1.The Natural, by Bernard Malamud
Susan Fornoff, freelance writer and former sportswriter for The Sacramento Bee, told me: "I took a sports fiction class in college where we read 'The Natural' a wonderful novel that transcends baseball and resonates with strong themes of life, dreams, friendship and so forth."
Bang the Drum Slowly, by Mark Harris
A second baseball novel that Fornoff read in that same college class: "Bang the Drum Slowly," another "wonderful" story that "transcends baseball."
If I Never Get Back, by Darryl Brock
Fornoff's third pick: "The baseball book that I thought was a little miracle was a little known novel called 'If I Never Get Back' by Darryl Brock. Though I don't think most people have heard of this book, which was first printed back in 1989, I just looked at the Amazon reviews and see it averages five stars from reviewers. The protagonist is a sportswriter from San Francisco who time-travels back to 1869 to witness the greatness of the Cincinnati Red Stockings. I could not put that book down, and I probably especially enjoyed the parts that might put off the non-fan, the game accounts. It was quite whimsical, quite fun, and quite clever.
Moneyball, by Michael Lewis
Here's Choice No. 1 from Rachel Bachman, a sportswriter with The Oregonian: " 'Moneyball' by Michael Lewis. I was late to this party, reading the book just last year. But being a fan of the Malcolm Gladwell set, I was riveted by its counter-intuitive theories about what builds a winning team. One surprise: The characters were as compelling as the numbers."
Ball Four, by Jim Bouton
Bachman's second choice: " 'Ball Four' by [former major league pitcher] Jim Bouton. I read this long ago but still remember how impressed I was with Bouton's guts for writing it. I'm not sure if non-baseball fans would appreciate it, but it was a ground-breaker."
The Last Hero, by Howard Bryant
Bachman's third choice: " 'The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron.' Full disclosure: Author Howard Bryant is a friend of mine. He paints a nuanced, poignant portrait of one of the sport's tortured geniuses."
Eight Men Out, by Eliot Asinof
Crazy '08, by Cait Murphy
Another personal favorite, this one from 2007: "Crazy '08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads, and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History," by Cait Murphy.