February 14th is known as Valentine’s Day, but it also is an important day to a lot of baseball fans around the world. It is generally the day that pitchers and catchers report to spring training camps in Florida and Arizona where the major and minor league players begin to get in shape for the coming season. Truthfully though, most players do not get that far out of shape in the off-season any longer and are pretty much ready to go within a couple of weeks of reporting to camp. Still, tradition dictates that spring training is essentially a six-week period of time in the sun to get ready for the “long season.”
With that in mind I decided to write this library blog entry. After I had picked the books I was going to write about I found I had nine books and baseball is a game of nine innings. I figured this must be more than just a coincidence, so here we go. These nine books represent some of the finest baseball writing over the years or they cover players or events that were of great importance to the game. I know I left out some players (Babe Ruth did not make the cut, but only because we do not have the definitive book on the Babe’s life). All of these books can be found in the Thomas Library collection.
First inning: Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series (1963) – Eliot Asinof’s tale of the gambling scandal that tarred the 1919 World Series between the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds is a must read for any baseball fan. Historically, it may not be quite perfect, but it is a great tale and Asinof brings the characters to life: men like Eddie Cicotte, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Chick Gandil, Charles Comiskey and Arnold Rothstein. This event shook baseball to its soul and resulted in the establishment of the Office of the Commissioner.
Second inning: Only The Ball Was White: A History of Legendary Black Players and All-Black Professional Teams (1970) – While it is hard to believe there was once a time when major league baseball was all white, no African-Americans set foot on a major league baseball field from 1888 until 1947. Peterson’s well researched and well written book was the first to introduce most baseball fans to the history of the Negro Leagues and the various other venues that were open to African-American baseball players while the color line was in effect. You cannot understand the entire history of baseball without reading this book.
Third inning: Past Time: Baseball as History (2000) – Jules Tygiel’s seminal work on the history of baseball is arguably the best one-volume work on the history of the game as it relates to the history of the United States. Beginning with the earliest days of the game before the Civil War and going up through the end of the 20th century, Tygiel’s work was one of the first scholarly books to study the game in relation to the other events going on during the same time.
Fourth inning: I Never Had It Made: An Autobiography of Jackie Robinson (1995) – One of the most important books in the baseball universe, Jackie Robinson’s autobiography tells the story of his role in breaking the color line in major league baseball. Robinson is, unarguably, the most important figure in the history of baseball. He endured, he persisted and he overcame, at great cost to himself. Robinson’s story should never be forgotten and he should always be a hero to everyone.
Fifth inning: Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever: A Great Baseball Player Tells the Hilarious Story Behind The Legend (1993) – Satchel Paige may have been the greatest pitcher in the history of all baseball. He certainly was one of the great storytellers. Paige’s purported autobiography must be taken with a grain of salt in certain instances. Because very few witnessed Paige’s pitching prowess it can be hard to tell where the truth ends and fiction begins. One thing is for certain though, Satchel Paige was one of the most important figures in the history of the game. Enjoy this book.
Sixth inning: I Had A Hammer: The Hank Aaron Story (1991) – Our copy of this book is a bit dog-eared, as in it appears a dog got ahold of it and chewed on it a bit. Still, this is one of the most relevant books written about the man who broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. Aaron, like Jackie Robinson, endured death threats in his pursuit of his dream and he lays it all out in his autobiography. A quiet man, Aaron did not seek out publicity, but it found him nonetheless. A tale that needs to be remembered about a great man. Read this book.
Seventh inning: Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (2003) – Yes, Brad Pitt starred in the movie, but before there was the movie, there was Michael Lewis’ book. Moneyball tells the story of how, through shrewd dealing and the use of sabermetrics, the Oakland Athletics were able to build a team with a payroll that was hundreds of thousands of dollars below the big spenders in the game and yet competed. Billy Beane, general manager of the A’s, is the focus of the book and one gets to see the inside workings of major league baseball.
Eighth inning: The Boys of Summer (1972) – Roger Kahn is one of baseball’s finest chroniclers and storytellers. This book, probably his best known work, is a wonderful tale of the Brooklyn Dodgers, one of three major league teams in New York City. It covers the early to mid-1950s when the Dodgers were always contenders, but always seemed to finish second in the National League to the hated New York Giants or the even more hated New York Yankees in the World Series between the National and American Leagues. Until 1955 when “Dem Bums” broke the curse and defeated the Yankees in the World Series. Kahn’s writing is as good as it gets.
Ninth inning: Season Ticket: A Baseball Companion (1988) – Roger Angell is the other great baseball writer, along with Roger Kahn. Between the two of them, you cannot go wrong with any of their books. Season Ticket covers the 1980s with stories about Dwight Gooden, the 1984 Detroit Tigers, George Brett, Pete Rose, and the 1986 World Series between the Red Sox and the Mets. This is baseball writing at its finest. Angell has written a number of books covering other time periods and I encourage you to check them out too.
There you have it. Nine innings and nine great baseball books to get you ready for the “long season.” Oh, by the way, the phrase “long season” as it applies to baseball is from another classic baseball book by former Cincinnati Reds pitcher, Jim Brosnan called “The Long Season.”
Time to get me a soda, a hot dog, peanuts and Cracker Jack.
And now, “Play Ball!”