But since I had an idea for something not strictly Indians-related, I thought I'd share my top 5 baseball books with you. I work with books every day of the week and have a real passion for sports books in particular so I've developed quite a collection of baseball literature over the past few years. Now keep in my mind these are only my top 5 that I've read so far. I'm constantly adding to my mini-library and this list will probably change in no time at all.
Anyway, here we go, these are currently my top 5, starting with some honorable mentions:
Living On The Black by John Feinstein
Ever since I got into baseball years ago, I've always had a fondness for pitchers. When I'm watching a game, I prefer to see a tightly contested pitcher's duel between two aces than a slug-fest, double-digit run marathon that feels like it'll never end.
So when I read John Feinstein's excellent Living On The Black, it was tailor-made to be my perfect book. Feinstein covered Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina over the course of the entire 2007 season. Both pitchers performed under the intense media spotlight in New York and despite both men having pretty average seasons, Feinstein's rolling diary of their year makes for a fascinating read. You really get a behind-the-scenes feel of what a major league pitcher goes through. You get the feel that pitching is more of an art than a craft.
Just before starting the book, I'd read some reviews stating it could be slightly repetitive at times but I never found this to be so. I really enjoyed the immense detail Feinstein went into for practically every start Mussina and Glavine made. I had no complaints with the thorough approach Feinstein took to document as much as possible.
Other honorable mentions: Moneyball by Michael Lewis of course. I've left it off my main list because it's such a classic and most baseball fans already know it so well. It's easily one of my favorites but doesn't need anymore explaining here.
Dirk Hayhurst's The Bullpen Gospels and Out Of My League were both brilliant reads, mixing in Hayhurst's life off the field as much as his time on the mound. He brings a lot of humor to both books and it really works. I'm looking forward to reading his new book, Bigger Than The Game.
Baseball's Great Experiment by Jules Tygiel was essentially my bible when I tackled my dissertation at university about the legendary Jackie Robinson. Without Tygiel's amazing book I would have been lost for a long time and it really helped me get a grasp on Robinson's legacy and the huge part he had to play in baseball history.
So without further ado, here's my top 5:
My Top 5 Baseball Books (in no particular order)
56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number In Sports by Kostya Kennedy
Joe DiMaggio, for me, is one of the few players in baseball history who earns respect and adoration from fans not just of the Yankees but fans of baseball first and foremost. Despite my loathing for the Bronx Bombers, I can't deny their incredible past and all the greats that played in pinstripes. Out of all of them, Joe DiMaggio is easily my favorite.
I had been pondering for some time which DiMaggio book to read because there are quite a few great ones: Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life by the great Richard Ben Cramer is probably the top choice but I was put off slightly by a lot of the reviews claiming Cramer was rather negative (it's still on my list to read though, and it's hard to get hold of a copy right now). Joe DiMaggio: The Long Vigil by Jerome Charyn is another one, a book that I actually have on my shelf and still haven't read yet, but I believe it's focus is heavy on Joe's time away from the game with Marilyn Monroe; I wanted to read primarily about his peak years on the field instead.
So it was Kostya Kennedy's biography about Joe's infamous record of hitting in 56 consecutive games that became my choice and it quickly turned into one of my favorite reads. The book details before the streak began, every single day Joe recorded a hit, as well as the after-effects when the streak met it's unfortunate demise. Kennedy has a talent for not getting bogged down in the numbers and weaves an engrossing story. It's quite a large book but Kennedy does well to keep it interesting throughout. DiMaggio's record is regarded by many to be one of the few that will never be broken and I hope that is the case.
Fantasyland by Sam Walker
When I first got interested in baseball, I decided to combine my love of reading with this wonderful new sport I'd discovered. I did a bit of reading around and ordered a few books regarded as "must-reads" like Moneyball, The Boys of Summer, Eight Men Out etc. I also picked up Sam Walker's Fantasyland and it soon became the pick of the bunch.
Walker, a journalist for the Wall Street Journal, decided to find out what the fuss was all about with fantasy baseball and joined one of the top rotisserie leagues in the country, Tout Wars, figuring his insider-knowledge would give him an edge on the competition. Without spoiling the story, it doesn't quite work out the way Walker expects and his journey to win Tout Wars makes for a compelling and humorous read.
In my opinion it's the most entertaining baseball book I've ever read. Walker is a funny writer and tells a great story. I really loved the parts towards the beginning when he's at Spring Training "scouting" the players from a fantasy perspective, trying his best to put his insider access to use.
I suppose it helps if you have at least a basic understanding of how fantasy sports work but Walker does a great job explaining everything, which I found very helpful when I was still learning the basics of the sport. The events detailed in the book happened nearly 10 years ago but I feel you could still read this book in another 10+ years, such is the outstanding quality of the work. I really wish Sam Walker would write another book, and that's the highest praise I can give.
Faithful by Stewart O'Nan and Stephen King
Faithful is a season-long diary by two Red Sox fans Stewart O'Nan and legendary horror writer Stephen King. It documents every day of the historic 2004 season when Boston beat all the odds to win their first World Series since 1918.
It's a very captivating book. O'Nan and King take it in turns chronicling each day of the season and the best parts are when the two combine via email, offering their opinions on the state of the Sox. The entire feel of the book is very reminiscent of Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch (one of my all-time favorites), thanks to both writers instilling that same feeling of drama and making it feel as if you're there alongside them.
Personal highlights for me are O'Nan's trips to Fenway Park with members of his family. He does a brilliant job describing every aspect of the park, from walking through the gates, finding his seat, catching balls during batting practice and staying alert for foul balls during play. It's a great book about the game from a fan's viewpoint and it's one of the few baseball books I own that I can dip in and out of whenever I feel like it.
You don't have to be a Red Sox fan to enjoy Faithful. I love my Indians, but I actually don't mind Boston and don't possess hatred for them like some fellow Tribe fans do. The quality of O'Nan and King's writing makes this an easy-read and puts any contempt you might have for the Sox to one side.
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
The only fictional baseball book on this list and it probably just edges out Bernard Malamud's The Natural as my favorite baseball novel. Chad Harbach took close to a decade to write this and it was worth the wait. The man is a master storyteller.
The highlights for me are obviously all the baseball moments. Young Henry Skrimshander is a gifted college shortstop, a wizard with the glove (I like to think Francisco Lindor is equally talented), until one fateful day when he makes a rare error that has catastrophic effects on everybody he knows and loves.
If I had things my way, I would have liked to see Harbach write even more about the games involving Henry and his Westish Harpooners teammates. He has such a gift for describing the game, it leaves you wanting more.
The book is pretty big and could probably have been trimmed a little. I could take or leave the love triangle involving Henry, his teammate and mentor Schwartz, and his girlfriend Pella. Let's include the bit-of-a-cliché gay romance between Henry's teammate Owen and the president of the university and Pella's father, Guert Affenlight as well.
Still, Harbach makes you feel for every character and you really do begin to care for them deeply as the story progresses. It's no wonder critics were calling this the next 'great American novel'.
Odd Man Out by Matt McCarthy
Matt McCarthy was drafted by the Angels in the 2002 MLB draft from Yale, so you can tell he wasn't your average minor-league pitcher when it came to intelligence. McCarthy was a so-so player but a gifted writer and Odd Man Out depicts his single season in the Angels' minor league system before he realized years of long distance bus rides to towns in the middle of nowhere wasn't worth it (he went on to become a doctor, so fair enough).
The best thing about McCarthy's book is the fact he's a misfit in professional baseball, always seeing everything from an outsider's perspective despite being right there in the locker-room. It's fascinating to see what life is like for a late-round draft pick when he's side-by-side with the first round divas and the highly touted foreign imports. McCarthy has a humorous element to his writing and it really works.
My favorite part of Odd Man Out is the buildup before he's drafted, when Matt and his Dad are all excited about travelling to pre-draft workouts and Matt is researching what the scouts and analysts have to say about his draft expectations. The journey McCarthy takes over the course of the season is gripping and I found myself racing through his book, a real page-turner.
I could have included a lot more of my favorites on this list and had a hard time whittling them down to just 5 (which is why I chose more in the honorable mentions part).
Thanks for reading.