Today is my personal favorite day of the year: MLB’s Opening Day. I’ve been a huge baseball fan for years, and I’ve always been a bit disappointed about the apparent lack of contemporary and literary writing on the fascinating sport. Below, I’ve curated a few of my favorite options, both fiction and non.
This novel follows a 17-year old amateur and collegiate fielding phenom. Henry Skrimshander is a shortstop for the Westish Harpooners until he develops the yips following an errant throw that hospitalizes his teammate. The Art of Fielding was nominated for the Guardian First Book Award in 2011.
Published in 1997, Underworld opens with one of the most famous hits in baseball history. New York Giant’s outfielder Bobby Thomson’s three-run homer lifted the Giants over the Brooklyn Dodgers in the deciding 3rd game of the National League playoffs to cap a 4-run rally in the ninth inning. In Underworld, the ball is caught by Cotter Martin, whose father sells it for $32.45.
Better known by its film adaptation, Field of Dreams, Shoeless Joe is set in Iowa City, where Ray Kinsella, the novel’s protagonist, hears a voice instructing him to construct a baseball field in the middle of his crop of corn. Soon after, the spirits of players involved in the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, the fixing of the 1919 World Series (one of baseball’s lowest moments), arrive to play the game they loved when they were alive.
Published last April at The Masters Review, “The Monsters” is about a little league team fielded by adolescent monsters. Vampires play the outfield; the pitcher is a werewolf; the catcher is a frankenstein; the shortstop is a satyr; and the coach is, of course, a minotaur. However, they are still, after all this, just kids.
Bottom of the Ninth is a collection of contemporary short stories about baseball edited by John McNally. The collection includes stories by Jim Shepard (“Batting Against Castro”) and Stuart Dybek (“Death of the Right Fielder”). However, as a die-hard Milwaukee Brewers fan, I have some fundamental differences with McNally, a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan.
Hobart’s Baseball Handbook was released in July 2015 and contains a selection of the very best from their baseball issues. Hobart has been a journal I always turn to for consistently good baseball writing, so this handbook is not one to miss. The collection includes “Stories about Dock Ellis’ famous LSD no-hitter, Herb Washington as the only “designated runner” in MLB history, Jim Joyce and his blown call that cost the Detroit Tigers’ Armando Galarraga a perfect game.”
What would happen if statisticians constructed a baseball roster? Ben Lindberg and Sam Miller went on a mission to find out. This New York Times Bestseller follows the pair’s experiment with using sabermetrics to dictate their lineups and roster construction of the independent minor-league team, the Sonoma Stormers.
One of Major League Baseball’s most frequent criticisms is the lack of a salary cap, the perceived advantage of mega-funded teams like the New York Yankees: they can just “buy” a championship after all, can’t they? General Manager of the Oakland Athletics Billy Beane was on mission to prove that wrong. Beane was an early-adopter of the sabermetric, analytical roster construction that is now pervasive in professional baseball. The 2002 Athletics, with one of the smallest payrolls in MLB proved it’s possible to win with strategy instead of a deep pocketbook (although the team did fall short of the world series).
Tim Kurkjian, famous for his absurdly specific and obscure statistics and anecdotes (ever wanted to know how many left fielders have hit home runs in day games on Tuesdays in April? Tim would be the one to ask), wrote a book collecting some of his favorite stories from his time following the sport. You can read an excerpt here, on ESPN.