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Well since I can't watch any current baseball (which pisses me off greatly as I figured this would be the season where Acuna would hit 65 HRs or something equally ridiculous and lead my beloved Braves to the WS. Well since that ain't happening I've dug out the boxes which contain my baseball books and have diligently started reading here and there and it occured to me that I don't think we've ever discussed baseball books with the attention that they merit, so here goes a little content for y'all. Here are five of my favorites and the reasons why, whatta ya got and most importantly WHY?

You'll note that with only one exception I'm not real big on autobiographies, let's face it unless you were playing in a controversial time where overt racism was the order of the day (Aaron, Frank Robinson, Willie Mays, etc.) baseball bios have an incredibly boring sameness to them unless the subject is remembered for a lot of the wrong reasons as well as a lot of the right ones, (Cobb, Hornsby, Dick Allen, Ted Williams, etc.)  Other than that they tend to fall into two groups (1.) Boring day to day stories that we've heard a million times. (2.) Sloppy attempts to sell you on the player's brand of religion. For a glaring example, Dale Murphy was not only a credit to his teams but a more pleasant  member of his species  simply does not exist. However, I don't need 180 pages of a 200 page book extolling the virtues of a faith that revolves around finding gold plates in the woods and having regular conversations with angels. I'm sorry Dale, I wanted to read about one of the best players of his generation, not a book-length commercial for a religion that not to put too fine a point on it, but is even sillier than most faiths. So anyway, my initial list includes only one biography and you'll see why I included it. (I thought long and hard about both I Had a Hammer (Hank Aaron) and  My Turn at Bat (Ted Williams), but ultimately decided that as good as they are, they would go in my second or third grouping. So anyway, here are my top five (in no particular order). 

My War with Baseball - Rogers Hornsby: I'm the sort of person who is interested in lots of different things so I'm always a bit fascinated by the mentality of folks who focus with a laser -like precision on doing one particular thing better than anyone else. Ted Williams said on more than one occasion that what he wanted more than anything else was when leaving a room having people point and say "There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived!" Rogers Hornsby was the same type of individual, his defensive play was just adequate and he didn't care about improving, Hornsby cared about two things only, playing the ponies and hitting a baseball. He doesn't really divulge how successful he was at the racetrack, but a glance at his hitting statistics initially seems like there may be a typo, I mean no one averages .400 for several years in a row! Yeah, Hornsby did that while being so blunt and outspoken that his teammates hated him even though he led them to the WS. 

Hornsby's book isn't quite as ferocious as I was expecting (when he started managing teams like the Seattle Rainiers in the PCL he had apparently mellowed considerably and a recurring description was "a nice old guy who spent a lot of time coaching players on their hitting.") This is a far cry from the guy who was so hated that his teammates didn't want to give him his cut of the WS money that he'd led them to. Hornsby's book was written about twenty years too late. It's a fascinating study of a guy who pursued the art of hitting a baseball with an intensity seen only by a couple or three other guys; but I would rather have read a Hornsby autobiography from the years where he would openly deride teammates and opponents alike with a blunt viciousness that got him in more than a few fights in the dugout. Still, as a character study of the super-obsessive type with few if any attempts to apologize for his out and out rudeness, it does make for a fascinating read.

The Politics of Glory (How the Hall of Fame Really Works) - Bill James: Anyone who has read my posts over the years knows that I'm a Bill James guy for the most part. We agree to disagree on the subject of Win Shares or any other  formula that indicates Phil Rizzuto is a bonafide HOFr. Anyway, in terms of hindsight Bill does a splendid job of forecasting (at the time) future HOF players. He did get blindsided by a couple of guys like Jim Thome (who seemingly came out of nowhere to bang out 600 HRs) , and he rightfully forgives the roid boys, so we see Bonds, Clemens, and Raffy (among others) being inducted as they should be. There aren't any players he projects as HOFrs that I violently  disagree with unless it be Scooter, who I actually think was inferior to Vern Stephens, Marty Marion, PeeWee Reese, and Luis Aparicio. There we have a group of more or less contemporaries with Scooter being fifth in a field of five. Bill dinks around with various formulas until he builds an argument that "proves" Scooter belongs in the HOF; the thing is that Bill gives you the ammo you need with other mathematical extrapolations to "prove" exactly the opposite conclusion. A much older friend who actually saw all of the above guys play cites Reese and Stephens as the bonafide HOFrs with the other three really good but not HOF level. Anyway, if you're a stat-geek like I am who enjoys sitting around arguing statistics this book will give you all the ammo that you need for such activities.

The Ballplayers - Mike Shatzkin & Jim Charlton: Okay, this thing only goes up to 1990, so it is badly in need of an update. Matter of fact, this book should have a supplement issued every ten years like many encyclopedias. And that's exactly what this thing is, my copy is in the bedroom and I don't feel like going to fetch it so I'll just go from memory. What this thing is first and foremost an encyclopedia of baseball players from MLB to Japan to the Negro Leagues. First off, it makes no attempt to cover everybody, that would be a silly waste of time. Nor does it focus exclusively on HOF-caliber players, best as I can figure the book was assembled much like the WON HOF, two guys sat down on several occasions and listed players that they found interesting or that had made a significant impact on the game. I was particularly pleased to see coverage of some of the top Japanese players who are often overlooked in volumes like this. As I said, my only complaint is that this thing should have an update every ten years. As it is, it's still a beautiful thing, think the photography of Charles Conlon or Upper Deck merged with the bios from Baseballreference.com The book is much, much heavily geared to providing biographical information as opposed to statistical data. Really, you keep this on the desk when you're puttering around on Baseball Reference and between the two, you're going to have pretty much all the info that you need on a given player.

Baseball as I Have Known it - Fred Lieb: Okay, in all fairness when I see a book of reminiscences by a guy that's eighty-something I usually run in the other direction as these sorts of things tend to be inaccurate at best and out and out lies at worst (see also: The Glory of Their Times or anything involving Tommy Heinrich opening his mouth.) However, I knew of Fred Lieb as a sports writer who I had never read, but seemed to be held in very high regard by his colleagues and I was downtown on my way to catch a bus to Bellevue and I needed something to read so I thought "Why the fuck not? It's only a buck-fifty, if I don't like it I'll just leave it on the bus... Well what a wonderful surprise, despite being eighty-something Fred Lieb retained a reporter's talent for memorizing dates, places, and activities with a remarkable accuracy. Now this is a guy that was around as a reporter in the 1930s, a time when the beat reporters hung out with the players in a much more informal manner than what you see today. Fred was apparently a very likable guy and was befriended by a number of players including Lou Gehrig! Yeah, Fred was a close enough friend of the family that he was usually the fourth for a game of bridge with Loy, his wife and mother rounding out the foursome. Yeah, the dude played bridge and was a regular guest at the Gehrig house!!! How fucking cool is that? While not as close a relationship Lieb knew Cobb, Ruth, Hornsby and later Dimaggio, Mantle, Mays, etc. What's really remarkable about the book is Lieb's smooth prose presentation. He writes like a man covering the major story in the sports page (which in fact he did on a pretty regular basis), there is absolutely none of the fat or rambling that often ruins books like this (compare it to Five O'Clock Lightning for an example). Anyway, this is the sort of book that you can just open to any page and wind up learning something interesting. 

The Works of Thomas Boswell: This was a tough one, I almost put Bill James' Historical Abstract here, but I figured someone else would wind up covering it. I'll admit to cheating a little by citing Boswell's entire body of work as opposed to a specific title. If I really have to narrow it down, I'll go with Why Time Begins on Opening Day or The Heart of the Order. Boswell has been writing for the Washington Post for what seems like eons (though he's really only ten years older than I am), and the reason that I put him so high on the list is that he doesn't write like a reporter and really never has, he is a polished prose stylist who could  write on any subject and make it seem interesting. As I mentioned, he's in the heart of the area of teams that I really don't care for. That he's a fine enough writer to make me care about the Mets, Yankees, Orioles,  or Nationals is a remarkable achievement as I really, really dislike most eastern teams (might as well ad the Phillies and Red Sox to the list). Anyway, Boswell is what we call a "writer's writer", one of those rare talents who can write on any subject and make it seem compelling. That he chooses to write about sports, (primarily baseball) is just icing on the cake. Like I said about the Lieb book, you can open it to any page and learn something, with Boswell you can open any of his books to any page and the rhythm of the prose will just suck you in, no matter what the specific article is dealing with. Boswell's not just a great sports writer, he's a great WRITER. 

Okay, now whatcha got?

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Posted (edited)

Any of David Halberstam's baseball books(are there only two? could have swore he wrote more, but then I've read virtually all of his books so they blend together.)

Jane Leavy's bios of both Sandy Koufax and Mickey Mantle are worth reading.

James Hirsch's bio of Willie Mays is very good.

Charles Leerschen' bio of Ty Cobb is fantastic.

Mike Sowell's " The pitch that killed" is a very good book about the Carl Mays beaning of ray Chapman.

That's a good start. I'll be back with more later, and OSJ the Bill James HOF book is why I am so anti Rick Ferrell. ( 🙂 )

I'm starting a reading run now that school is pretty much done, and am reading a book on negro leagues now-its a bit early for a recommendation, as I'm not past the 19th century yet-I'll have more when I finish.

Edited by Kuetsar

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As a kid I remember really loving the Ron Luciano books. One of these days I really need to revisit them.

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Posted (edited)

Well, I’ll take Bill James’ Historical Baseball Abstract. There are win shares and rankings; and when I was younger and didn’t have ready access to any statistical filter I wanted online, I loved these. But I think the most important parts, actually, are the essays on each decade, and the accompanying boxes. Baseball is great because we count everything, but also because the ephemera counts. 

The Soul of Baseball, by Joe Posnanski: This is saccharine, but Posnanski can make me nostalgic for things I’ve never known. And anyway, this is mostly a Buck O’Neil book.

See also: Posnanski’s Best 100 Players list on the Athletic. It’s not a book, but it’s longer than Moby Dick.

Cooperstown Casebook, by Jay Jaffe: The classic argument, litigated well. Be warned he’s a strident “math guy”, so there’s not much leeway for an “eye test” player with 40 career WAR, generally. 

Smart Baseball, by Keith Law: Basically an intro to analytics. For us English majors, it pulls back the curtain nicely. 

The Arm, by Jeff Passan: Pitchers are the most valuable commodity in sports, and also among the most fragile. Why? And does it need to be this way?

A Perfect Game, by David Bentley Hart: This is an incredibly long essay by a religious scholar/Christian philosopher in an explicitly religious journal. But it’s the best metaphysics essay you’re ever going to read about baseball, and that’s not nothing. 

I also need to mention Rany Jazayerli’s multi-platform writing on the Royals.

That’s not five things and they’re not all books, but here we are.

Edited by Beech27
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4 hours ago, Kuetsar said:

Any of David Halberstam's baseball books(are there only two? could have swore he wrote more, but then I've read virtually all of his books so they blend together.)

Jane Leavy's bios of both Sandy Koufax and Mickey Mantle are worth reading.

James Hirsch's bio of Willie Mays is very good.

Charles Leerschen' bio of Ty Cobb is fantastic.

Mike Sowell's " The pitch that killed" is a very good book about the Carl Mays beaning of ray Chapman.

That's a good start. I'll be back with more later, and OSJ the Bill James HOF book is why I am so anti Rick Ferrell. ( 🙂 )

I'm starting a reading run now that school is pretty much done, and am reading a book on negro leagues now-its a bit early for a recommendation, as I'm not past the 19th century yet-I'll have more when I finish.

I'm in that minority that feels that Mays did nothing wrong and is unfairly kept out of the HOF by a tragic accident. Yeah, he threw high and inside to move Chapman off the plate; nothing unusual about that at all, I've done it dozens of times and I suspect that anyone who has ever pitched in modified or hardball has done it. It's part of the game as is avoiding getting hit by the pitch. We don't know why, but instead of taking a step back and avoiding the ball Chapman froze. It was a horrible accident and one man died and another had his reputation and career effectively ruined. 

Yes, we know from contemporary accounts that Carl Mays wasn't the most pleasant man in the world, he was a fierce competitor who came to beat you. Comparisons to Bob Gibson are probably pretty fair, though I wouldn't suggest that Mays was anywhere near Gibson's level. Mays was a great pitcher and considerably better than several players who are in the HOF and with only a couple of exceptions, I'm talking about guys that deserve to be there as does Carl Mays. No, he's not in the Seaver, Gibson, Carlton level of elite pitchers, but he IS a HOF-caliber pitcher who should be forgiven for what was a tragic accident. The only reason that he's been kept out of the HOF is that Mays was apparently a rather aloof, arrogant  bastard  who didn't fool around making friends. He was in the Rogers Hornsby mode of single-minded competitiveness and the very concept of being polite or pleasant to his opponents (or even his own teammates) was likely totally alien to him. As I've often pointed out, it isn't the Hall of Nice Guys that Helped Little Old Ladies Cross the Street, it's the baseball Hall of Fame and it's filled with guys that you would likely cross the street to avoid talking to . 

Mays is an interesting case, looking at his W/L record it's pretty damned impressive and I have to remind myself that in Mays' time pitcher wins MEANT something. The game has changed tremendously and we now expect a "quality start" to consist of six or seven innings pitched. During the time that Mays played you didn't have a Mo Rivera coming in to annihilate the last three batters to save the game. In Mays' time it was all about "finish what you started". As you know, I'm not a huge fan of the similarity scores used by baseballreference.com, but in the case of Mays it's a very interesting group (I tend to disregard anything below a .925 similarity score.) You go below that and you're basically saying that the players both played MLB and that's about the degree of similarity. Now with Mays we find him in a group with Stan Coveleski, Lon Warneke, Urban Shocker, Chief Bender, and Jack Chesbro. It's an interesting group as it consists of 50% HOF players and 50% of guys that you could make a really strong argument for. Mays sits comfortably right in the middle of the group. 

I tend to put a premium on guys who have truly dominating seasons and to be in company with the likes of Chesbro and having a 27 game Win record is indicative of how dominant Carl Mays could be. No, he isn't the best player not in the HOF, but he certainly merits strong consideration and keeping him out because of a tragic accident is just flat-out wrong. Looking at his W/L record of 207/126 with an ERA of under 3.00 is pretty impressive. Mays had a very strange career including a couple of bad seasons on good teams and being a holy terror on bad teams that he was able to elevate to very effective. 

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On 5/2/2020 at 9:38 AM, Kuetsar said:

Charles Leerschen' bio of Ty Cobb is fantastic.

 

Tim Hornbaker's "War on the Basepaths", released the same day, is better.

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Some of my favorites:

59 in '84 - chronicles Hoss Radbourn's 59-win season

War on the Basepaths - Tim Hornbaker's outstanding bio of Ty Cobb

Fall from Grace - Tim Hornbaker's awesome bio of Joe Jackson

The Glory of Their Times - an all-time classic from Lawrence Ritter

Crazy '08 - chronicles the wild and crazy 1908 season

K: The History of Baseball in 10 Pitches - very interesting discussion of the history and usage of 10 different pitches.  Waaaaaaaaaaay better than I had any hope it would be.  Great book.

Ball Four - Jim Bouton's classic

The Pitch That Killed - Mike Sowell's classic book on the beaning of Ray Chapman

One Pitch Away - Mike Sowell's chronicle of the insane 1986 MLB playoffs

July 2, 1903 - Mike Sowell's bio and investigation into the death of Ed Delahanty

The Big Bam - outstanding biography of Babe Ruth that digs past the myths

Ted Williams - Leigh Montville's great biography of Ted Williams

 

 

 

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If you're at all interested in baseball books, then you gotta join the Baseball Books Facebook group:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/60231470621/

Tons of activity and great recommendations.

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I'm going to second Crazy 08, it was a wild season, beyond Merkle's Boner. What could have been a pretty dry recounting of results is a colourful, fun read.

I'll probably look up a few of your suggestions, Tabe, I'm fascinated with the early days of baseball...basically the 1800s until the end of Dead Ball.

I'll add Up, Up and Away, the Expos book. It is too bad that Jonah Keri turned out to be an abusive asshole, but it is the book to read about the history of the Expos. Maybe just try and borrow it....

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Hmm.  Off the top of my head -

Crazy 08 is fantastic.  Like legit literature fantastic.

I'll also second 59 in 84.  You cannot get enough Old Hoss Radburn in your life.

Leavy's bio's on Mantle and Koufax are fine.  I haven't got around to reading her Ruth bio yet.

I was a sucker for Up, Up and Away since I was an Expo mark.  But the book seemed to kind of fall flat for me in the second half.  Jonah ending up being a pud has not made things any better.

I know Tabe is friends with Hornbaker but boy...I read the Cobb bio (and his NWA book).  Hornbaker suffers from Meltzer syndrome in seemingly have never read a book before in his life.  Just brutal prose that needed an editor with the patience of Job to clean up - spoiler, he did not have that.  Leershen's Cobb bio is better (by virtue of being readable).  The Charles Alexander Cobb bio was fine.  The Al Stump ones are worth a look for the pure lunacy  - and to know why Leershan and Hornbaker were so adamant his stuff is garbage.

ANYTHING by Peter Morris is a must read.  Game of Inches (vol. 1 and 2 tho I think it's fairly easy to find them in one volume) is a must have just to see how the rules of play developed.

ANYTHING by Ed Linn is a must read.  His book with Bill Veeck (Veeck as in Wreck) is a gold standard for baseball memoirs.  Linn's book on Steinbrenner is also amazingly fun.

The Bob Uecker books are still fun.  It's been ages since I read the Luciano books, but those were a joy as a kid.

Any sort of Roger Angell smokes anything by any other baseball writer ever.  

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On 5/2/2020 at 5:19 PM, OSJ said:

I'm in that minority that feels that Mays did nothing wrong and is unfairly kept out of the HOF by a tragic accident.

Lotta snipping

Mays was also accused by many (including Yankee ownership) of throwing games in the 21 and 22 World Series.  Plus he was a headcase who'd bail on teams pretty quickly - he bitched himself out of Boston and bailed on the Yankees more than once.  Killing Chapman is a convenient excuse to keep him out but there were other mitigating factors.

Minus the killing and the throwing game accusations, Mays was basically Kevin Brown with David Cone's numbers pitching primarily in the dead ball era.  That's not something that gets you into a HOF.

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49 minutes ago, EdA said:

Hmm.  Off the top of my head -

Crazy 08 is fantastic.  Like legit literature fantastic.

I'll also second 59 in 84.  You cannot get enough Old Hoss Radburn in your life.

Leavy's bio's on Mantle and Koufax are fine.  I haven't got around to reading her Ruth bio yet.

Thirding Crazy '08 and 59 in '84. I'd also add The Summer of Beer and Whiskey, about the 1883 American Association pennant race between the Philadelphia Athletics and St. Louis Brown Stockings (now the Cardinals).

The Big Fella (Jane Leavy's Ruth book) is #1 with a bullet on my to-read list.

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1 hour ago, EdA said:

Minus the killing and the throwing game accusations, Mays was basically Kevin Brown with David Cone's numbers pitching primarily in the dead ball era.  That's not something that gets you into a HOF.

Oh God - please don't get him started

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I am not claiming they are the best but two John Feinstein baseball books are worth the read

Living on the Black and Where Nobody Knows Your Name

They are Feinstein books so you know what you are going to get - good and bad

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And I will ban whoever tries to tell me Three Days in August was good

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13 hours ago, Tabe said:

If you're at all interested in baseball books, then you gotta join the Baseball Books Facebook group:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/60231470621/

Tons of activity and great recommendations.

You weren't kidding. I mentioned one book and my post immediately started ringing bells like an old pinball machine.

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I hate all of you for no one having mentioned The Bad Guys Won! by Jeff Pearlman.  

4872293941_192989f0dc_z.jpg

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1 hour ago, Pete said:

Thirding Crazy '08 and 59 in '84. I'd also add The Summer of Beer and Whiskey, about the 1883 American Association pennant race between the Philadelphia Athletics and St. Louis Brown Stockings (now the Cardinals).

The Big Fella (Jane Leavy's Ruth book) is #1 with a bullet on my to-read list.

Yeah.  Summer of Beer and Whiskey was excellent.  I thought that was a Peter Morris book but I was wrong.

Also, ANY books on Satchel Paige are worth it.  Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend is wonderful.  Satch, Dizzy & Rapid Robert : the wild saga of interracial baseball before Jackie Robinson is great.  And there's some random one about his time spent playing for a white team in the like North Dakota that is fantastic.

Also pretty much any bio on Dizzy Dean is worth your time.

 

 

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20 minutes ago, Dolfan in NYC said:

I hate all of you for no one having mentioned The Bad Guys Won! by Jeff Pearlman.  

4872293941_192989f0dc_z.jpg

Because recommending Pearlman is like recommending Covid?

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39 minutes ago, RIPPA said:

And I will ban whoever tries to tell me Three Days in August was good

Why do you doubt the genius of LaRussa, Phil?  Why?  Do you want to make Harold Baines cry?

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The Curse of Rocky Colavito by Terry Pluto is a really hilarious look at the Cleveland Indians teams of the 1960's and 70's, written in the same style as Pluto's Loose Balls.

 

My favorite story from that book is Rico Carty in 1977 having a breakdown in the locker room, weeping openly and pleading with the Indians to trade him, complaining that he was an All-Star and didn't deserve to be on such a bad team.  Pluto then sardonically notes that he had been an All-Star seven years earlier and he was currently batting .280.

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48 minutes ago, EdA said:

Because recommending Pearlman is like recommending Covid?

Remember: There have been quite a few pitchers who have thrown perfect games despite not having particularly great careers. That fact applies here.

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7 hours ago, EdA said:

I know Tabe is friends with Hornbaker but boy...I read the Cobb bio (and his NWA book).  Hornbaker suffers from Meltzer syndrome in seemingly have never read a book before in his life.  Just brutal prose that needed an editor with the patience of Job to clean up - spoiler, he did not have that.  Leershen's Cobb bio is better (by virtue of being readable).  The Charles Alexander Cobb bio was fine.  The Al Stump ones are worth a look for the pure lunacy  - and to know why Leershan and Hornbaker were so adamant his stuff is garbage.

To be fair, I am friends with Hornbaker because I told him his NWA book was poorly written and needed better editing.  Did that on the Wrestling Classics message board in the middle of a thread where everyone else was worshiping the book.  He PM'ed me to thank me for the honesty and a friendship was born.  And I've continued to give his wrestling books the not-so-great reviews they deserved.  I am definitely not wearing rose-colored glasses with Tim's books. 🙂  I find his baseball books to be well-written, not so much his wrestling stuff.

That said, here's why, in a nutshell, Hornbaker's book is better: Leershen repeats as true the story that Ty Cobb once got a home run on a ball hit back to the pitcher.  It's nonsense.

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Posted (edited)
17 hours ago, elizium said:

I'm going to second Crazy 08, it was a wild season, beyond Merkle's Boner. What could have been a pretty dry recounting of results is a colourful, fun read.

I'll probably look up a few of your suggestions, Tabe, I'm fascinated with the early days of baseball...basically the 1800s until the end of Dead Ball.

 

Then you gotta get 59 in '84.  It has tons of info on 1880s baseball, not just Radbourn.

Also, not nearly as good, but lots of great behind-the-scenes info is Take Nothing For Granted: The Harry Pulliam Story.  Pulliam was an exec in the 1890s and 1900s and basically created the World Series.  

Edited by Tabe

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I know lots of people like Jane Leavey's books.  I somehow managed to finish her Koufax bio though it's easily one of the worst baseball books I've ever read.  Didn't bother with the Mantle or Ruth books.  From what I'm told, if I didn't like the Koufax one, I definitely won't like the other two.

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