The best books for baseball omnivores

Who am I?

I’m a baseball history fanatic who writes on a wide range of topics for work and pleasure, which I’m glad to say often are the same thing. I’ve been a journalist for many years, even covered a few World Series, and I’ve written stories for books published by the Society for American Baseball Research. I’ve also written a lot about music, science, business, and politics, for newspapers and magazines. I’ve been a playwright, fortunate to have seen my work staged in different venues. And I also wrote a book called, The Music and Mythocracy of Col. Bruce Hampton: A Basically True Biography, which I’m really excited to tell you about in the next section!


I wrote...

The Music and Mythocracy of Col. Bruce Hampton: A Basically True Biography

By Jerry Grillo,

Book cover of The Music and Mythocracy of Col. Bruce Hampton: A Basically True Biography

What is my book about?

This is the amazing story of Col. Bruce Hampton, the charismatic musician/bandleader whose long career ended when he collapsed and died on stage during the encore of his 70th birthday concert, surrounded by some of the world’s best musicians, including Grammy winners and a Cy Young Award winner. It’s a biography that reads like a novel. As Billy Bob Thornton, who directed Hampton in his Academy Award-winning film Sling Blade, said of the book, “You’ll disappear into Bruce’s world in this book, and you may not want to come out.”

With a foreword by Grammy-winner Chuck Leavell and cover designed by Flournoy Holmes (the artist who created the cover for the Allman Brothers’ iconic album, Eat a Peach, and many others).

The books I picked & why

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Long Gone

By Paul Hemphill,

Book cover of Long Gone

Why this book?

This novel by one of my favorite writers, the late, great Paul Hemphill – an icon of journalism and storytelling in the American South – is a hilarious, vaguely autobiographical story of life in the low minor leagues. Hemphill perfectly captures the language, grit, rhythm, and flow of minor league baseball in the mid-1950s, touching on issues of worker’s rights, segregation, sex, love, teamwork, and courage, without preaching or being sentimental.

My favorite moment in the book (and the terrific HBO movie version, starring William Peterson and Virginia Madsen) is when a Klan roadblock stops the Stogies’ team bus because they want to lynch the team’s star catcher, Joe Louis Brown, the only black player in the league – one the Stogies suggests, “let ‘em hang Whisenant, he’s only batting .179.”

Long Gone

By Paul Hemphill,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A story with a heart of gold about love and the loss of innocence at the bottom of the most minor league in baseball-the class D Alabama-Florida League in the 1950s, with a sour old maverick manager, a yearning teenage second baseman, and a black catcher masquerading as a Venezuelan. "A first-rate novel."-Newsweek. "A sharp, unsentimental portrait of the minor league life...and Hemphill makes it all come to life, believably and memorably."-Sports Illustrated. "So good, so true, so funny..."-New York Times Book Review.


Ball Four: The Final Pitch

By Jim Bouton,

Book cover of Ball Four: The Final Pitch

Why this book?

My go-to baseball book, one that I’ve read twice and listened to twice, which I particularly enjoyed because Bouton reads the audio version. This is the baseball book that changed everything – well, it definitely changed baseball autobiographies and our expectations of them. There are parts that make me cringe, parts that would never pass the “politically correct” test today.

Regardless, what comes through most for me is Bouton’s wit and observations of the game and its players, and what it’s really like to play baseball at its highest level. Also, his love for the game and its grip on him is palpable. And it’s a book that changes over time for me – a romp and an inside look at life in the big leagues when I was young; and as an older man, it serves as a reminder that no matter how much you love doing something, some careers (like life itself), are fleeting. 

Ball Four: The Final Pitch

By Jim Bouton,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Ball Four as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION
New York Public Library Book of the Century Selection
Time Magazine “100 Greatest Non-Fiction Books” Selection
New Foreword from Jim Bouton’s Wife, Paula Bouton
When Ball Four was first published in 1970, it hit the sports world like a lightning bolt. Commissioners, executives, and players were shocked. Sportswriters called author Jim Bouton a traitor and "social leper." Commissioner Bowie Kuhn tried to force him to declare the book untrue. Fans, however, loved the book. And serious critics called it an important social document. Following his death, Bouton’s landmark book has remained popular, and his legacy lives on…


If I Never Get Back

By Darryl Brock,

Book cover of If I Never Get Back

Why this book?

This has some of my favorite stuff in it: old-time baseball and time travel. A really clever, adventurous, and fun novel, with a great cast of characters, including some fictional and some from history, like the Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869 (when the story takes place) and Mark Twain, and why not – this is, in some ways, a baseball version of Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court. The book’s protagonist, a 20th-century journalist, Sam Fowler, lands in 1869 Cincinnati and winds up helping the city’s legendary professional ball club. Brock wrote a sequel some years later and it was good, too, but this one about the 1869 season is one I intend to read again.

If I Never Get Back

By Darryl Brock,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked If I Never Get Back as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Time travel meets baseball in this “grand adventure” about a modern-day reporter who witnesses the birth of America’s favorite pastime (The Washington Times)
 
Contemporary reporter Sam Fowler is stuck in a dull job and a failing marriage when he is suddenly transported back to the summer of 1869. After a wrenching period of adjustment, he feels rejuvenated by his involvement with the nation’s first pro baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings. But American sports isn't the only thing to undergo a major transformation—Sam himself starts to change as he faces life-threatening 19th-century challenges on and off the baseball diamond. With…


The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It

By Lawrence S. Ritter,

Book cover of The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It

Why this book?

In the 1960s, Ritter interviewed a bunch of guys who played major league ball in the early days, from the 1890s through the 1930s (or so), with lots of stuff from the Deadball Era. The result is this marvelous book filled with priceless tales told by the men who knew, played with (and occasionally fought with) Ty Cobb, Cy Young, Nap Lajoie, and the immortals from that era. Anyone who wants to understand what baseball was like in 1903, or there-and-then-about, must read this book. Reading this book is like sitting on a porch in a rocking chair next to grandpa while he tells stories that you actually want to hear.

The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It

By Lawrence S. Ritter,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Glory of Their Times as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Easily the best baseball book ever produced by anyone.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer

“This was the best baseball book published in 1966, it is the best baseball book of its kind now, and, if it is reissued in 10 years, it will be the best baseball book.” — People

From Lawrence Ritter (The Image of Their Greatness, The 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time), comes one of the bestselling, most acclaimed sports books of all time, The Glory of Their Times—now a Harper Perennial Modern Classic.

Baseball was different in earlier days—tougher, more raw, more intimate—when giants like Babe Ruth…


The Boys of Summer

By Roger Kahn,

Book cover of The Boys of Summer

Why this book?

You don’t have to be a Dodgers fan to love this book about the Brooklyn teams and players from the late 1940s through the mid-1950s. Well, it’s mainly about that. It’s also an autobiography as Kahn describes his childhood in the Borough of Churches (Brooklyn), and his years covering the Dodgers for one of the great newspapers of all time, the New York Herald Tribune.

Kahn was a graceful writer who beautifully relates the camaraderie and the turmoil from those years and lovingly shares the true, often touching stories of men like Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Carl Erskine, and their teammates in their retirement years. Required reading for every avid baseball fan.

The Boys of Summer

By Roger Kahn,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Described by Richard William of The Guardian as 'the best sports book of 2013, and the best sports book of all time', The Boys of Summer is the story of the young men who learned to play baseball during the 1930s and 1940s, and went on to play for one of the most exciting major-league ball clubs ever fielded, the Brooklyn Dodgers team that broke the colour barrier with Jackie Robinson.

It is a book by and about a sportswriter who grew up near Ebbets Field, and who had the good fortune in the 1950s to cover the Dodgers for…


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