Let me state my bias right up front: I'm a New York Yankees fan. I have been all my life. But for the past six years, I've lived in Boston. Believe me, that's not always easy and it's not always fun. Sometimes it's downright wearisome, particularly on any day that I dare to wear an item of clothing that sports a Yankees insignia.
But I feel better since I discovered "Summer of '49" by David Halberstam and learned that – at least in Halberstam's estimate – there was a time when the friction between these two teams was even more intense than it is today.
"Summer of '49" is also a terrific read for anyone who loves the sport. Halberstam takes us back to 1949, when, he asserts, baseball was still a more innocent game. It was also a year when the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry raged (the pennant race wasn't decided until the last game) and Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams were the toasts of their towns.
But the game of baseball has inspired so many great books. Here's my list of the 10 best, but I'm happy to have you disagree.
1. Eight Men Out, by Eliot Asinof. This story of the "Chicago Black Sox" and the fixing of the 1919 World Series is more than just a great baseball book. It's also an eminently readable examination of life in America at a particular moment in time.
2. The Natural, by Bernard Malamud. It's almost impossible not to like this dark but poetic novel by Pulitzer Prize-winner Bernard Malamud about a naturally gifted baseball player who, outside the ballpark, proves only too human.
3. The Boys of Summer, by Roger Kahn. Roger Kahn writes about the mid-20th-century Brooklyn Dodgers – the team that integrated Major League Baseball and also the team that Kahn covered for the New York Herald Tribune. A Monitor reviewer wrote of "The Boys of Summer" that it "isn't a book; it's a love affair between a man, his team, and an era."
4. Summer of '49, by David Halberstam. As I noted, this is a great tale of both a particular chapter of baseball history and a moment in a great baseball rivalry.
5. Clemente, by David Maraniss. If you are a baseball fan of a certain age, you probably remember exactly where you were and what you were doing the moment that you heard about the death of Hall of Fame right fielder Roberto Clemente. This may not be Maraniss's best book, but Clemente deserves a spot on the list nonetheless.
6. Game Time, by Roger Angell. New Yorker writer Roger Angell has been covering baseball for more than 40 years. His essays are full of heart and it's a pleasure to have so many together in one place.
7. Bang the Drum Slowly, by Mark Harris. This moving novel tells the story of a pitcher and a catcher on the fictional New York Mammoths and ends up being as much about friendship as it is about baseball.
8. Ball Four, by Jim Bouton. This is certainly one of the most famous books in the history of baseball. Former Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton rocked American fans with his truth-to-life depiction of the egos and the peccadillos of his fellow players.
9. Moneyball, by Michael Lewis. Popular nonfiction writer Michael Lewis tackles the belief that money equals success in baseball by profiling the 2002 Oakland Athletics – big winners with a tiny payroll.
10. Men at Work, by George F. Will. You may think of George Will primarily as a political pundit, but here he teaches a lot about the fundamentals of baseball through conversations with top-echelon baseballers Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken, Orel Hershiser, and Tony La Russa.
Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.