Hurray for Opening Day: Top Ten Baseball Books

With this list I tried to stay away from biographies and the better known baseball books in general. I tried to choose books to give someone a broad sense of the game or snapshots of its rich history.

1. The Last Best League [2004] Jim Collins – The Cape Cod Baseball League, which began in the 19th century as local entertainment for summer residents, has evolved into the jewel of American amateur baseball. Sanctioned by the NCAA, the league invites the best college players to come to the ten small towns across Cape Cod’s seaside communities to work on their game during what amounts to their off-season — late June through mid-August — without sacrificing their amateur status and producing one out of every six major league players.

2. Ball Four [1970] Jim Bouton – When Ball Four was first published, commissioners, executives, players and sportswriters were thrown into a state of shock. The controversy was front-page news. Sportswriters called Bouton Benedict Arnold and a “social leper.” Commissioner Bowie Kuhn tried to force the author to sign a statement saying that the book wasn’t true. Bouton is still not invited to Old-timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium. Fans, however, loved Ball Four and critics called it an important document. It was also very popular among people who didn’t ordinarily follow baseball, because Ball Four is not strictly a book about baseball, but one about people who happen to be baseball players.

3. The Echoing Green: The Untold Story of Bobby Thomson, Ralph  Branca and the Shot Heard Round the World [2006] Joshua Prager – October 3, 1951, 3:58 p.m., Polo Grounds, New York City: ‘Branca throws. There’s a long drive. It’s gonna be, I believe — the Giants win the pennant!’ That’s the way New York Giants’ announcer Russ Hodges described what is arguably the greatest moment in American sports, the shot ‘heard round the world,’ as the Giants defeated the Dodgers to win the National League pennant. Set against this back drop, Prager places that revelation at the heart of a larger story, re-creating in extravagant detail the 1951 pennant race and illuminating as never before the impact of both that moment and a long-guarded secret in the lives of Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca.

4.  Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy [1983] – Jules Tygiel An extensively researched work of social history, this book puts the integration of major league baseball in context, using the broader lens of American culture to portray Robinson as a civil rights pioneer. Yes, the school system teaches us Rosa Parks not getting up from the back of the bus started the movement but Robinson integrating baseball in 1947 is clearly a defining moment as well.

5.  The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract [1986] Bill James For people like me, baseball nerds, this is our bible. James is the father of “sabermetrics,” which is the invention of new and better statistics that track the game, which every current baseball GM essentially follows today. Divided into two parts – “The Game” and “The Players” – the historical abstract is a revisionist look at the history of professional baseball, and it turned what was considered gospel in the game on its collective ear.

6. Moneyball: The Art Of Winning An Unfair Game [2002] Michael Lewis Yes, it was a book long before the movie came out. But even the movie being nominated for Best Picture goes to show you we baseball nerds are this close to taking over. And as Bill James’ statistical analysis changed the game in the late 20th century, Lewis’ book took it into the 21st, but in more of a storytelling way. This fantastic look inside the mind of Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane provided an insight into a new breed of general manager, a small-market genius that turned player scouting into a statistical art form. If you knew Kevin Youkilis as “the Greek God of Walks” before he ever wore a Red Sox uniform, then you’ve read “Moneyball.” It’s a must-read for any student of the game.

7. Only the Ball Was White: A History of Legendary Black Players and All-Black Professional Teams [1970] Robert W. Peterson A monumental and poignant book, this book reminds us that what was often considered the “Golden Age” of baseball was also the era of Jim Crow. It is a book that must be read by anyone hoping not only to understand the story of baseball, but the story of America. It’s an amazing snapshot of history, drama, injustice and baseball. The firsthand stories really make it stand out.

8. Rickwood Field: A Century in America’s Oldest Ballpark [2010] Allen Barra  The ballpark is not only a history of the oldest ballpark in America, but it is a history of Birmingham, Alabama, and of baseball in the South. Throughout the story is the tragic history of segregation within baseball, the stories of the Birmingham Barons, the team that played at Rickwood Field, and their mirror image, the Black Barons of the Negro League. So many baseball legends passed through Rickwood Field from Negro League players to barnstorming major leaguers. Today the ballpark is actively being restored and preserved for all who wish to see it and partake of the history.

9. A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood’s Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports [2006] Brad Snyder After the 1969 season, the St. Louis Cardinals traded their star center fielder, Curt Flood, to the Philadelphia Phillies, setting off a chain of events that would change professional sports forever. At the time there were no free agents. Back then, when a player was traded, he had to report to his new team or retire. Flood did not want to leave St. Louis, and influenced by the civil rights movement, he chose to sue Major League Baseball for his freedom. His case reached the Supreme Court, where Flood ultimately lost. But by challenging the system, he created an atmosphere in which, just three years later, free agency became a reality. Flood’s decision cost him his career. 

10. The Joy of Keeping Score: How Scoring the Game Has Influenced and Enhanced the History of Baseball [1996] Paul Dickson One of the most unusual traditions in all of sports–the baseball scorecard. Scorekeeping was introduced in 1845. This book provides explanations of various scorekeeping techniques and provides basic and advanced scoring techniques for beginners and experts alike, a year-by-year timeline of rule changes.

So which baseball book is your favorite? Which did we miss? Also be sure to check out my other list over at, which includes more titles. — Dave

Dave England is Assistant Distribution Manager at Half Price Books Warehouse.
He also is a sports blogger at

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