Celebrate Opening Day with seven terrific baseball books

Happy Opening day to one and all. Were it my decision, this would be a national holiday, but we do what we can.

Here are a few of my favorite books about baseball and my all time favorite documentary about my second-favorite American thing that is struggling to remain relevant in the 21st century. (The other is rock music.)

No “The Boys of Summer” or “Ball Four” on here, excellent though they are. Don’t @ me.

“The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading, and Bubble Gum Book,” by Brendan C. Boyd and Fred Harris. This 1973 classic, reprinted once in 1991 and in-print as a Kindle edition, can be found used for about $1.99. Do not hesitate.

Boyd and Harris were working at a bookstore in the early 70s, wrote this and, as far as I am concerned, made themselves immortal. One intro is a sweet and funny meditation on the 1950s (a mere 13 years after the decade was over), the other a look at how baseball cards are made.

Most of the book consists of small paragraphs about various cards and it is here where these two deliver the single funniest monograph about baseball ever written.  A massive chievement for baseball, ekphrasis, and American humor. No wonder its cult following sometimes just calls it “The Book.”


“The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers: From 1870 to Today” by Bill James. Yeah, the “Historical Abstract” is more famous, but I am rolling with this one. Bill James has written a whole mess of books about baseball and he is, if anything, an underrated stylist. But this might be my favorite to just pick up and read. He goes over how the job has changed and picks a bunch of them to subject to a very James-ian questionnaire. The answer for “what would he be doing if there was no baseball” for Earl Weaver makes me laugh every time I think about it. (No, I’m not going to tell you.)

“Baseball in the Garden of Eden” by John Thorn. Not just a debunking of all things Abner Doubleday, but a possible modern classic of revisionist history in general (and I mean that in the most positive way).


“The Bullpen Gospels: A Non-Prospect’s Pursuit of the Major Leagues and the Meaning of Life” by Dirk Hayhurst. A tremendous account of contemporary life in the minor leagues with a terrible, clunky title. Not quite 21st century update of Pat Jordan’s “A False Spring” but getting there.


“The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America’s Pastime” by Jason Turbow and Michael Duca. Baseball’s rules of vengeance are Game-of-Thrones intricate, as complex in their own way as the codified rules themselves. This one might err more on the side of for-fans-only but for serious seamheads, it is a blast.


“A Day in the Bleachers” by Arnold Hano. Not quite year-zero for elevated baseball writing but awfully close. An obvious influence on Roger Angell, “A Day in the Bleachers” is Hano’s first-hand story of Game One of the 1954 World Series, Indians v. Giants at the Polo Grounds. This contest is better known as the game in which The Catch occurred, an event to whic Hano gives over the appropriate amount of verbiage — wouldn’t you if you had witnessed an actual miracle?


“The Southpaw” by Mark Harris. “Bang the Drum Slowly” is obviously the most famous of Harris’ Henry Wiggen books, but this is the first and it many ways the best. Harris’s voice is in the novel belongs somewhere in the vernacular first-person hall of fame up there with “Trainspotting” and whatever George Saunders is doing in “Lincoln in the Bardo:” “First off I must tell you something about myself, Henry Wiggen, and where I was born and my folks. Probably you never been to Perkinsville. How you get there you get an Albany train out of Grand Central Station. About halfway to Albany the conductor comes down the aisle mumbling ‘Perkinsville.’ Then the train slows and you got to be quick because most of them don’t exactly stop at Perkinsville. They just slow to a creep, and if you’re an old man or woman or if you got a broke leg or something of the sort I don’t know how you get off. Generally there will be no trouble.”


Author: Joe Gross

Joe Gross has covered books, movies, music and culture for the American-Statesman since 2002. He tweets at @joegross.

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