Friday April 8th, 2011

The Best Baseball Books

waddell2I was hoping to have a baseball-related Backlist piece up today, but it will have to wait for Monday. In the meantime, I came across David L. Ulin’s list of his nine best baseball books. It’s a good list, and one that Ulin admits couldn’t possibly be comprehensive. It includes The Natural, Roger Angell, Jimmy Breslin, and Ring Lardner, among others. It also includes a book I hadn’t heard of, The Celebrant by Eric Rolfe Greenberg:

Greenberg’s only novel is a historical pastiche about a young Jewish immigrant in turn-of-the-20th-century New York and his devotion to Giants pitcher Christy Mathewson, a dedication that borders on the religious, framing fanhood as an act of faith.

Mathewson plays a role in a highly entertaining book I read a couple of years ago, Crazy ‘08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads, and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History by Cait Murphy, which didn’t make Ulin’s list. It includes this memorable paragraph (which I’ve shared before on the blog) about pitcher Rube Waddell (pictured above):

In 1903, Waddell had a good season; once he finally bothered to show up in June, he won twenty-one games and led the league in strikeouts (with 302). It was a busy year in other ways, too: he also starred on vaudeville; led a marching band through Jacksonville; got engaged, married, and separated; rescued a log from drowning (he thought it was a woman); accidentally shot a friend; and was bitten by a lion. . . . Among his more respectable hobbies were chasing fires (he adored fire engines) and wrestling alligators; he once taught geese to skip rope. Hughie Jennings, manager of the Tigers, used to try to distract him from the sidelines by waving children’s toys.

The only book Ulin doesn’t include that I can’t imagine leaving off a list of the best baseball books is The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract.