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Baseball: Greatest Baseball Biographies

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posted on Feb, 3 2006 @ 08:27 PM
I just found a website with a list called "Baseball Biographies: Best Books on the Legendary Players."

Obviously this is just one person's opinion, and for my part I'll say I sharply disagree with him about the Lefty Grove biography, which in my view is poorly written and mainly suitable for stats freaks. [Like Hootie and I can't take care of that stuff.] Reading it was a big disappointment for me, especially given that both the author and I, like most baseball historians, consider Grove the greatest pitcher of all time.

But I have a lot of the books on this guy's list, and for the most part I think his choices and the order he puts them in are sound decisions. I certainly agree with him about #1. Why he doesn't have the Oscar Charleston biography on here, I don't know.

For those of you interested in reading up on some baseball greats, here are the titles and authors, with bracketed info provided by me, where I think it will be helpful:

1. Babe: The Legend Comes to Life, by Robert Creamer. [This is like picking "Hey Jude" as the greatest song of the 1960's, or "Stairway to Heaven" as the greatest song of the 1970's. A lot of people may disagree, or even dislike it, but it's an overwhelming consensus choice as the greatest sports bio ever... and for good reasons. I really urge everyone at this site to buy and read this book. It won't cost much, and I'm confident you'll thank me.]

2. Walter Johnson: A Life, by Jack Kavanagh. [Be sure to get THIS one, not the horrible hagiography written by Johnson's grandson.]

3. Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig, by Jonathan Eig. [A powerful book about an inevitably emotional subject.]

4. Matty: An American Hero: Christy Mathewson of the New York Giants, by Ray Robinson. [Another inevitably emotional book, this one about the great pitcher who won 373 games, lost but 188, and died in his mid-40's from the garbage he had to breathe in WW I.]

5. Lefty Grove: American Original, by Jim Kaplan. [See above.]

6. Ty Cobb, by Charles Alexander. [See my previous comments to Hootie about this scholarly, excellent book. A man who was as great a player and as major a figure as Cobb deserves a great bio. This is the one.]

7. The Sizzler: George Sisler, Baseball's Forgotten Great, by Rick Hun. [I have never read this book, but Sisler was a guy who played in an absolute paradise for left-handed hitters, STILL didn't hit many HR's, batted .340 for his career, but never walked and thus had a lower career on-base percentage than Gene Tenace and a lot of other guys nobody gives a second thought to. Bill James calls him "the most overrated player in baseball history." If it weren't for Roberto Clemente, I would agree. I hope Hun didn't spend much time on this project.]

8. Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life, by Richard Ben Cramer. [I don't have this book, but it is said to trash DiMaggio from cover to cover. And being from the same urban area as DiMaggio, it's my understanding he deserved it.]

9. Rube Waddell: The Zany, Brilliant Life of a Strikeout Artist, by Alan Howard Levy. [I am going to buy this book. This guy was an early day Nolan Ryan, only with a lot more personality. He was, in essence, a goofball with a tremendous arm which some thought stronger than Walter Johnson's. They were probably right, as Waddell had a better lifetime strikeout-to-innings-pitched ratio.]

10. Rogers Hornsby: A Biography (Baseball's All-Time Greatest Hitters), by Jonathan D'Amore. [This is most sympathetic portrait of Rogers Hornsby you will ever have a chance to read.]

11. Ed Delahanty in the Emerald Age of Baseball, by Jerrold Casway. [Delahanty played from 1888-1903 and had a .346 career batting average. Like so many early players, he was a revolting drunkard. One night in 1903, he got thrown off the team train at Niagara Falls. In a stupor, he walked through an open drawbridge... and into Niagara Falls, thus avoiding the decline phase of his career.]

12. A Clever Base-Ballist: The Life and Times of John Montgomery Ward, by Bryan Di Salvatore.

13. Honus [Wagner]: The Life and Times of a Baseball Hero. [MANY baseball history experts, including Bill James, consider Wagner the second greatest player of all time, or, now, the third greatest behind Ruth and that jackass in S.F. I don't agree and think Wagner was the third best of the Dead Ball players, behind Cobb and Speaker.]

14. Shoeless: The Life and Times of Shoeless Joe Jackson, by David L. Fleitz.

15. John McGraw, by Charles Alexander. [The same Alexander who wrote the great book about Cobb. This book is nearly as good, and it's about a man who: (i) is the consensus choice as the greatest manager ever; and (ii) had the third highest on-base percentage ever, albeit in a very, very different era, prior to 1900.

16. Big and Little Poison: Paul and Lloyd Waner, Baseball Brothers, by Clifton Blue Parker. [Paul Waner was a great right fielder who is one of the top 10 rightfielders ever, but not one of the top 5. Lloyd Waner was his brother, and that is just about the only reason he is in the Hall of Fame. One of their worst selections, but not nearly the drunk Paul was.]

17. The Glory of Their Times: The Story of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It, by Lawrence Ritter. [The famous book about Dead Ball players, written while many of them were still alive.]

18. Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero, by Leigh Montville. [This is a book which views Williams as a man who interrupted his career twice to serve his country in war, and whom his fans adored. That makes for a great memory, but it's not true. Williams fought the Draft Board, even during WWII, and many Boston fans HATED him for a long time, not least of all because of his penchant for making obscene gestures at them. Someday I will reproduce everything Bill James wrote about how hated Williams was in his day. For now, suffice it to quote this portion of James' comment: "He was a lot like Rogers Hornsby, whom he knew well and liked, and he is a lot like Bobby Knight, who is a close friend. He had a great deal more in common with Ty Cobb than he did with Babe Ruth."

19. Rube Marquard: The Life and Times of a Baseball Hall of Famer, by Larry D. Mansch. [The worst, least-qualified pitcher in the Hall of Fame. As such, he's never interested me enough to make me want to learn about him. Just know this: His career "Adjusted ERA" was only three percent better than the league average during his years, with park adjustments. What a Hall of Famer, huh?]

20. Brooks Robinson, by Rick Wolff.

21. Cy Young: A Baseball Life, by Reed Browning.

22. Tinker, Evers, and Chance: A Triple Biography, by Gil Bogen. [A story of baseball's most famous double-play team and, again, some real dubious Hall of Famers.]

posted on Feb, 3 2006 @ 09:26 PM
what is the name of the book on oscar Charleston that you have referred to?

posted on Feb, 4 2006 @ 02:02 AM


I have decided to go on a baseball bio buying spree. Considering my penchant for going on buying sprees I cannot afford--e.g., $900 for a leather chair to sit at my maple computer desk, plus $3,000 for the desk, when I was already in the hole pretty good--buying a bunch of these books makes sense.


When I am done buying books on this list which I do not already have, but which interest me, I will have ALL of the 22 books on the above list except:

-----The George Sisler book, for the reasons I stated above. I WOULD buy a Clemente book, despite considering him the only guy more overrated than Sisler, because he was a great human being who died baseball's most heroic death. But Sisler was a no-walk, no-power hitter who, even in the 20's, could hit HR's in a park where it was 310 down the RF line, 322 to straightaway RF, and 354 to deepest RCF, plus his allergy to walks made his .340 lifetime batting average meaningless. No interest at all.

-----The Rogers Hornsby book, because any book which puts a smiley face on the biggest @sshole in baseball history is nothing I want any part of. I'd rather read a favorable bio of Barry Bonds, and that's no lie.

-----The John Montgomery Ward bio, because I know nothing about him, and care little more, given his lack of any meaningful stats.

-----The Shoeless Joe Jackson book, because the bastard took part in throwing at least one W.S. game, and I don't care if he was illiterate, and dumb, and whatever else, I don't want to read what some apologist says on his behalf;

-----The Ted Williams hagiography, because my understanding of that guy is exactly the same as the one set forth in Bill James' 2001 tirade, right before he held his nose and rated Williams ahead of Musial as the #1 greatest LF of all time. The funny thing about Williams, though, is that despite the facts he: (i) made no effort to improve his dismal outfield skills; and (ii) often didn't even pretend to hustle on the basepaths; his best teammates really loved the guy. And yeah, he was the greatest hitter of all time who didn't eat 25-egg omeletes and drink a pint of bourbon for breakfast, or fabricate himself with steroids and HGH, but I'd think his teammates would have HATED his deliberate indifference to fielding and baserunning. It's quite obvious from Dom Dimaggio, Bobby Doerr (another B.S. Hall of Famer) and Johnny Pesky that they loved the guy, and for real.

-----The Rube Marquard book, because he is either the worst starting pitcher elected to the Hall, or second only to Jesse "Pop" Haines, who had the good judgment to be a teammate of Frankie Frisch, the Veterans' Committee leader who put almost ALL of his former starting teammates into the Hall (check career records of Fred Lindstrom, George Kelley and Travis Jackson, among others). But by Adjusted ERA, even Haines was a clearly better pitcher than Marquard.

ANYWAY, If I am able to get all the others which I am now missing before they go out of print, I will soon have every one of the books on the 22-book list in my previous e-mail... EXCEPT those listed in THIS e-mail. As to all the others, I either am purchasing them now or already had them. And if y'all have any questions about any of these players--or want my opinion, as a professional writer and baseball history fanatic, about the merits of these books, I will be glad to give those opinions out, pro bono (the two most hated Latin words to any lawyer... except public interest lawyers like me).

You already know what I think of #1 on the list. They don't get any better than that book, and when you consider the subject matter, it's insanity not to have it.


posted on Feb, 5 2006 @ 10:15 PM
UPDATE: I bought everything I said I would buy, PLUS a bio of Grover Cleveland Alexander which details his tragic final 2 decades as an epileptic alcoholic as well as his great career, PLUS a bio of the "rough and tumble" life of the man who is probably Texas's greatest contribution to pro baseball: Tris Speaker.

(Let's see: Ruth was from Maryland; Cobb from Georgia; Musial from Pennsylvania, I think; Williams from California; Mantle from Oklahoma; Mays from Alabama; Aaron also from the deep South; dunno where Wagner was from, but I put Speaker ahead of him anyway, despite sabermetricians; Lefty Grove from Maryland (think that little state did ok?); DiMaggio from CA and not as good, anyway; Oscar Charleston from Cuba....

Yup, I reckon Speaker is the greatest ballplayer in the long, proud history of the great lone star state of Texas. And, almost 80 years after he played his last game, and almost 50 years after he died, he still holds the career records for two categories as diverse as doubles and outfielder assists, plus he's one of only two players with over 1,000 combined doubles and triples. The other was arguably not a human being.


posted on Feb, 17 2006 @ 09:03 PM

I now have ALL of the above-listed bios, except the ones I said I would not get AND one that's late in coming: The bio of the man most sabermetricians consider the best of all the players on that list: Honus Wagner. (I rate him the 3rd best everyday player, behind Cobb and Speaker--or vice versa--in the Dead Ball Era.)

By this time next week, I will surely have the Wagner bio, since I received nothing to indicate it was temporarily unavailable.

If anyone has SIMPLE questions about any of these guys, based on materials in these bios, ask away and I will provide it. I will have finished reading all of these bios, at the latest, by the end of summer (not even death penalty appeals will stop my recreational reading of b.h. books
), and at that point, I'll field any questions on the books, including which ones I think are most worth buying.


posted on Feb, 18 2006 @ 01:12 AM

Hootie, I will have re-skimmed the second half of Alexander's great bio of Cobb. The comment you made about Cobb--i.e., that you're not a big believer in making deductions or additions for supposedly lousy or good effects on team "chemistry"--is, in general, one I agree with. For example, I haven't played on any MLB teams, especially none that Cobb, Bonds, Hornsby or other notorious jerks played on, and I'm fairly sure you haven't, either, so it's just conclusory speculation to talk about how they "hurt" their teams.


I distinctly, but alas not in detail, recall that in the second half of his great bio of Cobb, Alexander discussed SPECIFIC ways Cobb hurt his team by doing various things to win batting titles and do other selfish, stats-driven things. It's NOT speculative to say THAT'S harmful to a team, and it's also NOT irrelevant to Cobb's career value that he did those things. Whether the sum total of those combined instances, and their effects on his team, are enough to put Speaker ahead of him, I don't know. But for your enlightenment as well as mine, I'll catalog it and print the whole lot of these incidents after I reread that book.

Bill James once estimated, I think, that 20 to 25% of those who saw both men felt Speaker was the better player. I think that was supposed to impress Speaker fans, but I'm not sure why. It means 75 to 80% felt Cobb was better. Since everyone agreed Speaker was an enormously better CF, and the gold standard for the most important OF position, and a tremendous hitter who, like Cobb, had over 1,000 combined doubles and triples, James' ostensibly pro-Speaker statement is actually pretty strongly pro-Cobb.

So, while I'm reading all the ones of these books that are new to me, I will reread the relevant parts of Alexander's Cobb bio to see what all he has to say about Cobb's sitting games out and doing other bad things to his team for the sake of his stats.

Remember, also, that Alexander investigated the infamous Speaker/Cobb/Wood fix story VERY thoroughly and concluded it was false.

I would much rather have had Speaker in my clubhouse, but as I've thought this Cobb-vs.-Speaker thing through, one fact keeps coming back: Whereas the insufferable Hornsby went for spells where he played for a new team every year, Ty Cobb played his first 22 consecutive years with the Tigers. He, like Bonds, may have been intolerable, but not in a way which hurt the team to a point that was more damaging than what he was worth.

Like Bonds thus far, Cobb was only traded once in his mercurial, insufferable-personality, career... and that was at age 40, when time had really caught up with him--especially in the outfield. Nobody ever WANTED to trade him, anymore than they did Bonds. By contrast, Speaker was a proud, occasionally belligerent, "rough and tumble" Texan... and damn proud of it, and he played for Boston for many years, Cleveland for many years, Washington (briefly) and Philadelphia (final year, age 40).

I won't know until I read the Speaker bio--which will be SOON--how much his "rough-and-tumble" ways affected his teammates. Also, since the book was written within the past 10 years, the author is perforce relying on a lot of hearsay accounts and those old, wildly hyperbolic newspaper accounts, and he SURE didn't interview any ex-teammates of Speaker's who recall him clearly.

But this book is well-reviewed by critics and my brief review of it thus far is promising.

I think, Hootie, that although Speaker has an enormous defensive edge over Cobb (and there's no doubt at all about that), it's going to depend on what I find in the Alexander bio--and this book--about Cobb's laying down or sitting down to keep his stats up. There's a hell of a difference between them defensively, but I'd agreeing it's not enough per se. And I'd agree the fact Speaker was 3-0 in the W.S., while Cobb was 0-3, can't be counted.


posted on Mar, 6 2006 @ 07:06 PM

Have you purchased, and hopefully begun reading, the excellent Ty Cobb biography that Charles Alexander wrote? As I told you, the book documents specific ways Cobb hurt his team, especially in his years as player-manager, for the sake of his all-sacred stats. It's a must-read for rating Cobb intelligently among The Five Great Center Fielders (makes it easier to justify rating Mantle ahead of Cobb, which James did NOT do, but made it clear he wanted to), and among the Top 10 or Top 20 All-Time Players.

I can tell you that my ranking of Cobb slipped, albeit only a little, after I read the book. As I said before, I'm not a big believer in rating players on the nebulous concept of "team chemistry," any more than you are. I don't think ANYONE should rate players based on that concept, unless he's played on the same team as the player in question, been in the same locker rooms, and knows for a fact how that player affects his teammates.

But when you can pinpoint SPECIFIC factual ways in which a player's selfishness hurt his team, THAT is no longer a nebulous concept. It's hard fact.

Another thing: Alexander researched the infamous story about how Smokey Joe Wood, Cobb and Speaker allegedly fixed games to arrange for 2nd and 3rd place money at season's end, in 1919 or 1921 (don't remember which). He concluded the story was false, even though Cobb threatened to kill the snitch if he told his story in front of Commissioner Landis--which, unsurprisingly, caused the snitch to be not only taciturn at the hearing, but altogether invisible. I'd have done the same, because I'm sure Cobb meant it.

But the guy who wrote the outstanding new bio of Speaker that I'm working my way through reached the opposite conclusion, and further concluded it wasn't the only time Speaker lay down in a game. Also, he feels throwing baseball games was epidemic in the Dead Ball Era, and perhaps early on in the Live Ball Era, and that Cicotte, Jackson and the other 6 were the ones who got crucified as examples.

I read a book on the 1918 Series, and it seems pretty clear the Cubs lay down in that one; now I'm learning they apparently did so in 1916, too. Thank god I've seen nothing implicating The Big Guy in any of that cr@p. Don't think I could take that.

Anyway, I again urge you to read the Alexander bio of Cobb. It's a finely written book, as one would expect, since Alexander is a History professor at a good midwestern university. And the way Cobb's stats obsessions compromised his team's chances in some games certainly has to be taken into account in evaluating his worth as a player, since winning games is what it's all about.

Now, I have a question for you:

As you know, it's long been accepted that Cobb, Speaker, DiMaggio, Mays and Mantle (in chronological order) are The Great Five centerfielders, and that nobody else is even close. Duke Snider is usually named as #6, but he's not close. I always felt Griffey was going to join The Great Five, but that looks unlikely now, as I think you'll agree.

Also, without meaning any disrespect to the recently deceased, there's no way Kirby Puckett's OBA, slugging and Runs Created/Innings put him in the same company as Mays, Cobb, Mantle, etc.

But we've seen a lot of other fine CF's in the last 20 years, most of whom are still active. Do you think any of them were, are or may become worthy of inclusion in the same breath with The Great Five? Andruw Jones is one guy whose spectacular stats put him, in my view, clearly ahead of either Tris Speaker or Willie Mays (or Curt Flood, or whomever) as a defensive CF, but his career on-base % and RC/27 are all you need to look at to exclude him from joining The Great Five.

Your thoughts?


posted on Apr, 6 2006 @ 11:16 PM
What about Ball Four by Jim Bouton. Its an autobiography so sorry for sticking it here but that book changed my perspective on what its like to be in the major leagues. Funny guy too.

posted on Apr, 6 2006 @ 11:48 PM
Right, Kwy. I was just letting people know about one guy's website, and his opinion about the 22 greatest baseball bios.

And if I recall correctly, all of them were about guys from the Dead Ball Era or the very early years of the live ball (like Lou Gehrig). As I mentioned, I don't agree with him at all about the Grove bio, and I belong to the large group of history nuts who consider Grove the greatest pitcher of all time. I found the bio a huge disappointment.

But boy, that Tris Speaker bio is one great book. Speaker was basically a Texan version of Ty Cobb, minus a little hitting ability and baserunning ability, and plus a bunch of outfielding ability.

As for "Ball Four," I agree with you. It's a terrific book and it changed my perspective, as well. He probably set a record for incurring the most people's wrath in baseball history (with all due disrespect to Ty Cobb), but that's a hell of a book.

I hope you stick around, Dude. You are a very positive-energy kind of guy, and, as such, a real joy to have around here. I hope we can have lots of talks about baseball. And since they won't all be about ancient baseball history, a lot of them will be with you doing most of the writing and me doing most of the learning.


posted on Apr, 7 2006 @ 02:11 AM
Thank you for the kind words BaseballHistoryNut, I'm glad I haven't angered anyone in this community yet. You're knowledge predates mine, but I do know what you're talking about and it brings back fond memories of poring over baseball books when I still had the dream.

It'd be nice to stick around here, it seemed to me when I came there were no big discussions going on (no offense to anyone and I've only been checking the NBA and MLB forums). I'm very impressed by the knowledge and respect here. Also, I probably won't talk historical baseball (although I have followed the history of the game to a decent extent) so if you hear from me it'll be mostly Red Sox related. I apologize in advance for being an avid fan of such a great team.

[Edited on 4/7/06 by Kwyjibo]

posted on Apr, 7 2006 @ 03:27 AM
Thank YOU, both for the kind words about my "kind words" and "respect," and for your admiration of my baseball knowledge. You will find that in general, this is a very friendly forum of mutual respect. PLEASE do stick around. You seem like you're quite the sports fan.

I suggest you get to know GiantsFan, Gibbs and TRD. In addition to being three real nice guys, they've been here forever and have made a zillion posts. And a guy who's not nearly as veteran, but another real friendly guy you'll want to seek out is "YeahRight." And the two guys who may be my personal favorites are not here right now, but are supposedly going to be back real soon: Toejam, one of the major players here; and IAClonz, a relative newcomer but real nice guy.

Apologies to others I'm not immediately thinking of. But anyway, get to know those people--all of whom are real nice--and you'll be off to a great start. OH! Oops! And HOOTIE, even though we disagree INTENSELY about Barry Bonds, is the site's other baseball maniac. He's probably not quite as up on ancient baseball as I am, but he's VERY up on baseball, particularly the modern stuff. Get to know him, and you can debate up a storm about current players. You better be well armed, though.

I've got to go to bed NOW. Chat with you tomorrow or the next day, no doubt.

Baseball History Nut

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