The Essential Baseball Library
April 8, 1997
Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris (1956). Pitcher Henry Wiggen's inside accounts of his fictional life in baseball set the table for Brosnan and Bouton. This book was the best of the Wiggen trilogy and was made into a movie of the same title starring Robert DiNiro.
The Celebrant by Eric Rolfe Greenberg (1983). One of the better historical novels, the story revolves around the relationship of a fictional fan, Jackie Kapp, and a ballplayer he idolizes, Christy Mathewson. 1983 Casey Award winner.
The Great American Novel by Phillip Roth (1973). Based on the bizarre obsessions of fictional sportswriter Word Smith and his imaginary Patriot League. This effort can be explained as a hilarious parody of classic authors like Melville, Chaucer, Hemingway and of course Malamud.
Hoopla by Harry Stein (1983). This tale takes place during the Black Sox scandal and features the interaction between a fictional sportswriter and the real life third baseman of the White Sox, Buck Weaver.
Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger (1998). A novel about a 12-year-old boy's correspondence with New York Giants third baseman Charlie Banks in 1940. Innocent, nostalgic, revealing and funny.
The Natural by Bernard Malamud (1952). This is the book that the movie was based on but, aside from Roy Hobbs and a few of the other characters, the similarities end there. The book is a great page-turner from an unusual and under-appreciated writer. The ending will shock and amaze you.
Season's Past by Damon Rice (1976). An historical novel which recounts the story of baseball in New York at it's inception from the standpoint of the fictional Fletcher Rice family.
Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella (1982). The movie Field of Dreams was based on this book.
You Know Me Al by Ring Lardner (1918). The first adult baseball novel is actually a series of letters between friend Al and ballplayer Jack. Anything sports columnist Lardner wrote is worth reading, especially the short story, Alibi Ike that was reproduced in the first Fireside anthology.
The Universal Baseball Association by Robert Coover (1968). The story revolves solely around Henry Waugh and his complex, dice-driven, tabletop baseball league of the same name. Even more unusual than the Roth book in that Waugh slowly loses touch with reality as his mythical seasons progress. This one can be disturbing but at the same time quite absorbing.