The baseball book to which all other baseball books aspire is Lawrence S. Ritter's The Glory of Their Times (Macmillan, 1966). This incandescent oral history gives us the memories of 22 men who played the game between 1899 and 1938. No era in the game has more appeal, and no rendering of its story could be as tempting as the spontaneous, heartfelt, eloquent voices in this book. Pressing hard upon ``Glory'' is Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer (Harper & Row, 1972), the story of the Brooklyn Dodgers when Jackie Robinson was the team's heart and soul and the Dodgers dominated everybody but the Yankees. Kahn's keen sense of story and matchless prose make the early '50s come alive, yet it is his visits to these men in the early '70s that make the book endure. For Robinson, Reese, Campanella, Snider, Furillo, Hodges, and the rest are as human and as appealing in their twilight as they were in their flannels during those vanished Brooklyn summers.
Another of baseball's finest books is about its most memorable player. Robert W. Creamer's Babe: The Legend Comes to Life (Simon & Schuster, 1974) is equal to the redoubtable task of capturing the epic presence of Babe Ruth.
If Ruth's history is a celebration of the game, its opposite is the story of the pathetic wretches who considered to throw the 1919 World Series. Eliot Asinof's Eight Men Out (Holt Rinehart & Winston, 1963) not only tells the sad story of what happened with those White Sox, it tells the even sadder story of how the climate of the game and the times made it inevitable.
Perhaps the best-known baseball book of all time is Jim Bouton's Ball Four (World Publishing, 1970). The one-time Yankee pitcher spoke frankly of on-field pettiness and off-field hijinks, and the book sent tremors through the game's establishment. After ``Ball Four,'' nothing was sacred, nothing secret. A 20th-anniversary edition has been published this year. By 1990 standards the book is surprisingly tepid. It's a historical document now: If this is what shocked us 20 years ago, what a different, innocent world it was.