Guess who’s coming to dinner?

March 28, 2014

Yesterday, I posted a question to the Baseball Books group on Facebook.

If you could have dinner with any four authors who have written about baseball — not strictly baseball authors — at the same table, who would they be?

My choices: Roger Angell, David Halberstam, Lawrence Ritter, and Bernard Malamud.

Of course, four is an arbitrary number. I didn’t want to dine one-on-one with a single writer, and four seemed a manageable figure to have around a table for some good literary baseball conversation.

And of course, some people can’t follow simple directions, but that’s okay. The caveat, which was ignored a few times, was that while the author didn’t necessarily have to write only about baseball books as their main genre, he or she had to have published at least one book about baseball, not merely mention it in passing (I’m looking at you, person who voted for Jane Austen).

A few folks also wanted more than four, which is fine. What do I care? I’m not picking up the check.

Some housekeeping before we set in:

  • As of this writing, 56 people responded to the query. Some offered explanations for their selections. But as stated above, that doesn’t mean the numbers add up to 224.
  • 89 writers/authors received at least one vote.
  • It would have been interesting to do a demographic on the respondents, especially as regards to their ages. Some have selected items written many years ago, leading me to think these are the books and writers of their youth. Either that or they’re really into older topics and titles.
  • After reading so many wonderful choices, you consider changing your own. How could I have omitted Shirley Povich and Leonard Koppett?
  • I have waived my usual “no kids’ books” policy here.
  • I also have not vetted each and every selection, so see if all fit the requirements. As long as there’s no Howard Stern/Ba Ba Booey nonsense, I’m trusting these authors are legit.
  • “Anonymous” received one vote for “Who’s on First,” which, at least right now, is not a book. But if they can do a couple of volumes on “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” maybe someone will take this on.
  • One person chose Bill Veeck as his dinner companion  four times.
  • Authors whose work appear in 501 Baseball Books Fans Must Read before They Die are noted with an *.

So here we go. Given the extraordinary amount of work put out by these ladies and gentlemen, I won’t be listing their individual oeuvres in their entirety. Some links direct you to previous entries about them in the Baseball Bookshelf. Enjoy.

It should be no surprise that Roger Angell*, the current dean of baseball writers,tops the list with 19 invitations. Lawrence Ritter, who is credited with pioneering baseball oral histories with his iconic The Glory of Their Times, is next with 13.

David Halberstam*, one of my favorites, published thoughtful histories that appealed to a wide audience, given his literary talents follows with 12, as does Jim Bouton* who, for better or worse, changed the paradigm of the player-written memoir.

No other scribe received more than eight votes, indicating the wide range of preferences by the respondents.

Eight votes:

  • Roger Kahn* (The Boys of Summer and other nostalgic tales of New York-based baseball)

Seven votes:

  • Bill James*
  • W.P. Kinsella*
  • John Thorn*

I don’t think anything more need be said about these three wise men. James has changed the way we think about the numbers of the game. Kinsella has written some of the most famous baseball fiction of all time. And Thorn, official historian for MLB, has been similarly prolific with his work in both the statistical and narrative arenas.

Fred Lieb* also received seven votes. I think. One respondent rescinded his invitation in favor of another author. In addition, Lieb was the most contentious choice for his perceived prejudices.

Five votes:

  • Robert Creamer* (Babe: The Legend Comes to Life; Baseball and Other Matters in 1941; Stengel: His Life and Times)
  • George Will* (Men at Work, Bunts)

Four votes:

  • Peter Golenbock* (Too numerous to mention.Most recently They Called Me God with Doug Harvey)
  • Jim Brosnan* (The Long Season, Pennant Race; the pre-Bouton Bouton)
  • Henry Chadwick (Haney’s Base Ball Book of Reference)
  • Donald Honig* (Again, too numerous to mention)
  • Jane Leavy* (The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood; Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy)
  • Red Smith (Mostly collections of his writing from The New York Times)
  • Bill Veeck* (Veeck as in Wreck)

Three votes:

  • Shirley Povich* (Washington Post columns plus his history of the Washington Senators)

Two votes:

  • Robert Coover* (The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop.)
  • James T. Farrell (My Baseball Diary)
  • John Grisham (Calico Joe: A Novel)
  • Stephen King* (The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon; Blockade Billy; Faithful, with Stewart O’Nan)
  • Leonard Koppett* (one of my favorites)
  • Ed Achorn (The Summer of Beer and Whiskey; 59 in ’84)
  • Bernard Malamud* (The Natural)
  • Christy Mathewson* (Pitching in a Pinch: Baseball from the Inside)
  • George Plimpton* (The Curious Case of Syd Finch, Out of My League: The Classic Hilarious Account of an Amateur’s Ordeal in Professional Baseball)
  • Joe Posnanski* (The Soul of Baseball and The Machine; more here)
  • Damon Runyon* (Guys, Dolls, and Curveballs: Runyon on Baseball)
  • Harold Seymour* (Author of the multi-volume history of the game, although some readers might seek to qualify that.)
  • Tom Stanton* (more here)
  • Ted Williams (The Science of Hitting; My Turn at Bat)

 One vote:

  • Lee Allen (The Baseball Encyclopedia: The Complete and Official Record of Major League Baseball, 100 Years Of Baseball: The Intimate And Dramatic Story Of Modern Baseball)
  • Eliot Asinof* (Eight Men Out)
  • Eldon Auker (Sleeper Cars and Flannel Uniforms: A Lifetime of Memories from Striking Out the Babe to Teeing It up with the President)
  • Henry Ralph Barbour
  • Yogi Berra (When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It!, et al)
  • Howard Bryant* (The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron and Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston)
  • Ty Cobb (My Life in Baseball: The True Record)
  • Leo Durocher* (Nice Guys Finish Last)
  • Jonathan Eig* (Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig and Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season)
  • Charles Einstein* (The Fireside series, Willie’s Time: Baseball’s Golden Age)
  • John Feinstein* (Where Nobody Knows Your Name and Living on the Black: Two Pitchers, Two Teams, One Season to Remember)
  • Curt Flood* (The Way It Is)
  • Robert Francis (“The Base Stealer”)
  • Bill Freehan (Behind the Mask: An Inside Baseball Diary)
  • Dan Ginsberg (The Fix is In)
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin* (Wait Till Next Year)
  • Donald Hall* (Fathers Playing Catch With Sons; Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball)
  • Arnold Hano* (A Day in the Bleachers. More here.)
  • Patrick Harrigan (The Detroit Tigers: Club and Community, 1945-1995)
  • Mark Harris* (The “Southpaw Trilogy”)
  • Mickey Herskowitz (Catcher In The Wry: Outrageous but True Stories of Baseball, with Bob Uecker)
  • Art Hill* (I Don’t Care if I Never Get Back)
  • Pat Jordan* (A False Spring)
  • Ron Kaplan (501 Baseball Books Fans Must Read before They Die (!))
  • John Lardner (The John Lardner Reader: A Press Box Legend’s Classic Sportswriting)
  • Ring Lardner* (You Know Me, Al)
  • Alfred Lawson (Baseball Fiends and Flying Machines: The Many Lives and Outrageous Times of George and Alfred Lawson)
  • Ernie Lanigan
  • Michael Lewis* (Just one vote for the author of Moneyball?)
  • Denny McLain (I Told You I Wasn’t Perfect)
  • Alyssa Milano (Safe at Home: Confessions of a Baseball Fanatic)
  • Leigh Montville* (The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth, Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero)
  • Willie Morris (My Dog Skip. Hmm.)
  • Preston Orem (Baseball 1845-1881: From the newspaper accounts of Preston Orem)
  • Satchel Paige
  • Danny Peary* (another prolific “co-author.” More here.)
  • Joe Pepitone (Joe, You Coulda Made Us Proud)
  • Terry Pluto (The Curse of Rocky Colavito: A Loving Look at a Thirty-Year Slump, Our Tribe)
  • Grantland Rice (Base-Ball Ballads)
  • Francis Richter (Richter’s History and Records of Baseball: The American Nation’s Chief Sport)
  • Branch Rickey (The American Diamond: A Documentary of the Game of Baseball)
  • Jackie Robinson* (I Never Had It Made)
  • Philip Roth* (The Great American Novel)
  • Steve Rushin (The 34-Ton Bat)
  • Gabriel Schechter (Victory Faust: The Rube Who Saved McGraw’s Giants, etc.)
  • Robert Smith* (Baseball in the Afternoon: Tales from a Bygone Era)
  • Troy Soos* (The Mickey Rawlings baseball mysteries. More here.)
  • John Updike* (Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu: John Updike on Ted Williams)
  • Kal Wagenheim (Babe Ruth: His Life and Legend, Clemente: The Enduring Legacy)
  • Christy Walsh (Famous ghost-writer)
  • Sol White (Sol White’s History of Colored Baseball with Other Documents on the Early Black Game, 1886-1936)
  • Josh Wilker* (Cardboard Gods. More here.)


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