It's absolutely possible I'm missing some quality reads by making assumptions based on jacket copy, but I really don't get too excited for most current/recent player bios. I'm losing all enthusiasm for "[Insert season here]: The greatest season ever," and most team histories are too formulaic for anyone other than the diehard loyalist.
What's that leave? This year, not a lot. Were I to compile a Top 10, as I've done each of the past three years, there are only four books so far that I'd feel good about including:
- The Might Have Been, by Joseph Schuster
- Banzai Babe Ruth, by Robert Fitts
- Bill Veeck: Baseball's Greatest Maverick, by Paul Dickson
- Connie Mack: The Turbulent and Triumphant Years, 1915-1931, by Norman Macht
Dirk Hayhurst's latest memoir, Out of My League, most likely would make that list, but I haven't read it. Someone else reviewed it for Baseball America, so it was pushed off my priority list. I've also heard good things about One Shot at Forever, by Chris Ballard. Imperfect, the Jim Abbott bio, looks like it could be a contender, as does the Lefty Grove one. And Marty Appel's Pinstripe Empire sounds promising, though time constraints are likely to keep that one (600 pages) off my nightstand after I've already spent so long working through Connie Mack.
Maybe some of this has been a drift on my part toward small and independent publishers. Casting a wider net has provided more variety in topics. I've read about the Marietta College baseball program, an obsessed Dodger fan, and the game from a Phillies farmhand's point of view. I've started quite a number of self-published baseball novels, and finished about half of them. But I haven't really fallen in love too many times this year.
As far as fiction goes, The Might Have Been stands apart from the crowd this year. To me, there are no other contenders. (If someone wants to throw my novel, The Greatest Show on Dirt, out there I won't stop them, but I can't credibly include it on my own list.) Schuster was thoroughly overshadowed by John Grisham's Calico Joe this spring, an absolute injustice if ever one occurred.
The Veeck and Mack bios stack up with other top biographies from recent years. Veeck was such a colorful character that Dickson could hardly go wrong there. He brought a lot to the old showman's story that wasn't included in Veeck's own memoirs, Veeck, as in Wreck and The Hustler's Handbook. The Mack book is actually the second in a three-part series, which is ridiculous, as it's about 670 pages long (minus appendices, indices, etc.). I didn't read the first one, but it's not really a prerequisite for enjoying this one. Macht is so detailed, but never boring or drawn out. In fact, he's done an amazing job of keeping each season fresh. So often season recaps take on a repetitive, obligatory feel by the time you're halfway through a player or manager's career. Not so with Mack (though in fairness, I'm not done with it yet).
I started going back for some older baseball fiction this summer, figuring I'd rather spend my time on books that are known to be great stories than force myself through another mediocre release. I blitzed eBay and came up with seven bargains. So far I've read The Celebrant, by Eric Rolfe Greenberg; Season of the Owl, by Miles Wolff; and Veracruz Blues, by Mark Winegardner. I've also branched back into a number of non-baseball novels (egads, I know).
So what are you reading? Any 2012 titles that I've missed? "Lemme hear ya," as Harry Caray used to say during the seventh-inning stretch.