Baseball’s Best-Sellers: An Updated List of Baseball Books that Landed on the N.Y. Times Best-Seller List

By Marty Appel

Twenty-eight baseball books made the New York Times best-seller list in the decade of the 2000s, equal to the total from 1935-99. There have been nine so far in the 2010s. Fans are buying baseball books like never before.

It has been seven years since Sports Collector’s Digest first published the only compilation ever done of every baseball book to make the list.

With 20 new additions since then, it is time for an update, and we’re pleased to present it here.

First, some background and some “rules.”

This is not an easy compilation, for the lists are not retained on the Times’ website, and the research thus contains the possibility of omission. However, the research has continued since the 2005 publication, and we feel more certain now than ever that it’s complete.

People at the Book Review section were helpful, but they had no easy master list to work with. This was mostly a matter of my providing titles and their cross-checking to see if it made the list and for how many weeks.

Among those that never made the list are classics like Lawrence Ritter’s “The Glory of Their Times,” Eliot Asinof’s “Eight Men Out,” Bob Creamer’s biographies of Babe Ruth and Casey Stengel, David Halberstam’s “Summer of ’49” and “October 1964,” Frank Graham’s “A Quiet Hero,” James T. Farrell’s “My Baseball Diary,” “The Fireside Book(s) of Baseball” and “The Ultimate Baseball Book,” which may be the biggest seller of all, but has never cracked the list.

You view those masterworks and see that David Wells’ “Perfect I’m Not” and Johnny Damon’s “Idiot,” made it, and it puts some perspective on things. Classics like “Glory of Their Times” sold many more copies than some books that made the list, but the list is immediate and reflects sales of the previous week. A burst of publicity and a lack of competition can set something into the charts with little rhyme or reason.

But, we sports people like lists, and nothing in book sales is as respected and accepted as the New York Times list, which began on Oct. 6, 1935, as a monthly, going weekly on Aug. 9, 1942.  Not until 1978 did it expand from a list of 10 to a list of 15. It now goes to the top 35 with its online list, but for purposes of this compilation, we stick with the “print list.”

Further complicating the process was the 2011 addition of more lists – eBooks and combined print and eBooks. No books have made those without making the traditional list, so we’ve ignored those for now in terms of assessing the “weeks on list.”

And in terms of “weeks on list,” worthy of note is Michael Lewis’s “Moneyball,” which, after the release of the hit film, returned to the list after eight years, running up 45 weeks on the paperback list and 20 on the hardcover list.

Depending on how one keeps score, that could make it the most successful Times best-seller of all baseball books, with a nod to “Men at Work” by George Will, which enjoyed a 35-week run on the hardcover list.

Presumed successful baseball books prior to 1935 included Christy Mathewson’s “Pitching in a Pinch,” (1912), Ring Lardner’s “You Know Me, Al,” (1914) and John McGraw’s “My Thirty Years in Baseball” (1934). Perhaps they might have made the list if such a list was being published.

We did not include memoirs by Grantland Rice (26 weeks for “The Tumolt and the Shouting”) and Howard Cosell (“Cosell,” 21 weeks) because they were more general and covered other sports as well.

The first baseball book to crack the list was “The Babe Ruth Story” by Bob Considine, with a little help from the dying Babe, and that came in the 13th year of the list. It then took seven years before “Fear Strikes Out” by Jimmy Piersall and Al Hirschberg made it – two years before the film version. It was then another five years for Jim Brosnan’s “The Long Season” and Joe Garagiola’s “Baseball is a Funny Game” to hit. In 1962, Bill Veeck’s “Veeck as in Wreck” spent 15 weeks on the list, and those five books represented the only baseball literature to make the list in its first 35 years.

Starting with the landmark publication of Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” in 1970, baseball on the list has been more common, with very few years failing to produce at least one entry.

Bouton’s book (written with Leonard Shechter), spent 17 weeks on the list, breaking Veeck’s record by two weeks. Two years later, Roger Kahn’s “The Boys of Summer” was on the list for 24 weeks, and “The Bronx Zoo,” by Sparky Lyle and Peter Golenbock, spent 29 weeks on the list in 1979, which stood as the standard until “Men at Work” in 1990. That remains the hardcover record.

Of the 65 books to be able to say “A New York Times Best-Seller,” (the term is also used for those on the online lists, as well), 17 appeared for just one week, and an additional eight for two weeks. Thirty of the 65 had some New York-related theme. One book, “The Bullpen Gospels” by Dick Hayhurst, appeared only on the paperback list, never being released in hardcover. Since the first publication of the paperback list in 2005, the champion proved to be a work of fiction, with John Grisham’s “Calico Joe” spending 15 weeks on the chart. “Calico Joe,” published in 2012, was only the fourth novel to make the fiction list, a path led by Bernard Malamud for “The Natural” (published in 1952 but on the list in 1984 when the film was released), “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella (published in 1982 but on the list in 1989 when its film version, “Field of Dreams,” was released) and 2011’s “The Art Of Fielding” by Chad Harbach, the first novel to make the list without a film to drive sales.

Golenbock has appeared four times on the list – with Lyle for “The Bronx Zoo,” with Billy Martin for “Number 1,” with Graig Nettles for “Balls” and with Johnny Damon for “Idiot.” Roger Kahn has had three appearances. There have been five years in which four books appeared, including this one, with Harvey Araton’s “Driving Mr. Yogi,” Jim Abbott and Tim Brown’s “Imperfect,” R.A. Dickey and Wayne Coffey’s “Where I Wind Up,” joining the Grisham novel.

Books in the last 10 years to have spent the most weeks on the list apart from “Moneyball” are Buzz Bissinger’s “Three Nights in August” (20 weeks in 2005), Jane Leavy’s “Sandy Koufax” (16 in 2002), “Calico Joe” (15), Joe Torre and Tom Verducci’s “The Yankee Years” (14 in 2009) and Leavy’s “The Last Boy” (13 in 2010).

By decades, the number of titles on the list have been one (1940s), one (1950s), three (1960s), six (1970s), 11 (1980s), six (1990s) and 28 (2000s), the latter being a remarkable decade for baseball literature. As mentioned, so far in this decade, there have been nine.

Book sales are migrating to eBooks, and the industry is in a transition period, but it does appear that reader’s enjoyment of baseball books is in a healthy period and that fans still enjoy a good journey through the game’s literature as part of their total enjoyment of the sport.

Baseball books on the N.Y. Times best-sellers list:
1948    The Babe Ruth Story (Babe Ruth/Bob Considine) (3 weeks on the best-sellers list)
1955    Fear Strikes Out (Jimmy Piersall/Al Hirschberg) (1)
1960    The Long Season (Jim Brosnan) (1)
1960    Baseball Is a Funny Game (Joe Garagiola) (13)
1962    Veeck As in Wreck (Bill Veeck/Ed Linn) (15)
1970    Ball Four (Jim Bouton) (17)
1972    The Boys of Summer (Roger Kahn) (24)
1972    The Summer Game (Roger Angell) (5)
1975    Nice Guys Finish Last (Leo Durocher/Ed Linn) (1)
1977    A Season in the Sun (Roger Kahn) (1)
1979 The Bronx Zoo (Sparky Lyle/Peter Golenbock) (29)
1980    Number 1 (Billy Martin/Peter Golenbock) (8)
1982    The Umpire Strikes Back (Ron Luciano/David Fisher) (18)
1982    Late Innings (Roger Angell) (6)
1984    Reggie (Reggie Jackson/Mike Lupica) (4)
1984    Bill James Historical Abstract (Bill James) (13)
1984    Strike Two (Ron Luciano/David Fisher) (1)
1984     The Natural (Bernard Malamud) (1)
1985    Balls (Graig Nettles/Peter Golenbock) (15)
1988  The Duke of Flatbush (Duke Snider/Bill Gilbert) (2)
1989    Pete Rose: My Story (Pete Rose/Roger Kahn) (2)
1989    Shoeless Joe (W.P. Kinsella) (4)
1989    Yogi (It Ain’t Over) (Yogi Berra/Tom Horton) (2)
1990    Men At Work (George Will) (35)
1991    I Had A Hammer (Hank Aaron/Lonnie Wheeler) (5)
1991    My Favorite Summer (Mickey Mantle/Phil Pepe) (6)
1994    All My Octobers (Mickey Mantle/Mickey Herskowitz) (6)
1997    Wait Til Next Year (Doris Kearns Goodwin) (10)
1998    Bunts (George Will) (2)
2000    Fair Ball (Bob Costas) (10)
2000    Joe DiMaggio (Richard Ben Cramer) (9)
2001    When You Come to A Fork in the Road (Yogi Berra/David Kaplan) (7)
2001    Zimmer (Don Zimmer/Bill Madden) (3)
2002    Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy (Jane Leavy) (16)
2003    Perfect I’m Not (David Wells/Chris Kreski) (5)
2003    The Teammates (David Halberstam) (13)
2003 Moneyball (Michael Lewis) (20)
2003    Me and My Dad (Paul O’Neill/Burton Rocks)  (1)
2004    My Prison Without Bars (Pete Rose/Rick Hill) (5)
2004 Ted Williams (Leigh Montville) (1)
2005    Juiced (Jose Canseco) (8)
2005    Three Nights in August (Buzz Bissinger) (20)
2005    Idiot (Johnny Damon/Peter Golenbock) (2)
2005 Coach (Michael Lewis) (5)
2005    Luckiest Man (Jonathan Eig) (1)
2005    Praying for Gil Hodges (Thomas Oliphant) (1)
2006    Game of Shadows (Mark Fainaru-Wade/Lance
Williams) (5)
2006    Clemente (David Maraniss) (5)
2006    The Big Bam (Leigh Montville) (1)
2006    Feeding the Monster (Seth Mnookin) (2)
2007    Big Papi (David Ortiz/Tony Massarotti) (2)
2008  Vindicated (Jose Canseco) (2)
2008  Yankee for Life (Bobby Murcer/Glen Waggoner) (1)
2008  Beyond Belief (Josh Hamilton/Tim Keown) (1)
2009  The Yankee Years (Joe Torre/Tom Verducci) (14)
2009  A-Rod (Selena Roberts) (1)
2009  Satchel (Larry Tye) (2)
2010  Willie Mays (James Hirsch) (4)
2010  Steinbrenner (Bill Madden) (5)
2010  The Last Boy (Jane Leavy) (13)
2010 The Bullpen Gospels (paperback-Dick Hayhurst) (3)
2011 The Art of Fielding (fiction – Chad Harbach) (9)
2012    Driving Mr. Yogi (Harvey Araton) (1)
2012    Imperfect (Jim Abbott/Tim Brown) (1)
2012    Calico Joe (fiction- John Grisham (15)
2012    Wherever I Wind Up (R.A. Dickey/Wayne Coffey) (1)

Marty Appel’s last two books, “Munson” and “Pinstripe Empire” just missed, with “Munson” peaking at 17 online. The former Yankees PR Director operates Marty Appel Public Relations ( AppelPR@gmail.com).

One thought on “Baseball’s Best-Sellers: An Updated List of Baseball Books that Landed on the N.Y. Times Best-Seller List

  1. Dennis Wright on said:

    It is too bad that “Luckiest Man” didn’t last more than one week on the Bestseller list. It was an easy, but great read. Lou Gehrig was a great man and anyone living with the disease carrying his name can attest to what he dealt with during the progression of the disease. Mr. Eig made Lou Gehrig even more special to this long time Yankee fan, THANK YOU MR. EIG! Love to ALL “Living” with this horrific disease!

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