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Best Baseball Books of 2020

A list of the year’s top literary works about our national pastime

In a year made for reading rather than rooting, the nation’s publishers hit a home run in producing great baseball literature.

Titles range from “The New Baseball Bible: Notes, Nuggets, Lists, and Legends from Our National Pastime” to biographies of Yogi Berra, Jim Bouton, Roy Halladay, and Effa Manley – the only female member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Rating them, as always, is hard, but adhering to three rules helps: nonfiction only, new titles only, and no personal favorites (sorry, “New Baseball Bible”). That being said, here’s how they rate:

1 thecalledshot

1. The Called Shot: Babe Ruth, the Chicago Cubs, and the Unforgettable Major League Baseball Season of 1932 (University of Nebraska, 408 pp., $36.95), by Thomas Wolf. In an era of 16 teams, day baseball, and social upheaval, Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, and Jimmie Foxx were heroes to millions glued to radio and newspapers. Historian Tom Wolf even says Ruth called his shot twice – including the legendary blow in the 1932 World Series.

2 SCD2020Japanesecards

2. An Illustrated Introduction to Japanese Baseball Cards (RobsJapaneseCards.com, 77 pp., $19.99), by Robert K. Fitts. The most gorgeous baseball book of 2020, this illustrated history is filled with color pictures of baseball cards unseen by most Americans, plus photos of U.S. stars who toured there. This compact coffee-table book fills an important void in baseball literature.

3 fenway

3. Fenway 1946: Red Sox, Peace, and a Year of Hope (Lyons Press, 256 pp., $28), by Michael Connelly. Another book that focuses on a year, this hardcover is a significant addition to baseball history because it covers the first year of the postwar era and the return of both the game and country to normalcy.

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4 Yogi

4. Yogi: A Life Behind the Mask (Little, Brown, 576 pp., $30), by Jon Pessah. This hefty hardcover delves into the three-time MVP’s personal life, from the Normandy invasion to meeting and marrying Carmen and the establishment of the Yogi Berra Museum in Little Falls, N.J. Author Jon Pessah says, “Yogi’s story was far more complex than I could have imagined.”

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5 SCD2020HRgirlsleague

5. The Incredible Women of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (Chronicle Books, 160 pp., $19.95), by Anika Orrock. The best of several books about the wartime league is a coffee-table keepsake because the author is also an accomplished illustrator.

6 SCD2020HRQueenNegroLeagues

6. Queen of the Negro Leagues: Effa Manley and the Newark Eagles (Rowman & Littlefield, 312 pp., $35), by James Overmyer. The only woman in the Baseball Hall of Fame gallery never reached the majors but certainly influenced them, as author James Overmyer reveals in his hard-to-research volume.

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7 SCD2020HRGotham

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7. Gotham Baseball: New York’s All-Time Team (The History Press, 192 pp., $21.99), by Mark C. Healey, foreword by Marty Appel. With four big league teams hailing from New York, Mark Healy filled every position – and John Pennisi illustrated players depicted in “Gotham” uniforms designed by Todd Radom. This is the best-illustrated baseball book of 2020.

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8 billjameshandbook

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8. The Bill James Handbook 2020 (ACTA Sports, 634 pp., $30), edited by Bill James and Rob Dougherty. Current player and team records, performance projections, plus essays on subjects like future 300-game winners fill this hefty annual, a vital companion for writers and fans alike.

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9 SCD2020HRMaysbook

9. 24: Life Stories and Legends from The Say Hey Kid (St. Martin’s Press, 340 pp., $38.50), by Willie Mays and John Shea. Willie could handle Warren Spahn but was afraid of dogs. A survivor of segregation and Negro Leagues baseball, he battled his way to the bigs but loved the game so much he played stickball in the streets of Harlem. He shares his stories with Giants beat writer John Shea.

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10 SCD2020HRBouton

10. Bouton: The Life of a Baseball Original (University of Nebraska, 407 pp., $34.95), by Mitchell Nathanson. Ballplayer, broadcaster, and author, the outspoken Bouton bounced from Yankees star to Braves knuckleballer with an eight-year hiatus in between. Nathanson leaves no stone unturned.

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11 SCD2020HRWaxPack

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11. The Wax Pack: On the Open Road in Search of Baseball’s Afterlife (University of Nebraska, 280 pp., $27.95), by Brad Balukjian. The author bought and opened a pack of 1986 Topps cards, found the 14 players included, and produced a hardcover packed with their personal and professional stories – some of them surprisingly candid.

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12 courtmartialJackie

12. The Court Martial of Jackie Robinson (Stackpole Books, 283 pp., $29.95), by Michael Lee Lanning. The latest in a line of Jackie Robinson books is the most unusual, as it leans on his court martial in 1944 – three years before he broke the baseball color line. There’s lots of baseball too, including chapters on Branch Rickey, spring training, and lingering segregation.

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13 SCD2020HRBillyBall

13. Billy Ball: Billy Martin and the Resurrection of the Oakland A’s (Lyons Press, 264 pp., $24.95), by Dale Tafoya, foreword by Ken Korach. Though baseball makes strange bedfellows, none seemed quite as unlikely as Charley Finley and Billy Martin – two men whose abrasive personalities kept them out of Cooperstown. But BillyBall worked quickly and worked well.

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14 mrmet

14. Mr. Met: How a Sports-Mad Kid From Jersey Became Like Family to Generations of Big Leaguers (Triumph Books, 258 pp., $38), by Jay Horwitz, forward by Jacob deGrom. The long-time Mets PR man, my former Passaic Herald-News colleague, tells tons of inside stories in the funniest baseball book of the year. Way to go, Jay!

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15 spanking yankees

15. Spanking the Yankees: 366 Days of Bronx Bummers (Summer Game Books, 276 pp., $18.99), by Gabriel Schechter. A clever paperback that Yankee haters will love, this easy-to-read tome features three indexes: names, dates, and incidents. There are plenty of those, including brawls, bad deals, and George Steinbrenner’s hirings and firings of managers, coaches, and publicists. If something bad befell the team (like winning one world championship out of 15 playoff series), Schechter found it.

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16 bases to bleachers

16. Bases to Bleachers: A Collection of Personal Baseball Stories from the Stands and Beyond (Palmetto Publishing, 337, pp., $19.99), by Eric C. Gray. The most unusual book of the season, this paperback is packed with stories not found anywhere else – memories of people, places, and events from writers, fans, and friends of the author.

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17 swing kings

17. Swing Kings: The Inside Story of Baseball’s Home Run Revolution (William Morrow, 322 pp., $35.99), by Jared Diamond. Charlie Lau, Walt Hriniak, and a myriad of other hitting coaches even more unfamiliar to fans offer diverse theories of hitting that combined to create the current feast-or-famine approach to hitting that allowed half the clubs to set home run records last year. Author Jared Diamond even dubs one of them “the Mad Scientist.”

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18 hall ball

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18. The Hall Ball: One Fan’s Journey to Unite Cooperstown Immortals with a Single Baseball (McFarland, 263 pp., $35.49), by Ralph Carhart, foreword by John Thorn. One way to meet every living Hall of Famer is to get them to pose for individual pictures with the same baseball. Ralph Carhart did it, complete with laugh-out-loud captions for photos taken at card shows.

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19. Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay (Triumph Books, 346 pp., $28), by Todd Zolecki. The Phillies beat writer for MLB.com presents a polished personal profile of the late Hall of Fame pitcher, with more than 100 interviews from teammates, rivals, and other baseball insiders.

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20 working perfect game

20. Working a Perfect Game: Conversations With Umpires (Summer Game Books, 294 pp., $18.99), by Bill Nowlin. As someone who co-authored a book with umpire Al Clark, I know umpires have a lot to say. Nowlin found it over a four-year span, interviewing 72 MLB umps plus supervisors and subs called up from the minors.

21 stealing home

21. Stealing Home: Los Angeles, the Dodgers, and the Lives Caught in Between (Public Affairs, 352 pp., $28), by Eric Nusbaum. Building Dodger Stadium, great for the team and the game, was tough for locals forced to vacate their homes, as this behind-the-scenes volume proves.

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22 hall of name

22. Hall of Name: Baseball’s Most Magnificent Monikers from ‘The Only Nolan’ to ‘Van Lingle Mungo’ and More (The Book!, 326 pp., $18), by D.B. Firstman. The Sultan of Swat, Splendid Splinter, and Say Hey Kid come alive again in this clever and colorful paperback, which also reveals the real first names of Whitey Herzog, Sparky Anderson, Chipper Jones, and many more.

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23 gotta have heart

23. You Gotta Have Heart: Washington Baseball from Walter Johnson to the 2019 World Champion Nationals (Lyons Press, 209 pp., $24.95), by Frederick J. Frommer, foreword by Chuck Todd. Before the Nationals won their first world title, Washington was called first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League. This book, which takes its title from Damn Yankees, explains the heroes and heartbreakers of three different teams based in D.C.

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24 buzzsaw

24. Buzz Saw: The Improbable Story of How the Washington Nationals Won the World Series (Simon & Schuster, 308 pp., $28), by Jesse Dougherty. On the rare occasions a wild-card team becomes a world champion, there are victors and victims – as the Nationals showed in capturing a surprise title in 2019. The author is the Nats’ beat writer for The Washington Post.

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25 red sox

25. Red Sox in 5s and 10s: Boston’s Agony and Ecstasy (The History Press, 208 pp., $21.99), by Bill Nowlin, foreword by Rico Petrocelli. This enjoyable paperback contains everything you wanted to know about the Red Sox but were afraid to ask – from oddballs and oddities to wild scores, crazy games, foreign-born players, and best Boston teams of all time.

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26. Mutt’s Dream: the Making of the Mick (Ascend Books, 320 pp., $22.95), by Howard Burman. Of all the Mantle books ever published, this hardcover is the first to look at the Yankees superstar from his father’s perspective. P.S.: Mickey was his given name (after Mickey Cochrane).

27. Dodgers vs. Yankees: the Long-Standing Rivalry Between Two of Baseball’s Greatest Teams (Sports Publishing, 288 pp., $24.99), by Michael Schiavone. When it was Bronx vs. Brooklyn, the great rivals competed to win a World Series for New York. But even after they went west, the Dodgers maintained their competition with the Yankees, meeting in multiple World Series.

28. From The Stick to The Cove: My Six Decades with the San Francisco Giants (Triumph, 240 pp., $16.44), by Mike Murphy and Chris Haft, forward by Willie Mays. Clubhouse manager for the Giants in six decades, Mike Murphy has marvelous stories, even including nicknames and numbers.

29. A Fan’s Guide to Baseball Analytics (Sports Publishing, 240 pp., $16.99), by Anthony Castrovince. Count this columnist as one who learned a lot from this book, which makes analytics much more understandable.

30. Always Remembered: New Revelations and Old Tales About the Fabulous Expos (Scoop Press, 264 pp., $19.95), by Danny Gallagher. A long-time Expos beat writer, in his sixth fine book about the team, weaves 94 interviews around his memories of Montreal’s team.

Honorable Mention:

The Cup of Coffee Club: 11 Players and Their Brush With Baseball History (Rowman & Littlefield, 216 pp., $29.95), by Jacob Kornhauser.

Future Value: the Battle for Baseball’s Soul and How Teams Will Find the Next Superstar (Triumph, 363 pp., $28), by Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel.

The Inside Game: Bad Calls, Strange Moves, and What Baseball Behavior Teaches Us About Ourselves (William Morrow, 264 pp., $28.99), by Keith Law.

One Tough Out: Fighting Off Life’s Curveballs (Triumph Books, 324 pp., $26.95), by Rod Carew with Jamie Aron.

Now Taking the Field: Baseball’s All-Time Dream Teams for All 30 Franchises (ACTA Sports, 600 pp., $18.95), by Tom Stone.

Game Used: My Life in Stitches With the Minnesota Twins (Triumph, 287 pp., $28), by Dick Bremer with Jim Bruton, foreword by Bert Blyleven.

New York Mets All-Time All-Stars: The Best Players at Each Position for the Amazin’s (Lyons Press, 254 pp., $18.95), by Brian Wright.

Building the Brewers: Bud Selig and the Return of Major League Baseball to Milwaukee (McFarland, 222 pp., $29.95), by Chris Zantow.

Cleveland Rocked: The Personalities, Sluggers, and Magic of the 1995 Indians (Triumph, 261 pp., $28), by Zack Meisel, forewords by Sandy Alomar Jr. and Jim Thome.

Baseball in St. Louis: from Little Leagues to Major Leagues (Reedy Press, 240 pp., $36.99), by Ed Wheatley.

Future Value: The Battle for Baseball’s Soul and How Teams Will Find the Next Superstar (Triumph, 363 pp., $28), by Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel, foreword by Keith Law.

All it Takes is All Ya Got: Craig Counsell (Lone Wolfe Publishing, 271 pp., $23.49), by Rich Wolfe.

The Baltimore Black Sox: A Negro Leagues History 1913-1936 (McFarland, 212 pp., $35), by Bernard McKenna.

Sol White’s Official Baseball Guide (Summer Game Books, 156 pp., $13.99), introduction and notes by Gary Ashwill.

San Francisco Year Zero: Political Upheaval, Punk Rock, and a Third-Place Baseball Team (Rutgers University Press, 312 pp., $23.49), by Lincoln Mitchell.

The Man Who Made Babe Ruth: Brother Matthias of St. Mary’s School (McFarland, 226 pp., $35), by Brian Martin.

The Fielding Bible: Breakthrough Analysis of Major League Baseball Defense – by Team and Player (ACTA Sports, 344 pp., $29.95), by John Dewan, Mark Simon, and Brian Reiff.

Isabel “Lefty” Alvarez: the Improbable Life of a Cuban American Baseball Star (University of Nebraska, 208 pp., $29.95), by Kat D. Williams.

New York Loves Them, Cooperstown Snubs Them: Great Mets and Yankees Who Belong In The Hall of Fame (McFarland, 202 pp., $35), by Tom Van Riper.

Who Got Game? Amazing But True Baseball Stories (Workman Publishing, 172 pp., $12.95), by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by John John Bajet.

The Negro Leagues Were Major Leagues: Historians Reappraise Black Baseball (McFarland, 323 pp., $49.95), edited by Todd Peterson.

Intangibles: Unlocking the Science and Soul of Team Chemistry (Little Brown, 272 pp., $28), by Joan Ryan.

Cum Posey of the Homestead Grays: a Biography of the Negro Leagues Owner and Hall of Famer (McFarland, 285 pp., $35), by James E. Overmyer.

(Tie) Cy Young: the Baseball Life and Career (McFarland, 205 pp., $29.95), by Lew Freedman, and Cy Young: an American Baseball Hero (Ohio University Press, 133 pp., $14.95), by Scott H. Longert.

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Long-time SCD contributor Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, N.J., is a former AP sportswriter who is now national baseball writer for forbes.com. He has written or co-authored 38 baseball books Dan’s website is www.DanSchlossberg.net and email address is ballauthor@gmail.com.