Sports Illustrated’s Steve Rushin Picks His Top Baseball Books

Sports Illustrated’s Steve Rushin Picks His Top Baseball Books


It’s a noble pursuit, trying to read every baseball book ever published: You’d die of old age having barely begun, rendering any list of “the best” baseball books of all time incomplete. So, I’ve narrowed this list to books that I’ve saved, some of them for decades. Their dog-eared pages still call out to me, like the distant cry of a beer vendor, carried to the bleachers on a breeze.

  1. Book

    1. The Bronx Zoo

    The Yankees of the mid-to-late 1970s were peerless, shameless and frequently pantsless. When I first read, as a 12-year-old, how relief pitcher Lyle sat naked on a birthday cake in the clubhouse, it made an indelible impression on my mind (to say nothing of the cake). Pair this book with Jonathan Mahler’s kaleidoscopic, Yankee-intensive account of New York in the summer of 1977— “Ladies And Gentlemen, The Bronx Is Burning”—to feel a city consumed by baseball, blackouts and the Son of Sam murders.

  2. Book

    2. Five Seasons

    Angell’s other baseball books are equally enthralling, but the five seasons covered by “Five Seasons”—1972 through 1976—were some of baseball’s most colorful and dramatic, peaking with Game 6 of the 1975 World Series between the Reds and Red Sox. Game 7 the following night would have been remembered as a classic in any other Series, Angell writes: “But in 1975 it was outclassed. It was a good play that opened on the night after the opening night of King Lear.”

  3. This secret history of baseball’s “third major league”—the Patriot League, expunged from the record books—is narrated by a “short-winded, short-tempered, short-sighted” sportswriter named Word Smith, who has a weakness for hyperbole (and alliteration). The plot involves a homeless and wandering team called the Ruppert Mundys, a communist conspiracy and dozens of plausible period baseball names, like Hothead Ptah and Frenchy Astarte. (In real life, the 1948 Phillies had a pitcher named Al Porto, the closest baseball has yet come to an Alexander Portnoy.)

  4. Book

    4. Pafko at the Wall

    The first hundred or so pages of DeLillo’s novel “Underworld” take place on October 3, 1951, at the Polo Grounds, “this metropolis of steel and concrete and flaky paint and cropped grass and enormous Chesterfield packs aslant on the scoreboards, a couple of cigarettes jutting from each.” That tour de force set piece was re-published as a stand-alone novella, named for the Dodger left fielder who was powerless to stop Bobby Thomson’s pennant-winning home run from going over the wall and into eternity as “The Shot Heard Round The World.”

  5. Book

    5. The Boys of Summer

    Kahn grew up in Brooklyn rooting for the Dodgers, covered the team in its 1950s heyday and years later revisited those players, in their (and his) middle age. The result is a book about life and loss and what happens to youthful dreams, with an opening quotation from Dylan Thomas that is part epigraph, part epitaph: “I see the boys of summer in their ruin . . .”

  6. Book

    6. Veeck–As in Wreck

    The maverick and innovative owner of the St. Louis Browns, Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox wore a wooden leg. It had a built-in ashtray. “All I had to do was drop the butts and the ashes into the hole and empty out the leg when I took it off at night,” Veeck writes, just one of a thousand details that will make even readers unacquainted with baseball think: “I’d like to know more about this guy.”

  7. Book

    7. Wherever I Wind Up

    Beginning with its beautiful title, this book (by the journeyman pitcher on his way to winning a late-in-the-day Cy Young award) is bound up with hope and heartache and knuckleballs. It joins other 21st century works like Michael Lewis’s “Moneyball” to give readers a rounded portrait of the modern game. Even if baseball sometimes seems to consist entirely of PED scandals and arcane metrics, these books remind us that the game still requires human beings, with their human stories, to draw us in.

    Steve Rushin has written for Sports Illustrated for the past twenty-five years and was the 2006 National Sportswriter of the Year. He is the author of a novel, “The Pint Man,” and his work has appeared in “The Best American Sports Writing,” “The Best American Travel Writing,” and “The Best American Magazine Writing.” His most recent book is “The 34-Ton Bat.” He lives in Connecticut.


Leave a Reply