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Best baseball books of 2006

Ten fine works to pass the time until Opening Day

Posted: Friday November 17, 2006 1:52PM; Updated: Friday November 17, 2006 1:52PM
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"Sayonara Home Run" is a colorful compendium of old-time Japanese baseball cards.
Ten Essential Baseball Books
Dollar Sign on the Muscle, by Kevin Kerrane
The Summer Game, by Roger Angell
How Life Imitates the World Series, by Tom Boswell
A Nice Tuesday, by Pat Jordan
Nice Guys Finish Last, by Leo Durocher with Ed Linn
Weaver on Strategy, by Earl Weaver with Terry Pluto
No Cheering from the Press Box, edited by Jerome Holtzman
The New Thinking Fan's Guide to Baseball, by Leonard Koppett
Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers, by Bill James
Baseball: A Literary Anthology, edited by Nicholas Dawidoff

The Hot Stove provides so much juice these days it feels as if there is no longer a true offseason. Still, there is enough downtime during the winter months for us to catch up on our reading. Once again, there was a slew of interesting titles released this past year. As the holidays approach, here is a list of my favorite baseball books of 2006:

Sayonara Home Run!: The Art of the Japanese Baseball Card, by John Gall and Gary Engel
My favorite book of the year. I visited the new Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan for the first time this spring and found this book by chance in the gift shop. I bought it because it was surprisingly affordable but mostly because it is an irresistible look at baseball card culture in Japan. The design of the book is similar to that of a graphic novel, and the cards themselves (which span from the 'teens to the late '60s) have more of a comic book look than their American counterparts. In fact, many of the images on the Japanese cards, which varied in shape and size from year-to-year, look like the pop images you'd see in comic books. This is a beautiful book, a must for anyone interested in the art of baseball cards.

The Echoing Green: The Untold Story of Bobby Thompson, Ralph Branca and the Shot Heard Round the World, by Joshua Prager
In 2001, Prager wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal claiming that the New York Giants stole signs during the final part of the 1951 season. That was the year that ended with "The Shot Heard Round the World," one of the singular moments in baseball history. Prager's full-length work is finally out and it does not disappoint. Written in an absorbing, literary style, The Echoing Green is not chiefly about exposing the Giants as cheats -- it is about the enduring friendship that Bobby Thompson and Ralph Branca have shared, and the secret they kept under wraps for so long. Riveting stuff.

Spalding's World Tour: The Epic Adventure That Took Baseball Around the Globe -- And Made it America's Game, by Mark Lamster
Lamster has characterized Albert Spalding as a combination of Michael Jordan and George Steinbrenner. This engagingly written history of Spalding's 1988 baseball world tour is both evocative and entertaining. I'm not generally drawn in by 19th century history, but this book had me hooked from start to finish.

Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero, by David Maraniss
Maraniss's follow-up to his celebrated Vince Lombardi biography, When Pride Still Mattered, is about a figure that is long-over due for a definitive biography. Clemente may not have been a better ballplayer than Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron or Frank Robinson, but away from the field he was more far more interesting. Maraniss is a polished storyteller and the book is a page-turner. As Steve Treder pointed out in his informative review of "Clemente" at The Hardball Times, there far too many casual errors for a book of this magnitude. Still, I came away from the book being even more impressed with Clemente that I was when I started it. The vital portion of the book is the research Maraniss uncovered concerning Clemente's death. The plane crash, and the events that led up to it, are explained in painstaking detail.

Baseball Between the Numbers, by the Baseball Prospectus Team of Experts, edited by Jonah Keri
This is not what you'd call "light reading," but for those you were are interested in sabermetrics, and prepared to get your nerd-on, this book is definitely for you.


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