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The Snake Pit Summ... er, Spring Reading Program

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For a long time now, I’ve been waiting for an article on the Snake Pit discussing great baseball books. And now with the enforced sabbatical baseball and the rest of the world have taken thanks to COVID-19, I find I have no excuse for not sitting down and writing one out myself. 

Wales Daily Life Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

I do this with the hope that you all will find a new favorite book to read during this break and also that you will share some books that you love as well. Between us all, we can put together a truly awesome library on the game. For me, reading about baseball deepens my love for the game and helps me better understand the events of today’s game in a historical context. It brings me closer to my heroes and provides me with new ones. It gives me a chance to “see” players in action that I could never see, because they played in times or places to which I had no access. Finally, I think the thing I love best about these books is how they all somehow captured the magical and mythical qualities that make baseball the greatest sport on Earth.

So with all that in mind, I wanted to give you a list of nine – one per inning – of my favorite books on baseball, with some brief comments on their subject and why I love each of them. I’m looking forward to reading the comments to see what books have really resonated with the rest of the Pit – given our collective diversity, it will be cool to see what books others have read and loved. Happy reading!

  1. The Celebrant, Eric Rolfe Greenberg
    This book is a well-researched historical fiction that incorporates the life of Christy Mathewson, told through the eyes of a man who becomes the jeweler for the New York Giants and develops a friendship with Mathewson. Although Mathewson is not truly the main character in the book, the story is a beautiful first-hand account of the greatness and tragedy of Mathewson’s life. Of all the baseball books I’ve read, this is the one that has stuck with me the most.
  2. Shoeless Joe, W.P. Kinsella
    For me, no writer captures the mysticism of baseball better than W.P. Kinsella. He’s written several books and dozens of short stories on the game and I’ve devoured every one – suffice it to say that if you pick up ANY book on baseball by Kinsella you won’t be disappointed. Shoeless Joe is of course the book that launched Field of Dreams, and as they say, if you liked the movie you’ll love the book. Honestly, though, I could have completed this list with just Kinsella books.
  3. The Boys of Summer, Roger Kahn
    A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away - before the dark times, before the Empire - the Dodgers were actually the good guys. Of course, that was when they played in Brooklyn and not Coruscant. Some of the most iconic players in baseball history were in the starting nine for the Dodgers in the 1950’s and Vin Scully was just getting started in his 50+ year career. This classic book takes a close and moving look at the heroes from those teams after their capes had come off and they went back to being mere men. Oh, the humanity…
  4. It’s Good to Be Alive, Roy Campanella
    So basically, after I read The Boys of Summer, the tragedy of Roy Campanella so impacted me that I found this book that he wrote about his life following his accident. Campy was a guy who was happy and upbeat about life both before and after his accident, leaving you to marvel at a human being who could lose so much and still feel grateful for his life and experiences. Going through all of these things as a black man in 1950’s and 60’s America makes it all the more inspiring. A great book for any time, but perhaps even more so now.
  5. Nine Innings, Daniel Okrent
    Have you ever looked at a garden for a long time and realized there was a universe of activity going on that you never really noticed before? Or looked closely at a flower only to find that it was made up of dozens of little, very intricate flowers? This book is like that – it takes one game between the Brewers and the Orioles and breaks it down from start to finish with all of the details and interconnectedness that make up the amazing game of baseball. Call it inside baseball if you will, but it’s really more like a baseball version of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” on meth. A great book.
  6. The Machine, Joe Posnaski
    As a boy growing up in Phoenix in the 70’s, my favorite team was the Cincinnati Reds - the Big Red Machine of Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, et al, coached by the legendary Sparky Anderson. The Reds were the best team of the decade and the 1975 team boasted a line-up that may have been the greatest ever. The book takes you inside the team and the clubhouse and progresses daily throughout their 1975 championship season. I don’t know how Posnaski dug up all these details but he’s a hell of a writer and the book is just gold. All Diamondbacks fans should appreciate the Reds, because their archrival of the day was the Dodgers – “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. You won’t be disappointed.
  7. From Ghetto to Glory, Bob Gibson
    I’m a pitching guy and Bob Gibson is right at the top of my list of pitchers who played the game like a pitcher should, as in ‘I own that plate and you damn well better back off of it’. Bob Gibson’s toughness on the mound is legendary, but the real reason why he was so tough is not so well known – and even less well known was his gentleness off the field. This book is Gibson’s story straight from the man himself. After reading this, you’ll see Gibson’s greatness in a whole new light.
  8. Baseball in ’41, Robert Creamer
    OK, full disclosure – I was a history major so I kind of geeked out on this book. But stop and think about the amazing quality of the game and the legends playing it in 1941 – Joe DiMaggio had his streak, Ted Williams hit .406, a young Leo Durocher took the Brooklyn Dodgers to the World Series – and on it goes. That is, on it goes in the shadow of a looming war that will soon change the game and the careers of many of its players. A great look at the game at a time that was inarguably one of its greatest, in the face of a frightening and uncertain immediate future. I don’t think I need to connect any dots here…
  9. The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America, Joe Posnaski
    Imagine getting to spend a year travelling around America with a man who is a Negro League Hall of Famer, was a three-time All Star, played in two Negro League World Series and was the first black coach in MLB. Sounds amazing, right? Well, this is the book that resulted from that experience for Joe Posnaski (did I mention that he’s a hell of a writer?) But once you get to know Buck O’Neil through this book you’ll really wish you actually got to do that, because everyone should get to spend that much time around someone like Buck. A great human being who always looked for the good, this book will inspire you to see the world in a better way, despite all of the ugly. A great book for the present day.

I hope you find something here that piques your interest and helps you wrap yourself in a baseball cocoon while this thing blows over. Looking forward to seeing everyone’s own personal favorites!