A most wonderful year for baseball books - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

A most wonderful year for baseball books

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.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB






  1. jkneps63

    December 15, 2018 at 12:31 pm

    Thanks for the list, much appreciated, quite a good variety. Hopefully one or two will end up under our Christmas tree!

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 15, 2018 at 2:16 pm

      There have been many more good books this year than in the past, and I hope you find something you like here, jkneps.


    December 15, 2018 at 2:52 pm

    The League is a wonderful book. I was sad when I finished reading it

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 15, 2018 at 3:42 pm

      Glad you liked it, Danno. John is a really good guy.

  3. Orial

    December 16, 2018 at 11:25 am

    Great list. Thanks for the ideas Rich. Saw the author of The Big Fella interviewed on TV. Put “Ain’t the Beer Cold”by Chuck Thompson on Christmas wish list. Keep everybody posted on it. Rich aren’t you about due to write your own bio-book?

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 16, 2018 at 1:56 pm

      Orial, I’ll keep that in mind, but Lenn Sakata’s autobiography may outsell it.

  4. BirdsCaps

    December 16, 2018 at 4:24 pm

    I’ll have to check out “Big Fella” and “Astroball.” So far, my favorite baseball book is the 1st half of Bill James’s Historical Baseball Abstract. The anecdotes and side stories are priceless. I wonder why baseball has so many books about the personalities in the game, while the other sports do not. Is it the (derided) slow pace of play, the long season, or something else?

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 17, 2018 at 9:24 am

      BirdsCaps, baseball has lots more games and more identifiable characters than the other sports though this year has been rich with good football books, too.

  5. 66OsFan

    December 16, 2018 at 7:25 pm

    Great list Rich, I read Davey Johnson’s book over the summer, during a trip to see the Os play in Texas, came away thinking that Davey’s parting of the ways in 1997 was as much his arrogance as it was PA’s. I’ve got Baseball Cop and Powerball waiting for next year’s west coast swing though Phoenix, Anaheim and San Diego.

    I’ll also make a recommendation, if anyone hasn’t read it, “The Last Commissioner” by Fay Vincent is well worth the time to find it (Amazon worked for me) and read it.

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 17, 2018 at 9:25 am

      Thank you, 66. Fay Vincent’s book was certainly a good one, and I agree with your assessment on Davey’s book.

  6. Fred

    December 18, 2018 at 4:58 pm

    You stated, “For Baltimoreans hoping that the Babe had warm feelings about his birthplace, well, he doesn’t. Once he left Baltimore, he rarely returned.”

    I don’t think that is entirely true. Yes, he rarely returned – but did stop by St. Mary’s Industrial Schools several times as well as played exhibition games versus the Orioles while he played for the big leagues. On his last trip here in June 1948, two months before he died, he is quoted in the Baltimore Sun: “At the Lord Baltimore Hotel, the Babe said, ‘the town looked’ all new to him ‘but it was a “wonderful feeling to be back.'”

    As Jane Leavy recounts in “The Big Fella” his life here was worse than other biographies portrayed. He was pretty much abandoned by his parents. Few fans came to see him in his rookie minor league year (1914) preferring the Federal League Terrapins to the Orioles. But he never held a grudge. I don’t think he ever said a bad word about Baltimore.

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 27, 2018 at 11:48 am

      Fred, when I interviewed Jane Leavy last month, she said that Babe did not have happy memories of Baltimore, and he rarely returned. It’s not that he hated the city, it was that he didn’t feel there was much positive left here for him.

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