“And Summer Was Gone”: Off-Season Baseball Reading

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. Today, October 2, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped, and summer was gone. – A. Bartlett Giamatti, “The Green Fields of the Mind”

As the regular baseball season comes to a close and the post-season takes shape, I’m thinking about my favorite baseball books. Reading about baseball is my favorite way to fill the void over during a long winter. Four baseball books are on my to-read list for this winter:

Nobody’s Perfect: Two Men, One Call, and a Game for Baseball History by Armando Galarraga, Jim Joyce, and Daniel Paisner. This looks like an oral history of the 2010 game when an excellent umpire ruined a perfect game thrown by an otherwise unexceptional pitcher by blowing a fairly routine call at first base. The aftermath showed two gentlemen behaving with a level of class rarely seen in sports headlines.

Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season by Jonathan Eig. This has been on my to-read list for too long. Eig’s Luckiest Man is an excellent read (see below), and everyone I know who has read this book has said good things.

Blockade Billy by Stephen King. I’ve given up on trying to read all of Stephen King’s books, but I usually end up reading about one a year. This will be either my second one of 2011, or the first of 2012. I have no idea what it’s about.

Cardboard Gods by Josh Wilker. I heard this one recommended on ESPN’s Baseball Today podcast, and it sounds like an interesting, nostalgic look at baseball card collecting.

For what it’s worth, here are my favorite baseball books. As soon as I post this, I’ll probably think of a few others, but here is my right-now list, presented in no particular order.

Where’s Harry? by Steve Stone with Barry Rozner: I miss Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray, and this hilarious read by his long-time on-air partner brings him back in all his lovable goofiness.

The Iowa Baseball Confederacy by W. P. Kinsella: Shoeless Joe received all the attention, but I like this Kinsella novel better. Kinsella’s magical realism takes us to Iowa and a game that goes forever, almost.

Luckiest Man by Jonathan Eig. This insightful, beautifully-written biography of Lou Gehrig gets the heroism right.

The Man with Two Arms by Billy Lombardo. What if a youngster could be raised from birth to be a dominant, ambidextrous pitcher? And what if he pitched for the Cubs?

Center Field Grasses: Poems from Baseball by Gene Fehler. Page after page of perfect baseball poems. If you only read one book from this list, it should probably be this one. This book was published without a dust jacket, so there is no cover art to display here. Seems like it deserves better.

The Cubs of ’69 by Rick Talley. The 1969 Cubs looked like they were on the way to World Series, until they collapsed and were overtaken by the New York Mets. Talley tells the story of the team, and brings us up to date on what happened to the players. I’ve hauled my copy of this book around to various events, and it’s been signed by Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins, Glen Beckert, Randy Hundley, Ron Santo, and Don Kessinger.

Catcher in the Wry by Dan Zamudio. Whimsical poems, many of them based on Wrigley Field. (Bob Uecker also wrote a book with this title. Haven’t read it but Uecker is a funny guy.)

Baseball: A Literary Anthology edited by Nicholas Dawidoff. Actually, I haven’t finished this one, but it’s easy to say that it’s the gold standard of baseball writing collections.

Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin. One of America’s most eloquent historians remembers her childhood as a Brookly Dodgers fan.

October 1964 by David Halberstam. Mickey Mantle. Roger Maris. Bob Gibson. Lou Brock. Curt Flood. The cast of this book is irresistible.

Feel free to say something about or recommend your favorite baseball books!

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4 Responses to “And Summer Was Gone”: Off-Season Baseball Reading

  1. Mindi Rench says:

    Gary, I am not a baseball fan, but I seem to love books and movies about baseball. You have a couple of books I love on your list, and I even have one to suggest! I agree with you about Iowa Baseball Confederacy. I came to Kinsella after seeing Field of Dreams, and fell in love with the way he writes. I also enjoyed Godwin’s Wait Till Next Year. You don’t often find a baseball book written by a woman (and that woman so obviously a fan). Have you read Playing With The Enemy yet? It’s an interesting story about baseball in World War II.

  2. Jen H. says:

    I’m still aching from the Braves’ loss last night, so all this baseball talk is bittersweet! I’m loving The Art of Fielding right now (not a baseball book, but the sport figures into the story in a big way). And Moneyball is one of my favorite non-fiction books of late. I look forward to investigating the titles you recommended.

  3. D. Jameson says:

    I gave Chris Holmes a copy of Baseball Gods a while back and need to borrow it. The Man with Two Arms was great…I also really enjoyed Are We Winning? by Will Leitch. Here’s the write up from Amazon.com:

    A hilarious tribute to baseball and to the fathers and sons who share the love of the game.

    Are We Winning? is built around a trip to Wrigley Field to watch the St. Louis Cardinals play the Chicago Cubs–the “lovable losers” to most fans but the hated enemy to the Leitch men. Along for the ride are both Will’s father, the gregarious but not–exactly demonstrative Midwestern titan who, despite being a die–hard Cards fan and living his whole life just 200 miles south of Chicago, had never been to Wrigley Field before this game, and Will’s college friend, a lifelong Cubs fan. The Cardinals have recently fallen out of the pennant race, and the Cubs, as it turns out, are attempting to clinch the division on this Saturday afternoon in September. The pitchers are Ted Lilly for the Cubs and Joel Pineiro for the Cardinals. It’s just a regular game. Play ball.

    The book unfolds in half-inning increments where Will gives one-of-a-kind insight on the past, present, and future of the game–from Pujols’ unrivaled greatness to the myth that steroids have ruined baseball. Along the way, he shares memories of his father and growing up in the small town of Mattoon, including the year his dad coached his Little League team and nicknamed a scrawny kid “Bulldog,” and an unlikely postgame episode involving a biker bar and Mr. Holland’s Opus. And there is beer. Lots and lots of beer.

    Are We Winning? is a book about the indelible bond that links fathers and sons. For the Leitch men it’s baseball that holds them together–not that either of them would ever be so weak as to admit it. No matter how far apart they are or what’s going on in their lives, they’ll always be able to talk about baseball. It’s the story of being a fan, a story about fathers, sons, and legacies. And one perfect game.

  4. Pingback: Some Baseball Books for the Off-Season | What's Not Wrong?

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