I love seasons. I love living in a place with seasons. They all have their individual charms. Right now, my front yard is filling up with winter birds — Anna’s Hummingbirds, Chickadees, Juncos, some starlings. Just this week I saw a Downy Woodpecker at my suet feeder — the first time I’ve ever seen one in the yard. That’s pretty exciting winter stuff, for me.
But I must admit, I do miss summer. The long days, the comfortable temperatures, the sunshine. And baseball. Baseball never seems further away than in the darkness of December and November.
So this time of year I often turn to books. I’ve been in the book business for years and I’m usually pretty good at coming up with a list of books on whatever topic a reader is interested in. If it happens to be a topic I’m interested in, I usually have the list at my mental fingertips. (Go, ahead, ask me about birds, I dare you. Or dogs. Or ….”)
So I thought I would offer a short list of some of my favorite books about baseball, books that are perfect for whiling away cold winter evenings when there’s nothing on TV but actual TV shows. These are in no particular order.
For the Love of the Game: Michael Shaara, in case you don’ know him, was an American writer of remarkable talent who was virtually unrecognized in his time. He won the Pulitzer Prize posthumously for The Killer Angels, a novel about the Battle of Gettysburg which makes legitimate claim to being the best historical novel ever written by an American. Everyone should read it. (His son, Jeff Shaara, has carried on the family tradition, writing some wonderful novels of American history as well.) But in addition to “Angels” Shaara also wrote For the Love of the Game, a novel about baseball which was made into a movie starring Kevin Kostner. (Is it just me, or have all Kostner’s best movies been about baseball?) The movie is good, but the book is excellent — the story of an almost done pitcher who has a chance at one last moment of glory, pitching a perfect game in Yankee Stadium. If you love books and baseball, it doesn’t get any better.
The Iowa Baseball Confederacy: If you know the name WP Kinsella it’s probably because he wrote the book Shoeless Joe which was made into the movie Field of Dreams with Kevin Kostner (see what I mean?). I don’t have to tell you how great the movie is, but the book is even better. And Kinsella has written a number of books and short stories about baseball — often with a lyrical/mystical twist to them. The Iowa Baseball Confederacy is about a man who wants to prove that the Chicago Cubs traveled to Indiana in 1908 (the year they set the record for most games won in a season) and played an epic game against the Iowa Baseball Candidacy — a local team — that lasted over two thousand innings. The problem is that no one else even believes the game ever took place. Kinsella’s works are well worth an off season to themselves. He’s Cy Young quality in every start.
Men At Work, The Craft of Baseball: George Will is usually better known for his conservative political commentary than for sports, but he is a lifelong baseball fan and has written some excellent books and articles. Men At Work is a collection of some of those pieces, and is one of the best looks at the “finer points” of the game ever written. In addition to his own insightful observations, Will manages to get people like Orel Hershiser, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken to talk about the game. It’s great reading. Will (who’s political opinions, I will admit, often drive me up the wall) once told Ken Burns that all of his friends grew up as Yankees fans, and most of them turned happy, optimistic and liberal; but he grew up a Cubs fan, and he became bitter, cynical and conservative. The Cubs will do that to you. All of Will’s books on baseball are entertaining, no matter what you think of his politics.
Those three should get you started and fill up a couple of evenings when there are no games. I’d love to hear from readers too. What are your favorite books about baseball?