It's spring, and somewhere, someone is oiling up an old baseball glove and getting limbered up for some practice swings. Baseball season is here at last, and we're here to help you pick out good baseball books. Some help is probably needed, too, since for every good book about baseball, there are approximately 17 lousy ones, such as over-the-top, adoring player bios, nostalgia-drenched schlock, and coffee table books about every baseball stadium ever dreamed of.
What follows is a rundown of a few new books about the game, as well as a list of recommended classics of the genre. Note that we deliberately left out some classics you're probably familiar with (The Natural, Shoeless Joe, Boys of Summer, etc.). Enjoy, and maybe we'll catch up with you at a Knights game.
The Yankee Years by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci (Doubleday, 512 pages, $26.95). More than a biography, this is an excellent book that, along with Torre's tales of glory and woe, gives a clear-eyed, lively portrait of baseball as it's played, managed, and at times micro-managed today.
As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires by Bruce Weber (Scribner, 352 pages, $26). New York Times reporter Weber goes to umpire school, puts on the equipment himself, talks to a million people, and delivers a fascinating, engaging, story-filled inside look at major league umps' unique world.
Becoming Manny: Inside the Life of Baseball's Most Enigmatic Slugger by Jean Rhodes and Shawn Boburg (Scribner, 320 pages, $25). A sports writer and a psychiatrist got unfettered access to flaky star Manny Ramirez and, according to first reports, produced a first-rate examination of both the man and the current state of the game.
The Rocket That Fell to Earth: Roger Clemens and the Rage for Baseball Immortality by Jeff Pearlman (Harper, 368 pages $26.99). Roger Clemens: greatest pitcher ever, or lying sack of shit? Actually, both, according to reviewers who've read this book. Not a pleasant read, apparently, but there's no indication that it's an inaccurate one, either.
Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee by Allen Barra (W.W. Norton, 480 pages, $27.95). The most positively reviewed new baseball book of the year so far, this thorough biography is overdue, and reportedly saves Berra from being remembered as merely a lovable goof.
A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez by Selena Roberts (Harper, 272 pages, $26.99). According to available previews, this bio, to be published April 28, is a complete hatchet job.
Recommended Classics & Recent Books
The Dixie Association by Donald Hays. This writer's favorite baseball novel, bar none, it's the hilarious, engaging story of a group of grungy rebels and misfits who somehow gel and take their minor league by storm.
The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings by William Brashler. A wild and wonderful tale of Negro League baseball in the 1930s, based on interviews with legendary black players. Funny, poignant and essential.
Castro's Curveball by Tim Wendel. Partly based on real life, Wendel's ingenious novel is about a U.S. player who winds up in 1950s Cuba, playing with a young star pitcher named Fidel.
Southern Fried Plus Six by William Price Fox. Actually, just two of the short stories in this collection, "Hair of the Dog" and "Leroy Jeffcoat," are about baseball, but they may be the two best short stories about baseball ever.
The Great American Novel by Phillip Roth. Often denigrated by snooty Roth fans, this is still a comic masterpiece and a terrific satire of postwar American life.
Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris. One of the greatest sports novels, albeit a bit soapy.
Selected Shorts: Baseball. A wonderful audiobook of baseball short stories by the likes of W.P. Kinsella, T.C. Boyle, John Updike, Roger Angell and others. Perfect for road trips.
Babe by Robert Creamer. The biography of Babe Ruth that became the gold standard for baseball bios.
A Day In The Bleachers by Arnold Hano. Utterly charming, written with poetic simplicity, Hano's account of attending the first game of the 1954 World Series between the Giants and Indians -- from subway through game strategies and heroics to the return home -- is an American classic of creative nonfiction.
The Summer Game by Roger Angell. Angell's graceful, incisive writing makes this as fine a collection of essays about any sport as you'll find.
Only the Ball Was White by Robert Peterson. Endlessly captivating and solidly researched, Peterson's lively history of the Negro Leagues is largely based on extensive interviews he conducted with former players.
Cobb: A Biography by Al Stump. Exhilarating and terrifying, just like the man it's about: Ty Cobb, probably the greatest hitter of all, and perhaps also the meanest bastard to ever play the game.
Summer of '49 by David Halberstam. An energetic recounting of the 1949 pennant race between the Yankees and Red Sox, and the rivalry between DiMaggio and Williams, as well as an entertaining examination of an era.