For your holiday shopping: The Best Baseball Books of 2019 -

Rich Dubroff

For your holiday shopping: The Best Baseball Books of 2019

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

As you complete your holiday shopping, there are a number of excellent baseball books to consider if you’re looking for a gift for the fan in your life, or some for yourself.

My favorite baseball book of the year was “K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches” by Tyler Kepner.

Kepner, a longtime New York Times baseball writer, has written about the history of every pitch, including the spitball, screwball and split-finger.

Of interest to Oriole fans are incisive anecdotes by Hall of Famer Jim Palmer. Any pitcher and pitch that you could possibly be curious about are interviewed and described.

Kepner interviewed former Orioles general manager Pat Gillick, who references the legendary fireballer Steve Dalkowski, who never made it to the majors. There was only one catcher who could handle Dalkowski, according to Gillick, and that was Cal Ripken Sr.

I didn’t have high hopes when I started “For the Love of the Game” by longtime commissioner Bud Selig with Phil Rogers.

Selig gives his side of the story on the controversies surrounding his time as commissioner, but that’s not the best part of the book.

Most entertaining are his tales of owning the Milwaukee Brewers. Other commissioners have written books, but I don’t recall one from the owner’s perspective, and that makes it worth your while.

When The Crowd Didn’t Roar” leaves no stone unturned when looking back at the “fanless” game between the Orioles and White Sox on April 29, 2015 after Freddie Gray’s death.


Kevin Cowherd examines the event from every angle, including perspectives from players, manager Buck Showalter and media members. Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter recount their feelings during the riots and preparation for the historic game.

Beyond baseball, Cowherd aptly puts the tragic situation into context, from why things escalated to its potential long-term impact on Baltimore City.” – publisher Steve Cockey

Disclosure: I was interviewed by Cowherd for the book, and comments from me are in it.

Ernie Banks was one of the most loved players in baseball history. Ron Rapoport examines the complex man in “Let’s Play Two: The Legend of Mr. Cub, the Life of Ernie Banks.”

Banks was portrayed as an optimistic person, but there was much more to him than that.

Paul Goldberger, the longtime architecture critic for The New Yorker, has written an extensive review of stadiums in “Ballpark: Baseball in the American City.”

Oriole fans will love his take on Camden Yards and its design, and there’s a lot about classic ballparks, too.

There are no shortage of books written to please Yankees and Red Sox fans, but this year there are three that stand out.

One is “Chumps to Champs: How the Worst Teams in Yankees History Led to the ’90s Dynasty” by Bill Pennington.

Pennington, who several years back wrote a fascinating biography of Billy Martin, liberally quotes Buck Showalter, who managed the Yankees from 1992-1995.

In one chapter, Showalter describes how George Steinbrenner attempts to hire him back as Yankees manager days after he hired Joe Torre to replace Buck.

In “Full Count: The Education of a Pitcher,” David Cone, like Kepner, goes inside the mind of the pitcher.

Cone’s book, written with former New York Times writer and YES commentator Jack Curry, goes through the ups and downs of his career.

One chapter is about Cal Ripken Jr.’s final game, and Cone’s attempt to pitch the Iron Man nothing but fastballs.

A year ago in this space, Steve Cockey recommended “Astroball” as a way for Oriole fans to get inside the minds of Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal.

This year, Alex Speier, who covers the Red Sox for The Boston Globe has written, “Homegrown: How the Red Sox Built a Champion from the Ground Up.”

Speier, who often visited Memorial Stadium as a youngster, gives us a different take on rebuilding.

If you’d like a book on the importance of analytics, try “The MVP Machine: How Baseball’s New Nonconformists Are Using Data to Build Better Players” by Ben Lindbergh and Travis Sawchik.

The authors write: “This new phase is dedicated to making players better. It’s Betterball. And it’s taking over.”

Bonus Book: While I focus on baseball books, I like to include other sports books of note written by local writers, and this year there’s a very special one.

Last month, I interviewed Andrea Chamblee, the widow of John McNamara, who was killed along with four others in an attack at the offices  of the Capital-Gazette newspapers in Annapolis on June 28, 2018.

McNamara had nearly completed “The Capital of Basketball,” a look at high school basketball in the Washington, D.C. area at the time of his death.

With the assistance of local sportswriter David Elfin, Chamblee was able to finish it, and it’s a worthy addition to your sports library.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB



  1. Raymo

    December 15, 2019 at 6:35 pm

    Rich, thank you so much for this review. I know I’ll be asking for a few of those in my wish list.

    Happy holidays to you and the others at BB, as well as to the other readers and commenters.

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 15, 2019 at 7:59 pm

      Thank you for your faithful reading, Raymo, and I hope this is a happy holiday season for you and your family.

  2. BirdsCaps

    December 15, 2019 at 8:43 pm

    The banks book looks like a must read, as his exuberance for the game was rarely matched in baseball history (maybe Jonesy was as exuberant!). I don’t know if i would want to read a book on the “fan-free” game. I believe that there were many better options than playing the game in front of no fans. Playing the game with a heavy police/national guard at noon with general admission would have sent a message of resilience and strength to the often violent protests. Moving the game to a MILB affiliate would allow fans to enjoy the game and also not cave into the largely violent protests. Playing a game without fans is like taking away recess from a whole class due to the deeds of a few bad kids. Plus it gave the protesters the satisfaction of making baseball history. With all of this said I am not making any claim as to the validity of what was being protested just the protestors tactics and the response from the orioles/mlb/city of Baltimore.

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 15, 2019 at 10:14 pm

      BirdsCaps, the reason the game was played without fans was that the police department couldn’t spare officers to patrol the ballpark. They had more important priorities.

      • BirdsCaps

        December 15, 2019 at 10:55 pm

        Hey Rich,
        Even though there were fans outside the stadium, you are likely correct. However, making baseball history by giving the protestors the hecklers veto still is somewhat unsettling. With that said i’m sure some argue not playing the game would have been worse. Postponing or moving the game would have at least not made history. Also, I wish you and the whole Baltimore Baseball community a merry Christmas, happy holidays, and a happy new year. PS Even though there are many books on the wonders of analytics (like the one mentioned in the article), are there any good (scholarly or as close as it can get for a book on baseball) books that counter that notion, or at least argue that there are holes in data and claims that are overstated by the analytics crowd? Since I examined a lot of “scientific” statistical studies in politics and econ while I was a student and found many laughable models, I wonder if there was a well thought out critique of modern baseball analytics.

        • Rich Dubroff

          December 16, 2019 at 8:03 am

          I am not aware of any, Stephen, but I’m certain that there probably are some out there. There are many veterans inside the baseball community, who have been displaced, and one or more of them will probably write an anti-sabermetrics book soon. Thanks very much for your warm wishes, and thanks for reading and your thoughtful comments.

  3. Orial

    December 16, 2019 at 8:25 am

    Thanks for the list Rich from an avid reader. “When the crowd didn’t roar” looks like a must read to me. Sociological/political blended with baseball is an interesting subject matter. Other than than the Inner Harbor the city has been failing it’s people for 30 years so I’m sure/hopeful that a few points of view/facts could be found in this read.

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 16, 2019 at 8:54 am

      Orial, Steve Cockey reviewed that one because I’m in the book. Knowing your concerns, I think you’ll find the book worthwhile.

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