With more than three weeks until Cardinals pitchers and catcher report to Jupiter, Fla., you are likely missing baseball as much as I am. One way to pass the time? Read a good baseball book.
There are so many to choose from, on every aspect of baseball imaginable, and plenty that are Cardinals-focused as well. Here’s a look at five of my favorite baseball books. I’ve read all of them more than once – and now want to read them all again (as well as the huge stack of not-yet-read baseball books I own).
Roger Angell is an amazing writer and I love reading the books of his essays (Once More Around the Park is wonderful for the profile of Bob Gibson that’s included). A Pitcher’s Story was the first book where Angell just focused on one player, David Cone. After winning 20 games for the Yankees in 1998 and pitching a perfect game in 1999, expectations were high for the 2000 season that Angell chronicles. Yet it wasn’t the season either Cone or Angell intended. Instead, it was the worst season of Cone’s career – he had a 4-14 record and 6.91 ERA. Somehow that makes the book all the more intriguing. Cone’s life story is woven throughout the look at 2000 and the Subway Series, with an interesting perspective on the 1994 strike.
You’ve probably read this already since you’re a Cardinals fan. I’m reading it again right now for the first time in a couple of years, and have a different perspective on it than before. As in, not as warm and fuzzy toward Tony La Russa as I used to feel. (La Russa is the subject for another post, another day.) Plus I don’t necessarily feel the same about Buzz Bissinger after following him on Twitter for a couple of months. Still, it’s an incredible book and Bissinger is a great writer. The inside access, the details, the knowledge you gain about how La Russa prepares for a game and suffers through every one, particularly when the Cardinals lose, are all incredible. Not surprisingly, none of my negativity toward Dusty Baker or Mark Prior has toned down through the years. And no matter how many times I read the rationale, the whole throwing-at-guys thing still seems pointless. Finally, I already know I will cry (as I have every time) when I reach the section on Darryl Kile.
A groundbreaking and controversial book when it was published, Ball Four is now a classic. I had my Dad’s original copy for years – he was a Yankees fan in the 1960s, so Bouton was one of the Yankees he followed – but now own a paperback version instead. (I’m not sure what happened to the original.) This provides a different kind of inside access than Three Nights in August, since it’s from a player’s perspective, plus it was the first book of its kind when it was published in 1970. It’s open, it’s honest and it’s funny. You also learn a lot about the knuckleball, as well as the Seattle Pilots – a team that only existed for one season before moving to Milwaukee and becoming the Brewers.
Roger Kahn is best known for The Boys of Summer, his book about the Brooklyn Dodgers, and has written many other baseball books as well. Good Enough to Dream tells the story of the 1983 season where Kahn saw a different side of the game: as the owner of the Utica, N.Y., Blue Sox, a team in the New York-Penn League that was without a major league affiliation – which meant it was made up of a more rag-tag group of players than the other teams it competed against. It’s a happy-ending, feel-good book. (Spoiler alert: the Blue Sox win the New York-Penn League championship!) I bought the book when it was published in 1985, and the pages are starting to get brown at the edges now, but that doesn’t matter. Reading it in the past always made me want to buy my own minor league team. I suppose that dream is still alive, though probably less likely to become a reality now.
This is the only fiction book on my list, and not necessarily a baseball book like the others. It’s lucky that it was published before 2004 (in 1999) or I probably wouldn’t have read it since, in the book, Tom Gordon was then the Red Sox closer. Also, I’m not usually a big Stephen King fan and have only read a few of his books. But I loved this one. Trisha McFarland is nine years old and a huge Sox fan – she is wearing her Tom Gordon jersey the day she goes on a hike with her mom and brother on the Appalachian Trail in southern Maine. Trisha steps off the path to get away from their constant arguing and, in doing so, gets majorly lost in the woods. For days. Given that it’s King, the story is told with suspense and creates the sense of fear that Trisha is feeling. For comfort, she is able to listen to the Red Sox games on the Walkman she had in her backpack, at least until the reception fades and the batteries die. And she starts to rely on Gordon to help keep her going and guide her through the perilous journey she’s on. I love the innocent devotion she has, as well as the almost spiritual quality given to Gordon. And, yes, this too has a happy ending.
- Where’s Harry? by Steve Stone, where Stone looks at his years broadcasting Cubs games with Harry Caray. It contains a literally laugh-out-loud chapter called “Sanderson to Sundberg to Sandberg” about Harry’s particular way with names.
- Sixty Feet, Six Inches by Bob Gibson and Reggie Jackson, a conversation between the two baseball greats that taught me a lot more about the game. I love learning more about Gibson, but was surprised how much I enjoyed what Jackson had to say as well.
- Are We Winning? by Will Leitch, which made me both laugh (numerous times) and cry (though not over the game that’s being chronicled, which is the division-clinching win by the Cubs over the Cardinals in September 2008).