hang up his…

Shoeless Joe

By W.P. Kinsella,

Book cover of Shoeless Joe

Why did I love this book?

This novel is less well-known, and much more accomplished, than the movie based on it – Field of Dreams. Where the movie is sappy, the book is lyrical and warmly nostalgic for a time and place – rural Iowa in the 1970s. There is a clear magical realism vibe to the whole thing. The plot structure of the novel is a very shaggy dog involving a baseball field in a corn field, the kidnapping of a famous novelist and numerous dead people coming back to life. The book is big-hearted and much of the writing is luminous.

By W.P. Kinsella,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shoeless Joe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The inspiration for the beloved film Field of Dreams, Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella is the story about the beauty and history of baseball, and the power and endurance of a dream.

“A moonlit novel about baseball, dreams, family, the land, and literature."—Sports Illustrated

“If you build it, he will come.” These mysterious words, spoken by an Iowa baseball announcer, inspire Ray Kinsella to carve a baseball diamond in his cornfield in honor of his hero, the baseball legend Shoeless Joe Jackson. What follows is both a rich, nostalgic look at one of our most cherished national pastimes and…

Book cover of The Great American Novel

Why did I love this book?

This is a minor work in Roth’s illustrious career, but it is pure Roth - hilarious and outrageous -  through and through. You can’t not love a novel that begins with an irreverent shot out to Moby Dick: Call me Smitty, is the novel’s first line, penned by a sportswriter and narrator Word Smith. Smitty’s story is the tragic career of the only Babylonian pitcher in major league history, a phenom named Gil Gamesh. (For those who are too far removed from your college classics courses, Gilgamesh is the great epic story of ancient Babylon.) Gil and his catcher concoct a plot to kill an umpire, Mike the Mouth, who never gives them an even break. The would-be murder weapon is a high fastball. Chaos ensues.

By Philip Roth,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Great American Novel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of American Pastoral—a richly imagined novel featuring America’s only homeless big-league baseball team in history delivers “shameless comic extravagance…. Roth gleefully exploits our readiness to let baseball stand for America itself" (The New York Times).

Gil Gamesh, the only pitcher who ever literally tried to kill the umpire. The ex-con first baseman, John Baal, "The Babe Ruth of the Big House," who never hit a home run sober. If you've never heard of them—or of the homeless baseball team the Ruppert Mundys—it's because of the Communist plot, and the capitalist scandal, that expunged the entire…

Book cover of The Greatest Slump of All Time

Why did I love this book?

As a long-suffering fan of the Seattle Mariners, who have avoided success longer than any other North American sports team this century, how could I not love a novel whose central premise is what would happen if an elite professional sports team, the defending National League champs, fielded an entire line-up of players overwhelmed by clinical depression? This is the funniest sad book I’ve ever read. Well, maybe the second after Catch 22. All the characters play baseball, but the book is less about sport than it is about how humans survive a hostile world.

By David Carkeet,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Greatest Slump of All Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nine major-league baseball players, suffering from clinical depression, lead their team toward tragic triumph

Book cover of The Universal Baseball Association

Why did I love this book?

Coover’s prescient novel pre-dates the explosion of sports fantasy leagues by at least a decade, but places an imaginary league at the center of his story. Anyone who has ever played in fantasy leagues knows their power. The fantasy can take over your life, which is precisely what happens to J. Henry Waugh. The protagonist is a mild-mannered accountant by day, but the owner-operated-madman-in-charge of his self-created league at night. Eventually, it overwhelms his real life. This is a novel about the dangers of living inside your own head.

By Robert Coover,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Universal Baseball Association as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As owner of every team in the league, Henry is flush with pride in a young rookie who is pitching a perfect game. When the pitcher completes the miracle game, Henry's life lights up. But then the rookie is killed by a freak accident, and this"death" affects Henry's life in ways unimaginable. In a blackly comic novel that takes the reader between the real world and fantasy, Robert Coover delves into the notions of chance and power.

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