Top 10 Books in Baseball Literature

by Brandon Jopko | Posted on Wednesday, January 7th, 2015
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gehrig title BHCImmersing myself in baseball literature truly opens a window that plunges me into mostly times of baseball past, but also the present. This list is characterized by fascinating narratives – full of bigger than life characters and extraordinary stories of both major and minor league life – renewing ages of old and reliving the recent past. No other sport dominates the literature landscape quite like baseball, which to me, offers the opportunity to engross myself in the sport 365 days a year if I so choose. And believe me, I make every opportunity to do so especially during the offseason when sadly, no baseball games are played. So, without further ado, here are my top 10 books in baseball literature.

10. Reggie by Reggie Jackson reggie As one of the game’s most intriguing personalities, clutch hitters and powerful sluggers, Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson gives a tell-all account of his own life which presents his side of the many public battles he was involved with – including George Steinbrenner. An egomaniac to be sure, Jackson gives the reader insight into his own thought processes and recounts special moments in his career – something I appreciated to learn as I became a fan of baseball after his career finished in 1987. 9.

9. Odd Man Out by Matt McCarthy odd man out This book just happened to be a random pick up from the local library to get my baseball reading fix, and yet McCarthy’s account of minor league life had me glued to its pages. McCarthy, a Yale grad, was drafted by the Angels in the 21st round of the 2002 draft and spent one year in professional ball, which is a short stint, however he expertly uncovers minor league life giving the reader an honest and illuminating glimpse into what many call a dream, yet often turns out to be a dream-crusher. In his story, he describes meeting several future big leaguers like Bobby Jenks and Joe Saunders in addition to numerous other players that had their dream cut short. This was certainly an eye-opening narrative and is one book, if you haven’t already, that you should read.

8. Great Expectations by Shi Davidi and John Lott Great-ExpectationsA review of the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays lost season that promised so much after the celebrated Marlins and Mets trades that brought Toronto the likes of Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and R.A. Dickey. Davidi and Lott, two esteemed Toronto sports writers, give an inside look at GM Alex Anthopoulos, Manager John Gibbons and many of the players for a team that Las Vegas had pegged as World Series champions only to be left longing for the post season once again at the end of 162. As a Blue Jays die-hard, this book presented previously unknown information and gave insights into the psyche and wheeling and dealings of the Blue Jays front office.

7. The Final Season by Tom Stanton final season stanton In 1999, the 88th and final season of old Tiger Stadium, author Tom Stanton attended all 81 home games to celebrate the historic ballpark. Each game is like its own mini chapter that lists the result of each contest, however a lot of what’s written is not on the individual game itself; instead it’s about his thoughts on baseball and the memories that he, his family, and others have. Stanton talks to everyone from Richie Rau, the scoreboard operator to Al the Usher, Ernie Harwell, even John Lee Davids who tried in vain to save the ballpark. The stadium really serves as a backdrop to what Stanton hopes to achieve – to honour the park and its memories, for sure, but also to heal wounds inherent in himself and his family.

6. Beyond Belief by Josh Hamilton beyond belief Hamilton offers a tell-all tale and a very introspective look into his life from being an immensely talented young boy to being drafted first overall by the Rays in the 1999 amateur draft to when the first signs of his addictive personality started to show itself. He reveals the depth of his struggles with substance abuse, all the pain it caused him and the people around him, and finally what helped him walk out of that despair. Truly, Hamilton’s story is an inspirational one that no doubt has helped to heal others who have suffered from the same addictions as he did.

5. Miracle Ball by Brian Biegel miracle ballA captivating real-life mystery story regarding the whereabouts of the infamous ball hit into the Polo Grounds’ stands on October 3rd, 1951. Later dubbed “the Shot Heard ‘Round the World”, the homerun ball that Bobby Thomson hit to win the National League pennant for the New York Giants remained missing and Biegel set out to find it. The reader gets so immersed into the story, living off of every clue and each additional lead that points to the possible whereabouts of the ball; it keeps building suspense that keeps the reader riveted right onto the end. Without doubt, this is a fascinating read that deserves its place on this list.

4. The Complete Game by Ron Darling complete gameWhat is it like to be a big league pitcher and what are all the variables that come into play when you’re part of the starting five? As former player and current Mets broadcaster, Darling is extremely well suited to answer these questions and he does so in a very contemplative manner that reveals deepness in thought. He does so through one inning snippets of games he’s mostly pitched in or else covered as a broadcaster, and takes readers through the nuance of those innings; the mindset he had on the mound, what he was trying to accomplish, how he adapted to hitters the second and third times through the order. Through it all, Darling reveals what it means to be smart, to adjust, and to have a feel on the mound. This book offers insight that would entertain and education any baseball fan, and as a result, it certainly deserves to be on the top tier of this list.

3. Wherever I Wind Up by R.A. Dickey wherever i wind upElegantly written and impactful, Dickey shares his tumultuous ride growing up in a damaged home, upon being drafted and then having his offer rescinded, going through numerous minor league cities and then triumphantly getting back to MLB by harnessing his knuckleball. Perhaps more shockingly revealing however, is his divulging of sexual abuse that he suffered in addition to his trial with tempting death. Overall, it’s a captivating read offering insightful truths for not just baseball fans, but any one who’s ever had to overcome hardship to find their way.

2. The Bullpen Gospels by Dirk Hayhurst 5 1/2X8 1/4 5/8 So hilarious and thigh-slapping funny, Keith Olbermann is right when he declares that Hayhurst’s book is “One of the best baseball books ever written”. For me, this was the first book I had read that shined a light on minor league life, so not only was it enlightening to learn about that aspect of the game, but Hayhurst did so under his own comedic voice without any other writing collaborator. He takes readers into his worry-stricken head, his painful upbringing and offseason living situation with his grandma, and thoughtfully questions the merits of staying in the game in order to fulfill his dream.

1. Luckiest Man by Jonathan Eig luckiest manThis book on the life of Lou Gehrig isn’t number one on this list simply because he was among the greatest first baseman in the history of the game, but because Eig did an unbelievable job of presenting the man himself. He draws on numerous interviews, Gehrig’s own personal letters, some of which were newly discovered, and gives us an incredibly intimate understanding of who Gehrig was – “No one prepared better for a game, no one stayed in better condition, and no one hustled harder on the field.” Truly, Gehrig was one of the greatest ballplayers who ever lived, and the events of what transpired on July 4th, 1939 make it impossible for any fan of baseball to not get teary-eyed given what Gehrig meant to the sport, how he carried himself in life, and the gratitude he expressed for living the life he did despite it being cut short by an illness that bears his name. *** I’ve created this list after having read 30 some odd books and some readers may point out that I’ve left Michael Lewis’ Moneyball off this list, and justifiably so. Indeed, Moneyball was a paradigm shattering book for baseball fans and sabermetrics the world over and as such will forever be known as a significant book in baseball lore, especially when it pertained to new ways of evaluating undervalued players, however it failed to move me like any of the other narratives that appear on this list. Also of note, classics like Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, and Roger Kahn’s The Boys of Summer – two highly acclaimed novels – still remain on my reading list, which I intend to get to, and as such this list above may be revised.

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Brandon Jopko
About the Author

Senior Writer for Baseball Hot Corner and die-hard Blue Jays fan longing for another chance to experience his team in playoff glory. You can visit his blog at pumpedupjays.com or follow him on Twitter @pumpedupjays

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  • John Horton

    I don’t see how you can exclude “The Pitch That Killed” by Mike Sowell. Maybe the best sports book of all time.

  • Brandon

    Thanks John for the suggestion. I’ll have to check that one out.

  • Wonk

    Well you absolutely have to get after that must-read list. I have read each of those many times, and will again in the future. Of the two, I’d have to choose Ball Four for higher recommendation.

  • charlie

    The Long Season and Pennant Race by Jim Brosnan along with Opening Day by Jonathan Eig are the best baseball books I’ve read.

  • Appreciate it Wonk and Charlie. I’ll have a look at those.







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