If you have a baseball-loving reader in your life, this has been an unusually good year for books about their favorite sport. Here are some suggestions for holiday gifts.
The Big Fella by Jane Leavy
Perhaps the most publicized baseball book of the year, Leavy has a novel take on Babe Ruth’s life, and she centers it on a barnstorming trip the Babe and Lou Gehrig took after the 1927 season.
Leavy examines the role that Ruth’s agent, Christy Walsh, the Scott Boras of his day, played in his life.
For Baltimoreans hoping that the Babe had warm feelings about his birthplace, well, he doesn’t. Once he left Baltimore, he rarely returned.
Astroball: The New Way to Win it All by Ben Reiter
Our publisher, Steve Cockey, recently read it, and liked it.
Astroball is required reading for any Oriole fan looking to learn more about Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal. Author Ben Reiter takes you inside Houston’s front office and their emphasis on process (rather than results) when making the thousands of decisions that led to their 2017 world championship. Mejdal is a central focus, from his background as a blackjack dealer and NASA engineer to his ascent within the Cardinals’ and Astros’ power structures. Elias is highlighted particularly for his selection of Carlos Correa in the 2012 amateur draft.
It’s an impartial account of Houston’s path to reemergence, with as much focus given to their failures as their successes. This honesty is what I enjoyed most about the book. The Astros’ brass isn’t painted as a bunch of know-it-alls who outsmarted the competition at every turn. Their mistakes – like giving up J.D. Martinez – were treated as opportunities to learn and improve, a fact that wasn’t lost on Reiter.
Given the Orioles’ new emphasis on analytics and scouting, and the two men they’ve hired to lead the charge, Astroball has instantly become a must-read in Birdland.
Davey Johnson: My Wild Ride in Baseball and Beyond by Davey Johnson and Erik Sherman
Released during the spring, Johnson tells stories about his early days as a player in the Orioles’ organization and some about his unhappy return as manager.
Orioles’ Big Bird: Mark Trumbo Speaks Softly but Carries a Big Stick by Peter Schmuck
For the young reader, there are some interesting stories about Trumbo’s youth and how he was converted by necessity from a promising high school pitcher to a position player.
Now Taking the Field: Baseballs’ All-time Dream Team for All 30 Franchises by Tom Stone
This contains an intriguing chapter that merges the Orioles and Browns and comes up with optimal lineups against right-handers and left-handers. The combined Orioles and Browns squads may be unsatisfying to Orioles fans, but I found out that George Sisler’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) was nearly as high as Eddie Murray’s.
Alou: My Baseball Journey by Felipe Alou with Peter Kerasotis
While Alou, the first Dominican to become a major league manager, doesn’t have any direct Baltimore connections, there’s a great story about Montreal Expos GM Dan Duquette basically forcing Alou to take his first manager’s job.
Power Ball by Rob Neyer
Neyer analyzes a late-season 2017 game between the Astros and Athletics, which he characterizes as “the passing of the ‘Moneyball’ mantle.”
The Astros’ way of constructing teams is of interest to many in Baltimore these days, and while there are no mentions of Elias, there are a few references to Mejdal.
Ninety Percent Mental: An All-Star Player Turned Mental Skills Coach Reveals the Hidden Game of Baseball by Bob Tewksbury and Cott Miller
Tewksbury, a former major league pitcher and mental skills coach for the Giants and Red Sox, writes about the psychology of baseball and how pitchers use it to their advantage.
The Story of Baseball in 100 Photographs by Sports Illustrated
Full of lovely photos, including a terrific one of Cal Ripken Jr. thanking fans during his victory lap just after he broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak.
I don’t know if people use the phrase “coffee table books” any longer, but this is one.
Baseball Cop: The Dark Side of America’s National Pastime by Eddie Dominguez
A former member of Major League Baseball’s department of investigations takes you inside the seamier side of the game.
I know that many readers are also football fans, and there are two excellent new books by local authors who’ve also written extensively about baseball.
The League: How Five Rivals Created the NFL and Launched a Sports Empire by John Eisenberg
Eisenberg, who also wrote The Streak, an incisive look at Gehrig and Ripken, is a talented historian, and looks at the founding fathers of the NFL.
Collision of Wills: Johnny Unitas, Don Shula, and the Rise of the Modern NFL by Jack Gilden
Gilden’s entertaining book is ideal for fans of the 1960s Colts, and some younger readers who only remember Shula as the Miami Dolphins’ coach.