Whether you enjoy baseball for entertainment or for the living history of the game, you're bound to be interested in the books below. These nonfiction baseball reads analyze and explore every part of America's favorite sport.
Enter the perspective of the players, understand the complexity of the numbers, get involved in the heated rivalries, or even relive a childhood filled with trading cards of the greats.
The 50th-anniversary edition of Jim Bouton's groundbreaking dive into the lives of baseball players "changed the way journalists and fans viewed the sports world” (The Washington Post). While beloved by fans of the game for revealing that the Herculean athletes were, surprisingly, real people, the players themselves and commissioners for the league denounced many of the statements in the book.
Going so far as being banned in several locations around the country, the book became its own piece of history, and a magnifying glass on the '60s and its blind reverence for the favorite pastime.
Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?
In 1962, having lost 120 games out of a possible 162, the New York Mets were considered such a bad baseball team that it breached comedy. The spring season brought a level of entertainment to the sport that inspired a wave of new fans, all of whom were eager to see just how poorly a team could payl. Their performance even acted as a counter to the very analytics-driven approach to the sport, which many felt had detracted from the inherent "fun" of the game. For a brief time, the New York Mets blurred the Halls of Fame and Shame.
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Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards
There are so many avenues for fans to first get involved in a sport that we often forget about the less athletic ones. Using cardboard and ink to represent players and their stats hooked multiple generations of kids on basbeall, and spawned eBay bids that generated massive profits for those with enough foresight to hold onto their 1916 Sporting News Babe Ruth.
Josh Wilker's memoir explores what it means to love a sport, and is a baseball book that focuses on the friends and relics that emerged from being a fan.
Memories of Summer
Popular baseball writer Roger Kahn explores some of the greatest personalities of the sport through the lens of his childhood, growing up in the tail end of the Great Depression. He became a great sportswriter for the Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, the New York Herald Tribune, and Time.
This memoir blends his experiences while writing with the very figures he wrote about, mixing athleticism and literature with a wit that comes from years of reflection and hindsight.
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
When conventional wisdom and common-sense evaluations of players don't bring the same results they used to, it's time to find a new strategy. While the general manager of Oakland A's, Billy Beane, may not have secured a season win, the revival of his team to once again become competitors was noticeable enough for the rest of the Major League to adopt their tactics. Miraculously able to romanticize statistics, Moneyball takes a look at the 2002 season that prioritized runs over young, energetic players.
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Summer of '49
If you're a baseball fan in New York or Boston, you know about the baseball feud between the two cities—and the events in this book explain how it all began. Delivering context and recapturing the narrative, Halberstam's look at the Golden Age of baseball in 1949 highlights an America exhausted from war but eager to engage in healthy competition. The Yankees, headed by Joe DiMaggio, and the Red Sox, headed by Ted Williams, generated a rivalry that fully captured the classic appeal of team spirit, and this book covers every angle associated with that marvelous summer.
Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty
Ty Cobb played for just over two decades during the start of the 20th century and still has the highest lifetime batting average, deservedly the first player to be voted into the Hall of Fame. The numbers are impressive for fans and layman alike, but the nation's first major celebrity athlete ascended past the sport with his combative attitude, earning him a controversial status on and off the field. A man with a history that evolved into near mythology, Charles Leerhsen thankfully proves that the truth of Cobb's life is just as enthralling as the legends.
The Summer Game
Roger Angell's first book covering baseball looks at America's favorite pastime during the 1960s, blending factual reporting with the passion of a superfan to explain just why the game enthralled the nation so completely during this era. The decade saw the fall of the once-great Yankees, and the previously mentioned introduction of the New York Mets, a horrid 10-year stretch for New York until the Mets shocked the nation in the 1969 World Series. Angell covers a baseball league going through major changes, capitalizing on the growth of television as well as the drama between and amongst teams.
Related: "Your Horoscope," by Roger Angell
Out of My League
Continuing from The Bullpen Gospels, Dirk Hayhurst's experience as a pitcher in the Minors and eventual career in the Majors delivers a much more personal account of the sport than many others on this list could capture. While the national context may not be as present, the play-by-play thought process of a rookie on the pitcher's mound captures a unique humor few end up experiencing, and the intimate look at the players of the San Diego Padres is a welcome perspective for these sports titans.
The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers
"The guru of baseball" that is Bill James parallels the strategic mind of Sun Tzu, detailing the importance of a good team manager over a star batter. Any sport is comprised of more than just the players, and the list of those responsible for a season's victories grows with each new year, but the central pillar of the game remains. Comprised of Hall of Fame players, analytics experts, and general forward thinkers, the role of team manager can not be highlighted enough, but James does a credible service nonetheless.
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Feature photo: Wikimedia Commons