Baseball literature is among the most colorful and interesting of any non-fiction genre. These books can offer fresh looks at history, or different ways of looking at the present. Here are 10 that are must-reads for every baseball fan, the baseball books that have the best shelf life, or those that changed the game in a profound way.
This book was so revolutionary, it started a new genre: the tell-all athlete biography. No book had ever taken a reader this far inside a professional locker room. And the humor holds up almost 40 years later, even if you've never heard of Bouton (a journeyman relief pitcher) or the 1969 Seattle Pilots (an expansion team that moved after one season and became the Milwaukee Brewers).
James is the father of "sabermetrics," which is the invention of new and better statistics that tracked the game. And this is its bible, which every current baseball GM essentially follows today. Divided into two parts - "The Game" and "The Players" - the historical abstract is a revisionist look at the history of professional baseball, and it turned what was considered gospel in the game on its collective ear.
James' statistical analysis changed the game in the late 20th century, and Lewis' book took it into the 21st, but in more of a storytelling way. This fantastic look inside the mind of Oakland A's GM Billy Beane provided an insight on a new breed of general manager, a small-market genius that turned player scouting into a statistical art form. If you knew Kevin Youkilis as "the Greek God of Walks" before he ever wore a Red Sox uniform, then you've ready "Moneyball." It's a must-read for any student of the game.
Many believe it's the best baseball book every written, and any fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers is probably 100 percent sure. Kahn weaves the exasperation of being a Dodgers fan with growing up in Brooklyn in the 1930s and 1940s, and then covering them, and then going back and writing about the lives of these players he idolized. It's a fascinating read about a bygone era and team, written beautifully.
It later became a movie, but (as always) read the book instead. It's the best book about the 1919 Black Sox scandal, when Chicago threw the World Series. It shows who the real scoundrels were, including the White Sox management themselves, and the gamblers and colorful figures that almost pulled off the greatest fraud in American sports history.
Anybody who sides with the owners in the sport's myriad labor disputes likely hasn't read this compelling look at the history of the management-player relationship in baseball. From the early days through the battle to eliminate the infamous "reserve clause" to the strikes in the 1980s, Helyar's book paints the commissioners as clueless pawns to Marvin Miller's fledgling union, showing how baseball's labor became the most powerful force in the game.
Just about every fan knows the stories of Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, but their contemporaries lived a much more anonymous life. Ritter tracked down many old baseball players, such as Smokey Joe Wood, Fred Snodgrass and Sam Crawford and wrote the book in their words. It's true baseball nostalgia.
The former owner of the Chicago White Sox, St. Louis Browns and other teams changed the game forever with the way he promoted it. And this autobiography weaved together colorful tales of a colorful life.
Any student of baseball needs to know the complete story of the greatest player of all. And Creamer delivers in a big way. It glorifies him, yet humanizes him, showing his flaws and his greatness at the same time.
There's some steroid burnout happening among baseball fans, but this book, written by the San Francisco Chronicle reporters who broke the BALCO case, will probably be looked upon historically as a significant work, as their story will almost certainly have a profound effect on baseball forever.