The Essential Baseball Library
Monday, February 15, 1999
Babe: The Legend Comes to Life by Robert W. Creamer (1974). The author pulls no punches and tells it like it was from Ruthian hero to nighttime carouser. Some think Marshall Smelser's in-depth The Life That Ruth Built (1975) was better, but both are excellent.
Ball Four by Jim Bouton (1969). Bouton's intimate recounting of his teammate's personal habits blew the lid off our beloved game. The public loved it, the players hated it but the book has held up over time as not just a juicy expose but as the story of a player who truly loves the game while trying his best to come to grips with the pressures of a fading career. Followed by two sequels, I'm Glad You Didn't Take It Personally and I Managed Good, But Boy Did They Play Bad.
Bill Veeck: A Baseball Legend by Gerald Eskenazi (1988). McGraw Hill. Add this one to the recommended books about Bill Veeck in the "Veeck as in Wreck" review.
The Catcher Was a Spy by Nicholas Dawidoff (1994). Excellent profile of big league catcher and WWII spy Moe Berg and much better than his first biography in 1976.
Diz: The Story of Dizzy Dean and Baseball During the Great Depression by Robert Gregory (1992). Penguin Books.
A False Spring by Pat Jordan (1975). What happens to a young pitching phenom's psyche when he doesn't live up to expectations? Jordan tells us-- and he ought to know because it happened to him. Also check out Jordan's The Suitors of Spring and find out why it worked for Tom Seaver and Johnny Sain and not for Sam McDowell, Bo Belinsky or Steve Dalkowski.
The Ginger Kid by Irving M. Stein (1992). The story of Buck Weaver, one of the Chicago Black Sox banned from baseball by Judge Landis. Although Weaver did not take part in the fix, he did have knowledge of it but refused to "turn rat" on his teammates. His "principles" gained him neither popularity nor sympathy from the public. The book chronicles his life before, during and after baseball. It also mentions the several attempts to have Weaver's name cleared. Elysian Fields Press.
Great Time Coming by David Faulkner (1995). The first major biography of Jackie Robinson detailing his life before, during and after baseball. Simon & Schuster.
Hank Greenberg: The Story of My Life edited by Ira Berkow (1989). What started out as an autobiography ended up as a biography when Greenberg became ill and died during the writing of the book. Berkow edited the book from the notes and tapes of interviews he had with Greenberg and his own research. An excellent portrait of the player, the soldier and the executive. Times Books. See also, A Tiger in His Time in the "Wartime Baseball" section.
Harry Hooper by Paul J. Zingg (1993). Well-researched definitive biography of the great Boston Red Sox outfielder and leadoff hitter. Follows his career from humble beginnings as a sharecropper to his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The author uses Hooper's diaries and letters to bring the book to life. University of Illinois Press.
Hitter: The Life and Turmoils of Ted Williams by Ed Linn (1993). Harcourt Brace. Ted Williams: A Baseball Life by Michael Seidel (1991). Contemporary Books. Two wonderful biographies of the greatest pure hitter of this century. While Seidel's work is a bit more scholarly and Linn's is more anecdotal, both are worthy of merit. Both follow Williams from the sandlots of San Diego to the years with the Boston Red Sox, his days as a big league manager to election to the Hall of Fame.
Honus: The Life and Times of a Baseball Hero by William Hageman (1996). The authorized biography of Hall of Famer Wagnerís interesting life. Besides his baseball career, the author explores his family life, his drinking problem and his failed business ventures. Sagamore Publishing.
Honus Wagner: A Biography by Dennis and Jeanne DeValeria (1996). Similar to the previous effort and well researched, perhaps a bit better, of one of the all-time great shortstops. Henry Holt.
Iron Horse: Lou Gehrig in his Time by Ray Robinson (1990). HarperPerennial.
I Was Right on Time by Buck O'Neil with Steve Wulf and David Conrads (1996). One of the few Negro league players to write his autobiography. O'Neilrelates his experiences traveling through the Negro Leagues first as a player and then as a manager. He also tells of his eventual rise to the major leagues as a coach for the Chicago Cubs. Full of anecdotes if not great literature. Simon & Schuster.
Jackie Robinson by Arnold Rampersad. A brutally honest biography of baseball's great black pioneer (1997). Culled through conversations and letters (to his wife Rachel), the author presents a true portrait of the man-- an intelligent, hard-working athlete with a fierce determination to break through racial barriers. Few know or remember that in retirement, he became an outspoken advocate of civil rights working for the NAACP and the SCLC. If you really want to know Jackie Robinson-- his triumphs and failures, his virtues and faults-- this book will enlighten you. Knopf.
Jimmie Foxx: Baseball Hall of Famer, 1907-1967 by W. Harrison Daniel (1997). Biography of one of the greatest power hitters of all time and how he influenced the game on and off the field. Many players say they love the game but this guy truly did. Fully illustrated and indexed. McFarland & Co.
Jocko by Jocko Conlan and Robert Creamer (1967). One of few umpire autobiographies, Hall of Famer Conlan paints a picture of what it is like to climb the ladder of success as an umpire. Creamer is one of the chiefs at Sports Illustrated. Lippincott.
John McGraw by Charles Alexander (1988). Definitive biography of one of the great managers of the game.
Judge and Jury: The Life and Times of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis by David Pietrusza (1997). The first book since Spink's effort in 1947on the most influential commissioner baseball ever had. Landis was brought in to rule on the Black Sox scandal in 1920 and lasted 24 years in the position eventually entering the Hall of Fame. Diamond Communications. 1998 Casey Award winner.
Lefty O'Doul: The Legend Baseball Nearly Forgot by Richard Leutzinger (1997). O'Doul starred in the PCL for years as a pitcher before finally getting his chance at regular outfield duty with the Yankees (and then the Giants) at the age of 31 after his arm went dead. He went on to compile a .349 lifetime batting average in eleven seasons but has been ignored by Hall of Fame voters. He was also loved in Japan where he made many personal appearances and was known as the Father of Baseball there. Fully illustrated with bibliography and index. Carmel Bay Publishing Group.
Matty: An American Hero by Ray Robinson (1993). Oxford University Press.
Maybe I'll Pitch Forever by Satchell Paige with David Lipman (1962). A proud tale of one of the greatest pitchers and more interesting characters of all time - black or white.
The Mick by Mickey Mantle with Herb Gluck (1985). Doubleday. The definitive Mantle biography. Also of note: Quality of Courage, Education of a Ballplayer, My Favorite Summer, The Mick, All My Octobers, The Last Hero and Whitey and Mickey.
Moe Berg: Athlete, Scholar, Spy by Kaufman, Fitzgerald and Sewell (1974). The first biography of Moe Berg, the enigmatic second string catcher who ended up as a spy for the U.S. in World War II. Serves as the precursor to The Catcher Was A Spy. Little, Brown.
My Turn At Bat by Ted Williams with John Underwood (1969). The Splendid Splinter tells his side of his ongoing battles with the media and the fans. A must read story from the greatest pure hitter of all time.
Nice Guys Finish Last by Leo Durocher with Ed Linn (1975). One of the more colorful characters of the game tells his side of the controversies. Also recommended is Gerald Eskenazi's The Lip (1993).
Olí Pete: The Grover Cleveland Alexander Story by Jack Kavanagh (1997). The real story of the great Hall of Fame pitcher and his tragic battle with the bottle and with epilepsy. Despite this, he is tied with Christy Mathewson for the most wins by an NL pitcher all-time. Also covered are his boyhood days on a Nebraska farm and his loving relationship with his wife Amy. Fully illustrated and indexed. Diamond Communications.
Roger Maris: A Man for All Seasons by Maury Allen (1986). Allen does an excellent job of detailing the life of Maris without the usual prejudice. He follows his career from Fargo, ND through the glory years with the Yanks, his last years with the Cardinals, and his life after baseball. Still rates as the only major work on a most talked about major leaguer. Donald I. Fine, Inc.
Rogers Hornsby by Charles Alexander (1995). In-depth biography of one of baseballís greatest hitters by one of baseballís greatest authors. Henry Holt.
Say It Ain't So, Joe! by Donald Gropman (1979). Superstar Shoeless Joe Jackson was certainly in the wrong place at the wrong time with the 1919 Black Sox. Gropman tells his story from birth to banishment to barnstormer while trying to prove his innocence in the World Series fix.
Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball by Harvey Frommer.
Slick: My Life In and Around Baseball by Whitey Ford with Phil Pepe (1987). Ford's autobiography with help from long-time New York writer, Pepe. Ford tells the story of his rise to one of the best American League pitchers of his day. Makes a good companion book to Mantle's The Mick. Morrow.
Slide, Kelly, Slide by Marty Appel (1996). The exciting but ultimately sad story of Hall of Famer King Kelly, one of the top players of the nineteenth century. The immensely popular player was one of the first to sign autographs and authored baseballís very first autobiography. Scarecrow Press
Stengel: His Life and Times by Robert W. Creamer (1984). The definitive biography of one of the best all-time biographical subjects.
Ty Cobb by Charles Alexander (1986). Alexander finds the middle ground between Cobb's apologetic autobiography from 1961 and Al Stump's more damaging update from this past year.
Veeck as in Wreck by Bill Veeck with Ed Linn (1962). The provocative story of one of the most candid and innovative owner's in baseball history who was despised by his peers but loved by players and fans alike.
Walter Johnson: A Life by Jack Kavanaugh (1995). In-depth look at the playing and managerial career of one of the best right-handed pitchers of all time. More penetrating than the glossed effort written by his grandson. Diamond Communications.
Wild High & Tight: The Life & Death of Billy Martin by Peter Golenbock. Martin's co-author from his 1980 biography, Number 1, updates the book recounting all of the controversies that followed him around through the years.