Baseball is the great American past-time, so it makes sense that many writers have a love for the sport, and have taken the opportunity to incorporate the sport in their writing. The very structure of the game, and its predictability, makes the sport relate easily to several powerful themes of literature; friendship, honor, love, death, identity, and trust. Baseball has its own culture and rituals which mimic those found in society as a whole or can change on the individual level or the team level. Not to mention the inevitable spectators and outsiders. Baseball can be used to explore lives and challenges of characters through the sport while including some sport action to excite fans of the game.
The End of Baseball by Peter Schilling is an alternate history that features baseball. In the story Bill Veeck is a young promoter that has spirit and drive. He obtains the losing Philadelphia A’s and immediately fires every white player. Veeck’s goal is for the team to win a pennant by the end of the season. The only way he can see to meet his goal is to build a team of all-stars. However, during 1943 the best ballplayers are playing for the Negro Leagues but Veeck ignores all the rules and standards of the day. Veeck recruits a few of the biggest names in the game, which angers other owners, fans, coaches, media, and some powerful politicians. The End of Baseball is an interesting, exciting, and fast moving tale that gives readers a great blend of baseball lore, history and fiction. Major components of the story include race relations and the prevailing American sentiments during World War II.
Can’t Miss by Michael Bowen adds women to the game of professional baseball. Chris Tilden is a female slugger playing her first season playing with the Denver Marshals. She needs to deal with a team of men who cannot look past the fact that she is a woman to recognize or appreciate her skill on the field. Chris does not let the controversy or attitudes get in the way of playing the game, showing a quick wit whenever she is provoked by her team mates and the press. She exhibits the qualities and skill that any coach or owner would want to find in their players.
Double Play by Robert B. Parker is a novel about Jackie Robinson’s first year with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Branch Rickey, the Dodger manager, is more interested in keeping Robinson healthy to worry about the events in the world. He hires Joseph Burke, a World War I veteran, as Robinson’s bodyguard. Before long the men become wrapped up in a foiling plot to assassinate them both. Robinson has much more to protect than his life; he also has a family and career to worry about. Burke does not care about his life, since he has already lost the only thing he cares about. Double Play offers readers a large cast of side characters, some fictitious and others based on real individuals. The story keeps a suspenseful pace. Parker also brings himself into the picture by remembering the impact of the summer of 1947 in his own life.
Dugout by Adam Beechen and Manny Bello is a graphic novel which tells the story of Cookie Palisetti, a former ballplayer that is managing a team while living in the League’s basemen after cutting himself from the team at the end of last season. No one is happy about the current situation; not Cookie, his team’s owner, his bookie or the goon working for his bookie. Cookie’s only hope to have a happy outcome seems to come in the form of a curvy blonde. She asks Cookie to help her brother Billy break out of jail. Billy murdered his parents, ending his successful career before it had a chance to hit full swing, since he had been a hot pitching prospect in Los Angeles. Cookie’s idea to get Billy out involves a game against the Yardbirds, a jailhouse team. He receives help from a crazy cast of characters that are greedy and colorful. Each wants their own piece of the baseball action. Dugout captures the game and culture of baseball with simple black and white drawings and an ending with heart. This is a unique take on baseball and a fantastic merging of hard boiled fiction, the graphic novel format, and baseball.
Camp Ford by Johnny D. Boggs follows an elderly dignitary, 99-year-old Win McNaughton, as he attends the 1956 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox. The series is a nail biter, and the tension brings Win’s mind back to a different baseball game. The game playing in his memory holds life and death stakes. Win played in that game at the infamous prison in Texas, Camp Ford, which pitted civil war veterans against each other. Win played on the Union side of a blue vs. gray baseball game. Boggs perfectly blends the history of early baseball with the history around the Civil War. These two highly intense moments in history come together perfectly, keeping readers turning the pages.
Havana Heat by Darryl Brock also blends history with baseball and some commentary on society. Luther “Dummy” Taylor is a former player who wants to make a comeback with his former team, the New York Giants. Taylor is one of the game’s first deaf players. He had pitched one hundred and fifteen winning games thus far in his career. At 36 years old he believes that he is in good enough shape to lead his team to victory once again. When Taylor reconnects with old teammates during a trip to Cuba he also meets a new pitcher. Luis’s pitching career is on the rise, and he is also deaf. He coaches the talent of the new athlete. Taylor also observes the politics and social climate of Havana while taking some time to examine his own life. The historic elements and the baseball are blended superbly in this novel overflowing of colorful characters and a thought provoking plot.
The Greatest Slump of All Time by David Carkeet is a thought provoking novel with a humorous bent that explores psychological pain, the sport of baseball and how one can be used to fuel success in the other. The members of one professional baseball team are rife with issues. Every member of the team needs some therapy to make it through the season to keep everything together. Depression, neurosis, and other hang ups somehow work for the players and they make t to the playoffs. Now, they all just need to stay together long enough to make it through the game and round the bases.
This is far from a comprehensive list. Other baseball related novels that I suggest exploring include Casey on the Loose by Frank Deford, Columbus Slaughters Braves by Mark Friedman, The Dreyfus Affair by Peter Lefcourt, Wild Pitch by Mike Lupica, Waiting for Teddy Williams by Howard Frank Mosher, Coyote Moon by John A. Miller and Spirits in the Grass by William Meissner. If you have other favorites please share them in the comments so that other readers can enjoy your favorite as well.