America’s Pastime has been emblazoned in ink on the page for almost as long as it has been a sport. While there are some great pieces of fiction ranging from the classic The Natural to the modern hit The Art of Fielding, the most beautiful way to read baseball is in the non-fiction form. Here’s an alphabetical list mixed with some titles I love or some that have been recommended to me. (Note: books written by big name stars like Tony LaRussa or Pete Rose have been left off this list.)
Ball Four – Jim Bouton
In 1969 Bouton wrote a diary about his time with the Seattle Pilots (it was their only year in the league) and the Houston Astros. It also focuses on his earlier playing years. Bowie Kuhn, who was commissioner at the time, called the book “detrimental to baseball” due to its shocking behind the scenes look into what the pros were really like.
The Boys of Summer – Roger Kahn
Perhaps the pinnacle of baseball reads. This book is over four decades old and still infatuates new readers each year. It chronicles the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers season as they won the World Series, bringing it to the other borough for the first time. He then tracks the boys of the ’55 summer as the rest of their lives unfolded.
Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere – Lucas Mann
Mann is a product of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and in 2010 he followed the Clinton LumberKings – a Class A team chock full of rising stars and fading talent. Released in 2013, this book has a lot of Mann in it. It’s not just about the players, but how the writer interacted with them. If you’re a fan of the film Bull Durham, then you’ll love reading this true story.
Fair Ball: A Fan’s Case For Baseball – Bob Costas
First published in 2001, this book may be a little out of date, but it a must read for any fan. Costas, a baseball guru, poetically writes why baseball is broken and what must be done to fix it. A decade and a half later there are still similar problems. Some have gotten better, and – unfortunately – some have gotten worse.
I Don’t Care if We Never Get Back: 30 Games in 30 Days on the Best Worst Baseball Trip Ever – Ben Blatt and Eric Brewster
Two guys from Harvard attempt the perfect baseball road trip in 2013. Where there have been countless 30 ballparks in the same summer trip, this is pretentiously claims to be the best. Blatt is a math whiz. He created an algorithm that figures out how to get to each of the 30 ballparks in as many days while seeing every inning. There are a lot of rules the two have in the book released this year, but it’s worth checking out as a casual read.
The Last Best League: One Summer, One Season, One Dream – Jim Collins
College baseball players are recruited to play in an all-star league for pro scouts every summer on Cape Cod. In 2005 Collins released an in depth look into the league and took us on an emotional journey with a handful of the players. What’s even more interesting is knowing how these college aces turned out almost a decade later. (Note a 10th anniversary edition will be released on May 27.)
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game – Michael Lewis
Focusing on the Oakland A’s general manager’s approach to put together a winning team despite its lack of money. With the help of sabermetrics, the 2002 A’s became a formidable team even though they were third to last in terms of salary. The 2003 book weaves together a strong narrative spliced with the numbers that helped bring the sabermetrics formula to a forefront.
The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Race Fight Made Baseball America’s Game – Edward Achorn
A beer proprietor buys a franchise because he knows he can sell a lot of beer in the stands. This book looks at how one man and one team – the St. Louis Browns, a precursor for the Cardinals – helped bring the fans to the bleachers. Achorn, who has won a Pulitzer Prize for his journalism, released this book last year and it has become a certain must read.
Up, Up, and Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, le Grand Orange, Youppi!, the Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-Fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos – Jonah Keri
The team hasn’t been around for a decade, but everyone still loves the Expos. This is the first in-depth look (in English at least) at the franchise and it’s not one to be missed. Keri, whose work often appears on Grantland, released this earlier in the year and it has already climbed to the New York Times bestseller list.
Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball – John Feinstein
Released mere months ago, journalist Feinstein followed eight ballplayers in Triple-A and their journey to make it to the big show, or former stars trying to stretch out their career. Feinstein is a terrific writer who elicits his prose to draw us into this world.