Posts Tagged ‘baseball books’

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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