fact book

I’ve read too many books about baseball. That may sound pretentious, but I want to be clear: for every two books I’ve read about baseball, I genuinely wish that one of them was about something different. The amount of time I wasted reading a the 1999 Major League Baseball Fact Book, published by the Sporting News — sent to me as a birthday gift from my Uncle Tim — is baffling. If I had spent that time reading different, more important things, I probably would have been a literature major instead of a history major. Then again, I’d still be working in a restaurant.

Below is a list of some of my favorite books about the old ballgame, with some brief thoughts about each.

Ricky’s Picks, Fiction:

“The Art of Fielding,” by Chad Harbach. This is likely the most popular book I will reference. A New York Times Bestseller, Harbach’s debut novel tells the story of what it’s like to be a Division III athlete, except these characters even have sex sometimes. For all its questionable, but certainly not offensive, baseball material, this is a damn good novel about change and how people accept it, or adapt to it.

“The Might Have Been,” by Joseph M. Schuster. This is the least likely book to end up on this list, mostly because of the way I found it. I went to the Oakland Public Library with hopes of finding a new book about baseball. The moment I walked in, I was face to face with the provocative cover of “The Might Have Been,” a book I had heard nothing about. I loved the sound of the plot, detailed on the back jacket: lifetime minor leaguer, Edward Everett Yates, finally gets his chance to play in the majors. His stay there is cut short by a knee injury caused by Jarry Park’s chain link fence. He spends the rest of his life managing in the minors, coping with ‘the might have been’. Out of all the books I have read in the last couple of years, this one has stayed with me, eating at me the way Yates’ short stay in the majors ate at him: I just can’t shake the feeling of how it was to be there.

“The Universal Baseball Association, Inc.” by Robert Coover. If you’re looking for a mind-fuck of a book, look no further. This one is insane. It is about a baseball league that exists entirely inside one guy’s head: from the dice he rolls to decide their fate on the baseball field, to the songs he writes to describe their off-the-field drinking and womanizing, to the four or five generations of baseball players he has made up to fill out an entire league for fifty-nine “seasons”. The U.B.A. is a gripping exploration of creationism, but also an uncanny look into a unique world of fantasy baseball, long before rotisserie fantasy baseball had come to be — it was written in 1968, but reprinted in 2011. Just as we lose ourselves in our fantasy baseball teams, you are sure to lose yourself in J. Henry Waugh’s world of baseball, death, and retribution (yes, those things actually happen in Waugh’s sophisticated version of Strat-o-matic).

Ricky’s Picks, Non-Fiction

“Top of the Order,” Edited by Sean Manning. I don’t have a ton to say about this book. Basically, 25 writers — from Roger Kahn, to Buzz Bissinger, to Michael Ian Black — choose their favorite baseball player and write a short essay about them.  My favorite is Craig Finn’s entry regarding Kirby Puckett. It fully encapsulates the hope athletes can give us, and the subsequent shame we feel when they fall from grace. There is also an entry about Crash Davis, which I remember being not that great, but a fun idea. Anyway, this book is great. You will enjoy it.

“The Bad Guys Won,” by Jeff Pearlman. Look, I don’t like the Mets, and Pearlman’s writing is by no means revolutionary, but this story is fucking great. The 1986 Mets were a ridiculous collection of ridiculousness, and this book gives you a behind-the-scenes peek into their being ridiculous.  Pearlman recounts the thinking that went into “Get Metsmerized!” — the Mets answer to the “Super Bowl Shuffle” — the single most ridiculous song ever recorded. In case you haven’t heard it:

If you made it all the way through that, congratulations: making it through “The Bad Guys Won” will be infinitely easier.

“A False Spring” by Pat Jordan. The only way to sum up this autobiographical tale — written by a guy who got signed for big bucks, before the MLB draft existed, but never panned out — is to have you read the Ernest Hemingway quote that Jordan uses to kick off the book:

With so many trees in the city, you could only see the spring coming each day until a night of warm wind would bring it suddenly in one morning. Sometimes the heavy cold rain would beat it back so that it would seem that it would never come and that you were losing a season out of your life…. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person had died for no reason.

Life had seemed so simple that morning when I had wakened and found the false spring…

Read it.

And please, if I have convinced one of you readers to buy one of these books, don’t buy it off of Amazon, or some analogous website. Go to a book store; look for it on the shelves. You might even make a friend.