The Essential Baseball Library

The Essential Baseball Library

by Dan Nichols


Compiled by Larry Ritter at the request of a SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) publication.

Statistical reference works excluded; listed in alphabetical order by author.

Roger Angell
The Summer Game (1972)
Five Seasons (1972)
Late Innings (1982)
Angell has such deep insights into the game and the people who play it, and writes so well, that he has virtually single-handedly elevated the quality of sportswriting to a new level.
Eliot Asinof
Eight Men Out (1963)
Asinof’s book about the 1919 Black Sox scandal still stands, a quarter century later, as one of the best jobs of investigative baseball reporting ever written.
Red Barber
The Broadcasters (1970)
1947: When All Hell Broke Loose in Baseball (1982)
Two outstanding books, filled with inside information, by the best baseball play-by-play announcer of all time.
Thomas Boswell
How Life Imitates the World Series (1982)
Why Time Begins on Opening Day (1984)
One of the few competitors to Angell in terms of elegant and insightful baseball reportage.
Bobbie Bouton & Nancy Marshall
Home Games (1983)
A straightforward and honest book that reveals a side of baseball that is rarely ackowledged, much less discussed. Poignant and moving.
Jim Bouton & Leonard Schecter
Ball Four (1970)
A pioneer in its day. Considered daring at the time but pretty tame stuff now. Perhaps the funniest baseball writing since Ring Lardner.
Jim Brosnan
The Long Season (1960)
Talk about pioneers! As far ahead of his time as Galileo.
Ty Cobb & Al Stump
My Life in Baseball (1961)
After you finish the book, then read about Al Stump’s experiences writing it (a 3-part article in True Magazine in 1961.)
Bob Creamer
Babe (1974)
Stengel: His Life and Times (1984)
Creamer writes a well-researched no-nonsense biography. The best in the business at it.
Charles Einstein
The 3 Fireside Books of Baseball (1956, 58, 68)
It is hard to understand how the publisher, Simon & Schuster, could have allowed these classics to go out of print. They should be available in a boxed set.
James T. Farrell
My Baseball Diary (1957)
A tender and loving book. As great, in its own way, as the same author’s famous Studs Lonigan trilogy.
Gordon Fleming
The Unforgettable Season (1981)
A novel and exciting way to relieve a baseball season, in this case 1908 and poor Fred Merkle. The idea is great but I think one book of its type is enough.
Larry Gerlach
The Men in Blue (1980)
Interview-type books depend on the interviewer’s skill as an interviewer and as a writer. Gerlach is tops on both counts.
Lee Gutkind
Best Seat in the House But You have to Stand (1975)
Great material, delightfully presented. One of the two best books about umpiring ever written. The other is Gerlach’s.
Bill Heward & Dimitri Gat
Some Are Called Clowns (1974)
The 1973 season of the barnstorming Indianapolis Clowns. Again wonderful material, top-notch writing.
Art Hill
I Don’t Care If I Never Come Back (1980)
A warm, wise, and funny book.
Jerry Holzman
No Cheering in the Press Box (1974)
Terrific interviews with sportswriters.
Don Honig
Baseball When the Grass Was Real (1975)
Baseball Between the Lines (1976)
The Man in the Dugout (1977)
The October Heroes (1979)
The National League (1983)
The American League (1983)
Baseball America (1985)
The first four are wonderful interview books, the next two are pictorial league histories from the turn of the century to date, with hundreds of absolutely superb photographs, and the last is a beautifully written blend of social and baseball history. Fred Lieb used to be the most prolific book-writing baseball author of all time, but Honig has overtaken him and is lengthening his lead with every copyright. In neither case has quantity diminished quality.
Rogers Hornsby & Bill Surface
My War With Baseball (1962)
Bill James
The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (1985)
Innovative, stimulating, and great reading, although not quite as good as Crime and Punishment despite what the jacket copy says.
Pat Jordan
A False Spring (1975)
Another writer in the Angell-Boswell class.
Roger Kahn
The Boys of Summer (1972)
Kahn also belongs in the same league, as this classic shows.
Gene Karst & Martin Jones
Who’s Who in Professional Baseball (1973)
An obvious labor of love that few fans seem to know about. It contains brief but interesting and well-written player biographies.
Leonard Koppett
The Thinking Man’s Guide to Baseball (1967)
Now twenty years old and dated, but in its time an eye-opener. Should be revised, updated, and reissued.
Fred Lieb
Baseball As I Have Known It (1977)
Absolutely fascinating stories about the old days by one of the best baseball writers ever.
Lee Lowenfish & Tony Lupien
The Imperfect Diamond (1980)
An important well-researched history of labor-management relations in baseball. Should be updated and reissued.
Sadaharu Oh & David Falkner
A Zen Way of Baseball (1984)
In my opinion, one of the best sports autobiographies ever written.
Daniel Okrent & Harris Lewine
The Ultimate Baseball Book (1979)
I don’t like all the articles by people like Tom Wicker and George Higgins, I don’t care for sepia-tinted photos, and many of the photograph reproductions are too small, but it is still one of the best baseball books ever published.
Robert Peterson
Only the Ball Was White (1970)
A lot of research has been done on the Negro Leagues since 1970, but when Peterson’s book came out it was pioneering work and it still stands up well today.
Damon Rice
Seasons Past (1976)
A warm and wonderful book, with the author’s name an obvious psuedonym. Within a fictional framework, covers New York baseball from the 19th century until the Dodgers and Giants went West. Has always been a special favorite of mine.
Jackie Robinson & Charles Dexter
Baseball Has Done It (1964)
Powerful stuff, written at the height of the civil rights movement.
Howard Senzel
Baseball and the Cold War (1977)
Your political views will probably greatly influence your reaction to this book. Personally, I think it is haunting, original, beautifully written. Also funny. But if you tend to be Conservative by inclination, you won’t care for it.
J.G. Taylor Spink
Judge Landis and 25 Years of Baseball (1947)
Actually, Fred Lieb wrote this, although Spink’s name is on the title page. Informative and frank and pulls surprisingly few punches, given the era in which it was written.
Geoffrey Stokes
Pinstripe Pandemonium (1984)
Billy Martin and the New York Yankees during the 1983 season. One of the best behind-the-scenes in-the-clubhouse books ever written about a baseball team.
John Thorn
The Armchair Book of Baseball (1985)
A worthy successor to the Fireside Books.
John Thorn & Pete Palmer
The Hidden Game of Baseball (1984)
Like Bill James, innovative and stimulating whether or not you agree with their conclusions.
Bill Veeck & Ed Linn
Veeck as in Wreck (1962)
Great fun and such a pleasure to read!

This is taken from an old issue of The SABR Review of Books, A Forum for Baseball Literary Opinion. They polled selected members for the books they go back to time after time. The members who were asked to participate are a true blue-ribbon panel of serious baseball writers and researchers. This list was compiled by Paul D. Adomites. The following people were contributors:

Dick Beverage             Alan Blumkin            Bill Borst
Jack Carlson              Jon Daniels             Jay Feldman
Cappy Gagnon              Mark Gallagher          Bob Hoie
Lloyd Johnson             Tom Jozwik              Jack Kavanagh
Phil Lowry                Vern Luse               John Pardon
Frank Phelps              Larry Ritter            Louis Rubin
Leverett T. Smith         Adie Suchsdorf          Jules Tygiel
David Voigt

They requested 50 books. More than 200 books were mentioned, yet the amount of agreement was remarkable. The “library” created has 57 entries. To be listed, a work had to be recommended by more than 3 participants. The two works mentioned most often were The MacMillan Baseball Encyclopedia and Lawrence Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times.

The categories were decided upon afterward just as a way to group the books.


The Sports Encyclopedia – BaseballNeft, Cohen, Deutsch
The Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia
The Sporting News Baseball Guides & Registers
The Hidden Game of BaseballThorn & Palmer


Eight Men OutEliot Asinof
DaguerreotypesThe Sporting News
The Unforgettable SeasonGordon Fleming
The American LeagueDonald Honig
The National LeagueDonald Honig
Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract
The Boys of SummerRoger Kahn
Baseball As I Have Known ItFred Lieb
The Ultimate Baseball BookOkrent & Lewine, eds
Baseball – The Early YearsHarold Seymour
Baseball – The Golden AgeHarold Seymour
Judge Landis and the Twenty-Five Years of Baseball J.G. Taylor Spinks
American Baseball (3 vols)David Voigt


Even the BrownsWilliam B. Mead
Putnam team histories


The Old Ball GameTristram Coffin
Men in BlueGerlach
Dollar Sign on the MuscleKevin Kerrane
The Imperfect DiamondLowenfish & Lupien
The Glory of Their TimesLawrence Ritter


Shoeless JoeW.P. Kinsella
The NaturalBernard Malamud


Bush LeagueRobert Obojski
Minor League Stars I and IISABR


Ty CobbCharles Alexander
Ball FourJim Bouton
The Long SeasonJim Brosnan
Pennant RaceJim Brosnan
BabeRobert L. Creamer
Stengel – His Life and TimesRobert L. Creamer
Nice Guys Finish LastLeo Durocher
Baseball Between the LinesDonald Honig
Baseball When the Grass Was RealDonald Honig
A False SpringPat Jordan
Suitors of SpringPat Jordan
Ban Johnson, Czar of BaseballEugene Murdock
The Life that Ruth BuiltMarshall Smelser
Veeck as in WreckBill Veeck


The Hot Stove LeagueLee Allen
Five SeasonsRoger Angell
Late InningsRoger Angell
The Summer GameRoger Angell
How Life Imitates the World SeriesThomas Boswell
Why Time Begins on Opening DayThomas Boswell
Insiders BaseballL. Robert Davids, ed
The Fireside Books of Baseball (3 vols)Charles Einstein, ed
The Baseball Reader (a 1 vol compilation of the 3) Einstein, ed
The Armchair Book of BaseballJohn Thorn


Voices from the Great Negro Baseball LeaguesJohn Holway
Only the Ball Was WhiteRobert Peterson


Green CathedralsPhil Lowry
Take Me Out to the Ball ParkReidenbaugh & Carter, eds

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Last modified: Fri Oct 20, 1995 – dan

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