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Baseball Books as Christmas Gifts: The Natural, Shoeless Joe & Summer of ’49 are Great Holiday Presents

Published by Lurlene Ritzke

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Baseball Books Make Great Christmas Gifts

Whether you are stuck in the northeast or you are heading out to the islands for a much needed vacation, chances are the baseball fan in your life is going to want a book. Why not make it a baseball book?

Baseball Novels as Christmas Gifts

In the fiction genre, there have been many wonderful, even award-winning works.

Bernard Malamud’s The Natural tells the story of Roy Hobbs, a midwestern boy with more baseball talent than Mickey Mantle, Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth all rolled into one. But a tragedy derails his promising career just as he is about to break into the big leagues. Hobbs is sidelined for sixteen years, but eventually returns to the game, hoping to recapture the past. As good as the 1984 movie starring Robert Redford and Kim Basinger is, the book is far superior.

In W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe, an Iowa corn farmer starts to freak out when he hears the voices of dead baseball players blowing in the wind outside the back of his house. He somehow gets the idea that if he plows under his crop and builds a baseball field in his backyard, the dead will be released from purgatory and be allowed to play the great game one more time. A wonderful fantasy that features ghostly appearances by the long dead spectres of the 1919 Black Sox, Shoeless Joe is a more than just a baseball story. It’s a book about dreaming, it’s a book about believing. It’s a book about hope.

Non-Fiction Baseball Books as Christmas Gifts

David Halberstam’s Summer of ’49 is a classic. It tracks the remarkable race for the 1949 American League pennant between Ted Williams’ Boston Red Sox and Joe DiMaggio’s New York Yankees. For most of the book, however, the Yankee Clipper is sidelined with heal spurs and the Yankees seem doomed to a second place finish. But when Joltin’ Joe heals up and returns to the field, he puts on a hitting display that is rivaled only on by his famed 56-game hitting streak. If you are a fan of the Yankees or the Red Sox, you know how it ends. But that doesn’t matter. Halberstam is a wizard with words and he’s a brilliant storyteller who captures that glorious summer like none other.

In Roger Kahn’s Boys of Summer, the author examines his relationship with his father as seen through the prism of their mutual adoration for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The book consists of recollections of Kahn’s two seasons (1952-53) as a Dodger beat writer, coinciding with the peak of the Jackie Robinson era in Brooklyn, when Robinson still had to confront racism on and off the field.

Jim Bouton’s Ball Four marked a watershed in baseball writing. Told from the inside of the New York Yankee locker room and clubhouse, this former Yankee great exposes some pretty upsetting secrets about Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Joe Pepitone. The book was a best-seller when it was first released and has assured Bouton a spot in baseball’s collective memory. It’s the first sports book that gives the reader the inside scoop on what really goes on inside of Major League Baseball.

Sparky Lyle’s Bronx Zoo tracks the wild 1978 New York Yankees season. Full of raucous language, locker room brawls, managerial upheavals and some really great baseball, this is a book for adults. It’s especially appropriate for Yankee fans who remember that one-of-a-kind ball club.

Kids Baseball Books Make Great Christmas Gifts

The following books are great for kids aged about 6-12 years old. All are well-written, informative, age-appropriate in their material, and will give your little baseball fan a new hero with each turn of the page.

Hank Aaron: Brave in Every Way tells the story of the former home run king who played in the major leagues from the 1950s though the 1970s. The book describes how Aaron faced prejudice, bigotry and even received hate mail. But Hank never let those challenges keep him from being the best player he could be. In 1974 he broke Babe Ruth’s legendary home run record, when he smashed number 715 off Al Downing. This picture book is best for kids in the 6-9 year old range.

Close Call by author Todd Strasser follows the sandlot games of a bunch 8 to 12 year old boys, and like most games played by kids of that age, many contests turn into one endless argument. This fine little book not only teaches kids about the joys and challenges of baseball, but also provides some very valuable lessons on how to solve disputes without parental intervention. Good for ages 8 to 12.

Other good baseball books for children are: The Catcher’s Mask by Matt Christopher, Fair Ball by John Winter (about the Negro Leagues), Home Run by Robert Burleigh and It’s Baseball Season Again by the late, great Charles Schultz.

Happy Reading and Happy Holidays.





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