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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

5 must-read baseball books as MLB returns to action

Author Jim Bouton signs his book “Ball Four” at the 2006 Society for American Baseball Research annual convention in downtown Seattle on Friday, June 30, 2006.  (Associated Press)

After weeks of acrimonious discussions over salary between billionaire owners and millionaire players, Major League Baseball will commence later in the month. However, I’ll believe it when I see it since the players who live in fortresses of solitude will not enjoy playing in empty ballparks for much less than they expected to earn in 2020. Regardless of what happens, you can check out five of the funniest baseball books, which will take your mind off the unfortunate walking corporations who will hopefully play a child’s game through autumn.

1. Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game? (1962) By Jimmy Breslin: Terrible teams often make for better copy than elite squads. There was no team worse than the ’62 Mets. There also was no club that was more amusing. Breslin, a veteran New York City columnist, covered the inaugural season of Mets baseball and nailed it. After woebegone slugger Marv Throneberry lost a home run after an appeal play revealed that “Marvelous Marv” missed second base, the Mets beleaguered manager Casey Stengel was asked why he didn’t argue. “Because he (Throneberry) missed third base, too.” The Mets, who lost a record 120 games, were so bad that Richie Ashburn, who posted a .306 batting average in ’62, opted to retire prematurely after the season even though he was within reach of 3,000 hits. The Mets prove that comedy is tragedy plus time.

2. Ball Four (1970) By Jim Bouton: It took a lot of guts for Bouton to break baseball’s code of silence when he revealed what happens inside the clubhouse. Bouton’s diary of his baseball life is reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen’s biography “Born to Run.” Both are entertaining books penned by guys who could have had literary careers. Much like Springsteen, Bouton excelled in providing details. When writing about his childhood, Bouton dropped an anecdote about chasing after a home run ball. He fought over the ball with another kid who ultimately left with the souvenir. Bouton painted a vivid picture about how the other child wanted the ball more.

3. Veeck as in Wreck: The Autobiography of Bill Veeck (1962) By Bill Veeck with Ed Linn: The maverick owner of the Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Browns is best known for his stunts such as hiring 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel to pinch hit during a game and his disastrous “Disco Demolition Night.” But the gimmicks unfortunately obscure the fact that Veeck was a smart, hilarious and genuine baseball man. He also was a wonderful human being who was hell bent on signing Black players long before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Veeck inked a deal with Larry Doby, the first Black player in the American League. Unlike many contemporary owners, it was all about the love of the game first and business second for Veeck.

4. The Wrong Stuff (1984) By Bill Lee and Richard Lally: Lee was one of the most offbeat players in baseball history. The crafty southpaw earned his nickname “Spaceman.” “The Wrong Stuff” is filled with Lee’s clever musings. “I can think of a lot worse things in baseball than marijuana or peyote if used in moderation,” Lee said. “Things such as walks, designated hitters and Astro-Turf.”

5. The Bronx Zoo (1979) By Sparky Lyle and Peter Golenbock: The soap opera among Yankees egocentric slugger Reggie Jackson, belligerent manager Billy Martin and tyrannical owner George Steinbrenner made for great copy during the late ’70s “Bronx Is Burning” era. Nobody had a more amusing take on the bizarre saga than Lyle. The closer with the handlebar mustache missed his calling as a literary humorist, but, then again, if I could throw a slider like Lyle, I would have opted for a career on the diamond.