We're destined to shuffle off this mortal coil eventually, but before doing so Ron Kaplan has plenty of suggestions regarding how baseball aficionados should spend their leisure time. Specifically, they should read all of the books listed in his 501 Baseball Books Fans Must Read Before They Die
Kaplan, a veteran book reviewer as well as the eponymous proprietor of Ron Kaplan's Baseball Bookshelf blog, clearly knows of what he writes. 501 Baseball Books is a remarkable compendium of national pastime tomes, with the 501 recommended books divided into 15 alphabetically arranged categorical chapters (starting with "Analysis" and continuing on through "Young Readers").
Despite the exemplary scope of Kaplan's list-making, he was nonetheless a bit skimpy when it comes to Minor League Baseball books. In fact, "Minor Leagues" is the shortest of 501 Baseball Books' chapters, offering just four recommendations before moving onto a "Pop Culture" chapter featuring a whopping 95 selections. (Although, to be fair, a smattering of other Minor League-themed books -- such as S.L. Price's Heart of the Game: Life, Death and Mercy in Minor League America -- are listed under other categories instead).
Kaplan's four Minor League selections are Baseball's Fabulous Montreal Royals, The Brooklyn Cyclones: Hardball Dreams and the New Coney Island, The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball and The Last Best League: One Season, One Summer, One Dream (which, technically, is not a Minor League book in that it is about the amateur Cape Cod League). Worthy selections all, but at the risk of overestimating the average fan's life span I'd like to offer nine more Minor League-themed books that should be read before we all ascend to that great ballpark in the sky (or, for the pessimists, an incendiary dugout down below).
Hopefully this list, like Kaplan's book, will inspire further discussion. Please let me know -- via email, Twitter or the comments section -- your favorite Minor League Baseball books and I'll compile the responses in a future Ben's Biz Blog post.
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The Bus Leagues Experience, by the writers of BusLeaguesBaseball.com
From 2007 to 2012, BusLeaguesBaseball.com offered a passionate, well-informed, and fan-driven take on the wonders (and indignities) of the Minor League Baseball life. The Bus Leagues Experience is a compilation of the many interviews that ran on the site through the years, offering the perspectives of front-office executives, players, coaches, trainers and, yes, even writers (myself included, full disclosure). If you want to know what it's like to exist in the Minor Leagues of the 21st century, this is a great place to start.
Going for the Fences: the Minor League Home Run Book, by Bob McConnell
Bob McConnell, who passed away last year, was a founding member of SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) whose particular area of expertise was the Minor Leagues. Going for the Fences is an unparalleled piece of research on, yes, Minor League long balls. The knowledge on display here is awe-inspiring. Did you know, for example, that Dixie Upright holds the record for most Minor League home runs by a player whose last name begins with "U"? Or that the most home runs by two Minor League teammates was the 106 bashed by Bill McNulty and Gorman Thomas on the 1974 Sacramento Solons? Those facts, and literally thousands of others, are contained therein.
Knocking on Heaven's Door, by Marty Dobrow
Playing Minor League Baseball is often described as a "grind," and few books better illuminate what a grind it is than "Knocking on Heaven's Door." Dobrow follows the careers of six Minor League players -- Brad Baker, Doug Clark, Manny Delcarmen, Randy Ruiz, Matt Torra and Charlie Zink -- as they knock on the door of, and often fail to gain entry to, big league "heaven." The players' disparate stories are unified by a common element in that they all have the same agents, a husband-and-wife team who are also striving to break into the big time.
Minor Moments, Major Memories: Baseball's Best Players Recall Life in the Minor Leagues, by Mark Leinweaver
This compulsively readable compilation delivers just what its name implies -- anecdotal, first-person accounts of Minor League memories from those who went on to "The Show." Dozens of players are featured and colorful tales abound. If you want to know what prompted Eric Byrnes to spend "six hours, buck naked, during the whole bus trip from Victorville to Modesto," then this is the book for you!
Pitchers of Beer: The Story of the Seattle Rainiers, by Dan Raley
Before the Mariners, and before the 1969 Pilots squad immortalized in Jim Bouton's Ball Four, Seattle was represented by the Pacific Coast League's Seattle Rainiers. In what is clearly a labor of love, former Seattle Post-Intelligencer sports writer Dan Raley provides a detailed account of a team that was founded by a beer baron, named after a beer and went on to a long and colorful history that featured local heroes (pitcher Fred Hutchinson, broadcaster Leo Lassen) as well as cameos from Hall of Fame superstars (Rogers Hornsby, Babe Ruth).
Rickwood Field, by Allen Barra
Birmingham's Rickwood Field, built in 1910, currently holds the title of "America's Oldest Ballpark." As the home of the Birmingham Barons -- and their "Black Barons" Negro League counterparts -- it hosted a staggering array of Hall of Fame players before eventually finding new life thanks to a group of volunteers (the Friends of Rickwood) who are dedicated to preserving its legacy. Barra's Rickwood Field is a much-needed and enthusiastically written history of both the facility and Birmingham itself, beginning with the city's industrial "slag pile" baseball roots and continuing on through the modern era.
Root for the Home Team: Minor League Baseball's Most Off-the-Wall Team Names, by Tim Hagerty
Hagerty, currently the broadcaster for the Tucson Padres, is a Minor League history buff with a particular interest in the unique and often head-scratching monikers that teams have employed through the years. In addition to providing the dirt on contemporary entities such as the Altoona Curve and Kannapolis Intimidators, this state-by-state overview also includes defunct curiosities such as the Youngstown Puddlers, Salem Witches and Regina Bonepilers.
Stolen Season, by David Lamb
After working for years as an international correspondent, journalist David Lamb decided to get back in touch with his home country by taking a season-long tour of Minor League ballparks. Written in 1991, Lamb's Stolen Season provides a snapshot of how the Minor Leagues operated just before the "ballpark boom" that resulted in our current environment of 360-degree concourses and HD videoboards. As such, it already reads as a poignant elegy to a bygone era.
The 26th Man, by Steve Fireovid
Fireovid was the very definition of a journeyman. The right-handed pitcher appeared in 31 Major League games with five teams over the course of 12 seasons, but the vast majority of his time was spent toiling in the Minor Leagues. The 26th Man (the title refers to Fireovid's feeling of perpetually being on the cusp of a Major League roster) is an introspective journal of his 1990 season with the Indianapolis Indians. By this point Fireovid was 33 years old and finding it increasingly difficult to balance his diminishing big league dreams with the demands of raising a family and planning for a future without baseball. He's a likeable and relatable protagonist, and though he didn't play in the Majors in 1990, he did get one more cup of coffee (with the 1992 Rangers) before finally hanging up his spikes.