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  • Budd Bailey

Book Review: The Lineup

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

Review by Budd Bailey

Paul Aron has given himself quite a challenge, and it’s revealed in the subtitle to “The Lineup.”

It reads, “Ten Books That Changed Baseball.” Fans of the game probably could come up with all sorts of lists about such books – including, naturally, best baseball books, best biographies, best autobiographies, or even most important baseball book – whatever that last category might mean.  But, ten books that changed baseball? Hmm. That’s quite a chore. I’m not sure Aron is up to that task, although – in fairness – I’m not convinced that anyone would be able to fulfill this assignment to keep everyone happy.

Aron probably is a logical person to try. He’s a former book editor for Simon & Schuster, and worked on some sports books during his career. Aron has done his homework here thoroughly, and come up with a list of winners as well as more than 60 pages of those receiving “honorable mention” status. But it’s a book designed to start friendly arguments. So let’s see what we’ve got here for the nine chapters:

* “America’s National Game” by A.G. Spaulding (1911) – This is a publication that gives an early version of baseball history. Aron makes that the point that in an era of immigration, baseball helps put everyone across the country on common ground with its universal pleasures. It might be a little stretch to credit the book for a lot of that.

* “You Know Me Al: A Busher’s Letters” by Ring Lardner (1916): Some stories written by the talented Lardner from magazines were combined and put into a book. Lardner’s work was extremely popular, and it did bring attention to the game at the time.

* “Pitchin’ Man” by Satchel Paige as told to Hal Lebovitz (1948): Paige had just signed with the Cleveland Indians when he came out with this book. It certainly gave people a chance to read some stories about Paige’s life, which was a good introduction to those who were curious.

* “The Natural” by Bernard Malamud (1952): Aron writes that this allowed baseball to become a subject for literary fiction. Did that cause the ground to shake around baseball? I’m still not convinced. Then again, I rarely read much fiction dealing with sports. I did like the movie though.

* “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton (1970): Now we’re talking. Bouton opened up a whole new world to readers with his diary of his 1969 season, warts and all – making a ton of new fans along the way. This book needed to be on here.

* “The Boys of Summer” by Roger Kahn (1972). This raised the bar for writing standards in sports books, as this could genuinely be called literature. Aron tries to tie this in with the decline of American cities in a particular era. To me this turned baseball nostalgia into something of an industry. Either way, it’s an important, wonderful book.

* “The Bill James Baseball Abstract” by Bill James (1982): The revolution started here. James was the first to look at data seriously in an effort to find out truth in evaluation of the game, and you can draw a line from this to the analytics of today.

* “Rotisserie League Baseball” by Glen Waggoner (1982): I’m not a big fan of fantasy sports, but I’m not going to be critical of a group that allowed people to enjoy baseball in a completely new way.

* “Pete Rose: My Story” by Pete Rose and Roger Kahn (1989), and “My Prison Without Bars,” by Pete Rose with Rick Hill (2004):  Aron has a theory that the actions and popularity of Pete Rose led to the actions and popularity of Donald Trump. I didn’t read either book, but it sounded like the first book was something like “I didn’t bet on baseball” and the second book was “OK, maybe I did, but …” As boxing promoter Bob Arum once said, “I was lying then; I’m telling you the truth now.” I didn’t come close to buying the theory here.

If I were asked to substitute some books here, I’ve got a few ideas. I hadn’t heard of Henry Chadwick’s “Beadles’s Dime Base-Ball Player” (1860), which introduced some statistics into the sport and thus made comparisons possible. Christy Mathewson’s “Pitching in a Pinch” showed that players with serious intellectual power (he was a college grad) could be thoughtful about the game, thus opening it up to something more than a lower-class diversion. “Veeck As In Wreck: The Autobiography of Bill Veeck” (1962), by Bill Veeck with Ed Linn, pulled back the curtain on what baseball was like on the front office, and was so hilarious that he created a generation of followers – which resulted in a sport that learned to embrace marketing. “The Glory of Their Times” (1966), by Lawrence S. Ritter, was an oral history that brought the early days of baseball back to life. “The Baseball Encyclopedia” (1969) was a thick volume that took baseball statistics very seriously, and thus influenced many in and out of the game. “Moneyball” (2003) by Michael Lewis was another look behind the curtain, and was quickly devoured by baseball people in and out of the game itself – and changed managerial standards.

This all goes by pretty quickly, and “The Lineup” can be consumed in a couple of days. You don’t get much for your $29.95, even if it’s targeted for a rather narrow niche. It’s a book that probably could point you in a few new directions when it comes to some worthwhile if relatively old baseball books. But this needs to make its points convincingly in order to convince the reader that his or her own viewpoints should be reconsidered. The success of “The Lineup” in that area is decidedly mixed.

(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB.)

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