The baseball offseason signals the arrival of the baseball reading season. And there are dozens of dynamic volumes to bridge the gap between the World Series and the date pitchers and catchers report to spring training in mid-February.
Subjects range from Cooperstown to cheating, with plenty of history, biography and picture books perfect for holiday gift-buying.
Here is the best of them, plus some honorable mentions:
1. 150 Years of Braves Baseball (Skybox Press, 169 pp., $50), edited by Scott Gummer, foreword by Hank Aaron, introduction by Terry McGuirk. Tracing the history of the team from Boston to Milwaukee and Atlanta, this oversized, lavishly-illustrated hardcover has more full-page pictures — past and present — than any other 2021 tome. Beyond the book, the Braves marked their 150th anniversary with a special uniform patch, pre-game events and commemorative merchandise.
2 (tie). Picturing America’s Pastime: Historic Photography from the Baseball Hall of Fame Archives (Mango Publishing, 319 pp., $34.95), edited by the Hall of Fame staff, foreword by Randy Johnson.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame Collection (Epic Ink, 192 pp., $40), by James Buckley, foreword by Cal Ripken Jr.
While the former resembles a typical team yearbook from seasons past, the latter profiles more than 175 Hall of Famers and lists the entire membership. It stands out because of its striking design and lavish use of color pictures. There’s room for both on the baseball bookshelf.
3. The Baseball 100 (Simon & Schuster, 880 pp., $33.99), by Joe Posnanski. As this column suggests, rating anything invites controversy — especially in a sport rife with diverse opinions. Ruth vs. Aaron are here, along with Mays vs. Mantle, Spahn vs. Koufax, and so many more. And the writer does a fine job parlaying his knowledge of baseball history with crisp writing.
4. Derek Jeter: A Celebration of the Yankee Captain (Triumph, 232 pp., $30), written by Sports Illustrated staff. Yet another timely title with oversize color pictures, this tribute to the newest Hall of Famer will appeal to fans of both the player and his team.
5. The Case for Barry Bonds in the Hall of Fame: The Untold and Forgotten Stories of Baseball’s Home Run King (Riverdale Avenue Books, 261 pp., $16.99), by K.P. Wee. Always accused but never confessed or convicted, Bonds has been barred from Cooperstown because of suspicion. But numbers don’t lie — and no one had more home runs, 30/30 seasons or MVP awards. With Bonds approaching his last time on the Hall of Fame ballot, this volume is especially timely.
6 (tie). Hank Aaron: A Tribute to the Hammer (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 128 pp., $16.95), by AJC staff writers and photographers, foreword by Chipper Jones.
Hank Aaron: American Hero 1934-2021 (ESPN, 80 pp., $14.99), edited by Scott Burton.
Underrated and overlooked his entire career, Aaron might have been the best player ever — or at least since the Second World War. These illustrated tribute books present compelling arguments.
7. Forty Years a Giant: The Life of Horace Stoneham (University of Nebraska, 477 pp., $36.95), by Steven Treder. Players, coaches and managers rarely last this long — especially with one club. But Stoneham made an enormous impact as owner, promoting Willie Mays, cultivating Caribbean stars Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal, and moving west from New York. A shy man who took the reins at age 32 and held on until baseball economics forced him to sell, the likes of Stoneham won’t be seen again. This is the biggest and best baseball biography of the year.
8. Memories From the Microphone: A Century of Baseball Broadcasting (Mango Publishing, 319 pp., $19.95), by Curt Smith. From the first radio game through the advent of cable TV and beyond, Smith cements his reputation as the voice of authority on baseball broadcasting in a comprehensive, often-comical paperback. He makes Harry Caray, Bob Uecker and other characters come to life right in the reader’s living room.
9. 1962: Baseball and America in the Time of JFK (University of Nebraska, 335 pp., $34.95), by David Krell. Since baseball is an integral part of American history, the author did well at matching the two. His topics range from the glamorous Jackie Kennedy to the hapless expansion Mets and also include Richard Nixon’s gubernatorial defeat, Harry Chiti’s trade for himself and the space race. Joe & Marilyn are here too, as Krell was sure to cover all the bases of one memorable year.
10. The Bill James Handbook 2021 (ACTA Publications, 578 pp., $30), edited by John Dewan. Talk about one-stop shopping for both the fan and the researcher! This hefty paperback, by far the best bookstore bargain of every season, has info not found anywhere else — from 300-win candidates to team and player stats, potential Hall of Famers, rookie rankings, rules changes, and even lefty-righty splits, defensive runs saved and tendencies of managers and ballparks. I can’t wait to see how much new material will surface in next year’s edition.
11. The Bronx Zoom: Inside the New York Yankees’ Most Bizarre Season (Triumph, 240 pp., $28), by Bryan Hoch, foreword by Gerrit Cole. The best and most detailed book to come out of Pandemic Year 1 — which shortened the season and changed the rules — this behind-the-scenes look at how the Yankees handled Covid-19 could be transposed to any baseball clubhouse. It’s not only filled with quotes from the Yankees but also from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the health expert whose daily briefings tried to calm the country during a deadly plague. Congratulations to the author for telling the tale so well.
12. Beyond Baseball’s Color Barrier: The Story of African Americans in Major League Baseball, Past, Present and Future (Rowman & Littlefield, 232 pp., $32), by Rocco Constantino, foreword by Luis Tiant. This informative, well-researched hardcover, up to date through the COVID calamity of 2020-21, not only tells how black players reached the big leagues but also suggests more would have done if not for some being lured away by football and basketball, plus the prohibitive cost of baseball equipment. Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron command considerable coverage but the author doesn’t ignore Josh Gibson and others who never made the majors.
13. The Captain and Me (Triumph, 283 pp., $28), by Ron Blomberg with Dan Epstein, foreword by Diana Munson. In his second book, the first DH tells tales about his friend and teammate Thurman Munson, the long-time Yankees captain whose career was curtailed by a plane crash. In a large-type, easy-to-read hardcover devoid of pictures, Blomberg makes a strong case for Munson to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
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14. The Reshaping of America’s Game: Major League Baseball After the Players Strike (Rowman & Littlefield, 289 pp., $45), by Bryan Soderholm-Difatte. The irony of history is obvious in this creative hardcover: the man who cancelled the 1994 postseason wins praise for sparking an economic boom based upon expansion, merchandising, publicity and format changes. Bud Selig, certainly a controversial Cooperstown selection, was in charge for the advent of the wild-card, three divisions per league and interleague play, reaping record revenues for owners and players but changing the face of the game forever. This book explains how.
15. 1930: The Story of a Baseball Season When Hitters Reigned Supreme (Sports Publishing, 320 pp., $24.99), by Lew Freedman. The 1930 season will always be remembered as The Year of the Hitter. Nearly 80 players hit .300, with Bill Terry topping .400 and Hack Wilson flirting with 200 runs batted in. This hardcover reveals the reasons for the onslaught and how the game fixed it.
16. Double Plays and Double Crosses: The Black Sox and Baseball in 1920 (Rowman & Littlefield, 323 pp., $36), by Don Zminda. The Black Sox scandal extended beyond the 1919 World Series, according to this book, but still stands as the greatest cheating scheme in baseball history. Written by a talented Chicago-based baseball historian, this long-overdue hardcover discusses the duplicity of Sox ownership and touches on other scandals rocking the game simultaneously.
17. The Least Among Them: 29 Players, Their Brief Moments in the Big Leagues, and a Unique History of the New York Yankees (Artemesia Publishing, 272 pp., $17.95), by Paul Semendinger. The author, an avid fan of the Yankees, found a new avenue for a team book by tackling biographies of Elvio Jimenez and others who would otherwise be forgotten. It’s a fun read.
18. Cobra: A Life of Baseball and Brotherhood (University of Nebraska, 447 pp., $34.95), by Dave Parker and Dave Jordan. Like Hank Aaron, Parker played right field, hit for power and produced in the clutch. Yet he’s been kept out of Cooperstown by both the writers and veterans — an oversight that could be corrected if voters read this book.
19. Our Team: The Epic Story of Four Men and the World Series That Changed Baseball (Flatiron Books, 389 pp., $29.99), by Luke Epplin, $29.99. The main reason Cleveland won the 1948 pennant and World Series was the quartet of owner Bill Veeck, holdover Bob Feller and new arrivals Larry Doby and Satchel Paige — all now members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Player-manager Lou Boudreau made a major impact too, as this well-researched title reveals.
20. Cheated: The Inside Story of the Astros Scandal and a Colorful History of Sign Stealing (Doubleday, 270 pp., 28), by Andy Martino. Though cheating is as old as the game itself, the extent, ingenuity and apparent continuity of the Houston enterprise during the 2017 World Series and beyond rocked the baseball world. The author is a veteran sportswriter who details the scandal better than anyone else — and also compares it with other sign-stealing incidents.
21. Tony Lazzeri: Yankees Legend and Baseball Pioneer (University of Nebraska, 314 pp., $34.95), by Lawrence Baldassaro. Baseball’s first major Italian star had the misfortune of playing for the Yankees during the heyday of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. But he reached the Hall of Fame on his own, thanks to the Veterans Committee and is finally getting the recognition he deserved.
22. Gathering Crowds: Catching Baseball Fever in the New Era of Free Agency (Rowman & Littlefield, 339 pp., $40) by Paul Hensler. So much has changed in baseball during two pandemic-tinged seasons that this book, which covers 1977-89 seems like ancient history. But rarely has the game seen so many personalities, performances, or problems — from labor unrest to drug trials — and seldom has it been covered so well. Even the baseball card boom is included.
23. The Best Team Over There: The Untold Story of Grover Cleveland Alexander and The Great War (University of Nebraska, 247 pp., $29.95), by Jim Leeke. He won 373 games but would have won many more if not for World War I, which interrupted his brilliant career and hampered his style. This well-researched hardcover, with more military than baseball reportage, traces Alexander’s life before, during and after World War I.
24. Covid Curveball: An Inside View of the 2020 Los Angeles Dodgers World Championship Season (Simon & Schuster, 304 pp., $28), by Tim Neverett & Orel Hershiser. In a season with a shortened schedule and changed rules, the Dodgers took their first world title in 32 years. Broadcaster Tim Neverett, who witnessed all of it, has created a lyrical tribute to Mookie, Muncy and the pitchers who made it possible.
25. True Blue: The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Unforgettable 2020 World Series Season (Los Angeles Daily News, 128 pp., $14.95), by Bill Plunkett and staff photographers. The perfect souvenir from a rare World Championship season, this full-color paperback looks, feels and reads like a baseball yearbook — and is short, sweet, enjoyable, entertaining and easy-to-read. Nice job!
26. Carl Hubbell: Five Fabulous Seasons That Paved The Way to Cooperstown (Sunbury Press, 262 pp., $19.95), by Ronald A. Mayer. Like Sandy Koufax, Carl Hubbell parlayed a sizzling five-season stretch into a Cooperstown plaque. The left-handed screwball specialist of the New York Giants finished with 253 wins, far from the 300 Club but was still a no-brainer when his name came up for a vote. This paperback biography, which includes regular stats but few pictures, explains why.
27. America’s Game in the Wild-Card Era: From Strike to Pandemic (Rowman & Littlefield, 273 pp., $45), by Bryan Soderholm-Difatte. The 25-year span between the player strike and the pandemic was marked by changes in structure, rules and format but may have generated the most headlines in the game’s history. Interleague play, performance-enhancing substances and the triumph of power over pitching captured considerable attention — almost as much as the Cubs finally winning a World Series after a 108-year drought. This book stands as an important addition to the historical record of a tumultuous but entertaining quarter-decade.
28. Mount Rushmore of the New York Mets: The Best Players to Wear the Orange and Blue (Sports Publishing, 192 pp., $15.99), by Brett Topel and Greg W. Prince. If the Mets had their own Mount Rushmore, which four players would be carved on it? Tom Seaver is a given, as this book says, but there’s much debate over the others chosen in a national fan poll: Mike Piazza, Keith Hernandez and David Wright. The book presents plenty of alternatives, including Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden in a decade-by-decade team history.
29. Lights, Camera, Fastball: How the Hollywood Stars Changed Baseball (Rowman & Littlefield, 385 pp., $38), by Dan Taylor, foreword by Fred Claire. Before the majors went west in 1958, the Pacific Coast League was a Triple-A circuit with teams in future MLB cities and a penchant for good weather, good salaries and attention from movie stars. The most colorful club, the Hollywood Stars, deserved a book of its own (thanks to more than short pants) and finally got a good one.
30. Two Sides of Glory: The 1986 Boston Red Sox in Their Own Words (University of Nebraska, 253 pp., $29.95), by Erik Sherman, foreword by Joe Castiglione. After writing three Mets books, Sherman turned his interview talents toward Boston, capturing memories of the 1986 Red Sox. They’re all here, from the ill-fated Bill Buckner to the fading Tom Seaver, a midseason arrival whose tutoring helped the young Red Sox stars believe they could win. The large-print hardcover is a swift and entertaining read — even for Boston fans still stricken by the sudden loss.
31. So Many Ways to Lose: The Amazin’ True Story of the New York Mets — the Best Worst Team in Sports (Harper, 400 pp., $27,99), by Devin Gordon. Entertaining but opinionated, this tongue-in-cheek volume misses a few bases — such as the 2007 September swoon — but makes up for the omission with teams, players, managers and events most Mets fans would prefer to forget. Even they should relish the trip down memory lane, especially with the 2021 collapse so fresh on their minds.
32. Comeback Pitchers: The Remarkable Careers of Howard Ehmke and Jack Quinn (University of Nebraska, 473 pp., $39.95), by Lyle Spatz & Steve Steinberg, foreword by Pat Williams. A scholarly volume packed with footnotes, index and bibliography; this hardcover should inspire seniors who thrived even after they were shunted aside by age. Both pitchers profiled so well here went where no man had gone before — except perhaps Captain Pickard. And the picture of Ehmke’s submarine delivery is priceless.
33. The Great Bambino: Babe Ruth’s Life in Pictures (Centennial Books, 192 pp., $19.99), by Sam Chase. Of all the volumes written about the bombastic home run king, this one might be the easiest to peruse. Packed with pictures from historical archives, the author tells the tale of the Baltimore street kid whose athletic skills made him a matinee idol — even after he retired.
34. The Pride of Minnesota: The Twins in the Turbulent 1960s (University of Nebraska, 296 pp., $32.95), by Thom Henninger. A step back in time, this hardcover covers the first decade of the Minnesota Twins (nee Washington Senators) and their transformation to contender status. It’s the story of future Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew and should-be Hall of Famers Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva, plus such other unforgettable characters as versatile Cesar Tovar and Cuban curveballer Camilo Pascual. This well-written book brings back terrific memories.
35. The Big 50 Chicago Cubs (Triumph, 272 pp., $16.95), by Carrie Muskat, foreword by Anthony Rizzo. In a year of terrific team books, this paperback is one of the best. It ranks the men and moments of Cubs history from the good (2016 World Series clincher) to the terrible (College of Coaches) but doesn’t omit the bizarre (Lee Elia’s rant) or the unfortunate (Ernie Broglio). The writing, design and sidebar selections are all first-class. But why is controversial broadcaster Harry Caray so near the top?
36. The Forgotten 1970 Chicago Cubs: Go and Glow (The History Press, 143 pp., $21.99), by William S. Bike. After blowing a big lead in 1969, the Cubs came back a year later with some new blood (Joe Pepitone) and some old problems (no speed). Although temperamental pilot Leo Durocher didn’t get along with some of his players, the team finished five games out — closer than in ‘69. The author spices up his paperback with a what-if 1970 World Series scenario but loses credibility by spelling Bobby Murcer’s surname wrong repeatedly.
37. 11 in ‘11: A Hometown Hero, La Russa’s Last Ride in Red, and a Miracle World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals (Triumph, 236 pp., $28), by Benjamin Hochman, foreword by Chris Carpenter. Ten years ago, Tony La Russa led the Cards to a stunning finish and world title, then retired as a manager en route to Cooperstown. He’s back at age 76, with the White Sox team that first hired him, but nothing can top the historic miracle finish of 2011 outlined here. It’s the well-documented story of newcomer Rafael Furcal, soon-to-leave St. Louis icon Albert Pujols, and a team led by Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina, a battery still clicking today at age 40.
38. The Boston Red Sox All-Time All-Stars (Lyons Press, 223 pp., $18.95), by Jeffrey Lyons, with a note from Joe Castliglione. There’s nothing like a pretty little paperback packed with trivia and baseball cards — including one of the author’s son — to liven up this mostly-serious collection of 2021 books. The author is a rabid Red Sox fan with an obvious sense of humor.
39. Comeback Season: My Unlikely Story of Friendship With the Greatest Living Negro League Baseball Players (Gallery Books, 255 pp., $27), by Cam Perron with Nick Chilen, foreword by Hank Aaron. Buying a set of Negro Leagues baseball cards in 2005 convinced the author, then 12, to contact players from those leagues. He did, launching a friendship with many, and recorded his memories in this unusual hardcover.
40. 42 Today: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy (Washington Mews Books, 239 pp., $27.95), edited by Michael G. Long, foreword by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon. The legacy of Jackie Robinson was so far-reaching that it still has impact today, as this volume of essays reveals. His record as a player who preached non-violence but pushed for racial justice comes into clear focus in this impressive and much-needed follow-up to the myriad of books on Robinson’s career.
The Bona Fide Legend of Cool Papa Bell: Speed, Grace, and the Negro Leagues (Harry N. Abrams, 288 pp., $28), by Lonnie Wheeler.
Baseball’s Leading Lady: Effa Manley & the Rise and Fall of the Negro Leagues (Roaring Brook Press, 336 pp., $19.99), by Andrea Williams, illustrated by Anika Orrick.
The Umpire Was Blind: Controversial Calls by MLB’s Men in Blue (McFarland, 206 pp., $29.95), by Jonathan Weeks.
Maris & Mantle: Two Yankees, Immortality, and the Age of Camelot (Triumph, 320 pp., $28), by Tony Castro.
Power and Pinstripes: My Years Training the New York Yankees (Triumph, 255 pp, $28), by Jeff Mangold with Peter Botte. A trainer with both the Mets and Yankees, Mangold tells stories of players, managers and owners — especially the late George Steinbrenner — in a hardcover with a glossy photo section. Even Bill Clinton and George Bush are included.
When Your Wife Has Tommy John Surgery (Stone Bridge Press, 384 pp., $19.99), by E. Ethelbert Miller.
Baseball and the House of David (McFarland, 220 pp., $39.95), by P.G. Dragseth, foreword by Brian Ziebart.
The Ultimate Chicago Cubs Time Machine Book (Lyons Press, 196 pp., $18.95), by Martin Gitlin.
The Ultimate New York Mets Time Machine Book (Lyons Press, 208 pp., $18.95), by Martin Gitlin.
Baseball: The New York Game (9 Inch Marketing, 220 pp., $15.95), by Tony Morante, forward by Michael Kay.
My 1961 (August Publications, 342 pp., $19.61), by Andy Strasberg.
Walter Alston (McFarland, 210 pp., $35), by Alan H. Levy.
If These Walls Could Talk: Stories from the New York Mets Dugout, Locker Room and Press Box (Triumph, 220 pp., $17.95), by Mike Puma, forewords by Keith Hernandez and Hank Azaria.
Miracle Moments in New York Mets History: The Turning Points, the Memorable Games, the Incredible Records (Sports Publishing, $24.99) by Brett Topel.
Fans: How Watching Sports Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Understanding (Algonquin Books, 310 pp., $25.95), by Larry Olmsted.
The Best Little Baseball Town in the World: The Crowley Millers and Minor League Baseball in the ‘50s (Rowman & Littlefield, 252 pp, $38) by Gaylon H. White.
Just Like Me: When the Pros Played on the Sandlot (Sunbury Press, 225 pp., $38), by Kelly G. Park.
The Only Way is the Steady Way (Invisible Ink, 192 pp., $19.95), by Andrew Forbes.
The Giants and Their City (Kent State University, 250 pp., $29.95), by Lincoln Mitchell.
Zack Wheat: The Life of the Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Famer (McFarland, 196 pp., $29.95), by Joe Niese.
Remember Who You Are: What Pedro Gomez Showed Us About Baseball and Life (Wellstone Books, $26.95), by Steve Kettman.
Frank Selee: Hall of Fame Manager (McFarland, 205 pp., $35), by Richard Bressler.
Tokyo Junkie: 60 Years of Bright Lights, Back Alleys & Baseball (Stone Bridge Press, 384 pp., $19.95), by Robert Whiting.
Lightning Strikes Twice: Johnny Vander Meer and the Cincinnati Reds (McFarland, 197 pp., $35), by Lew Freedman.
Historic Ballparks of the Twin Cities (History Press, 176 pp., $21.99), by Stew Thornley.
The African American Baseball Experience in Nebraska (McFarland, 304 pp., $39.95), by Angelo J. Louisa, foreword by James E. Overmyer.
Remembrance of Swings Past: A Lifetime of Baseball Stories (Self-published, 310 pp., $15.99), by Scott Pitoniak, $15.99.
— Long-time SCD columnist Dan Schlossberg, the author of 38 books himself, covers baseball for forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly and many other outlets. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.