Day 38 of 2022 baseball books: Top 10 reasons how a baseball book withholds a wallop decades later

“The Lineup: Ten Books That Changed Baseball”

The author:
Paul Aron

The publishing info:
237 pages
Released July 6, 2022

The links:
The publishers website
At TheLastBookStoreLA
At Skylight Books
At Diesel Books

The review in 90 feet or less

Without Pete Rose, does Donald Trump happen?

Before we allow for a deeper dive into what has become a deepening divide, let that weed germinate for awhile, and we’ll circle back to spray some Roundup on it soon enough.

In this noble pursuit of cultivating tiers of baseball books over the decades, our library has lovingly added two well-researched projects that continue to put some guide rails on this otherwise winding road of collecting for the purposes of maintaining reference, history and reading entertainment.

Andy McCue’s 1991 “Baseball by the Books: A History and Complete Bibliography of Baseball Fiction” (Wm. C Brown Publishers, 164 pages) started as a project planted by the Society for American Baseball Research (as many books ideas do) that had Anton Grobani’s 1975 “Guide to Baseball Literature” (Gale Research Company, 380 pages) as its launch angle, but also had Michael Oriard’s 1982 “Dreaming of Baseball Heroes: American Sports Fiction: 1868-1980” (Nelson-Hall Publishing, 382 pages, available in the LA84 library digital collection), and Jim O’Donnell and Ralph Graber’s “Baseball Fiction for Adults: 1973-1985.” (Graber also wrote a 1967 piece, “Baseball in American Fiction” for the English Journal.

Landing two decades later in 2013, Ron Kaplan’s “501 Baseball Books Fans Must Read Before They Die” (University of Nebraska Press, 420 pages) takes a giant leap further in hard-bound history, as offered in the introduction: “I make no claim that the five hundred (or so) titles you will find herein are necessarily the best baseball books; that’s too subjective. But I hope they will provide an entry into the fascinating world of baseball literature, with its connections to other areas one might not normally associate with the game: Fiction, history, science, the arts, music and many more.” Kaplan then divides them into categories that include all that above, plus pop culture, analysis, statistics, international, and young readers.  

When we talked to New Jersey-based Kaplan about this Ruthian project, as the launch to our 2013 book reviews, we wondered how titles such as W.P. Kinsella’s “Shoeless Joe,” Lawrence S. Ritter’s “The Glory of their Times” or even Roger Kahn’s “The Boys Of Summer” didn’t make his Top 501. Those omissions, Kaplan can now admit, were more as a result of him being too deep into the jungle of his own collection and easily assuming they were already included as he worked feverishly to produce it over the fall and winter. But that’ll happen, right?

As Kaplan pointed out in a recent post of his, there have been other such lists that try to boil down, say, the
The 100 Best Baseball Books Ever Written” by Alex Belth for Esquire in 2021, or the “100 Best Baseball Books of All Time” (for, updated for 2021), or the “50 Greatest Baseball Book of All Time” (from Peter Dreier, for Huffington Post in 2015).

All have merit, based on their intent, and what they were able accomplish.

But when one narrows the focus as sharp as Paul Aron, a former executive book editor at Doubleday and Simon & Schuster who was part of the process to acquire baseball titles, there is gravitas in a list that seeks depth and gravity.

Appreciationg all the dots connected, we feel gratitude having stumbled onto Aron, also a former reporter at The Virginia Gazette and now director of publications for The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation who lives in Richmond, Virginia. He also authored the 2008 “We Hold These Truths . . . And Other Words That Made America” and the 2013 “Why the Turkey Didn’t Fly: The Surprising Stories Behind the Eagle, the Flag, Uncle Sam, and Other Images of America.

Sorry, we are now legally obligated to include this clip:

Aron decided to filter this through his experiences and readily sticks to his game plan – this are most mover-and-shaker pieces of work, pivotal and potent, not so much raised and praised for their popularity, writing excellence or continued circulation on “best of” listings sustainability. As he says in his modest preface:

“Here are ten books that changed America. That’s a pretty grandiose claim, I realize. After all, they’re just books. And no matter how many times one might cite the influence of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ or works by Darwin or Marx or Freud, a strong case can be made that there have never been enough serious readers in America for any book to have changed the course of our history. Moreover, these are baseball books … I make no claim that there are the best baseball books ever written. … This is a book about the influence rather than the quality of these books.”

Once the plow moves out of park and into drive, there is a joyous ride into discovering how these 10 (and many more) changed the game, the enjoyment of it, the criticism of it and why these still matter.

We can safely reveal, without a spoiler alert, how this Top 10 list covers, in chronological order and spanning about 100 years titles, a lot of brain storming (as well as provide our own snippets of our commentary or additional info we found):

= America’s National Game,” by Albert G. Spaulding (1911): Published a few years before his death in 1915, one of the game’s first professional players, manager, team owner, and sporting goods magnate writes his own gospel passage for posterity’s sake.

= “You Know Me Al: A Busher’s Letters,” by Ring Lardner (1916): The stories that started in The Saturday Evening Post as letter correspondence telling the story “would change the way Americans viewed their heroes,” writes Aron, and adds: “They would also change the course of American literature.” Because Lardner influenced the likes of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, for starters.

= Pitchin’ Man: Satchel Paige’s Own Story,” by Satchel Paige (1948): As Aron noted in a Q&A with the Pandemic Baseball Book Club: Both Paige and Jackie Robinson wrote books published that year (Robinson did “My Own Story” as told to Wendell Smith, which was later optioned as a movie in 1950 where Robinson played himself). But on the subject of baseball’s integration, Paige had a longer Negro League career (16 seasons, from age 20 in 1927 to age 40 in ’47) and “his book captured more of the flavor of an era when Blacks celebrated a culture that would fundamentally change American society. … Paige … forced white sportswriters, fans and, ultimately, officials to recognize that Blacks belonged in the majors.”

= “The Natural,” by Bernard Malamud (1952): It was published 70 years ago this week — Aug. 21, 1952 – so naturally, in marking the occasion, we’d like to offer up an exquisite Rich Cohen essay in the Summer 2022 issue of the Jewish Review of Books about why it mattered then and still does now. Remember, the movie with Robert Redford is only based on the book. Here is also a list of tips one may consider when purchasing this as a collectable.

= Ball Four: My Life and Hard Times Throwing the Knuckleball in the Big Leagues,” by Jim Bouton (1970): Anytime we get more critical analysis of this true classic, bring it in. Aron adds in his PBBC Q&A: “It was a counter-cultural strike against the baseball establishment. It was baseball’s Woodstock.” But Aron also admits: “The foreword warned the book should be rated X, and since it came out the year I turned 14, I readily sought out the sex scenes. Re-reading Ball Four, I was struck by the fact that the book isn’t titillating at all —and what sex there is makes one cringe in this post-Me Too era. To learn about sex, I would have been better off reading two other bestsellers from the same time period: David Reuben’s ‘Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)’ or Terry Garrity’s ‘The Sensuous Woman‘.”

= The Boys of Summer,” by Roger Kahn (1972): About why this made it, but not Roger Angell’s “The Summer Game,” again Aron tells PBCC: “I felt that The Boys of Summer was more influential because it so compellingly conjured up an era — Brooklyn in the’50s — that it very well may have drawn people back to Brooklyn after their families had fled to the suburbs.” Aron adds that there was no love lost between Kahn and Angell, and a story Alex Belth wrote for in 2012 confirmed it.

= “The Bill James Baseball Abstract,” by Bill James (1982): Aron has historical context: He was working at Doubleday in 1981 and “I was one of the editors interesting in publishing James,” who had been self-publishing since 1977 but caught the eye of Sports Illustrated for a story. Aron suggested the book be organized chronologically or thematically rather than going all over the place with its sidetrack thoughts. “What I didn’t grasp was that James’s digressions were not a structural flaw but part of his appeal,” Aron writes. “Sometimes James’s tangents were worth following just because they were funny.” Plus, James’ sabermetric-thinking has expanded to all other sports, as well as political analysts like Nate Silver. “It’s impossible to say to what kind of influence James had on this, but it’s worth nothing that at one point Morningstar, a global financial services firm, instructed its analysts to read James’s work and apply it when judging mutual funds,” Aron told PBCC.

=Rotisserie League Baseball,” by Glen Waggoner (1984): This Bill James-endorsed tome not only “fueled the growth of fantasy sports,” Aron tells PBCC, but “also of USA Today and even the Internet.” Seriously. On the website: “In 1980 Dan Okrent and several of his friends invented a baseball league that allowed ‘owners’ to draft players and be scored based on how the players performed in the real world. Okrent wrote a 1981 Inside Sports article about it, and the game started to catch on. This 1984 book, edited by Waggoner, provided rules, a constitution, and several essays. From there, the entire industry of fantasy sports sprung up, creating a nation of fans who believed they could be a big-league general manager.” Are we better for it? Ask those who have NFL fantasy teams now and make a living at it.

= “Pete Rose: My Story,” by Pete Rose and Roger Kahn (1989) and “My Prison Without Bars,” by Pete Rose with Rick Hill (2004):
A two-for-one entry.
No lie.
At first blush, these are two of the oddest choices to add to a list of this kind of impactful list. But Aron sells us:

“Here’s one theory to consider: What led to Donald Trump was Pete Rose. … Both are liars … Both appealed to blue-collar workers, especially whites, who overlooked the lies because they saw Rose and Trump fighting against systems rigged against them. … Rose’s supporters may have become so fed up with the baseball establishment that they were more likely to support Trump’s attacks on the political establishment … (And the irony is) both are most certainly not avid readers and both would be quick to dismiss anything that smacked of intellectualism.”

We are tempted, but won’t indulge more into Aron’s exquisite presentation, or even try to condense it, because it would take away the reader’s mind-blowing enjoyment. There are plenty of other dots to connect here, and here, and here, and here.

And here we go into Rose’s latest newsworthiness:

And this reaction:

How it goes in the scorebook

Monumentally meaningful, necessary and relevant. A Top 10 list for the ages.

A compendium like this will never lose its charm, even 100 years from now when someone else exorcises this exercise and must admit – this original 10 has to be the foundation. So what have you got lately?

It is easy to be impressed as well with the chapter notes and bibliographic essay that gives this all so much of a foundation. The other treat is plowing more through Chapter 10, set aside for “Other Influential Books” – about 50 more that still carried a lot of weight and make for another great 60 extra pages to ponder.

Such as:
= “The Chrysanthemum and the Bat: Baseball Samurai Style,” by Robert Whiting, 1977
= “A Day in the Bleachers” by Arnold Hano, 1955
= “Ball, Bat and Bishop: The Origin of Ball Games” by Robert Henderson, 1947
= “The National Game” by A.H. Spink, 1910
= “Sol White’s Official Base Ball Guide,” by Sol White, 1907
= “Beadle’s Dime Base-Ball Player” by Henry Chadwick, 1860

We have more reading to do apparently…. Gotta run.

One more moment of zen

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