Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Reading for Baseball Fans

Now that the major league baseball season has begun, it is time to recommend some good baseball books. I want to focus on older titles that curious fans should borrow from their public libraries.

Three of the books I want to highlight deal with lowering the color barrier in baseball. The most entertaining and least resentful of the books is I Was Right on Time by Buck O’Neil. O’Neil was a star for the Kansas City Monarchs of the old Negro Leagues, and he was past his prime and already a manager when agents for the white teams began signing black stars. He was able to make a good career of coaching and scouting for the major leagues and became quite well known as a featured figure in Ken Burns’ Baseball, a documentary broadcast on PBS. When he reflects, he reveals what was bad about the color line, but his emphasis is on the high quality of play in the Negro Leagues. His book covers over sixty years of baseball history.

If I Had a Hammer by Hank Aaron and Joe Morgan: A Life in Baseball by Joe Morgan are more sober books than O’Neil’s memoir. Both discuss the segregation of the players that survived well into the 1960s. Aaron was especially threatened by racists as he broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. Morgan describes how he was treated as a young player by an especially racist manager. Both tell inspiring stories of how they withstood the pressures of the game to become stars. I remember both books very well years after reading them.

NBC’s Bob Costas wrote Fair Ball: A Fan’s Case for Baseball to discuss the major problems of major league baseball in the year 2000. It is still a very relevant book, as most of the problems – small market/large market financial imbalances, steroids, alcohol abuse, brawls, inconsistent rules – still exist. He cares enough to offer suggestions for the owners and the players’ union to consider.

I really enjoyed Glove Affair: the Romance, History, and Tradition of the Baseball Glove by Noah Liberman. This is a wonderful book full of history and great photos of old baseball gloves.

Not every fan in the stands or in front of the TV sits passively, according to Paul Dickson in his book The Joy of Keeping Score: How Scoring the Game Has Influenced and Enhanced the History of Baseball. Good score keeping helps fans understand the game and preserve their memories.

Baseball is not only about players. Baseball Lives: Men and Women of the Game Talk About Their Jobs, Their Lives, and the National Pasttime by Mike Bryan celebrates the grounds keepers, vendors, ticket takers, ushers, agents, scouts, trainers, secretaries, public announcers, and everyone else who make a living around major league baseball. After reading this book, you notice these people when you visit the old ballpark. You do not have to enjoy baseball to enjoy this book.

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