One day last winter I was staring at my bookshelf and realized I have a good number of books written about the Mariners, or about players who played for the Mariners. I thought about doing a series about those books. Now that many of us are staying home and have some free time that isn’t taken up by watching baseball I thought it was an opportune time to get started.
Every other week or so, we will discuss a book about the Mariners. Some of you may already have these books. If you do not, and wish to participate, many local bookstores are taking orders online and will ship to you.
We will kick off the Mariners Book cLLub on Monday, April 6th with a discussion about Edgar: An Autobiography by Edgar Martinez and Larry Stone.
In the meantime, the Lookout Landing staff would like to share our favorite baseball books with all of you. There’s quite a variety of books here if you’re looking to indulge in baseball before games come back.
Please share your favorite books in the comments, and if you have any suggestions for Mariners books to discuss, I’d love to hear them!
Baseball Life Advice by Stacey May Fowles
This is a book I wish I’d written. It is a series of personal essays about baseball from a fan’s perspective, and the joy, lessons, and support it brings us. It tapped into so many of my own sappy, sentimental feelings about baseball.
Three Nights in August by Buzz Bissinger
I enjoyed this book for the look at the stories behind the game. The book chronicles the story of a three-game series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs in 2003. It’s told from the perspective of Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa. But it’s more than a manager’s perspective on a few baseball games. It dives into the heads of the players and the backstories and struggles that give every pitch meaning.
Clemente by David Maraniss
I fell in love with Roberto Clemente when I read a story about him in my second grade reading book. I read that story over and over, and sobbed the night before the last day of school, knowing I had to turn in the book the next day. As you can imagine, I was beyond delighted when this book was published. It is a beautiful biography that has filled the hole in my heart left by that second grade story.
Doc Ellis in the Country of Baseball by Donald Hall
If you’ve read Ball Four, but not this book, I feel like you’re only getting half the story of Major League Baseball in the 60s and 70s. It’s a very necessary companion piece for understanding the perspectives and experiences of Doc Ellis during this time period, and not just for the reasons he’s infamous for. Yes, he’s known for throwing a no-hitter while still high on LSD (and greenies), but he was also a very outspoken advocate for civil rights during this time, which has largely been forgotten and scrubbed out by baseball historians. Ellis wore curlers in his hair multiple times on the field during warmups on his non-starting days, which led to fines and league-wide rule changes on uniform decorum. During the peak of the Reds-Pirates rivalry, he once started a May game versus the Reds with the intention of purposely throwing at every batter he faced in order to fire up the last-place Pirates. He did so until he was removed from the game, 11 pitches and 3 hit batters later. Ellis was a lot of things in his life and writer/poet Donald Hall mixes metaphorical passages with extraordinary anecdotes and quotes from Ellis to create a one-of-a-kind biography and extremely honest and messy look at MLB and the state of race relations in America during the 60s and 70s.
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Over here on the complete other end of the baseball writing spectrum, this is a romance and coming-of-age novel disguised as a baseball story. It’s really odd! It’s also extremely compelling. There are Moby Dick references galore. There is a glove-only shortstop at a Division III school. There’s a lovable oaf of a catcher. There is a daughter who is angry with her absentee father. There is a possibly problematic relationship between the school’s president and a student. There are yips! The more I think about the book, the more problems I have with it, but it was undeniably very entertaining. I listened to a recording of this book during an extremely low-time in my life following the death of my mother and while commuting back and forth for a very unfulfilling job. It brought me some laughs and joy during an otherwise miserable period.
Off Speed: Baseball, Pitching, and the Art of Deception by Terry McDermott
This book opens with a quote from Hisashi Iwakuma, details every inning of Felix Hérnandez’s perfect game, and lists a Lookout Landing article as a source (and like prints the entire long-ass URL in the footnote. It’s wild). The author also spins some yarns about growing up in a small town in Iowa where baseball was literally the only thing to get excited about during the spring and summer months, while later touching on what it’s like to tacitly be a Mariners fan while living in California. It’s a bit all over the place, but the analysis of Felix’s perfect game and all the pitches he used is truly fantastic and will keep your heart warm during these baseball-less times.
Dollar Sign on the Muscle (Kevin Kerrane)
It’s easy to find scouting reports; it’s hard to find information about how those reports are generated, or anything, really, that details the nitty-gritty on how to attach numbers to the collection of neurons and twitching muscles that make up a player. This book won’t replace hours spent watching games and making notes, but it will provide a solid intro to history of scouting, as well as a mostly-thorough, if somewhat outdated, overview of the art of scouting baseball. If that sounds like sort of mealy-mouthed praise, well, it is, but the fact is this is the best, most comprehensive book we have about scouting until someone writes a better one.
Pitchers of Beer: The Story of the Seattle Rainiers (Dan Raley)
Probably the best place to start if you want to understand the history of baseball in Seattle, even if scant attention is paid to the period pre-1937. But there’s a good chance baseball never makes it to Seattle with the Pilots if Emil Sick doesn’t rescue a bankrupt franchise in the late 1930s and seed a generation of fans at Sick’s Stadium. Read this, and then go pay homage to the site of the original Sick’s, where there’s a little plaque marking the historic location of home plate outside of the Lowe’s that now stands there.
Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man (David A. Adler)
This text-heavy picture book reduces me to a sobbing pile of mess every time. The text is simple, but not in the simpering way that is usually the hallmark of Hero Books Aimed At Children; rather, it is almost Hemingway-like in its spare necessity, dignified in a way befitting of its subject. In addition to the words on the page, there is an art deco flavor to the illustrations suitable to the time period that almost recalls the murals of Thomas Hart Benton, making the book an overall feast for the senses. Next to Edgar and Clemente, Gehrig fills out my pantheon of those I admire both as players and people, and in my opinion this book communicates all one needs to know about Lou Gehrig in 32 achingly beautiful pages.
To be completely honest, I don’t read a lot of baseball books these days. For whatever reason, I prefer the fictional worlds created in works of magical realism, and the grim futures portrayed in dystopian novels. When I was a kid, though, I loved every baseball book I could get my hands on. I was one of those kids that would read with a flashlight under the covers long after I was supposed to be asleep. My book of choice would often be a baseball book. So, with that in mind, here were a few of my favorites. As I write this, I realize I can still remember most of the plots better than I’d realized. Maybe some of the parents out there can draw inspiration from this and get their kids into baseball via stories.
They Came From Center Field by Dan Gutman
This one was pretty silly, as I recall. Some kids have a sandlot game that’s interrupted by a UFO carrying a dozen alien robots. The alien robots, of course, challenge the children to a baseball game (surely they have nothing better to do). The robots look like vending machines, and they hit by rotating extremely fast with a baseball bat sticking out of the front. I think they pitched around the speed of sound. You can probably guess who wins the game.
Great Moments in Baseball History by Matt Christopher
This one isn’t fiction — it’s nine separate tales of baseball players who did incredible things. Some of them are well-known: Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Kirk Gibson, Willie Mays, Jim Abbott, and Reggie Jackson. Others, though, I probably wouldn’t have heard about if not for this book: Bill Wambsganss, Dave Dravecky, and Joe Nuxhall. It’s a light read (it’s a kids book, after all), which meant I could read it over and over as a kid. I probably read this at least ten times.
The Baseball Card Adventures by Dan Gutman
Among the most well-known baseball children’s series, you’ve probably heard of these. If you haven’t, they all follow the same basic premise. A kid finds a long-lost baseball card of a famous, long-dead player. Via some magical mechanism, the kid travels through time and finds themselves in that player’s era. There have been twelve published so far; the ones that I’ve read feature Honus Wagner, Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and Mickey Mantle. As I read these before I hit third grade, I really can’t vouch for the historical accuracy of the books, but they did the job and kept my nose down as a kid.
The Best Team Money Can Buy by Molly Knight
Two things you should know: I’m not big on book learnin’, and I’m a sucker for any behind-the-scenes story. Because of this, my library is very small and contains mostly non-fiction. However, when I read this book in college, I remember having a very difficult time putting it down.
To write this book, Molly Knight was granted incredible access to the Dodgers of the mid-2010s as they tried to build a champion through the power of American dollars. The book begins with tales from the Dodgers’ 2013 season, which started with them in last place, includes that legendary fight with the Diamondbacks, and ends in the National League Championship Series, picking up Yasiel Puig on the way. There’s great anecdotes about Puig (he was given #66 because the equipment manager found him devilish, Zack Greinke once tossed his luggage into the street), and also some wonderful peeks into Clayton Kershaw’s mind. As someone who doesn’t particularly care about the Los Angeles Dodgers, this book shouldn’t be as meaningful to me as it is, but Knight’s storytelling makes The Best Team Money Can Buy a gleeful read.
Moneyball by Michael Lewis
Sure, it’s cliche, but if you haven’t read the book that ushered in a statistical revolution and shaped baseball as we know it today, it’s well worth your time. The behind-the-scenes access to the draft room and trade deadline negotiations is detailed, fascinating, and not without an f-bomb or two.
Ball Four by Jim Bouton
Scandalous when it was published in 1970, Ball Four revealed the somewhat scandalous underbelly of MLB. And because Bouton was around for the Seattle Pilots’ only season, the book chronicles far more than the life of a major leaguer — it gives insight into a uniquely dysfunctional franchise.
The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball by Tom Tango, Mitchel G. Lichtman, and Andrew E. Dolphin
A little bit, not a lot, dated by saber standards (released in 2007), this book is just about foundational to any understanding of the advanced side of the game. While teams have assuredly gone far, far beyond this level of understanding at this stage, this gives you the basic tools and analytical framework for thinking about the game on a theoretical level. From batting order to sacrifice bunts to leveraging relievers, if you can conceive of a strategic idea surrounding the game, it’s probably discussed in here. Tom Tango is still doing groundbreaking work, too: in September Baseball Savant dropped its swing/take tool.
Perfect: The Inside Story of Baseball’s Sixteen Perfect Games by James Buckley Jr.
As you can gather from the title, this is a little dated, having been released in 2002. A straightforward an easy read, Buckley tells the story of each perfect game ably, and digs deep to get a lot of great insight from the people who were involved in each game. Perfect games in the internet era receive instant and enduring dissection—so it’s nice to get this deeper look into games that we don’t have the same in-depth sense of.
The Science of Hitting by John Underwood and Ted Williams
I mean, what do you want me to say? It’s Ted Williams talking about hitting. It’s not the most up to date in all aspects—as you’d expect, there’s plenty of mention of batting average and the link—but given that it is primarily about the technique and artistry of hitting a baseball, who cares? Williams relays all sorts of conversations with the game’s greats as well, whether before, during, or after the time he played. Even if you aren’t playing the game any longer, or never have, it’s a fascinating insight into the way the game’s elite see the game.
We’d love to hear about your favorite baseball books, and discuss any mentioned here!