With a long wait ahead of us for MLB to return, we’ve compiled a list of baseball books and movies to hold you over until the season finally starts.
Nine Innings by Daniel Okrent: Yes, we realize “a single random game from June 1982” doesn’t sound like the most compelling premise for a book to read in 2020. But it’s worth it. Okrent does an incredible job of using that one game to communicate so much more about the sport, and, perhaps particularly notable now, he captures the rhythm of baseball as beautifully as any written word ever could. (We’d link you the boxscore—Orioles-Brewers, June 10, 1982—but why would you want to spoil the ending?)
A Whole Different Ball Game by Marvin Miller: The first leader of the MLBPA, Miller covers just what it took to build the strongest union in professional sports. Even if you think you know this history, Miller’s memoir is loaded with detail, and it’s an essential read to understand baseball’s labor relations even now. (This is fun to read next to Bowie Kuhn’s Hardball, for a wildly different perspective on the same time, but if you’re going to choose one, choose Miller: it’s surprisingly funny!)
The Only Rule Is It Has To Work by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller: The synopsis may seem straightforward—two stat nerds take over an indy-ball team—but Lindbergh and Miller write about their summer managing the Sonoma Stompers with a heart that transcends the plot. Don’t particularly care for stat nerds? Doesn’t matter. TORIIHTW is a pure baseball book more than anything else. Remember, the closer’s the closer because he’s the closer, man.
Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life by Richard Ben Cramer: The best baseball biography I’ve ever read peels back the myths of DiMaggio. Starting with DiMaggio’s childhood in San Francisco, the book follows him through his playing days, his marriage to Marilyn Monroe and his final days as a memorabilia signing machine. Cramer reveals the most honest portrait of DiMaggio, the version he didn’t want us to see.
The Summer Game by Roger Angell: Perfect for those of us longing for the blissful days at the ballpark, Angell documents baseball from the fan’s perspective over the course of 10 years, beginning in 1962, the Mets’ inaugural season. It’s beautiful and exciting, with the perfect mixture of nostalgia and hope for the future. This the closest thing you’ll get to baseball in book form.
Stolen Bases: Why American Girls Don’t Play Baseball by Jennifer Ring: If your knowledge of women’s baseball begins and ends with what you saw in A League of Their Own, there’s way more to dig into. Ring does some incredible research in tracing the history of women in the game, from the nineteenth century to today.
A League of Their Own is smart, funny and endearing, depicting the importance of baseball in our society. If only the All American Girls Baseball League was immune to the coronavirus. (Available to rent on Amazon Prime)
Bull Durham: I mean, how could we have this list without this one? (#1!) (Available for free with ads on Amazon Prime, or to rent)
Field of Dreams: James Earl Jones’s monologue about baseball at the end of the movie is enough to get you through baseball-less void, reminding us of why we love this game. I’ve had a catch with my dad at the Field of Dreams movie site in Iowa, and the borderline manipulative sentimentality of the film gets me every time. The one nearly irredeemable flaw? Ray Liotta’s Shoeless Joe Jackson bats righthanded, even though he was a lefty. (Available to rent on Amazon Prime)
Ken Burns’s Baseball: MLB Network is going to have to air something while no baseball is being played. That means you’ll be watching a lot of this 10-part documentary series and Bull Durham. (Available for free on Amazon Prime)
Moneyball: If you watch Moneyball just as a movie and not as an authentic depiction of the 2002 Oakland A’s, it is one of the best sports films ever made. The scenes of Billy Beane with his daughter are beautiful, and Brad Pitt nails the former baseball player vibe. Spike Jonze’s cameo as Billy’s ex-wife’s new husband is weirdly fitting. The script, from two of my favorite screenwriters, Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian, makes it hard not to watch whenever it’s on TV. (Available to rent on Amazon Prime)
61*: For a few years when I was in middle school I considered this my favorite movie. Billy Crystal’s HBO Original film tells the story Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris chasing Babe Ruth’s single season home run record. Barry Pepper gives the winning performance as Maris. (Available to stream on HBO Go)
Sugar: This film is about a Dominican teen trying to make it in the minors, and it’s supposed to be excellent. It’s the sort of story that doesn’t get told often enough. (Sadly not on Netflix or Hulu, but it can be rented on Amazon Prime or Apple TV.)