You’ve, no doubt, been following our blog articles for one reason, and one reason only: because you are a die-hard baseball fan.
You may play, you may coach, but one thing is for sure, you love the game itself.
So, we decided we should look at something that is often forgotten: the written part of the game. That is, the books written about baseball.
We’re going to discuss some of the best books of all time. Sadly, there is no consensus, and that means there is room for debate.
For this article, there was really only one rule: the book had to be non-fiction. That is, while books like “The Natural” or “You Know Me Al” are truly wonderful works of art, they’re not about the real game. We will be discussing books that pertain to the real game.
The books we look at will be about real players, real events, or real issues in baseball. We’re going to keep this list to a short “top-7” list so that you can offer each book the amount of time that it deserves.
Baseball’s Great Experiment
Jules Tygiel does a wonderful job explaining the impact of Jackie Robinson playing on a white baseball team. Tygiel is able to provide an amazing account of what life was like when Robinson joined the Dodgers.
What’s really impressive about this book is that Tygiel goes past the obvious “Jackie Robinson opened the door for black players”.
Tygiel actually goes on to discuss how players like Mays, Aaron, etc. are the players who continued that change and created a truly integrated sport.
This is a great read and looks at more than just how an iconic baseball player changed the sport, but how he changed the country.
Only the Ball Was White
This is one of the often forgotten books because it was written about often forgotten players. This is a book written purely about the Negro League players who deserved to be competing with the players who are known as the best to ever step on the field.
Robert Peterson went into great depth to write this book. He followed major publications as well as taking the time to interview some of the players who were in the Negro leagues.
He was even able to find special pieces from “the black press”. This book shows the struggle of the “colored” athlete during a time when it was frowned upon to be a “colored person”.
In this book, you’ll learn what it was like to fight the racial tension on and off the field. You’ll also see Negro League players getting the respect they deserve.
Dizzy Dean even goes on record saying that the best pitcher he ever saw was Satchel Paige.
Baseball When the Grass Was Real
This is a beautiful, yet easy read. I really enjoyed the multiple perspectives that Donald Honig used in this. If you want to know what the game used to be like, and how the game has changed since its early days, you want to talk to some of the greats who played.
If that’s the case, Honig accomplished his goal with names like Ruth, Williams, Gehrig, and Robinson.
Honig writes of a simpler time when baseball was more than steroids, stats, and dollar bills. He uses actual accounts from some of the best players to put you right there in the piece of history that he’s trying to explain to you.
When you pick this book up, you should be prepared to feel a certain nostalgia, even if you weren’t able to live during the times of the game. You’ll learn about the pride Cool Papa Bell had because of the game.
One of the best things you’ll read is Pete Reiser’s humor in regards to just how often he had mishaps. Surprisingly, this book even touches on bitterness from players who just couldn’t quite find a team to call home.
The book even goes into details about some of the crazy mishaps that happened in games. It’s a beautiful mix of broad and specific: team to player, season to inning.
Billy Bean gets credit for revolutionizing baseball and using the theory of moneyball. However, it’s Michael Lewis who took Billy Bean’s story and made it famous.
I think the book is written in a style that allows both, hardcore fans and casual fans to appreciate its topic.
The book chronicles how Billy Bean came to be in the position he was in, and why he appreciated statistics so much.
Billy Bean’s story offers the perfect example of a real-life underdog story when Bean had to create a competitive team with one of the smaller budgets in baseball.
It’s also really refreshing to a see a non-baseball guy writing the story of one of the most unexpected winners in recent history.
No Cheering in the Press Box
Obviously, I have a special spot in my heart for books that try to remember some of the “good ole days’ of the major leagues. That was Jerome Holtzman’s goal when he wrote this.
In fact, Holtzman did such a good job collecting stories during the ‘70’s that he decided to republish this book in 1995 with additional stories.
Holtzman writes out the oral history of the game. The book itself is interesting in that it is essentially Holtzman using a tape recorder while interviewing famous members of the press while asking them to look back.
Holtzman takes those memories and puts them on paper. He did a great job of allowing the speaker to drive the story.
It seems as though most of the memories come directly from the speaker. That is, Holtzman didn’t change much- the history was the history and it was largely untouched.
Many people will tell you that the early to mid-1970’s are the most important years of baseball. That’s exactly what Roger Angell looked to capture. From 1972-1976, baseball saw the guys like Hank Aaron and Nolan Ryan show what made them special.
Fans could see that the league was starting to change, and Angell attempts to captivate all that made these seasons great.
“Five seasons” is my favorite book in Angell’s series of baseball memoirs. Angell has always been a great writer, and tells stories magnificently. Somehow, with this book, he elevates his game.
I think it may be the fact that he dug deeper than simply writing about his memories. In “Five Seasons” Angell shadows a scout, and even spends time getting to know three generations of Tiger fans who can explain the passing “of the guard” so to speak.
This is consistently considered one of the greatest baseball books of all time. Jim Bouton broke the image of a 60’s baseball player and told the world what was really happening behind closed doors.
Because of this book, Bouton was largely considered a traitor and saw many players and coaches turn their back to him. The commissioner even tried forcing Bouton to “take back” everything written in the book.
That being said, it’s not just the subject matter that should attract your attention. It’s the detail that Bouton goes into. Bouton gives highly detailed accounts of players getting drunk and having numerous sexual encounters.
One of the most surprising things that Bouton wrote about was the number of players who actually lacked confidence.
Many people have called this the greatest baseball book of all time. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.
So there you have it. A top seven of baseball books to read. A few books that are “runners up” would have to be “Is This a Great Game or What” by Tim Kirkjian and “The Empire Strikes out” by Robert Elias.
Kirkjian’s book isn’t well-known enough for me to put it in the top seven, but it is one of my favorites. Elias’ book is far too political for some readers but is definitely an interesting read.