With endless apologies to my wife, my bookcase at home is spilling over with baseball. The top shelf? Nothing but Red Sox books. And it being deep summer and because nothing is better than reading a baseball book in a saggy hammock or on a toasty beach with a salty breeze in your face, I thought I’d rank my 20 Bostonian titles in order of preference. If Dave and Joe aren’t on the radio, spend your lazy summer afternoon with one of these beauties…
20. Fenway, by Dan Shaughnessy and Stan Grossfeld (1999)
Great for a coffee table, a visual love poem to our favorite baseball place, with superb color photography and palatable accompanying prose from the curly-haired guy, a fine lyrical balance to his silly Curse of the Bambino.
19. The Babe in Red Stockings, by Kerry Keane, Raymond Sinibaldi, and David Hickey (1997)
An account of Ruth’s entire career with the Red Sox, a bit on the dry side but informative nevertheless.
18. Yastrzemski, by Carl Yastrzemski (2007)
Another coffee table item, with fabulous photos and a cool DVD attached. Nice memories from the Yaz himself.
17. Beyond the Sixth Game, by Peter Gammons (1985)
The legendary beat writer’s chronicle of the 1976-1984 seasons, and how the Sox fared following the greatest game in their history (up to that time). Lots of great anecdotes and quotes, and it’s interesting to “fill in the blanks” before and after the Bucky Dent Game, but Gammons’ writing was sharper in newspaper than in book form.
16. The Red Sox Reader, edited by Dan Riley (1991)
Houghton Mifflin released this excellent collections of articles and essays by people like Gammons, Roger Angell, John Updike, Robert Creamer, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Red Smith, and many other all-star scribes. You can probably get through Ray Fitzgerald’s “Lee Will Be Missed” while you’re waiting for your clam roll.
15. Autumn Glory: Baseball’s First World Series, by Louis P. Masur (2003)
The 1903 Pirates/Red Sox battle documented in full. The writing isn’t all that engaging, but the history and details are fantastic.
14. The Year the Red Sox Won the Series, by Ty Waterman and Mel Springer (1999)
The story of the championship 1918 season, the last one before the 86-year drought, is told through reprinted newspaper accounts from the Boston Globe, Boston Record, Boston Herald & Journal and other sources. It’s a great way to relive an old season, as G.H. Fleming did so masterfully with 1908 (The Incredible Season) and 1934 (The Dizziest Season). This one works too.
13. The Progress of the Seasons, by George V. Higgins (1989)
The lawyer, newspaper man, college professor and author of The Friends of Eddie Coyle and other crime novels died ten years after his memoir of growing up with the Sox was published, but it’s still something special just for its warmth and uniqueness.
12. Murder at Fenway Park, by Troy Soos (1994)
Real fun historical whodunit, and the first in a series of mysteries featuring player-detective Mickey Rawlings. To be followed by Murder at Ebbets Field, The Cincinnati Red Stalkings, The Tomb That Ruth Built, and others.
11. The First Fall Classic, by Mike Vaccaro (2009)
A great, less heralded account of the 1912 Sox/NY Giants World Series.
10. Fenway 1912, by Glenn Stout
If you prefer a fascinating study of the building of Fenway Park along with your gripping 1912 World Series account, then this one’s for you.
And now, my four favorite books on the 2004 season, all of these released the following year…
9. Now I Can Die in Peace, by Bill Simmons
Like much of Simmons’ work, a little on the self-absorbed side, but most of it is still a hilarious diary on the Curse-breaking season.
8. Surviving Grady, by Tim McCarney and Tom Deady
Even more hilarious than Simmons’ book, day-by-day ’04 entries from their great Red Sox blog of the same name.
7. Faithful, by Stewart O’Nan and Stephen King
Yet another day-by-day ’04 diary? Why yes, except this one’s co-written by that famous grandstand ghoul, and it’s very entertaining.
6. Mind Game, by the writers of Baseball Prospectus
By far, the best book on WHY the Red Sox won the 2004 championship, exploring every statistical nook and cranny of the Bill James/Theo Epstein game plan. Nicely edited by Steven Goldman, it makes me think BP should publish a book on a world championship club every year.
And now, for my top five…
5. The Teammates, by David Halberstam (2003)
Maybe the perfect Red Sox beach book, because you can finish it in an afternoon. Touching, gorgeously written story of Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr and Dom DiMaggio traveing to Florida by car to visit an ailing Ted Williams in early 2001. If you don’t mind a little Yankee action with your Red Sox drama, Halberstam’s Summer of ’49 is also excellent.
4. Game Six, by Mark Frost (2009)
The co-creator of Twin Peaks also wrote the best book on the best World Series Game ever. Frost expertly sets up and delivers us the 1975 epic from every vantage point. A must-read for every true Sox fan.
3. Shut Out, by Howard Bryant (2002)
A very necessary, unflinching study of the team’s tarnished racial history, and how their inability and unwillingness to field African-American players could have cost them a number of American League pennants.
2. The Kid, by Ben Bradlee Jr. (2013)
This giant bio of Ted Williams, the best ever, also references Tom Yawkey’s secret side career as a Southern whoremaster, but it’s Bradlee’s superb portrayal of Williams upbringing and career in the book’s heroic first half, contrasted with the disturbing story of his son’s ghastly profiteering in the second half, that puts this saga over the top.
1. Red Sox Century, by Glenn Stout and Richard A. Johnson (2005)
Two books from Mr. Stout on my list, and nothing beats this informative, original, ballsy history of the Red Sox’s first 100 years. Its big size and fabulous art design make it great for your coffee table, but it’s also an astonishingly good read. It was originally published before the ’04 title but has been updated since. Yeah I know, lugging this thing across the sand can be a chore, but as I mentioned, there’s always that hammock thing.