Father’s Day Gifts: The 14 Best Baseball Books Of All Time

Looking for a Father’s Day gift? We’ve got 14 of the best books about baseball. Nothing says “dad” like a novel or biography or work of history about baseball. It’s the sport that inspires more great writing than any other. And seeing a dad and his son at the ballgame or just playing catch in the backyard will stir your heart, even if you’ve never seen the movie Field Of Dreams. 

Kevin Baker is an historian and novelist with serious baseball bona fides. He co-wrote Reggie Jackson’s memoir Becoming Mr. October. He wrote the final chapter in the updated edition of Baseball by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, the companion piece to the expanded edition of the landmark documentary series, including its “Tenth Inning.” And Baker’s newest acclaimed book is The New York Game: Baseball and the Rise of a New City ($35; Knopf), an intertwined history of the game and the city where it flourished. 

In honor of Father’s Day, Baker shares memories of how baseball offered common ground for the men in his life, especially his father and uncle. Then he offers insights on fourteen of the best baseball books of all time. 

Father's Day Gifts: 14 of the Best Baseball Books of All Time

<p>Courtesy of Knopf; photo credit by Nina Subin</p>

Courtesy of Knopf; photo credit by Nina Subin

The following is by author Kevin Baker: 

The best times my father and I spent together were always at the ballpark. We had a complicated relationship, but we were always able to talk and laugh and get along at the game. A few days before we moved from New Jersey to Massachusetts–when I was still just eight years old–he took me to my very first game, at the huge, cathedral-like, original Yankee Stadium. I got to see my idol, Mickey Mantle. A couple days later, my favorite uncle–my dad’s brother, Bruce–took me to Shea Stadium to see the great Willie Mays. It was a wonderful introduction to the game, by two men who I miss still.

Kevin Baker's father, aunt and Uncle Bruce.<p>Courtesy of author Kevin Baker</p>
Kevin Baker's father, aunt and Uncle Bruce.

Courtesy of author Kevin Baker

Now here are fourteen of the best baseball books of all time.

<p>Courtesy of Bloomsbury</p>

Courtesy of Bloomsbury

1. A Day of Light and Shadows by Jonathan Schwartz

Centered on a single game but encompassing a lifetime of heartache and hope, this is the best book I’ve ever read about what it means to be a fan. The game was the epic, 1978 division playoff between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. The author, Jonathan Schwartz, includes even those details of fandom that are most embarrassing to himself—always the sign of a courageous writer. 

A Day of Light and Shadows
by Jonathan Schwartz (Scour used book stores; Bloomsbury) Buy it if you find it!

2. The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn

Roger Kahn’s elegiac tribute to a time, a place, and a team: the legendary, postwar Brooklyn Dodgers. Kahn’s tribute to “the boys of summer in their ruin” is filled with empathy, yet never loses his reporter’s hard edge. 

The Boys of Summer
by Roger Kahn ($19.99; Harper Perennial Modern Classics) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

Related: Parade’s D-Day Tribute: June 6, 1944 as Told by the People Who Were There

3. The Glory of Their Times by Lawrence S. Ritter

I first read Lawrence S. Ritter’s seminal work of oral history when it was serialized in The Sporting News in 1967. It was the perfect introduction to the sport; there are stories here I have never forgotten.

The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It by Lawrence S. Ritter ($18.99; Harper Perennial Modern Classics) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

4. Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris

For me, the best of baseball fiction. A sad story that never slips into the maudlin, and it’s hard to go wrong with the prose of Mark Harris.

Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris ($19.95; Bison Books) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

5. The Catcher Was a Spy by Nicholas Dawidoff

Almost novelistic in its pursuit of the elusive Moe Berg, the man content to be a third-string catcher for nearly 20 years. Nicholas Dawidoff perfectly captures the drifting, dreamlike nature of the long season, as seen through the prism of a brilliant, enigmatic, and ultimately poignant individual.

The Catcher Was a Spy by Nicholas Dawidoff ($19; Vintage) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

6. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning by Jonathan Mahler

Jonathan Mahler writes the book that I aspired to: a perfect encapsulation of the game and the city, baseball and New York. It is set during the turbulent, transformational year of 1977, a still disputed time that he takes on with humor, sympathy, and penetrating intelligence.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning by Jonathan Mahler ($22; Picador) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

7. The Roger Angell Baseball Collection by Roger Angell

Read anything by Roger Angell. He was—and is—the unchallenged dean of baseball writing, a perceptive reporter and a beautiful writer. Choosing between the collections of his annual, New Yorker pieces is almost impossible. Brilliant as Angell’s first collection Late Innings is, I find his work even more impressive on those years when I was closely following the game as an adult. The Summer Game covers years of great pennant races, followed by Angell’s sorrow over the 1981 strike. Season Ticket includes all the giddy pleasures of the 1986 playoffs—including the whole city following the Mets on its way home through rush hour. Take your pick!

Note: This e-book collection includes The Summer Game, Five Seasons (which covers the mid-1970s) and Season Ticket. 

The Roger Angell Baseball Collection by Roger Angell. ($27.99 on e-book; Open Road Media) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble

8. Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season by Jonathan Eig

Read almost anything by Jonathan Eig. His biography The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig was a breakthrough, a book that turned up unexpected sides to the stolid Yankee great’s personality. But his book on Jackie Robinson smashing the color wall in baseball was just as surprising and of even wider significance.

Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season by Jonathan Eig ($20.99; Simon & Schuster) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

9. Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers by Peter Golenbock

Peter Golenbock has made a career of telling the story of great baseball teams through riveting oral histories. But his story of the Dodgers stands out above all, revealing as it does the mixed feelings of the fans about how their team bumbled, rose—and left.

Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers by Peter Golenbock ($29.95; Dover Publications) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

10. The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood by Jane Leavy

The second of Jane Leavy’s sterling books on baseball–expertly reported despite a hero who did everything possible to push the author away–is an unswerving look at the most complicated of her subjects.

The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood by Jane Leavy ($21.99; Harper Perennial) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

11. The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth by Leigh Montville

Terrific books about Babe Ruth abound. The Big Bam—ironically, by a longtime Boston sportswriter—is the very best read in a class field, putting across all the wonder and the fun of the man.

The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth by Leigh Montville ($21; Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

12. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract by Bill James

This is Bill James at his very best, a book that is relentlessly reasoned, beautifully stubborn and always very funny. An encyclopedic assessment of the best teams, players, and eras of the game, peppered with nicknames, anecdotes, the evolution of baseball uniforms, and all sorts of assorted phenomena.

The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract by Bill James ($40; Free Press) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

Related: Stacy Schiff–The Historian Behind TV’s “Franklin”–Shares Seven Favorite Books

13. Taking On the Yankees by Henry D. Fetter

The best book I have ever read on the business of baseball. Love the Yankees or loathe them, Henry D. Fetter’s approach of analyzing how baseball’s business influenced the sport’s greatest dynasty is eye-opening—and great fun, not something one usually associates with business books!

Taking On the Yankees: Winning and Losing in the Business of Baseball, 1903-2003 by Henry D. Fetter ($15.95; W.W. Norton and Company) Buy now on AmazonBarnes & Noble

14. The Baseball Encyclopedia ed. by David S. Neft, Lee Allen, and Robert Markel

I still have my first copy: a beautifully bound, 1969 edition with its own box that my mother and father got me for my 11th birthday and which must have cost my parents more than they could easily have afforded at the time. Out of the numbers, a great story.

The Baseball Encyclopedia ed. by David S. Neft, Lee Allen, and Robert Markel (Scour used book stores; Macmillan) Buy it if you can find it!

Honorable mentions: 
Summer of ’49 by David Halberstam 

Baseball: An Illustrated History
by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns (Knopf) 

Mickey and Willie: Mantle and Mays, the Parallel Lives of Baseball’s Golden Age
by Allen Barra 

Why Time Begins on Opening Day
by Thomas Boswell 

Only the Ball Was White
by Robert Peterson 

Cuban Star: How One Negro League Owner Changed the Face of Baseball
by Adrian Burgos, Jr. 

Pride of the Bimbos
by John Sayles 

The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues
by James A. Riley 

Eight Men Out
by Eliot Asinof

Related: The 60+ Best Summer Beach Reads of 2024

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