Posts Tagged ‘baseball biographies’

Out of the hundreds of baseball books I have read, and the scores that I own, five stand out among all the rest.

Here they are:


I never saw Ted Williams play.  His last season for the Red Sox just happened to be the year I started becoming interested in baseball.

But there are few players more fascinating than Teddy Ballgame.

Growing up in San Diego, his mother was devoted to The Salvation Army, and Ted and his brother practically raised themselves.  He strove to become the greatest hitter who ever lived, and in my book, he succeeded: .344 lifetime average … 521 home runs … a .406 average in 1941 … and he hit .388 at the age of 38!

But what makes The Kid most interesting is that he could never hold back how he felt … or what he said.  He’s the Original Uncensored Superstar.

On several occasions, I asked Ted Williams for his autograph, and he signed, but he was a bit gruff about it.

But I will never forget the day my brother John and Ted had a long chat.

It was 1969 or 1970 … I can’t remember the exact date.  Ted was managing the Texas Rangers, and he came out of the hotel in Anaheim and sat on the shoeshine chair outside all by himself.  He started reading the newspaper.

Although I’ve asked many superstars for their signatures, a few have been very intimidating: Mickey Mantle … Johnny Bench … and Ted Williams, among others.

I didn’t want to bother Ted while he was reading the paper, but John decided to approach him anyway.  I thought Ted would sign something for John and that would be it, but Ted put down his paper, looked through John’s baseball cards, and they had a lengthy conversation.

I couldn’t believe it, but it’s true: Ted Williams loved kids.

Sportswriters?  Not so much … and he spends a lot of time in his book slamming certain ones … with some justification.

I’ve read this book four times and have never grown tired of it.  It’s terrific … although a little on the profane side.


Tyrus Raymond Cobb was crazy … and maybe the greatest baseball player who ever lived.

He hit .367 lifetime (a record that will never be topped) … stole 892 bases … held the record for hits in a career with 4,191 (until Pete Rose broke it) … and had a will to win that made him both a great player and a lousy person.

I picked up Cobb’s autobiography as a kid and it greatly influenced the way I played baseball in two areas:

First, Cobb’s book made me more aggressive on the basepaths.  He said that it takes a perfect throw to nail a runner, and when you’re young, you’re going to beat a throw most of the time.

Second, Cobb’s book made me use my brain just as much as my skills.  He had a reason for everything he did on the field and knew how to anticipate plays.

As some reviewers on Amazon point out, Cobb’s autobiography isn’t always accurate, but it’s a lot of fun.  Several decades later, Al Stump – Cobb’s collaborator – wrote his own book on Cobb, and tried to tell the real story – and it wasn’t always pretty.

Although I never met Cobb, a friend used to sell newspapers to him in Menlo Park, California, and said he was a grouchy old man.  But I have driven past his old house in Atherton (I have a photo of it somewhere) and have visited his hometown of Royston, Georgia, including his museum and grave.


Lawrence Ritter loved baseball, and wanted to track down some old-time ballplayers and get their recollections on tape.  But first, he had to track down the players … often without much to go on … and published the first oral history of baseball in 1966 … the glorious The Glory of Their Times.

Even though every ballplayer in the book has been dead for decades, they still speak through Ritter’s book, including Rube Marquard, Stanley Coveleski, Edd Roush, and Harry Hooper: all members of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

There are recollections from 22 players, and I was privileged to write to 13 of them and obtain their autographs, including two of my all-time favorites: Wahoo Sam Crawford and Smoky Joe Wood.

In fact, when I started writing players at the age of 13, Crawford was one of the first players to answer me.  He sent me a Hall of Fame plaque postcard which he signed at the top … and on the back, wrote, “To Jim, With All Good Wishes, Wahoo Sam.”  How can you not love someone like that?

Several months later, Crawford died, and it really hit me hard.  He was the all-time leader in triples with 312 and played in the outfield alongside Ty Cobb for years.

Two interesting facts about this book:

First, Ritter’s conversations with these players has been made into a CD which you can buy from Amazon.

Second, you can buy the Kindle version of this book for only $1.99 on Amazon … a purchase I encourage you to make ASAP!


When I was in second grade, I got pneumonia, and I was out of school for about a month.  My mother suggested that I write to the Dodgers and ask for a team roster, and they sent me their Press Guide instead.  I can still remember eating lunch while immersed in the statistics in that Press Guide … stats compiled by Allan Roth, the godfather of baseball numbers.

Fast forward ahead 8 years.  In 1969, the Macmillan Company published The Baseball Encyclopedia, a book that included the name of every player who ever lived up to that date … yes, including Moonlight Graham from Field of Dreams.  But whereas such encyclopedias only had basic information up to 1969, the Encyclopedia was thorough.

My mother gave it to me for Christmas.

I went through the entire book, writing down the names of ballplayers who were still alive that I wanted to write to.  Through a friend, I spoke to Charlie Deal on the phone, who played for the 1914 Boston “Miracle” Braves.  I still have scores of notes from old-time players who handwrote their greatest thrill in baseball for me.

The Encyclopedia has gone out of print now, and has been superseded by other encyclopedias … but I never got tired of looking through it.

Even the print was gorgeous.


This is the best baseball book that I own, and I have three copies: the original from 1985 … the updated version from 2001 … and a Kindle version.

And I read the Historical Abstract as frequently as I read my Bible.

This book is just so much fun!  Yes, James spends a lot of time writing about Win Shares … his statistical theory that determines a player’s true value … and that may or may not thrill you.

But his rankings of the Top 100 Players at each position is a never-ending source of delight.

He tells unique stories about some players … delves into archaic facts about others … and talks about the personalities of still others.

But the book is fun because James is opinionated … and usually accurate.

If you want to know about old-time players and how they compare with more recent superstars, this is the book for you.

And like the Bible, it never gets old.





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Since baseball spring training is underway in both Arizona and Florida, I thought I’d change pace and write about my favorite books on baseball.

I have loved baseball for more than half a century.

It all started in 1960 when my father – a pastor – bought packs of baseball cards for me and my brother.  Some kid at church didn’t want his 1958 and 1959 Topps cards, and so Dad brought those home to us, too.

For years, I have wondered, “Why did those colored pictures of posed athletes mean so much to me?”  Maybe it’s that link to my father … or the fact that my friends began to collect cards, too … or because I was able to match the names of players that I heard about with their faces.

Growing up in Anaheim, California, my father took my brother and me to the Coliseum to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 5-2 in May, 1960.

Two things stand out for me from that game:

The grass on the field was so green that I instantly fell in love with being at the ballpark … and you could hear announcer Vin Scully’s voice reverberate throughout the stadium on people’s transistor radios.  (And 55 years later, the great Vin Scully is STILL the Voice of the Dodgers.)

We Dodger fans only got to watch 9 games on television every year: the games the Dodgers played at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.

That’s why the All-Star Game and World Series were so special to me as a kid … because they were on television.

We had a black-and-white TV even when everyone else on our block had a color set, but to me, it didn’t matter: it was baseball.

I remember running home from school in second grade to watch the end of Game 7 of the World Series and watching Bill Mazeroski hit a walkoff homer to win the Series for the Pirates.

Because you could only hear Dodger games on the radio, the only way I could gain more information about famous players was to read about them in books.  So I devoured every book I could find in the school library about baseball … and eventually read every book I could find on baseball in the public library as well.

I’ve read hundreds of books on baseball: biographies, oral histories, team histories, record books, forecast books … you name it.

And out of all the baseball books I’ve read, these ten are my favorites:

Number Ten


Although I grew up a Dodgers fan, I greatly admired the San Francisco Giants.  In fact, when my brother John and I used to play baseball in our back yard (with a tennis ball), he would be the Dodgers, and I would be the Giants.

On September 4, 1962 – Labor Day – the Giants and Dodgers played a crucial game at Dodger Stadium.  Both teams were locked in a tight pennant race … back when there were only ten teams in each league.

The attendance that day was 54,418, including my dad, John, and me.  Even though the Dodgers lost, it was a day I’ll always cherish.

David Plaut’s book Chasing October gives all kinds of insights into that pennant race that an 8-year-old kid would never have known.  When I finally found the book at a reasonable price … and now you can buy it for just $7.99 for the Kindle … I read it quickly … on one memorable occasion, with Vin Scully announcing in the background.

Number Nine


Before I read this book – which came out in 1963 – I knew nothing about the fact that eight players from the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds in 1919.  As a child, I was absolutely shocked that players would actually cheat on the field.  (This was long before steroids!)

Several years after I first read this book, I began writing old-time ballplayers in the mail, asking for their autographs, and although I wrote people Chick Gandil and Eddie Cicotte, they never responded to my requests.

But the catcher for the Black Sox, Ray Schalk … who wasn’t involved in the scandal … did answer me, as well as Edd Roush, center fielder for the Reds.

This book was made into a movie … a very good movie, I thought, even though Charlie Sheen is in it … but I highly recommend this book, which has been deemed a classic since its publication.

Number Eight


It is hard to put into words how much Sandy Koufax meant to me as a kid.

He threw four no-hitters … and I listened to each one on the radio, including his perfect game against the Cubs.

He set the all-time record for strikeouts in 1965 … 382 … and I saw that last strikeout at Dodger Stadium when he beat the Braves to clinch the National League pennant in 1965.

He beat the Yankees twice in the 1963 World Series … and the Twins twice in the 1965 World Series … to bring both championships home to Los Angeles.

He seemed to be a modest, self-effacing man who was conscious of the fact that he was expected to be a role model for kids … and did it well.

In 1967, the All-Star Game was in Anaheim, and Koufax had signed to announce the game for NBC.  While hanging around the Grand Hotel the day before the game, I saw Koufax … asked him to sign my autograph book … went home for dinner … found my mint condition 1955 Koufax rookie card … went back to the hotel, and asked Koufax to sign that one as well.

I’ve been told that his signature on the card devalues its worth, but I don’t care … it still means a great deal to me.

Leavy’s book details how much Koufax meant to the Jewish community … how much he suffered as a pitcher … and why he retired at the age of 30 after winning the Cy Young Award for the third time.

Number Seven


This is one of those books you’d like to have with you on a desert island … and it’s cheaper than cheap on Amazon.

The book gives brief biographies of every player of note … and many obscure players … through 2000.

There’s a small photo of each subject (color shots for more recent players) … a record of when and where they were born and died … one line of career totals … and hundreds of fascinating stories about the players.

It’s the kind of book to peruse while you’re watching a game.  If an announcer throws out the name of a former player, just turn to his entry, and you’ll learn not only what the player did on the field, but in many cases, what he did off the field.

The only problem with the book is that it’s heavy.

Number Six


Bob Broeg was a sportswriters for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and a frequent contributor to The Sporting News, which is how I first became acquainted with him.

This book … a classic published by The Sporting News … was published in 1971, so it leaves out great players like Nolan Ryan, Cal Ripken, Jr., and Derek Jeter.

But the book includes 40 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, such as Grover Cleveland Alexander, Dizzy Dean, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, Walter Johnson, Mickey Mantle, and Cy Young.

Filled with rare photos, Broeg is a terrific writer, and brings each of these superstars to life with biographies that are both brief and yet complete.

The book is relatively inexpensive and seems dated, but when I finally bought it, I devoured it … right after I got married.

I’ll share my five favorite baseball books next time, but until then:

What is your favorite baseball/sports book … and why?








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