This it the time of year when the baseball media offer their considered opinions on their favorite prospects. Sometimes they’re spot on, other times, not so much.
So I thought, why not apply this to the upcoming “rookie crop” of baseball books? That is, titles that are making their debuts in 2014 — no reprints/reissues (sorry, Wait ‘Til Next Year); no “annuals” such as Baseball Prospectus or The Hard Ball Times or Bill James books; no kids’ books; no novels that are just tangentially about the game; and nothing that is only available as an e-book (sorry, but we’re rockin’ old-school here). Also, with all due respect to those hard-working writers, very few “free agents,” aka self-published books.
Lots of caveats here. These titles come from an Amazon search. As the release dates are spread out over the year (with more coming, no doubt), I obviously haven’t read most of them; those few I have are indicated by an asterisk. Like an old wizened scout, I’m making my assessments on gut feelings, which are obviously subjective and reflect some of my biases and predispositions to believing that titles by veteran writers will live up to past performance (unlike mutual funds).
And like the pundits who make their living based on their knowledge of the game and their predictions, I know I’ll be wrong on some of these, either overestimating or underestimating their popularity. So with that in mind, here’s my baseball book prospects list. Note that they are not “ranked” in any order; I wouldn’t be that presumptuous.
Keepers (I would purchase or preorder these right now)
A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred, by George Will (Crown Archetype). Has to be considered a top-10 pick, given Will’s wonderful Men at Work and Bunts. Been away from the game too long.
Up, Up, and Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, le Grand Orange, Youppi!, the Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos, by Jonah Keri (Random House Canada). After Will’s book, this is the one I’m looking forward too the most, given that Montreal is the city of my ancestors and I spent many a happy summer there, taking in games at Jarry Park and (even) Olympic Stadium.
Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life In the Minor Leagues of Baseball, by John Feinstein (Doubleday).* Another thoughtful offering by the veteran sports scribe, focusing on a handful of figures “trapped” in the purgatory of the minors, from which only a few escape.
Rickey & Robinson: The True, Untold Story of the Integration of Baseball, by Roger Kahn (Rodale Books). Where has Kahn been all this time? Who better to write such a book than the author of The Boys of Summer?
Inventing Baseball Heroes: Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, and the Sporting Press in America, by Amber Roessner (Louisiana State University Press). Hard for contemporary fans under a certain age to understand, but there was once a time when newspaper, and by extension sportswriters, was the only way to bring the game to the fans. As a media junkie, I’ve got this towards the top of my list.
Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ’76, by Dan Epstein (Thomas Dunne). Shorts and “pill box” hats? What’s not to love. Another nostalgic look for “second-tier” boomers from Epstein, author of Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ’70s.
Winning Fantasy Baseball: Secret Strategies of a Nine-Time National Champion, by Larry Schechter (Emerald Book Company).* For those who are into such things or thinking about entering the fray of fantasy baseball — and there are a lot of you out there — this is a cogent explanation of the various forms and functions. Warning: it can get a bit technical and “mathy.” This isn’t meant for the casual FB player.
The Sabermetric Revolution: Assessing the Growth of Analytics in Baseball, by Benjamin Baumer and Andrew Zimbalist (University of Pennsylvania Press).* Another fascinating look at the thinking and (il)logic that can go into putting together a team. The authors say it’s time to stop thinking of the Moneyball theory as static (and even valid).
Wrigley Field: An Oral and Narrative History of the Home of the Chicago Cubs, by Ira Berkow (Stewart Taboori and Chang). This is the 100th anniversary of the famed field and since anniversaries are so popular, this one will rank pretty high among those who love the history of the game in general, and Cubs fans in particular. Berkow’s name lends gravitas to the project.
Wrigley Field: The Long Life and Contentious Times of the Friendly Confines, by Stuart Shea (University of Chicago Press). Another ode from a loving fan who will treat the topic with all the seriousness and deference it deserves. Not.
Wrigley Field Year by Year: A Century at the Friendly Confines, by Sam Pathy (Sports Publishing). Continuing on that theme… Nicely presented for ease of reading and enjoyment.
The Fight of Their Lives: How Juan Marichal and John Roseboro Turned Baseball’s Ugliest Brawl into a Story of Forgiveness and Redemption, by John Rosengren (Lyons Press). Another hit by the author of Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes.
Sleepers (worth a look)
Blood Sport: Alex Rodriguez, Biogenesis, and the Quest to End Baseball’s Steroid Era, by Tim Elfrink and Gus Garcia-Roberts (Dutton Adult). Well that didn’t take long, did it? The main question I have: are fans tired of PED overload?
How to Speak Baseball: An Illustrated Guide to Ballpark Banter, by James Charlton and Sally Cook (Chronicle). Because fun, especially when published by Chronicle.
The Most Wonderful Week of the Year, by Roy Berger (BookLogix).* This is one of the exceptions to the self-published rule. Probably because it brought back so many nice memories of my own fantasy camp experience, but it’s also well-written and endearingly told.
Jackie and Campy: The Untold Story of Their Rocky Relationship and the Breaking of Baseballs Color Line, by William C. Kashatus (University of Nebraska Press). No longer untold. (Actually, Neil Lanctot did tell at least some of it in his biography of Campanella.)
Outsider Baseball: The Weird World of Hardball on the Fringe, 1876-1950, by Scott Simkus (Chicago Review Press). Often more entertaining than “organized” ball.
Wild Pitches: Rumblings, Grumblings, and Reflections on the Game I Love, by Jayson Stark (Triumph). Another in a line of “state of the game” themes by a popular sportswriter.
They Called Me God: The Best Umpire Who Ever Lived, by Doug Harvey with Peter Golenbock (Gallery Books) and Called Out but Safe: A Baseball Umpire’s Journey, by Al Clark and Dan Schlossberg (University of Nebraska Press). Feast or famine. Haven’t had a book abut real umpires in several years, now we have two, which is why I’m lumping them together. Harvey may have been called God, but Clark’s is a “fall from grace” tale.
Baseball’s Comeback Players: Forty Major Leaguers Who Fell and Rose Again, by Rick Swaine (McFarland). Nice to give credit where credit is due. This is one of the annual awards in which I’ve always been particularly interested.
The Continental League: A Personal History, by Russell D. Buhite (University of Nebraska Press). Another overdue volume about an idea that gave baseball its first round of expansion teams in the early 1960s.
A Tale of Two Leagues: How Baseball Changed As the Rules, Ball, Franchises, Stadiums and Players Changed, 1900-1998, by Russell O. Wright (McFarland). As a student of the history of the game, I always enjoy a deconstruction of how baseball has evolved.
Hits and Misses in the Baseball Draft: What the Top Picks Teach Us About Selecting Tomorrow’s Major League Stars,by Alan Maimon and Chuck Myron (McFarland). Again referring to those commercials for mutual funds and stocks, past performance is no indication of future returns. What can we learn from our mistakes and can we apply them to the human condition? And could this be a Moneyball text for the future?
What, you again? (recurring themes)
Pete Rose: An American Dilemma, by Kostya Kennedy (Sports Illustrated). Just like the Joe and Marilyn offering (see below), you have to wonder, do we really need another book about Rose? What’s left to say. But then you see it’s Kennedy, who did a good job recollecting DiMaggio’s hitting streak in his last book. SO how do you solve a problem like Peter Rose?
Babe Ruth’s Called Shot: The Myth and Mystery of Baseball’s Greatest Home Run, by Ed Sherman (Lyons Press).* Did Ruth or didn’t Ruth call his shot? No spoilers here, but it’s particularly interesting seeing so many different perceptions of the same event.
Bigger Than the Game: Restitching a Major League Life, by Dirk Hayhurst (Citadel Press). Another book by the former pro pitcher who now has more titles published than years pitched in the majors.
Marilyn Monroe & Joe DiMaggio – Love In Japan, Korea & Beyond & Beyond, by Jennifer Jean Miller ( J.J. Avenue Productions). Another book about Joe and Marilyn? Whats the point after Kahn and Charyn have already done the topic so well?
Joe and Marilyn: Legends in Love, by C. David Heymann (Atria/Emily Bestler Books). Deja vu: Another Joe and Marilyn saga? Really? Don’t authors/publishers see that so many of these topics have been done before? How much more information can there be about such a relatively narrow topic? And what’s the matter, there were only a few photos of them together?
Black Baseball, Black Business: Race Enterprise and the Fate of the Segregated Dollar , by Roberta J. Newman and Joel Nathan Rosen (University Press of Mississippi).
Ted Williams, My Father: A Memoir, by Claudia Williams (Ecco). A book like this can go one of two ways: either he was a great add or a terrible one. Was this written for the general public, or as a cathartic exercise for the author?
1954: The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Major League Baseball Forever, by Bill Madden (Da Capo). Was it really 1954 that changed the game “forever?” That’s a mighty long time. All due respect to Vic Power, Hank Aaron was the only African-American player of note to debut in 1954. Jackie Robinson, Campanella, Newcombe, and Black weren’t on a pennant winner, while Mays and Doby were in the World Series. Madden’s reputation makes this one to consider.
The Hall: A Celebration of Baseball’s Greats: In Stories and Images, the Complete Roster of Inductees, by The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum (Little, Brown and Company). At more than 600 pages, a massive offering that will no doubt be wonderful to behold, but as far as the topic goes, been done before, Still, the Hall of Fame deserves to crow on its 75th anniversary.
Battle of the Bay: Bashing A’s, Thrilling Giants, and the Earthquake World Series, by Gary Peterson (Triumph). Another “anniversary” theme, marking 25 years (!) since the event.
Idiots Revisited: Catching Up With the Red Sox Who Won the 2004 World Series, by Ian Browne (Tilbury). Did someone say anniversary? Only 10 years for this one. It was a doozy only in that it had been so long before the last Boston championship. I’m waiting for someone to write about the Playoffs against the Yankees that preceded the trip to the Fall Classic.
Don’t Let Us Win Tonight: An Oral History of the 2004 Boston Red Sox’s Impossible Playoff Run, by Allan Wood and Bill Nowlin (Triumph). What did I just ask for?
For fans of the topic only:
Before Wrigley Became Wrigley: The Inside Story of the First Years of the Cubs Home Field , by Sean Deveney (Sports Publishing). A precursor to the Ivy covered walls. Placed here because of its specific theme.
The A’s: A Baseball History, by David M. Jordan (McFarland). People forget that the old Philadelphia Athletics were once the class of baseball. An overlooked team worthy of discussion.
A Tribe Reborn: How the Cleveland Indians of the 90s Went from Cellar Dwellers to Playoff Contenders, by George Christian Pappas (Sports Publishing). I always enjoy a good “deconstruction” story, in this case a construction story.
Down to the Last Pitch: How the 1991 Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves Gave Us the Best World Series of All Time, by Tim Wendel (Da Capo). Any regular reader knows my aversion to books that employ the words “best” or “greatest,” but in this case, I’m almost willing to make an exception, especially given Wendell’s previous excellent contributions.
Nolan Ryan: The Making of a Pitcher, by Rob Goldman (Triumph). A long-overdue tribute to the Hall of Famer, but will a general audience be that interested anymore?.
Bring In the Right-Hander!: My Twenty-Two Years in the Major Leagues, by Jerry Reuss (University of Nebraska Press). Ryan’s contemporary was no Hall of Famer, but a solid veteran.
Mookie: Life, Baseball, and the 86 Mets, by Mookie Wilson with Erik Sherman (Berkeley). Is this the type of book whose time has passed? No anniversary, nothing special in Wilson’s life to indicate this will be more than a pleasant read for Mets fans.
Rage: The Legend of “Baseball Bill” Denehy, by Bill Denehy with Peter Golenbock (Central Recovery Press). From the player who was “traded” by the Mets to the Senators for manager Gil Hodges. Given the publisher, I can only assume the overall theme. But as Feinstein shows in his new book, every player has a story that is both the same and unique.
Throwback: A Big-League Catcher Tells How the Game Is Really Played, by Jason Kendall with Lee Judge (St. Martin’s Press). Once more, another book by a good-but-not-great former player.
Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs, by K. P. Wee (McFarland). Does ever ballplayer who enjoyed a prolonged career deserve a full-length bio?
Double Play, by Ben Zobrist, Julianna Zobrist, and Mike Yorkey (B&H Books). As this is a book about faith, it’s hard to be negative about it. But Zobrist, while a quality player, is not a major name outside the Tampa Bay area.
The Chalmers Race: Ty Cobb, Napoleon Lajoie, and the Controversial 1910 Batting Title That Became a National Obsession, by Rick Huhn (University of Nebraska Press) An obsession then, perhaps, but I wonder how many outside rock solid baseball history fans will rush out for this one.
Dominican Baseball: New Pride, Old Prejudice, by Alan Klein (Temple University Press). Another overlooked topic but with a specific audience.
Bill Giles and Baseball, by John B. Lord (Temple University Press). Not the most imaginative title in history, but good books about executives are few and far between. Here’s hoping this is one of them.
A Summer to Remember: Bill Veeck, Lou Boudreau, Bob Feller, and the 1948 Cleveland Indians, by Lew Freedman (Sports Publishing). The topic has been handled before, but so have many other topics on this list.
The Local Boys: Hometown Players for the Cincinnati Reds, by Joe Heffron and Jack Heffron (Clerisy Press). Another book with basically local interest from a Cincinnati-based publisher.
The Giants Baseball Experience: A Year-by-Year Chronicle, from New York to San Francisco, by Dan Fost (MVP Books). A book for Giants fans by a Giants fan.
Baseball’s Greatest Controversies: Rhubarbs, Hoaxes, Blown Calls, Ruthian Myths, Managers’ Miscues and Front-office Flops, by John G. Robertson (McFarland). All due respect to the author, this type of book has been done numerous times. That doesn’t mean this might not be the best of them, just that readers might be wary of another title of the same “myths and controversies” theme.
Mudville Madness: Fabulous Feats, Belligerent Behavior, and Erratic Episodes on the Diamond, by Jonathan Weeks (Taylor Trade). See above.
Bull City Summer: The Art of Sport, by Howard Craft, Adam Sobsey, and Emma Miller (Daylight Books). Another in the vein of the pictorial beauty and innocence/simplicyt of minor league baseball. This rosy picture-heavy volume would seem to counters the “facts of life” as presented by Feinstein.
Mover and Shaker: Walter O’Malley, the Dodgers, and Baseball’s Westward Expansion, by Andy McCue (University of Nebraska Press). Say what you will about O’Malley — once voted the third most hated man in America behind Hitler and Stalin — but a comprehensive bio about him and his impact on the game was overdue.
I Don’t Care if We Never Get Back: 30 Games in 30 Days on the Best Worst Baseball Road Trip Ever, by Ben Blatt and Eric Brewster (Grove Press), Again, all due respect to the authors, but another road trip book?
For the Love of Baseball: A Celebration of the Game That Connects Us All, edited by Lee Gutkind (Skyhorse). Again, all due respect, but this compilation of paeans about the national pastime has also been done several times. Same story, slightly different(?) contributors
The Righteous Remnant: The House of David, by Robert S. Fogarty (Kent State University Press). If this is indeed the definitive book on the historic, often misunderstood team, I’m all in.
When Baseball Went White: Reconstruction, Reconciliation, and Dreams of a National Pastime, by Ryan A. Swanson (University of Nebraska Press). Scholarly-looking. Hard-core historians only.