I am usually a pretty avid reader. I'll read anything, from the history of the hungry to the history of Hungary. One of my mainstays, however, is books about baseball. So naturally this week my interest was piqued when I found out one of The Serious Tip's favorite bloggers, Jay Busbee of Sports Gone South, is starting to put together a book on the 1990's history of the Atlanta Braves. Unfortunately, Aces and Golden Boys doesn't hit the shelves until spring 2009. (Come on, Jay, you can write quicker than that!) Even though it's the Braves, and I know Jay will be sure to mention Kenny Rogers's inability to throw a strike to Andruw Jones in 1999, I am definitely looking forward to reading Aces and Golden Boys.
In honor of Jay's upcoming book, I've decided to list my personal top 10 favorite books about baseball. As with any list, several really good books failed to make the cut. If you don't see one of your favorites and want to recommend it, feel free to comment or drop me a line.
10) Seasons in Hell by Mike Shropshire
Honestly, it's been a while since I read this, but from what I remember, Seasons in Hell was an off-beat look at the exploits of the 1973 to 1975 Texas Rangers. Although the Rangers weren't the worst team ever to grace the field of play, Shropshire writes of them as one of the most interesting. Among the subjects Shropshire covers are the always colorful Billy Martin and high school to big leagues publicity stunt/ draft pick David Clyde.
9) Hitter: The Life and Turmoils of Ted Williams by Ed Linn
Unfortunately, another book I haven't read in a while. Hitter is one of those all-encompassing books, that not only describes Ted Williams' baseball career, but his life from his childhood San Diego to his days in Boston to his managerial career with the aforementioned Texas Rangers to the early 1990s. As the book was published in 1993, it obviously doesn't cover his death and the proceeding legal mess. Thank goodness, though. Hitter is Ted Williams the way he should be remembered.
8) Cobb: The Life and Times of the Meanest Man Who Ever Played Baseball by Al Stump
The book behind the underrated Tommy Lee Jones movie Cobb, Al Stump's look at the overly dedicated, obsessive, often psychotic Cobb is one of the best baseball biographies I have ever read. Stump, who in the movie Cobb is played by Robert Wuhl, earned Cobb's trust during his last days and also wrote the baseball Hall of Famer's baseball-only biography My Life in Baseball.
7) I Was Right on Time by Buck O'Neil
Written in 1996, I Was Right on Time is the autobiography of baseball legend Buck O'Neil. O'Neil writes about his days playing in the Negro Leagues, tales of Jackie Robinson, Josh Gibson, and Satchel Paige, barnstorming, coaching the Cubs, and being an ambassador to the game of baseball, to include his highly acclaimed interviews for Ken Burns's Baseball documentary. If you have ever wondered why there was such an objection when Buck O'Neil was passed over for the Hall of Fame, I suggest you read this book.
6) Amazin': The Miraculous History of New York's Most Beloved Baseball Team by Peter Golenbock
Amazin' is 626 pages of Mets history. Of course it's one of my favorites. Golenbock's history of the Mets covers the team from their woeful 1962 team, which still holds the modern era record for most losses in season, to their attempt to dethrone the Yankees in 2000. My personal synopsis of what has happened since: they aged, Bobby V. left, they stunk, Omar took over, they became good again.
5) On a Clear Day The Could See Seventh Place: Baseball's Worst Teams by George Robinson and Charles Salzberg
I'll admit, I have a soft spot for the underdog. Like other books on this list, On a Clear Day They Could See Seventh Place discusses losers. This time however, the subject isn't just one team, it is all of the worst teams to ever play the game of baseball. In order to be fair, Robinson and Salzberg picked a team from each decade, from the 1899 Cleveland Spiders to the 1988 Baltimore Orioles. Published in 1991, this book definitely needs an update - may I suggest the 1998 Marlins and the 2003 Tigers?
4) Ball Four by Jim Bouton
Bouton's bestselling Ball Four is a no-holds barred look at baseball in the late 1960s and into the early 70s. Written in diary form, Ball Four is like a player's blog long before the days of the Internet. So revealing was Bouton's not so glowing account of Mickey Mantle and several of Bouton's other Yankee teammates, the former hurler was persona non grata at Yankee Stadium for over 20 years.
3) The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn
One of the classics of baseball literature. Kahn's book on the Brooklyn Dodgers is as much about Brooklyn as it is about the Dodgers. Divided into two parts, Kahn first writes of his life as a young sportswriter covering the Dodgers in the last seasons in Flatbush, including their 1956 World Championship. In the second half of the book, Kahn explores his meetings with several of the Dodger players long after their retirement and invites the readers into the twilight of his illustrious boys of summer.
2) Remembrance of Swings Past by Ron Luciano
For over 10 years, Remembrance of Swings Past was my favorite baseball book and quite possibly my overall favorite book. Like a rite of passage, every spring I would read Luciano's account of his umpiring career and his humorous views on different aspects of baseball. No other book prepared me for an upcoming season like Remembrance of Swings Past. Sadly, this 1989 book was one of Luciano's last, as he passed away in 1995. But his anecdotes live on for me every spring.
1) The Curious Case of Sidd Finch by George Plimpton
Absolutely the best baseball book I have ever read. Of course, it helps that it involves my favorite team. But even if it didn't, the story of Sidd Finch is so interesting I guarantee it would still be my number one.
If you have never heard the story, Finch was a Mets prospect in the mid-1980s who could throw over 150 miles per hour. Enlightened in the mountains of Tibet and skilled in "the art of the pitch", Finch was as eccentric of a baseball player as there has ever been. Together with a young Dwight Gooden, Finch and the Mets could have established a dynasty unseen in baseball history. Instead ... well, read the book and find out.