The Year in Baseball Books

Ron KaplanContributor IDecember 31, 2010

(and other media, of course.)

With the close of 2010, I thought I take a few moments to review the highlights of the past 12 months as pertains to our favorite topic.

It’s been a banner year for baseball biographies. We’ve enjoyed munch-anticipated titles from major publishers on Hall of Famers such as Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays; there was also a book about Reggie Jackson, but we won’t go there. Roger Maris was probably the highest-profile non-Hall of Famer to be profiled.

Former Major Leaguer Doug Glanville published a thoughtful memoir, The Game from Where I Stand, while minor league veteran Dirk Hayhurst bided his time on the DL conducting interviews as author of The Bullpen Gospels.

Nostalgia is still a popular topic, but it’s becoming more contemporary as baby boomer fans seek to recapture their youth. Dan Epstein brought us back in time with Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ’70s. Two books on baseball cards — one more personal, one more sociological — reminded us how special those little pieces of paper seemed to us at the time, as well as many years later: Josh Wilker published Cardboard Gods: An All-American Take Told Through Baseball Cards, while David Jamieson gave us Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession.

Several baseball novels — of mixed quality — found their way to the bookshelves, in 2010, including Stephen King’s over-hyped novella Blockade Billy, as well as Billy Lombardo’s The Man With Two Arms, Jeff Gillenkirk’s Home Away,

On the video side, The Baseball Hall of Fame hosted its fifth annual film festival. Ken Burns returned to finish up (for now at least) his 1995 Baseball with The Tenth Inning. And a Burnsiasn take on an underrepresented segment of the athletic community with Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story, directed by Peter Miller, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ira Berkow, and narrated by Dustin Hoffman. While the format is pretty much the same as dozens of others, this one stands out thanks to the participation of Sandy Koufax in his lengthiest interview since his playing days. Other baseball films/TV shows included the film festival favorite Touching Home, written, produced, directed, and featuring Josh and Logan Miller and starring Ed Harris. The HBO series Eastbound and Down, starring Danny McBride as a John Rocker-type pitcher trying to make a comeback. A hoot for some viewers, a bore for others. HBO’s new series Boardwalk Empire includes Black Sox gambler Arnold Rothstein as a major character.

The Baseball Bookshelf also launched its podcast, feature interviews with authors such as Jim Bouton, Will Leitch, Glanville, and many others. Technical difficulties curtail production in recent months, but future programs include chats with Jane Leavy (The Last Boy), and Joseph Wallace (Diamond Ruby), and other guests.

On a sad note, we lost some talented writers during the year, first and foremost, on a personal level, Maury Allen, who I got to know a little bit over the past few years. He had just published Dixie Walker: The People’s Choice, written with Walker’s daughter Susan. Walker was a favorite of Allen’s as a young boy growing up in Brooklyn. It was the last of the veteran author’s oeuvre of nearly 40 books.

Viz Ziegel, long-time sports writer and columnist for the New York Daily News, also passed away in 2010, as did Ron Fimrite of Sports Illustrated and Art Rust Jr. Late ballplayers who ostensibly wrote their own memoirs included Bob Feller, Bobby Bragan, Sparky Anderson, and Ron Santo.

Finally, here are my favorite books for 2010. Note: These are my favorites, not necessarily the “best” books of the year. Only new titles were considered, no re-issues and no statistical annuals, although The Hardball Times, Baseball Prospectus, and Bill James stable were all quite good.

  1. Top of the Order: 25 Writers Pick Their Favorite Baseball Player, edited by Sean Manning.
  2. Are We Winning? Fathers and Sons in the New Golden Age of Baseball, by Will Leitch
  3. The Last Boy
  4. Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend, by James S. Hirsch
  5. Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, by Bill Madden
  6. The Immortals: An Art Collection of Baseball’s Best, by Dick Perez
  7. Mint Condition
  8. The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America’s Pastime, by Jason Turbow with Michael Duca
  9. Lady in the Locker Room, by Flo Thomasian Snyder
  10. Red Sox Fans Are from Mars, Yankees Fans Are from Uranus: Why Red Sox Fans are Smarter, Funnier and Better Looking (In Language Even Yankee Fans Can Understand), by Andy Wasif

Honorable Mention: Hot Stove Economics: Understanding Baseball’s Second Season, by J.C. Bradbury; The Game from Where I Stand: A Ballplayer’s View, by Glanville.

I guess the only complaint is that there were no new major reference release along the lines of Total Baseball or The Bill James Historical Abstract and having corresponded with John Thorn of the former and Bill James of the latter, it seems like such a proposition would be too costly both in terms of time and cover price to make such a project worthwhile.

1 comment(s) for this post:

  1. Roger:
    2011-Jan-01 To me, one of the best baseball books of 2010 was "The Heater" by John Conlee (Pale Horse Books). It ingeniously combines an exciting pennant race with some Irish mythology.

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