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UTK Special 3/14/23
Ron Kaplan's Baseball Books 2023
No one does baseball books like Ron Kaplan. His Baseball Bookshelf is a must read, as well as his interviews with writers. He was kind enough to put together a list of this year’s books, so a special tip of the cap to Ron. I’m sure you’ll enjoy as I did:
Think the game is going too fast? Take time to read all about it.
Like every other baseball fan, I await opening day with a sense of joyous impatience. But I think I’m part of a smaller group that enjoys reading about baseball as much as watching it. So each year, while others are getting ready for “pitchers and catchers,” I’m anxiously awaiting the new lineup of books on our favorite game.
Just like the pundits who tout the hot prospects on the field, I’m looking forward to a handful of literary all-stars. An informal count – always subject to change – indicates that, according to Amazon, almost 100 baseball books are due out this year. Here are a few I think will do well at the “box office.”
Winning Fixes Everything: How Baseball’s Brightest Minds Created Sports’ Biggest Mess, by Evan Drellich (Harper). Another book about the Astros’ cheating scandal? Apparently so, but this one has been getting the lion’s share of media attention early on.
Black Stats Matter: Integrating Negro League Numbers into Major League Records, by Phillip Lee (McFarland). This was my biggest question when MLB decided to absorb the Negro Leagues as part of their own. McFarland has a reputation for publishing books about some issues and sports figures other companies might not touch, so kudos to them.
The Greatest Summer in Baseball History: How the ’73 Season Changed Us Forever, by John Rosengren (Sourcebooks). Those who follow my blog know I disdain the use of words like “Greatest” and “Forever,” but Rosengren has a good track record so I’m hoping he can dissuade me from that position.
Baseball’s Endangered Species: Inside the Craft of Scouting by Those Who Lived It, by Lee Lowenfish (University of Nebraska Press). Contemporary fans might base their ideas about scouts from their dubious portrayal in Moneyball but where would we be without their hard work in discovering and signing the likes of Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, and countless others?
Road to Nowhere: The Early 1990s Collapse and Rebuild of New York City Baseball, by Chris Donnelly (University of Nebraska Press). As someone who lived (and suffered) through those rough years, enough time and success have passed to rip off the bandage and look at the scars left behind.
The New Ballgame: The Not-So-Hidden Forces That Shape Modern Baseball, by Russell Carleton (Triumph). Gee, I wonder to whom the author is referring? Could it be… Satan? Carleton does well with examination of trends, as he did in his 2018 book, The Shift: The Next Evolution in Baseball Thinking.
A Damn Near Perfect Game: Reclaiming America’s Pastime, by Joe Kelly with Rob Bradford (Diversion Books). Another book written by someone intimately connected with the game opining on what’s wrong and how to fix it, although the twist here is that the 35-year-old Kelly, a pretty fair middle reliever, is still an active player. It will be interesting to learn from whom he believes the game must be “reclaimed.”
The Tao of the Backup Catcher: Playing Baseball for the Love of the Game, by Tim Brown (Twelve). I don’t know how many aspiring players think, “Gee, wouldn’t it be great to be a backup catcher?” Ralph Houk held that status for the New York Yankees during their post-war glory years (1947-54) and never played more than 41 games in a single season, and that was as a rookie. But these days the money is good and there’s not a whole lot of responsibility so this seems like a fun read.
Mallparks: Baseball Stadiums and the Culture of Consumerism, by Michael T. Friedman (Cornell University Press). It may be a cliché, but doesn’t every team have a bespectacled player nicknamed “Professor?” Consider this one the intellectual representative of the group.
Why We Love Baseball: A History of the Game in 50 Moments, by Joe Posnanski (Dutton). Posnanski published what many consider the baseball book of the year in 2021 with The Baseball 100 (it won Spitball Magazine’s coveted CASEY Award). I’m sure this one will be just as erudite and entertaining.
No Crying in Baseball: The Inside Story of A League of Their Own: Big Stars, Dugout Drama, and a Home Run for Hollywood, by Erin Carlson (Hachette). This combines my two favorite pastimes, baseball and the movies. If it’s anything like Ron Shelton’s memoir about the making of Bull Durham, it will be a home run, indeed.
From the Front Row: Reflections of a Major League Baseball Owner and Modern Art Dealer, by Jeffrey Loria (Post Hill Press). All right, maybe this one is a bit personal. But as a someone with Montreal roots, I’m interested in what the man who ruined the Expos and pretty much forced their expulsion from the Majors has to say in his defense.
Ron Kaplan is the host of the eponymous Ron Kaplan’s Baseball Bookshelf, the longest-running blog on baseball books and pop culture.