Baseball and Culture: The Nine Best Baseball Books

I can’t pretend to have read everything ever written about baseball, but I wish that I could. I love baseball and I love reading. As you might expect given that information, I also love books about baseball. Here are some of my favorites and no fan’s library is complete without them. Feel free to recommend more in the comments section.

[Editor’s Note: You can find a crowd-sourced list of favorite baseball books here]

9. Men at Work by George Will (Amazon)

Will’s book tells the story of the game through discussions of specific players and managers. It’s the ultimate case study of the thinking baseball man. It’s about two decades old at this point, but it’s just as easy to pick up now and feel smell the fresh cut grass in every page.

8. Fantasyland by Sam Walker (Amazon)

This may be the only book about fantasy baseball on this list, but that doesn’t make the story any less real. Walker, a WSJ writer, spent a year chronicling his participation in one of the oldest and most competitive fantasy baseball leagues. It’s a great read and it’s about seven years old at this point, so it’s a quaint version of fantasy sports that doesn’t include Twitter.

7. Now I Can Die in Peace by Bill Simmons (Amazon)

Simmons is famous for his work as the Sports Guy and as editor of Grantland, but way back when, he was actually a fan of baseball and his hometown Red Sox. This book is a compilation of columns he wrote about the Sox leading up to their improbable 2004 World Series run. The title says it all, but it’s still a fun read even though the Red Sox have now become as annoying to all baseball fans as the Yankees.

6. 3 Nights in August by Buzz Bissinger (Amazon)

Bissinger, of Friday Night Lights fame, spend three nights in August trailing around Cardinals’ manager Tony LaRussa in 2003. I honestly haven’t picked this one up in a long time, but I remember finding it to be a great love letter to baseball.

5. Perfect by James Buckley (Amazon)

This book is great for a couple reasons. First, it’s the story of every perfect game in baseball history, which should be enough for you to buy it immediately. But it’s also the story of every perfect game that almost was. There’s an entire chapter devoted to pitchers who made it 8 2/3 innings before giving up a hit or a walk to the final batter. The other great thing about this book is that I read it a couple years (2008?) after Randy Johnson’s perfect game in 2004. Within the following four years, there would be like six more perfect games. I read this entire book and now it’s 33% longer!

Editor’s Note: Wait to buy this one until the three(!) 2012 perfect games are included.

4. Moneyball by Michael Lewis (Amazon)

This is probably the most famous book on the list. It’s become a target in the last few years, especially after the Hollywood adaptation. But the book itself is brilliant and wildly misunderstood by people who obviously didn’t read it. Moneyball is about the cash strapped A’s and their quest to exploit market inefficiency in order to win an unfair game. A lot of people turned this into a stats v. scouts book, and it absolutely wasn’t. This was a book about a team that folded statistical analysis into their player evaluation model because scouts were missing something. Scouts don’t miss these things as much anymore. The A’s spend more on their scouts than they did when the book was written because they do value that perspective. They just needed to find out what everyone else was undervaluing so that they could win without big dollar sign

3. 56 by Kostya Kennedy (Amazon)

56 is a really simple concept. It’s the story of the greatest athletic achievement in sports history. It’s the story of Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hit streak in 1941. The book is a lot of fun and folds in a lot of great baseball history and its connection to the history of the nation. Kennedy also does a great job interspersing short analysis and commentary between chapters of the narrative to help you think about the streak from a modern point of view.

2. Heart of the Game by S.L. Price (Amazon)

This is the heartbreaking story of Mike Coolbaugh and the line drive that ended his life. He was coaching first base at a minor league game when a foul ball caught him in the neck and the book tells his story and the story of the man who hit the baseball. It’s a story about trying to make it in a tough game and also about coping with tragedy and loss. It’s a heavy read, but it’s as brilliant as it is sad.

1. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (Amazon)

Fielding is the only work of fiction on this list, but it has a well-earned spot at the top of this list. Harbach’s first novel is a bit soapy at times, but that doesn’t detract from its wonderful treatment of a college baseball team at a small liberal arts school in Wisconsin. The story itself is great, but the way Harbach handles baseball tells you he’s not only a fantastic writer, but a true fan. The occasional uncomfortable sex scene is not nearly enough to make you want to put down one of the most compelling arrangements of sentences and paragraphs I’ve ever read.

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3 responses

  1. […] said, the most highly read piece on this site was my list of the nine best baseball books, so I have some evidence to back this up besides the success of the otherwise useless Bleacher […]

  2. I really hated “Men at Work”; but then I can’t stand George Will in general. Maybe it’s just me. I would have listed “Veeck as in Wreck”, “The New Bill James Historical Abstract”, and “Bang the Drum Slowly” as a fiction entry.

    1. Yeah, Men at Work was fun for the style, but not everybody feels that way. I recently did some crowdsourcing on this topic, and will drop a link in this article shortly.

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