The best books for baseball omnivores

The Books I Picked & Why

Long Gone

By Paul Hemphill

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.”


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Ball Four: The Final Pitch

By Jim Bouton

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. 


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If I Never Get Back

By Darryl Brock

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.


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

By Lawrence S. Ritter

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.


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The Boys of Summer

By Roger Kahn

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.


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