I love baseball — but even if you’re just looking for a good novel, there’s still some great Kindle ebooks about the drama behind the sport. It seems to attract a special brand of optimism, and some surprisingly thoughtful commentary. Words like “triumph” and “hope” are just fancy ways of saying that people fight hard over the course of a lifetime, to try to realize their dreams. And with this year’s post-season about to begin, here’s my picks for the very best Kindle ebooks about baseball.
Ball Four: the Final Pitch by Jim Bouton
I’ve always loved this rollicking memoir by a baseball player, which in 1970 became the best-selling sports book of all-time for its wild and funny stories about the major leagues. And Amazon is now selling the Kindle edition of “Ball Four: The Final Pitch”, which includes a fascinating look back — more than 25 years later — by the book’s original author! Ball Four was extremely controversial when it was first published — simply because it was so shockingly candid. (Author Jim Bouton remembers when the San Diego Padres “burned the book and left the charred remains for me to find in the visitors clubhouse…” adding that “All that hollering and screaming sure sold books!”)
Bouton describes Ball Four as “the kinds of stories an observant next-door neighbor might come home and tell if he ever spent some time with a major-league team,” and one of his teammates described Bouton as “the first fan to make it to the major leagues”. Bouton went from pitching in the World Series with the New York Yankees to Seattle’s forgotten expansion team (the Seattle Pilots ) before being traded to the Houston Astros — but he collects together all the lore and the secret taboos of professional baseball in what Time magazine once called one of the 100 greatest non-fiction books ever published.
Coach by Michael Lewis
The author of Moneyball also wrote this heartfelt memoir about his own high school baseball coach, and what young Michael Lewis had learned when he took the pitcher’s mound in a crucial 9th inning… Lewis remembers coach Fitz as “a 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pound minor-league catcher with the face of a street fighter hollering at the top of his lungs for three straight hours.” The eighth grade students were afraid of him, and his intensity spawned legends about just how tough Coach Fitz really was. Yet when the pressure is finally on, “Fitz leaned down, put his hand on my shoulder and, thrusting his face right up to mine, became as calm as the eye of a storm. It was just him and me now; we were in this together… ” And by the end of the story, I was convinced that this 96-page book would make a wonderful gift for a teacher — or maybe even for anybody who’s a parent.
And again if you’re a subscriber to Kindle Unlimited, it’s free!
Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris
“From here on out, I rag on nobody…” It’s been called one of the greatest lines of dialogue in the movies, but it stems from a stunning 1956 novel. Author Mark Harris wrote four novels about the life of a major league catcher, but this is the novel that people always remember. Robert De Niro starred in the film adaptation — one of his first starring roles at the age of 30 — but the “voice” of the narrator in this novel is impossible to forget. There’s something about sports fiction that makes authors want to reach even further, and this novel follows the same path, describing a friendship between two men that grows slowly as they face an even bigger challenge beyond the baseball diamond.
Bill Veeck’s Crosstown Classic by Bill Veeck
This book contains one of my all-time favorite baseball stories, about the day that Eddie Gaedel stepped up to bat. Eddie Gaedel was 3′ 7″ — a midget — but the owner of the St. Louis Browns had snuck him onto the line-up card for the second game of a double-header. “Play ball!” the umpire roared, as the opposing team’s pitcher laughed and conferred with his catcher. (“Pitch him low,” the catcher joked — but the pitcher never could find the strike zone…) Eddie Gaedel walked to first base in his one and only game — giving him a lifetime perfect on-base percentage of 1.000. And decades later, the owner of that baseball team shared the full story — and dozen of others — with lots of humor and lots of insights drawn from a lifetime spent in professional baseball.
It’s a great way to look back on a century of great baseball stories — as the 2014 post-season begins!