Soon, if they haven’t already, millions of Americans will sit down to a table of food large enough to feed a colony in Africa and possibly even Boston Red Sox right-hander Rich Garces. Before we eat so much that we’ll need naps and new belt buckles, we’ll say grace and thank the chef. Or at the very least, we’ll pause long enough to recognize that there are other people in the room who may deserve the last piece of pumpkin pie. They’re not going to get it, but it’s the thought that counts.
Thanksgiving. The day of thanks. When you stop to think about it, there is so much for which to be thankful. Health, if you have it. Loved ones, if you have them. Summer nights at the ballpark. Your dog. ESPN. Heidi Klum. World peace (oh, wait). And, of course, baseball books.
As always, this Thanksgiving I’ll put my book down long enough to stuff myself silly. Before I get to it, I offer by-the-book holiday wishes of thanks:
“Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life.” I am thankful Richard Ben Cramer wrote this insightful, truthful examination of an American icon. This biography is without question the most fascinating baseball book I read this year.
David Halberstam. He gave us “The Summer of ’49” and “October 1964.” We should thank him for both.
“Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy.” Thank you, Jane Leavy, for allowing me to discover a new all-time favorite baseball player.
“Pennant Races: Baseball at its Best!.” Dave Anderson’s book reminds me of how wonderful it was when there were pennant races in baseball.
Ray Robinson. He taught me about Lou Gehrig in “Iron Horse: Lou Gehrig in His Time” and Christy Mathewson in “Matty: An American Hero: Christy Mathewson of the New York Giants.” Both players were gentlemen. Both players are considered among the greatest ever. Both biographies are well crafted.
“The Final Season: Fathers, Sons, and One Last Season in a Classic American Ballpark.” Tom Stanton rightly won a Casey Book Award for this effort. If you have a father, a son, an affinity for baseball or a special place, you should read this book.
Roger Kahn. “The Boys of Summer” is among the Kahn-authored titles that should be on your bookshelf. Also give thanks for his latest, “The Head Game: Baseball Seen from the Pitcher's Mound,” a terrific read.
The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary. The most enjoyable reference book I own. So often I look something up and thank Paul Dickson for writing it. Never mind that he can’t hear me.
“Shoeless Joe.” W.P. Kinsella’s work, which is the basis for the movie “Field of Dreams,” is my favorite baseball novel. I am thankful it is there every spring and as I read I begin to envision the start of a new baseball season. I don’t care if it’s corny.
Red Smith and Ring Lardner. Both are gone but not forgotten by lovers of great baseball writing. If you enjoy historical fiction, read Lardner’s “You Know Me Al: A Busher's Letters.” It’s hilarious. If you like reading a talented wordsmith, check out “Red Smith on Baseball.”
“Ball Four.” What baseball fan isn’t thankful for Jim Bouton?
Robert Creamer. He gave us “Babe: The Legend Comes to Life,” “Baseball and Other Matters in 1941,” and “Stengel: His Life and Times.” Because of “Baseball in ’41” alone Creamer is a writer I am thankful to have in my library.
Roger Angell, Tom Boswell and Bill James. All three are among the most popular baseball writers in the country. Though I do not share many baseball fans’ enthusiasm for their work, I read and respect them. I am thankful they appeal to so many baseball readers. For one thing, their popularity means more copies of Halberstam, Creamer, Cramer, Kahn and Robinson will be left on the shelves for the rest of us.
I am thankful for the passionate writings of the late A. Bartlett Giamatti, for the wise philosophy contained in Yogi Berra’s books (if you don’t read them you won’t know what you’re not missing), Eliot Asinof’s masterful reporting in “Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series,” the marvelous stories Lawrence Ritter tells in “The Glory of their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It,” and all of the many important books on the Negro Leagues, such as Mark Ribowsky’s “Don’t Look Back: Satchel Paige in the Shadows of Baseball.”
I am also thankful for “A Legend in the Making: The New York Yankees in 1939” by Richard Tofel; “A Prince at 1st: The Fictional Autobiography of Baseballs Hal Chase” by Ed Dinger; “If I Never Get Back” by Darryl Brock; and Fay Vincent’s “The Last Commissioner: A Baseball Valentine.” Those four books are sitting in a stack, waiting for me to read them.
I’ll start right after a turkey-induced nap.