Many people are making New Year’s resolutions this time of year, and if one of yours isn’t “read more books”, it should be! The off-season is the best time to catch up on reading, but what should you be putting in front of your eyeballs this winter? We asked a few Royals Review writers to recommend some of their favorite baseball-related books.
Max Rieper - Ben Reiter’s Astroball
If there was a sequel to Moneyball, this would be it. Sports Illustrated writer Ben Reiter, who wrote the article for the famous 2014 cover piece predicting (correctly) that the Astros would be 2017 World Champions, reflected on how the Astros went from zeroes to heroes in his book Astroball. The book takes a great behind-the-scenes look at some of the cutting-edge philosophies that helped propel the Astros to the title, including in-depth profiles and interviews with key figures like General Manager Jeff Luhnow and Director of Decision Science Sig Mejdal. Like Moneyball, the book excuses away too quickly some of the mistakes made by the front office - letting J.D. Martinez go before he blossomed, offering to trade Dallas Keuchel to Miami for nothing, and blowing back-to-back first overall picks on Mark Appel and Brady Aiken. But if you’re a fan that wants to know how a successful, modern front office operates, this book is a must-read.
Sean Thornton - John Rosengren’s The Fight of their Lives
The book is about the infamous Juan Marichal/John Roseboro fight in 1965. Over the years neither player was able to leave the incident behind them, as whenever either player was brought up, so was the fight. Time painted Marichal as the bad guy and Roseboro as just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Over time Marichal would reach out to Roseboro, and the two men would even be able to bury the hatchet. For a number of years Marichal, despite having the numbers, wouldn’t be voted into the Hall of Fame, many citing the fight. This whole section of the book is a great view into the two former players relationship, as Roseboro feels the need to set the record straight and vouch for his friend, Marichal. Two men who at once were enemies on the field would grow a friendship that many former players never achieve, yet along two that were once at odds.
sterlingice - Jim Bouton’s Ball Four
The book was written a little before my time so I can’t understand the cultural impact when it came out. However, its reputation is that of the first “behind the scenes” book into athlete life. It’s a daily diary of Jim Bouton’s 1969 season, sometimes interesting, sometimes boring, much like I imagine the life of a ballplayer to be. While telling the events of each day, he weaves old stories into the narrative. It is often mundane or cliché, however, I wonder how much was understood by the general public before this look behind the curtain. For instance, he talks a lot about the mystical Yankees and the tell-all about Mantle was quite scandalous.
But I feel his portrayal was fairly even handed: sometimes painting him as a good guy and other times not. I think the scandal is that Mantle was supposed to be above reproach but Bouton pained him as a human. I don’t believe he was trying to be mean in the tell-all, just tell-all, from the uninteresting to the shocking. He shares personal politics, personal stories, and a pretty entertaining personal wit. In short, his season is ordinary by baseball standards but it’s a perfect primary source lens through which to view the life of a baseball player and that’s why it’s a historically significant (and entertaining) book.
Do you have any baseball-related books (or even non-baseball-related books) you would recommend?