Temperatures are low, the wind is getting vicious, and the sunsets are arriving earlier and earlier. Tis the season for baseball fans to overreact to prospects, trades and signings — or perhaps settle into a comfortable chair with the right baseball book.
On this note: The term selfie has been around long enough to draw a wry smile, outright scorn, or a dismissive shaking of the head. I don’t think we’ve reached that same point with the selfie’s clever cousin, the shelfie, a shot of one’s bookshelf. My own collection of baseball books are fit, orderly but tightly, onto the long shelf in my walk-in closet. Consider a portrait featuring this lineup:
Leading off, Joe Posnanski’s The Soul of Baseball,” with a beautiful Buck O’Neil anecdote or experience on every page. This sets the table for Larry Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times, virtually inventing the genre of the oral history and considered by many as the best baseball book ever. Now we’re on the move, a rally sparked, with Jim Bouton’s Ball Four striking forth and delivering statements on team life, race, and salary negotiation, alongside a bounty of ballpark humor.
The meat of the lineup requires heft. In earlier days, this would be filled by the bible itself, The Baseball Encyclopedia. Now, thanks an easy check of Baseball-Reference.com whenever necessary, that power is supplied by Bill James’s Historical Baseball Abstract, Peter Morris’s A Game of Inches, and Paul Dickson’s Dickson Baseball Dictionary. This is true clout: references and anecdotes for the national pastime’s every player, aspect, and term.
The bottom of the order can’t lose its effectiveness, though. Robert Peterson’s Only The Ball Was White takes its important turn, reminding us of the history of baseball from the other side of the color barrier. It’s followed by another superb history in the eighth slot, Cait Murphy’s fitting Crazy ’08 — Eight Men Out is benched temporarily while Eliot Asinof’s facts are disputed. The ninth position is a second leadoff man, ready to pick the lineup back up. Call upon Dick Schaap and Mort Gerberg’s Joy in Mudville, an anthology of baseball humor starring everyone from Roger Angell to James Thurber.
Adding to the tableau: Our starter is the definitive The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers, armed with every type of pitch and the sourced arsenal of every hurler the game has seen. He’ll have to do battle with the man in blue, represented behind the plate by Bruce Weber’s As They See ‘Em, a depiction of the life of the umpire, from academy to the bigs.
Up next, let’s put Michael Lewis’s popular Moneyball in charge of the dugout, with its dynamite crossover appeal to avid and casual fans alike. Just in case, we’ll put a bit smaller known book at its side, however, in the bench coach role: Tom Tango’s The Book, with its reliable percentages. And what’s a roster without a pinch-hitter? Down the line, waiting its turn, there’s Bernard Malamud’s The Natural, although it might not supply the Hollywood ending we hope for.
Last of all, the fans — represented here by Robert Coover’s The Universal Baseball Association, Inc. J. Henry Waugh, Prop., which captures everything wonderful, nightmarish, and mesmerizingly engrossing about getting sucked into loving this game and its players.
That is the portrait of baseball books on my shelf, ready to be read during this hot-stove season… and more beside, able to be promoted to my attention at a moment’s notice.
What books are in your winter lineup?