Celebrate Opening Day with 10 Great Baseball Books

Once again Opening Day is upon us, so it’s time to oil up that glove, gloat over your baseball card collection, and remember why you keep coming back to baseball even though it’s a game of suffering. Despite being born in the 19th century and enduring the ongoing rule-tinkering of its overlords, baseball remains the country’s favorite warm-weather sport. Unrushed, almost languid, and balletic in execution, just watching a game recalls childhood summer days spent roasting in the sun, while you stood in center field shagging fly balls. To help you get into the right mood, here are 10 baseball books that will remind you what keeps us coming back to the diamond each spring.

My Cubs: A Love Story, by Scott Simon
First the Red Sox, now the Cubbies: Baseball’s most time-honored losing streaks are crumbling. NPR host Scott Simon is a lifelong Cubs fan, and his excitement over the Cubs winning the 2016 World Series buzzes on every page of this book chronicling Cubs history, reciting the best Cubs stories, and recounting how much influence his love of the team and the game through all those lean years had on his life. His affectionate description of a team of “lovable losers” will make just about everyone a Cubs fan for a little while (unless you’re a White Sox fan).

The Mental Game of Baseball, by H.A. Dorfman and Karl Kuehl
More than any other sport, baseball is a mental game. With its lengthy pauses and irregular rhythms, it’s easy for players to get into their own heads and over- or under-think the game. Dorfman and Kuehl understand this aspect of a sport that often requires fewer lightning-fast reflexes and more strategic thinking, offering up theories backed by real-life examples of how any player at any level can raise their performance level through a better understanding of the game. Whether you’re a fan, a pro player, or a kid trying out for Little League, this book will improve your game.

Lou: Fifty Years of Kicking Dirt, Playing Hard, and Winning Big in the Sweet Spot of Baseball, by Lou Piniella and Bill Madden
Any fan of baseball knows Lou Piniella. As a player and manager, Sweet Lou has been a fixture of the game for more than five decades, a man known for his often undiplomatic passion for the sport. In this fascinating memoir, Piniella not only gives us the skinny on his playing and managing experiences, he also offers incredible insight into the ways the game has changed in his lifetime. As you might expect, Lou doesn’t hold back or mince his words, and baseball fans will love every page.

Ballplayer, by Chipper Jones and Carroll R. Walton
Larry Wayne “Chipper” Jones is one of the greatest hitters of the modern age, and the rare superstar who spent his entire career with a single team. The 1999 MVP and 2008 batting champion discusses his life in this absorbing memoir, from being a top prospect in high school with dozens of scouts following his every game to the 1995 World Series and every post-season appearance thereafter. Jones is brutally honest about his game, his personal life, and his failings—and his peers, many of whom have been tainted by association with performance-enhancing drugs.

Papi: My Story, by David Ortiz and Michael Holley
Few sluggers end their career at their prime the way David Ortiz did, retiring from the game after a season in which he drove in a league-leading 127 runs and smacked a league-leading 48 doubles (not to mention a not-too-shabby 38 home runs, all while batting .315 at the age of 40). In this unvarnished memoir, Ortiz lets us in on his journey from poverty in the Dominican Republic to his tempestuous time with the Minnesota Twins to finding a second home in Boston, a team he led to a historic championship and a city he led through some dark times.

Teammate: My Journey in Baseball and a World Series for the Ages, by David Ross and Don Yaeger
Baseball fans are going to be talking about the Cubs’ 2016 World Series for…well, forever. Central to that victory was a 39-year-old journeyman catcher who suddenly emerged as a force both on and off the field. David Ross, nicknamed Grandpa Rossy, brought experience and gravitas to the team, but also brought an incredible sense of humor, expert touch on social media, and some of the best play of his career, culminating in a World Series at bat for the ages—all of which he discusses in his signature warm, humorous style in this inspiring memoir.

The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life, by Rick Ankiel and Tim Brown
Any baseball fan has heard of—and perhaps experienced—a phenomenon known as the Yips. More accurately diagnosed as an anxiety disorder, it’s most obvious symptom in a pitcher is a sudden inability to throw a strike despite prior accuracy. Rick Ankiel is probably the modern poster boy for the affliction, and in this memoir he details his awful childhood, his sudden wealth and fame as a teenage pitching prodigy, and his terrifying experience with the Yips during a high-pressure playoff game when he was just 21. That Ankiel fought his way back to the game despite his problems makes his story all the more fascinating.

The Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager’s Old-School Views on Success in Sports and Life, by Mike Matheny and Jerry B. Jenkins
Matheny offers up something more than your standard athlete memoir in this expanded version of the viral “manifesto” he sent to parents who asked him to coach a local kids’ team. In that letter and this book, Matheny tells the inside story of his career as a player and as the current manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, but also lays out an approach to youth sports in this country that’s being hailed as a literal game-changer.

Casey Stengel: Baseball’s Greatest Character, by Marty Appel
You might think you know everything there is to know about the legendary Yankees manager Stengel, who steered the team through their second most famous incarnation during the Mantle and Maris years. But Appel has access to an unpublished memoir written by Stengel’s widow as well as a deep dive into contemporary news clippings and interviews with Stengel’s peers and the players he managed, resulting in a revelatory glimpse of one of baseball’s most famous personalities.

Baseball Prospectus 2017, edited by Aaron Gleeman and Bret Sayre
Whether you maintain six fantasy teams every year or just like being in the know about the upcoming season, there’s no better way to prepare for the sport that, more than any other, revolves around numbers. The 2017 Prospectus offers every stat, every projection, and every piece of data real-life scouts use when planning for the coming season.

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