I’ve always wanted to write a book about baseball, and The Comic Book Story of Baseball is it. Covering everything from the sport’s origins to the Cubs flying the W in 2016, it’s a narrative tour of the people, teams, and events that made baseball America’s pastime. Also it has great art by Tomm Coker and C.P. Smith.
Pick it up at your local independent bookstore, Amazon, or B&N.
While writing The Comic Book Story of Baseball
, I read dozens of books and spent hundreds and hundreds of hours digging through archives. Then of course I had to cut most of what I learned and wrote, because hey, the book is only 176 pages long. But here are some of the highlights I encountered. I’ve included web sites, histories of the game, biographies, novels, and other remarkable books. If you have other ideas, I would love to hear them, and I’ll add them in below.
BEST BASEBALL REFERENCE/HISTORY SITES
is a peerless interactive encyclopedia. It features not only stats, but historical essays, capsule biographies, weird anecdotes…if you like baseball, you’ll love getting lost on this site.
is the stat-lover’s paradise. You can look anything up here, and along the way find out a bunch of stuff you didn’t know you wanted to know.
And if it’s old box scores and play-by-play accounts you’re looking for? Check out Retrosheet
and you’ll find all you can handle.
SOME OF MY FAVORITE BASEBALL BOOKS, NONFICTION CATEGORY
The Glory of Their Times
, by Lawrence S. Ritter. A landmark collection of reminiscences by former players from the early years of the 20th century, the result of 75,000 miles of travel to gather interviews. The history of the game would be immeasurably poorer without this book.
Only the Ball Was White
, by Robert Peterson. A thunderbolt of a book when it was published in 1970, forcing baseball historians (and major-league executives) to reckon with the way the game had systematically excluded some of its finest players from Fleetwood Walker to Josh Gibson, Turkey Stearnes, Cool Papa Bell…
, by Jim Bouton. This book made Bouton a pariah among other former players, but the sacrifice was worth it for the funny and fearless insider’s portrayal of what life on the edge of the big leagues was really like in the late 60s.
The Last Boy
, by Jane Leavy. A superb biography of Mickey Mantle, a player about whom so much ink had already been spilled that it’s amazing to see how much new ground Leavy breaks.
, by Larry Tye. It’s no easy task to take on a biography of a man who was as much myth as human, but Tye does it with rigor and skill, leaving the reader with a wonderful sense of the complex man behind the legend.
The Catcher Was a Spy
, by Nicholas Dawidoff. The life of Moe Berg, who was without doubt the most fascinating mediocre baseball player who ever walked the earth. Berg is also a central character in my short story “Agent Provocateur,”
which would not exist had I not run across Dawidoff’s book.
Baseball in the Garden of Eden
, by John Thorn. A superb overview of the game’s early years, as it grew out of previous bat-and-ball games and took the form we recognize today.
Banzai Babe Ruth
, by Robert K. Fitts. A nonfiction book that tells a story much weirder than anything a novelist would have been allowed to get away with. The story of the 1934 tour of Japan was already notable for the inclusion of Moe Berg among a group of baseball immortals, but Fitts brings to life all the other skullduggeries and tensions simmering below the surface attempt to maintain goodwill between the US and Japan.
You can also read anything by Roger Angell or David Halberstam. Both excellent writers with a particular love for baseball’s postwar Golden Age, they became (along with Roger Kahn) poets laureate of Boomer-generation stadium nostalgia.
SOME OF MY FAVORITE BASEBALL NOVELS
You Know Me Al, by Ring Lardner, is still the all-time champ. Nobody has yet matched Lardner’s portrait of Jack Keefe, the prototype of the athlete who thinks he’s better than he is and isn’t going to let anyone tell him any different — and no writer of fiction has yet matched Lardner’s understanding of the game.
Bernard Malamud’s The Natural is a close second. It’s a completely different animal than the Robert Redford movie — darker, angrier, more honest as it intertwines the mythologies of baseball with the much older myths of the Fisher King, all the while remaining oddly true to its historical source, the tragic collision of Eddie Waitkus and Ruth Ann Steinhagen.
The Great American Novel, by Philip Roth. Utterly unlike most of Roth’s other novels, this is a bizarro baseball comedy centered around the exploits of the Port Ruppert Mundys, the worst baseball team you’ve never heard of.
The Universal Baseball Association, J. Henry Waugh, Prop., by Robert Coover. The ultimate fantasy baseball novel, written decades before fantasy baseball was a popular pastime. Coover’s acid humor and pitiless eye for the dark side of American culture shows through, but there’s a genuine love of the game here too.
And it’s not a novel, but the play Fences, by August Wilson (made into a fine movie starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis) is a devastating and iconoclastic look at the intersection of sports and race in the the mid-20th century.