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Good Baseball (or Twins) Books


John Bonnes
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Since we have some extra time on our hands, I thought we might start a string of your favorite baseball books. I'll kick it off with a few on my bookcase shelf

  • Shoeless Joe by WP Kinsella - This was the book that produced Field of Dreams. 
  • The Iowa Baseball Confederacy by WP Kinsella - If you thought Field of Dreams was weird, you're right. But this is even weirder. Somehow I remember it better. 
  • Cool of the Evening by Jim Thielman - Documents the 1965 Minnesota Twins season. Excellent inside view of that team.
  • Baseball in Minnesota by Stew Thornley - The Twins Official Scorer is also a local historian, and this covers the entire history of baseball in Minnesota, going back to the 1800s.
  • The Dickson Baseball Dictionary by Paul Dickson - This is almost an encyclopedia-type reference, but sit down for an hour and just flip through baseball pages. It's the etymology of baseball phrases, like where "can of corn" or "out of left field" came from. 

 

Let's hear what's on your baseball shelves, or some recent winners you're read. 

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Today's Game by Martin Quigley.

Written in 1965 it's a novel about a single game, the first meeting between a team that at the insistence of it's manager traded it's Jack Morris type veteran pitcher for a Byron Buxton type budding superstar.  As much of a psychological study as a story about a baseball game.

 

Primitive Baseball by Harvey Frommer

A book about baseball in the late 1800s.  Excellent narrative of the game of that era and how it evolved.

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For Twins-specific, I enjoyed "162-0: The Greatest Wins!" It takes a look at the greatest wins in Twins' history, starting with the greatest season opener and ending with the greatest Game 7 (so technically there are more than 162 games in here, as it includes postseason.) A fun, loose read that can be picked up when you want to relive (or learn about) some great past Twins' moments. 

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 - Pages from Baseball's Past by Craig Wright

 - Baseball Between the Numbers by Nate Silver

 

If you like or want to know more of the small oddities of baseball I would recommend Pages from Baseball's Past.  For some of you older baseball fans, you may remember a pre-game radio show by that same name.  It's the same guy only he now does the stories via internet subscription.  The book is a compilation of a bunch of the most interesting stories.  Very short and easy to read each one.

 

If you get into math and numbers behind baseball, Nate Silver's Baseball Between the Numbers gives a bunch of interesting premises like "Does batting order matter" and then explores them statistically.

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Baseball and Philosophy: Thinking Outside the Batter’s Box. - Eric Bronson (ed.)

 

Yes, baseball has a philosophy. Why is it so special to us?

 

Second for the Baseball and Philosophy. great book. The whole Philosophy and Popular Culture series is really good too.

 

The Arm by Jeff Passan. about TJ surgery and pitching

 

The Shift by Russel Carleton

Smart Baseball by Keith Law

-both good intros to newer stats

 

 

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I agree with many of the books cited above. But my favorite of all time is Morry Frank's Every Young Man's Dream: Confessions of a Southern League Shortstop

 

https://www.amazon.com/Every-Young-Mans-Dream-Confessions/dp/0916747018

 

It's a pretty gritty novel about minor league life whose protagonist is not always admirable. Not a romantic idealization of minor-league baseball! But as literature, I think it is really good.

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Ok, seriously, Ball Four was great.   I still quote stuff from that one.   I remember really liking The Southpaw and Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris.      My favorites by far when growing up though were the Chip Hilton series by Clair Bee.   Nine of the 24 books in the series were about baseball and they were all my favorite.

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My all-time favorite is "For the Love of the Game" by Michael Schaara.   I did not care for the movie by the same name, but the book is so so SO much better.  Schaara also wrote "Killer Angels" which the movie "Gettysburg" is based on.  TD contributor Daniel Venn wrote "Beyond Baseball Rounding First" which is a story of perseverence, helping others, and life's curveballs.  "The 34-Ton Bat" by Steve Rushin I enjoyed and I just received "The Bill James Handbook" for Christmas, so I'm set for awhile.  Thanks for the eariler suggestions.

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My all-time favorite is "For the Love of the Game" by Michael Schaara.   I did not care for the movie by the same name, but the book is so so SO much better.  Schaara also wrote "Killer Angels" which the movie "Gettysburg" is based on.  TD contributor Daniel Venn wrote "Beyond Baseball Rounding First" which is a story of perseverence, helping others, and life's curveballs.  "The 34-Ton Bat" by Steve Rushin I enjoyed and I just received "The Bill James Handbook" for Christmas, so I'm set for awhile.  Thanks for the eariler suggestions.

 

“For Love of the Game” as a movie was pretty universally panned, but it’s one of my favorites. By now I’ve seen it enough times that I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to give the book a fair shake.

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I’m partway through reading “Summer of ’68: The season that changed baseball and America, forever.” It’s one of a series of books that have walked through a season. As someone who was born just a couple years earlier, it’s been a helpful American history lesson and has done a good job of putting the season in a context. I recently read “The Tigers of ’68: Baseball’s Last Real Champions,” which did much the same in a Detroit-specific way. 

 

By contrast, “Stars and Stripes” is merely entertaining. It was more of a recitation of game stories and highlights of the 1976 season and bicentennial year. I enjoyed it, and it was a good recap, but didn’t have the kind of critique/analysis present in the former two. 

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The Great American Novel by Philip Roth chronicles the demise and cover-up of America's third major league, the Patriot League, and the particular travails of the 1943 Ruppert Mundys who played the entire season on the road after their owners rented Mundy Stadium to the US Government. I enjoy the hyper-detailed picture Roth paints of the era, the colorful characters populating the league and, of course, Roth's sense of humor. I re-read this book every spring as a prelude to baseball.

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I've started tracking my #SickReadingBrag this past year. I churn through a combination of baseball, coaching, personal development and personal finance books. 

 

You can look at that list and my recommendations here. Anyone of the 3-star and above books I would tell you to read if you enjoy the subject matter, 5-stars are a must-read, in my opinion. 

 

Here are a few that I would start with baseball:

 

- MVP Machine

- Homegrown

- The Shift

- The Cubs Way

- Big Data Baseball

- Astroball 

 

I also have Swing Kings coming in a week or so. Feels like we should all order that book and have a book club thread. 

 

My favorite non-baseball books:

 

- Atomic Habits, James Clear. Cannot recommend this one enough for personal development. Entertaining and informative. 

- One Summer, America 1927, Bill Bryson. Recommended above already but just wanted to stress how good of a read it is. It covers so many topics. 

- How Music Got Free, Stephen Witt. Just wrapped this one up on my trip down to Fort Myers. It may be more applicable to anyone who follows the music industry or remembers using Napster in their dorm room. They tag it as the Moneyball for music and it is. Dry first chapter but the story really excels after that. 

-Your Money Or Your Life, Vicki Robins. Just a great look at what matters in this world. 

- Range, David Epstein. 

 

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Great topic. Here is a selection of recommendations from what is on my decent but hardly world-class shelf of baseball books.

  • Any coffee table book. One I have on hand is The Baseball Scrapbook, by Peter Bjarkman. Another is This Great Game, with no authorship listed on the spine except a MLB logo. There's no shortage of others, at any good used bookstore. The cascade of photos and other illustrations soothes the fan's heart in these times.
  • Bill James's 1982 Baseball Abstract. This I believe was the initial mass-market publication by James, and thus represents a pivotal moment when people began applying the scientific method to our game, challenging long-held beliefs with hard data (which at the time was still hard to come by).
  • Any SABR Research Journal or The National Pastime. It's comforting to see how hard many have worked to establish a proper historical record of our game.
  • Green Cathedrals, by Philip Lowry. Want to know everything about every major league park in history? It gets overwhelming when taken as a whole, but in snippets there's not much to match it. SABR just published a PDF update, but any paperback version will be close enough to complete to do the job.
  • The Summer Game by Roger Angell. Published at a time when baseball was still a common language every American spoke or at least understood, it brings back a style of writing no longer seen.
  • The Joy of Keeping Score, by Paul Dickson. Dickson's dictionary was mentioned earlier, and this slimmer volume digs into the act of filling out a scoresheet to explain the game more broadly.
  • Calvin, Baseball's Last Dinosaur, by Jon Kerr. The first owner of the Twins was both one of a kind and last of his kind. A flawed individual who is worth reading up about.
  • The Man In The Dugout, by Donald Honig. Comparing and contrasting fifteen managers gives a different insight about the game than the usual baseball biography.
  • The Redheaded Outfield and other Baseball Stories, by Zane Grey. Like Angell's book, it evokes an earlier time, this being one that I'm sorry I missed and probably only Chief remembers.

I could go on, but this gives a flavor.

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The Kid Who Batted 1.000 (1951), by Bob Allison and Frank Ernest Hill with illustrations by Paul Galdone. The Chicks, a last place team in the American League, discover Dave Smith, a teenage hick and aspiring chicken farmer in back-country Oklahoma, who is found to have the ability to hit any ball delivered by any major-league pitcher in the strike zone – but always foul. Eventually he receives four pitches out of the strike zone and draws a walk, every time at bat, thus leading the Chicks to the league championship.

 

Underworld (1997), by Don DeLillo. A best seller that was nominated for the National Book Award and shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize, it is often regarded as DeLillo's supreme achievement. In 2006, a survey of eminent authors and critics conducted by The New York Times found Underworld the runner-up for the best work of American fiction of the past 25 years; the novel finished behind only Toni Morrison's Beloved.The novel opens on October 3, 1951, when a boy named Cotter Martin sneaks in to watch the New York Giants play the Brooklyn Dodgers at the Giants' home field Polo Grounds. In the ninth inning, Ralph Branca pitches to Bobby Thomson, who hits the ball into the stands for a three-run homer, beating the Dodgers 5-4 and capturing the National League pennant. The fate of that ball is unknown, but in DeLillo's novel, Cotter Martin wrests this valuable ball away from another fan who has just befriended him, and runs home. Cotter's father, Manx, steals the ball and later sells it for $32.45.

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For a light easy read try Calico Joe by John Grisham. I hate the Yankees, but I respect Mariano Rivera. Read his autobiography entitled: Closer. The Soul of Baseball by Joe Posnanski is a road trip with Buck O'Neill. A sweet book about a really nice man. Thank you to all who have posted here. These books will help us all get through these uncertain times

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Great topic!
Here are my all-time starting 9 baseball books:

Where Nobody Knows Your Name - John Feinstein

The Grind - Barry Svrluga

They Played For the Love of the Game - Frank White

Try Not to Suck (Joe Maddon) - Jesse Rogers and Bill Chastain

Ninety Percent Mental - Bob Tewksbury (former Twins P)

I'm Fascinated By Sacrifice Flies - Tim Kurkjian

Is This A Great Game or What?! - Tim Kurkjian

The Big Chair - Ned Colletti

The Culture Code - Daniel Coyle [amazing book in general that applies to and references baseball]

---The back-up starting 9:

Ahead of the Curve - Brian Kenny

Dropping the Ball - Dave Winfield

Smart Baseball - Keith Law

Baseball in San Diego - Bill Swank

Lou - Bill Madden

The Arm - Jeff Passan

Power Ball - Rob Neyer

Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Antihero - Jeff Pearlman

Hardball: A Season in the Projects - Daniel Coyle

---there are many bad baseball books out there too....

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A really interesting book is David Helyar's "The Lords of the Realm". Yes, it's about player/owner relations over the years, but I found it to give great insight into how things got to where they are. The edition I read went through 1995(?) or so. There's lots of fun stories in it illustrating how the owners don't even trust each other let alone the players. For Twins fans, there's a great story in there about how Cal Griffith was involved in the Dodgers moving west (hint: he was outmaneuvered).

 

Good stuff.

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