If you are behind on your holiday shopping with Chanukah starting immediately and Christmas looming over the horizon, buying baseball books is one way out of your dilemma.
At this time of year, wherever I have worked, I always put a stamp of approval on good sports reads, reading being a habit I wish to encourage so that I can keep working for the rest of my life. My other credential beyond being an avid reader of baseball and sports books is that I also write them.
Counting a few kids books I have written 21 books about baseball. Among my favorites are a new biography with Juan Marichal–a prince of a guy and a national hero in the Dominican Republic–Going Yard, The Everything Home Run Book, and Early Wynn, The Go-Go White Sox and the 1959 World Series.
But you don’t have to buy one of my baseball books to eliminate your holiday shopping blues. There are some excellent, always available, top-of-the-line choices to recommend. Popular staples include former Sports Illustrated writer Leigh Montville’s books about Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, Robert Creamer’s biography of Babe Ruth, Jonathan Eig’s biography of Lou Gehrig, Jane Leavy’s biographies of Sandy Koufax and Mickey Mantle, and Allen Barra’s biography of Yogi Berra. Also, the recently authored “Campy: The Two Lives of Roy Campanella,” by Neil Lanctot, and the outstanding Roberto Clemente biography by David Maraniss. Can’t forget the classic “Boys of Summer” by Roger Kahn or Richard Ben Cramer’s indepth biography of Joe DiMaggio. Not to mention collections of Roger Angell’s essays from The New Yorker.
These are all easy gets that can probably delivered just about overnight, but they are hardly the only worthy baseball books to check out. I recommend two books about Buck O’Neil, his own “I Was Right On Time,” and Joe Posnanski’s journeys with Buck the year or so before he died as stories offering insight into the way it was in the Negro Leagues.
Going back in time a little, Satchel Paige’s autobiography “Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever,” was tremendously entertaining. As was “Veeck-As In Wreck,” Ed Linn’s biography of the most popular and fan-friendly owner in history. “The Pitch That Killed,” about the death of the only Major League player on the field, by Mike Sowell, is a compelling read. The late David Halberstam added charm and insightful reporting to whatever topic he touched and his “October, 1964” about that year’s World Series, is a good example. For those who saw the underrated movie “Cobb,” with Tommy Lee Jones in the starring role of Ty Cobb, seeking out Al Stump’s biography of Cobb (his volume published after Cobb’s death), will be illuminating and riveting.
On the fiction front, “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella, which inspired the movie “Field of Dreams,” is a must read. Mark Harris’ “Bang The Drum Slowly,” which inspired the movie of the same name with a young Robert De Niro, is an emotional read. Daryl Brock’s “If I Never Get Back,” is a daring, amusing, engrossing off-the-beaten path baseball tale.
At this time of year, when as the song says, “the weather outside is frightful,” you can have your own hot stove league indoors by setting up shop with a good baseball book in front of the fireplace.