This game's in the books: baseball's greatest reads

Baltimore is a baseball town again and the Orioles are making this another season of excitement and promise at Camden Yards.

On this Fourth of July holiday, I list for you here the best books ever written about the game.

"Ever written?" you say skeptically. Yes, that's what I said.

In fact, I'm already preparing for the deluge of emails and phone calls confirming the excellence of the choices.

But enough of that. On to the list:

8. Little League Confidential: One Coach's Completely Unauthorized Tale of Survival, by Bill Geist.

Geist, the CBS "Sunday Morning" correspondent, coaches the Fighting Hairdressers, sponsored by the local Curl Up N' Dye beauty salon. Little League ball in Ridgewood, N.J., he discovers, is "a crucible of Social Darwinism" where only the strong — or the dumb — survive.

The prologue alone will leave you howling, as Coach Geist makes the preseason phone calls to his new players and discovers that his top draft pick, Andy, supposedly a budding superstar, is actually Andy's little brother, Adam.

"I don't really care much for sports myself," Adam tells his new coach.

7. A False Spring, by Pat Jordan.

You think you've had job setbacks? Here's the sobering story of the author's once-promising pitching career, now in free-fall as he goes from hard-throwing "bonus baby" in the Braves organization to just another wild arm toiling in the low minors.

It's a bittersweet memoir. But at times, the despair practically leaks off the page.

6. Squeeze Play, by Jane Leavy.

A rollicking, ribald novel that centers on plucky A.B. Berkowitz, a young reporter in her rookie season covering the Senators for the Washington Tribune. The Senators are a mess that might remind Orioles fans of some of the teams we had around here before last season.

Hilarity ensues — no, really — when the Rev. Jimy Boy Collins buys the franchise and the Senators turn out to be even worse than the '62 Mets.

5. Bang the Drum Slowly, by Mark Harris.

Not in the mood for laughs? Maybe this is a better book for you. While funny in parts, it's the tale of Henry Wiggen and the players on the fictional New York Mammoths and how they bond and come to terms — oh, Henry would hate those words — after learning that a teammate is dying of cancer.

The book was written in 1956 and the language is meant to be stilted and old-timey, narrated by the unlearned Wiggen. But it's a riveting, three-hankie book for sure.

4. Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series, by Eliot Asinof.

The movie, directed by John Sayles, was a home run. The book is even better: a grand slam. It's about the fix of the 1919 World Series, which produced headlines calling it "the most gigantic sporting swindle in the history of America."

Me, I think it's been replaced by the NFL charging fans full price for preseason games. But the machinations of the big-time gamblers and penurious team owner who drove greedy or desperate Chicago White Sox players to throw the Series come vividly to life on every page.

3. Babe: The Legend Comes to Life, by Robert W. Creamer.

If you think Babe Ruth was nothing more than a hotdog-eating, beer-swilling, homer-hitting legend, well, you're half right.

But Creamer also reveals a more complex side of Ruth and the incredible skill, restless energy and boundless appetites that drove him to become America's preeminent sports icon.

2. Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis.

Can we talk about the movie first? Did anyone else have a problem with the casting? The whole time I watched it I kept thinking: "That's not Billy Beane up there! That's Brad Pitt!"

But Lewis' book is a fascinating look at how the 2002 Oakland Athletics caught lightning in a bottle, riding Beane's fearless, innovative thinking to an exciting winning season despite having the smallest team payroll in the majors.

1. Ball Four, by Jim Bouton.

An American classic, Bouton's courageous best-seller opened the curtains and let readers see what really took place in the clubhouse and on the road with a major league baseball team.

Often, it wasn't pretty. Bouton was vilified by the baseball establishment for breaking the "code of silence."

But he produced the best, truest and funniest book of all time about the game. And he ended up laughing all the way to the bank.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

twitter.com/kevincowherdsun

Listen to Kevin Cowherd on Tuesdays at 7:20a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."

 

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