Now that the baseball playoffs are about to start, and interest piques in this very strange MLB season, the DC Grays thought we would put out a list of our favorite baseball books.  As you will see below, these include anthologies, biographies, oral histories, novels and everything else in between.  All have been recommended by various members of the DC Grays Baseball board of directors.  Look over our list, pick out a few books and put them on the on-deck circle for the fall and winter.

(Summaries below by Michael Barbera)

Summer Baseball Nation by Will Geoghegan

Unanimous selection

A terrific book about summer college baseball, which highlights teams from all the top summer leagues – including the Cape Cod League, Northwoods League, California Collegiate League, Coastal Plains League and many others.  It also has a great chapter on the DC Grays and our DC Grays RBI program – so you better believe it’s high on our list!

The Encyclopedia of Negro League Baseball by Thom Loverro

Unanimous selection

What else can you say about our own Thom Loverro, the man who literally wrote the book on the Negro Leagues?  This is a master-work of dogged research and pithy writing about every player whoever played Negro League Baseball in the United States. 

We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson

Recommended by Greg Tosi

This is a coffee table sized book, with stunning artwork and terrific writing about the great players and teams from the Negro Leagues.  Nelson uses a generic Negro League player as an “Everyman” narrator, and in very conversational prose gives a great sense of the black experience in the US in the middle of the 20th century.  It is a classic.

Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero by David Maraniss

Recommended by Thurgood Marshall Jr.

Roberto Clemente was one of the all-time greats of the game, so it’s fitting that his life and career are chronicled by one of the great biographers of our time.

The Science of Hitting by Ted Williams

Recommended by Chris Spera

This is a dissection of the mechanics of the baseball swing by one of the greatest hitters in baseball history.  It is still a bible – used today by high school, college and professional hitting coaches.

Once More Around the Park by Roger Angell

Recommended by Michael Barbera

Roger Angell began writing baseball essays for The New Yorker magazine in 1962, and continued to do so for more than 50 years.  This anthology contains some of his very best work – including his typically excellent essays about great players and teams, and also some lesser known works.  Please read his essay on the great twelve-inning college pitching duel between Frank Viola of St. John’s and Ron Darling of Yale, as well as his piece about the time he travelled to Vermont to follow a semi-pro team from Burlington (which he says is more “semi” than “pro”).

The Glory of Their Times by Lawrence Ritter

Recommended by Mark Pelesh

Here’s Mark’s take on this oral history of baseball in the early 20th century: “It is marvelous. In addition to introducing me to another baseball era, it opened up American culture and society in the early 20th century.  Each chapter is devoted to a single player.  Most were not big stars.  Ritter did some editing, but they tell their stories and whatever observations they wish to make in their own words.  I have returned to it with pleasure many times, including as an adult.”

My Time at Bat by Chuck Hinton

Recommended by Paris Inman

This is the autobiography of a Washington baseball institution.  Chuck Hinton was a starting outfielder for the Senators from 1961-64 (he was an All-Star in ’64), played nine more season in the major leagues then returned to DC to coach at Howard University from 1972-2000.  He also founded the MLB Players Alumni Association in 1982.

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

Recommended by Barry Direnfeld

How many books actually changed baseball?  This one did.  This is a well-written account of the beginnings of baseball’s statistical and technological revolution, following the Oakland A’s and their innovative General Manager Billy Beane.  It was turned into a very good 2011 movie with Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.

The Year the Mets Lost Last Place by Dick Schapp and Paul Zimmerman

Recommended by Ken Robbett

One of the first great “tick-tock” sports books – an almost hour-by-hour chronicle of nine days with the 1969 Miracle Mets.  The book covers three series in July – when the Mets were chasing the Chicago Cubs, who were in first place at that time and for most of the season.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Recommended by Chris Spera

One of the few works of fiction on this list, this is a beautifully written coming of age story set on a Division III college baseball team.

Branch Rickey: Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman by Lee Lowenfish

Recommended by Thurgood Marshall Jr.

There are many terrific biographies of Rickey, one of the most innovative and successful baseball executives in history.  This one of the best of the best.  Lee Lowenfish is a terrific baseball writer, and he has a terrific subject.

Opening Day by Jonathan Eig

Recommended by Michael Barbera

This book follows Jackie Robinson from the time he is signed by the Dodgers, through his barrier-breaking rookie season in 1947.  An excellent piece of history and scholarship, by the acclaimed biographer of Lou Gehrig and others.

Ball Four by Jim Bouton

Recommended by Thom Loverro

Here is an excerpt from the column Thom wrote for the Washington Times after Jim Bouton’s death: “There was a generation of fans disillusioned by the institutions they grew up with, and they were ready to distance themselves from the things in their lives that had come to define America — including the national pastime.  Then Bouton wrote Ball Four.  Suddenly, fans had a New Testament of baseball — a book that made their heroes human, a story that tore open the body of the game and revealed its heart.”…The last sentence of “Ball Four” is one of the greatest closing lines in any book: “ You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”

Josh Gibson: The Power and the Darkness by Mark Ribowsky

Recommended by Paris Inman

Josh Gibson is one of the greatest players in the history of the Negro Leagues, and one of the two or three greatest ballplayers (black or white) in Washington baseball history.  Mark Ribowsky knows the Negro Leagues as well as anyone, having also written a well-regarded biography of Satchel Paige.

Shoeless Joe by WP Kinsella

Recommended by Bill Thomas

Many people do not realize that the movie “Field of Dreams” is based on this novel.  Full disclosure: the movie diverges from the book in many key respects, but the book has the same dream-like quality, and the same sense of baseball’s timelessness across generation, that fans of the 1989 movie have come to adore.

Long Gone by Paul Hemphill

Recommended by Michael Barbera

This is another terrific baseball novel, this one about a small-time minor league team in segregated Florida in the 1950’s.  It was turned into a good movie by HBO in 1987, starring William Peterson and Virginia Madsen.

From our friends in the Ripken League…

Bruce Adams, founder and President of the Bethesda Big Train, set off on a cross-country road trip with his entire family, visiting major and minor league ballparks from New England to California – and the result is Fodor’s Baseball Vacations.  The book has great insights and anecdotes – everything from ballpark food to mascots to fan contests.  Three editions of the book were published, the most recent in 2002.

Former Silver Spring Takoma T-Bolts General Manager David Stinson penned a baseball novel in 2011.  Deadball is set in 1999 and follows a retired minor league ballplayer who is upset by the impending demolition of Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium and seeks out the hidden history of other old parks around the country.  In his research, he uncovers secrets that only he is able to see.