The USSM Reading List

DMZ · December 4, 2004 at 4:36 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

People ask me all the time what books I recommend to get into baseball analysis, or strategy, or cool stuff like that — “I’m new to baseball. How do I get smarter in a hurry?”. This is going to change a ton, but here’s a start, and I’ll edit this as I think of more.

General Baseball

Baseball Prospectus 2006. Under $12, which has to be worth it even if I’m not in it.

The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006 Contains an article by Dave Cameron (read his plug).

Dollar Sign on the Muscle. Learn about how scouting works and when it works, in this informative and enjoyable book.

Moneyball, Michael Lewis, tells the story of how the A’s looked to undervalued qualities to compete. There are notable deficiencies here that may make some people throw the book across the room, as Lewis at times chooses the narrative of the story over… a less-sensational but perhaps truer path. And yet, it’s a must-read, if only because it’s full of things that have become in-jokes in the baseball world (picking machine!)

Earl Weaver on Strategy, Earl Weaver and Terry Pluto. Last time I mentioned this, I wrote “One of my favorite books. Weaver was one of the smartest managers to sit on a bench, and despite his reputation, one of the most adaptable: he won with speed, without it, with power, with slap hitters, he won and won and kept winning. There are very few things in this book that have proven unsupported by evidence � people quote Weaver not because he�s Weaver, but because he�s Weaver and he�s right. Warning: may make watching games with some managers almost painful.”

I’ve re-read it since then, and I dig it.

Seattle Mariner Baseball
Out of Left Field, by Art Thiel. A unique look into how the team works under the local ownership group. Great insights into how some major events in team history unfolded. I have some dumb complaints, but if you read us, you should own this book. (update: here’s my review of it for the Seattle Weekly)

Stathead, concept and practice
It’s a little repetitive, but I recommend Curve Ball: Baseball, Statistics, and the Role of Chance in the Game by Jim Albert, and Jay Bennett is a great look into how huge random variation and luck affect statistics. Which reminds me of a cool BP article I never wrote. D’oh.

Baseball History
Paths to Glory, Mark Armour, Dan Levitt. I love this book. It’s about the great teams in baseball history, how they were built, and how they died. I was fascinated.

Or check out some Rob Neyer action. Baseball Dynasties, by Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstein looks at the best teams and tries to sort out which was the best, and why. Or Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Lineups which, and I mean this in the best possible way, is great bathroom reading — you can pick it up, read some cool stuff for a couple minutes, and stop. Mine sits by the computer for when I’m compiling something or whatever, but others highly recommend it near porcelain seats.

Baseball Economics and Power
Baseball and Billions, by Andrew Zimbalist, is a classic must-read book for anyone intrested in why you shouldn’t listen to any team’s cries of poverty.

General Science-type Stuff
Astrology for Baseball Analysts, Keaton and Adler. Many people don’t know this, but one of the best predictors of pitcher success is the astrological sign they were born under. Never be afraid to look to new sources of analytical information, I always say.

Okay, so I’m just kidding — that’s not a link to Astrology for Baseball Analysts.

Baseball People
This Ain’t Brain Surgery, Larry Dierker. (thanks to tede for the reminder) Lots of interesting stuff about his career as a player, a sportscaster, and particularly his experience as the manager for the Astros. Dierker is smart and the book’s enjoyable and well-written. I’d have hired him.


43 Responses to “The USSM Reading List”

  1. Nick M on December 4th, 2004 5:02 pm

    Great suggestions, I own almost all of those already but you gave me some titles I need to put on my christmas list.

  2. colvet on December 4th, 2004 5:39 pm

    The Demon-Haunted World is an EXCELLENT book

  3. Conor Glassey on December 4th, 2004 5:57 pm

    Hey Derek – The BP 2005 link goes to “Out of Left Field” and the Curve Ball link just doesn’t work at all…

  4. DMZ on December 4th, 2004 6:02 pm

    Should be fixed.

  5. EA on December 4th, 2004 6:14 pm

    The “Earl Weaver on Strategy” one isn’t working either.

  6. DMZ on December 4th, 2004 6:16 pm

    There was a space in it. Holy mackeral, those URLs were a pain.

  7. Jim Thomsen on December 4th, 2004 6:17 pm

    Two comments:

    1. I know Derek isn’t a big Bill James fan, for reasons I can’t quite recall from our interview last spring, but a) he’s a pioneer in this field; and b) he’s a wonderfully entertaining writer. I would suggest “The Politics of Glory,” his early 1990s book about the corrupt politics surrounding Baseball Hall of Fame selections, and probably “The Bill James Historical Abstract.” And while I actually have all the Baseball Abstracts from 1981 to the last in 1988, you should consider yourself lucky if you come across a copy at a garage sale or a used-book store. They’re fascinating snapshots of how sabermetrics grew to be, and the humor is wonderfully evil: “I’m sure Jose Oquendo occasionally makes good plays, and I’m sure Elizabeth Taylor occasionally goes on a diet. But she makes up for it over the weekend.”

    2. I can’t find Derek’s Seattle Weekly review of “Out Of Left Field,” but he said something to the effect of “it’s a triumph of storytelling over writing.” I think that’s absolutely right. Thiel is an insider and some of the previously untold tales he tells — such as the hilarious and priceless saga of how some underlings fooled George Argyros into drafting Ken Griffey Jr. over Mike Harkey — are pricelss. Thiel’s glaring weakness — as evidenced in his P-I columns — is that he can’t get out of his own way in his writing. He stuffs his prose with hyperglib analogies, acidic asides, smarmy pop-culture references and clunky metaphors that distract from often-compelling storytelling. Is it a fatal weakness? You decide … but as for myself, I was far more tempted to throw “Out Of Left Field” across the room in disgust than I was with “Moneyball,” which, in Derek-speak, I would term “a triumph of truth over accuracy.”

    I think Lewis is nine times the writer that Art Thiel is. But both are still good enough to read, and both books will make you smarter about Mariner baseball and baseball in general.

  8. DMZ on December 4th, 2004 6:34 pm

    Here’s my USSM post on Out of Left Field and further commentary on my review of it.

  9. David J Corcoran on December 4th, 2004 6:45 pm

    Hey, DMZ, how did you get stuck writing the Expos chapter? They aren’t very good. They aren’t very smart. Aside from their relocation, they are probably one of the most boring teams in baseball…. You must’ve drawn the short straw?

  10. John on December 4th, 2004 6:48 pm

    Re # 7: ” I know Derek isn’t a big Bill James fan, for reasons I can’t quite recall from our interview last spring, but a) he’s a pioneer in this field; and b) he’s a wonderfully entertaining writer. I would suggest “The Politics of Glory,” his early 1990s book about the corrupt politics surrounding Baseball Hall of Fame selections, and probably “The Bill James Historical Abstract.”

    But Derek had said:
    “People ask me all the time what books I recommend to get into baseball analysis, or strategy, or cool stuff like that –”

    WADR, I don’t think that either of those James’ titles fit any of the categories that Derek limited his list to.

    [BTW, I share your enthusiasm for the work of Bill James.]

  11. DMZ on December 4th, 2004 6:49 pm

    Well, I can’t speak for our fine editors (Chris Kahrl and Jonah Keri), but I did the Mets last year (because we rotate so the same guy doesn’t write the same team’s chapter every year), and as it’s been explained to me, my particular writing talents mean that I can make really good chapters out of teams that are not inherently interesting, and make interesting comments on players who are also not interesting.

    A lot of people I talked to thought the Mets chapter was a standout last year, so I think that view’s been confirmed. So this year I returned to the Mariners and also get another awful franchise that needs my services.

  12. Goob on December 4th, 2004 6:49 pm

    I know this doesn’t fall under one of the categories you already have and if it’s a bit too off topic, by all means delete my comment. But I know that one of my favorite types of sports books are the ones that come from a player’s perspective and the best one I’ve ever read by a baseball player is Jim Bouton’s Ball Four. It hooked my on baseball when I was in my teens and I’ve probably suggested it to 30 or so people over the years. I’ve yet to receive a response of “that book sucked” from any of them.

    And heck, Bouton did even play for a Seattle team that year =)

  13. David J Corcoran on December 4th, 2004 6:52 pm

    Hehe… You called Kenny Kelly a “tools goof” … I see what you mean…

  14. David J Corcoran on December 4th, 2004 6:54 pm

    And your Mo Vaughn commentary…classic.

  15. tede on December 4th, 2004 7:24 pm

    Moneyball has so many plusses and minuses to it, and has spawned forth so many articles and interviews, there almost needs to be a Moneyball Reader book. Most annoying is that Lewis is lazy and clueless on why the M’s don’t win. Also knocking Henry Chadwick for not valuing walks when he created the box score is like knocking Al Gore for not anticipating DMZ’s WordPress problems when Al Gore invented the Internet.

    Here’s some others you can find at your local library.

    1. Shut out : a story of race and baseball in Boston / Howard Bryant. (2002) Read about how the cronyism and racism of the Yawkey years created the Curse of Jackie Robinson. Good aside of how the Boston centric ESPN cabal began at the Boston Globe with Peter Gammons and the late Will McDonough (among others).
    2. This ain’t brain surgery : how to win the pennant without losing your mind / Larry Dierker. (2002) See what the M’s missed out on.
    3. Baseball by Harold Seymour (Volumes 1 & 2 of the 3 volume series on the History of Baseball from the beginning. Volume 3 is not as good).

    Ancient Mariner History
    4. On the run : the never dull and often shocking life of Maury Wills / Maury Wills & Mike Celizic An extremely candid autobiography covers Maury Wills lack of self-esteem as a player, affair with Dorris Day, and his tenure as manager of the Seattle Mariners. The stuff on the M’s is pretty good, it was written after Maury’s troubles. Autobiographies written at the bottom are often much better than ghostwritten jobs written after a World Series win.
    5. Win or go home : sudden death baseball by Gary R. Parker. Covers playoff famous one game win or go home playoff games at the end of the regular season. The book is a bit flawed, it covers the 95 Angels-M’s game entirely from Angels’ viewpoint which is quite weird to read (and the wrong viewpoint). Best chapter is the meltdown of the Dodger pitching staff in the 9th inning of Game 3 against the Giants in 1962 thanks to mismanagement by Walter Alston. Players were openly furious afterwards with Alston and O’Malley chickened out on firing him in place of Leo Duroucher (who was openly disloyal). If you all think final game pitching screw-ups began with Grady Little….
    6. No more Mr. Nice Guy : a life of hardball / Dick Williams and Bill Plaschke. Is not a great book, but has a great chapter on life with George Argyros, former M’s owner and current US ambassador to Spain (I kid you not).

  16. Deanna on December 5th, 2004 12:04 am

    hmm, I can’t tell if my last attempt at commenting didn’t work because of one of the weird bannages or if it was just too long. Here are some baseball books I like:

    1. The Glory of Their Times, edited by Lawrence Ritter. This book is basically a bunch of ballplayers telling stories about what it was like to play baseball around 1905-1930. It is not only my favorite baseball book ever, but it’s damn close to being my favorite book ever, period. I mean, I remember I started reading it, and within about 30 pages I realized, “I never want this book to end… and at the same time, I can’t stop reading!” It’s just an amazing piece of baseball history, and gives a lot more insight into many random myths and legends of the time.
    2. The Boys of Summer, by Roger Kahn.
    3. The aforementioned Ball Four, by Jim Bouton.
    4. Eight Men Out by Eliot Asinof.
    5. Cobb (though it’s funnier if you read My Life In Baseball first)

    If you’re interested in Japanese baseball, I recommend Robert Whiting’s books, You Gotta Have Wa and The Meaning of Ichiro. It’s interesting how things changed in the 15 years between the two books, in relation to Americans playing in Japan and the Japanese players coming over to play here.

    In light of the recent Expos/Nationals move, I also recommend Damn Senators, which is a pretty Joe-Judge-and-Walter-Johnson-centric book, but still a good read.

  17. C on December 5th, 2004 12:11 am

    I have been a Mariners fan since I was 7 years old. Yes, I was at the very first game in the Kingdome. No, I don’t remember it.
    To me, its all about pitching. I love pitching.
    I am okay at remembering stats, and believe stats and baseball are a beautiful marriage. That being said, most of you guys appear to be above me.
    I give you this little background to tell you this:
    My wife bought me “TotalBaseball Trivia,” by the editors of TotalBaseball. It is a regular hardcover book, but set up so two people can play against each other, or read alone. There are 9 innings, with 20 questions in each half inning. Most points wins…
    A few I knew, some I could guess at, most I had no clue. It is fun because they give you an interesting blurb in the answer section.
    Try these two (I just flipped to a page and pointed):
    “What former prison inmate led the AL in stolen bases in 1978 and 1980?”
    “Who is the youngest pitcher to record a complete-game shutout in the World Series?”
    (answers below)

  18. Gary Bloom on December 5th, 2004 1:16 am

    Ron Leflore and (Im guessing) Jim Palmer beating Sandy Koufax in 1966. If not Palmer I’ll guess Whitey Ford.

  19. pat on December 5th, 2004 3:34 pm

    I really enjoy The Glory of Their Times as a baseball history book. It’s from a series of interviews done with players from the turn of the previous century. Fascinating stuff, hearing from the players who were there about their experiences playing a game before it was much of a business.

    There’s also an audio version of the book, supposedly the actual taped interviews themselves, which would be a nice complement to the book.

    I tend to read this one and Ball Four nearly every year just before spring training hits. (And BP).

  20. tede on December 5th, 2004 8:30 pm

    So if anybody here followed Amazongate involving Rob Neyer, care to provide reviews of the two Fenway books in question?

    The best part of both The Glory of Their Times and Ball Four is that together they have has promoted candid oral histories of retired ballplayers beyond the usual “we loved the game but today’s players don’t”. This includes “We Played The Game” by Danny Peary which contains oral histories of players from each team for the period of 1947-1964.

  21. bob kayline on December 5th, 2004 10:12 pm

    How about Keith Hernandez’s Total Baseball and George Will’s Men at Work for baseball stretegy. For baseball literature, anything by Roger Angel or Robert Creamer’s The Babe.

  22. Paul on December 5th, 2004 10:57 pm

    I totally agree on Ball Four. I still laugh about the whole Gatorade story.

    You can read all the stats you want. But this talks about the game. Can you believe it was 35 years ago?

  23. PositivePaul on December 6th, 2004 12:34 am

    Just got started on Moneyball from my local library. Haven’t read Ball Four yet, but it’s been on my list.

    My recommendations:
    1) Leonard Koppett’s (updated) “Thinking Fan’s Guide to Baseball” (excerpt at Amazon can be found at
    2) Big Sticks: The Batting Revolution of the Twenties By William Curran. Curran paints some nice vignettes that take you back to that era.

    And, I also give my thumbs-up kudos to Thiel’s work. Of course, I expected Derek to split atoms on hairs with laser beams in his review with this book, but still. I’ve got an autographed copy — I’d started re-reading it a few weeks ago, and I wish I’d brought it home with me (I left it for my dad to read). My most recent favorite reminiscing from Thiel in Field is from the 95 series against the Yankees, and how someone had a sign that read “Not even 25 Yankees can beat OUR Johnson!” ROTFLMFAO on that one!!!

  24. SteveL on December 6th, 2004 5:03 pm

    I’m halfway through The Numbers Game, by Alan Schwarz. A great history of numbers in baseball. It’s nice to know that geeky baseball stat-heads have been around for well over a hundred years.

    My favorite baseball book of all time is Willie’s Time, by Charles Einstein. A terrifically written book that parrallells the life of Willie with the country’s social and economic changes.

  25. James on December 6th, 2004 6:03 pm

    Bill Lee’s The Wrong Stuff–hysterical and from the perspective of a soft-tossing lefty who’d happily take your drugs and detail the cheapness of Carl Yasztremski (sic).

    I Had a Hammer by Hank Aaron. Kicking the old school.

    Major League Losers by Mark Rosentraub. The guide to stadium and sports-related screwjobs.

  26. John on December 7th, 2004 12:42 am

    Speaking of On the Run, there’s also LIFE ON THE RUN [OT], BILL BRADLEY’s book about his basketball life.
    (BTW, his favorite hotel in the U.S. was the Westin.)

  27. bob mong on December 7th, 2004 9:17 am

    I just finished reading Leonard Koppett’s “Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball.” – it was pretty darn good. He weaves a pretty good tale out of 140+ yrs of baseball.

  28. Sriram on December 7th, 2004 12:31 pm

    Another good book I found in KCLS – “The Bill James guide to Baseball managers – from 1870 to today”. James talks about how managerial strategy has evolved every decade from 1870 to the mid 90s – there are a lot of interesting tidbits also. A pretty good read overall.

  29. John on December 25th, 2004 9:11 pm

    From Larry Dierker’s THIS AIN’T BRAIN SURGERY:
    “And at one juncture of the game, Astros reliever GENE PENTZ threw a strike while he was intentionally walking a batter.” [P. 60]
    Hmm! Sounds familiar.

    “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; … and there is no new thing under the sun.” [ECCLESIASTES: 1:9]

  30. John on December 25th, 2004 9:39 pm

    Re two of the books mentioned: BASEBALL DYNASTIES and GUIDE TO BASDEBALL MANAGERS:
    In the former, Neyer and Epstein agree that baseball’s greatest dynasty was the ’36-’39 Yankees. In the latter book James names JOE McCARTHY–probably because players had the best seasons of their career when he managed them–as the best baseball manager of all time.
    Had McCarthy led the Yankees to the 1940 pennant–they finished two games back–they would have won eight straight pennants
    Mc Carthy’ leadoff batter Frankie Crosetti’s BA (.194)was below the Mendoza line.
    [BTW, his OBP (.299) was below the Hunter line.]

  31. John on December 30th, 2004 5:33 pm

    Most of the books thus far mentioned, imo, are “must reads.” Here’s another one (that fits Derek’s categories of “Baseball History” and “Baseball Power and Economics:” Charles Korr’s THE END OF BASEBALL AS WE KNEW IT; the Players Union, 1960-1981.

  32. John on January 16th, 2005 8:01 pm

    I used to judge baseball books on whether they were well-written. Although I still consider that, my major concern is whether they contain a piece or two of interesting information. (Like Elden Auker’s SLEEPING CARS AND FLANNEL UNIFORMS revealing why the NYY summarily dropped Leo Durocher, or the first signs of Lou Gehrig’s ALS.)
    WIN OR GO HOME [TNX, Tede (# 15)] reveals that in 1948 the Cleveland Indians (World Champions that year)were engaged in sign-stealing–through the use of a telescope and the scoreboard.
    [Inasmuch as Bob Feller complains about how the Tigers rooked Cleveland out of the 1940 AL pennant–Cleveland finished 2nd, one game behind the Tigers–by doing the same thing…]

  33. John on January 21st, 2005 2:25 pm

    A query on SABR-L caused me to browse for three or four hours the other night in Michael Gershman’s wonderful (YMMV) DIAMONDS: THE EVOLUTION OF THE BALLPARK.*
    *DIAMONDS (a coffee-table book, full of photographs)won the Casey award for 1993’s best baseball book and the SABR-McMillan award for baseball research.

  34. JJM on February 1st, 2005 11:25 am

    Could anyone suggest a book on pitching mechanics?

  35. JJM on February 1st, 2005 11:27 am

    Oops, I’ll use proper english this time. Will someone please suggest a book on pitching mechanics?

  36. John on February 13th, 2005 11:26 pm

    Re # 34: Why don’t you look into Will Carroll’s SAVING THE PITCHER? * [This excerpt could contain the info you seek (Chapter 5 of a twelve chapter book)]:
    *Will used to publish a free newsletter UNDER THE KNIFE. He now publishes it as part of BP’s premium offerings. IMO, he’s pretty good.

  37. John D. on March 8th, 2005 3:54 pm

    Anyway: one of the owners augmented the inventory of this new/used book store, by contributing his personal baseball library (more than 1000 books).
    There are still 200-300 left; and some titles that enabled me to fill in my own collection. You might consider doing the same.
    *It’s JACKSON STREET BOOKS, in Promenade (middle of West building) at 23rd and Jackson. Buses # 14 and # 48 go right by there. (Consult Metro’s Trip, Planner.)If you’re driving, consult Map Quest.)
    [BTW, guess who was the Mariners 36th pick in the ’92 Draft.]

  38. John D. on March 9th, 2005 10:07 am

    I forgot: JACKSON STREET BOOKS, (206) 324-7000, Hrs: M-F 10:30 – 7,
    S 10:30-6, closed Sunday.
    [Unpaid (and unsolicited) advertisment.]

  39. Bill Fugazi on March 11th, 2005 5:41 pm

    I can’t believe nobody mentioned “Shoeless Joe.” I know, it’s more of a sentamental drama, but still– you can’t tell me you guys don’t watch Field of Dreams every April.

  40. John D. on March 15th, 2005 11:26 am

    Re: (# 39) SHOELESS JOE – Some people have reservations about that book.
    Some people, for instance, don’t even consider it to be Kinsella’s best baseball novel. Noted SABR researcher Phil Lowry writes, “The IOWA BASEBALL CONFEDERACY, by W.P. Kinsella, is the greatest baseball novel ever written.”

  41. John D. on March 23rd, 2005 11:56 pm

    I was in JACKSON STREET BOOKS today, and noted that there are four (4) copies of the BASEBALL ENCYCLOPEDIA remaining–$10.00/ea.

  42. John D. on July 15th, 2005 12:03 pm

    David Block’s BASEBALL BEFORE WE KNEW IT is a must-read for anyone interested in the search for the origins of the game. Along the way, Block debunks the Abner Doubleday myth, and reveals a previously unmentioned connection between A. J. Spalding and Doubleday.
    Here’s a NY TIMES Book Review provided by SABR’s Larry Boes:

    NY Times’ Book Review by Mark Lamster of David Block’s “Baseball Before We Knew It” (Univ. of Neb. Press, 2005)–a splendid compendium of all known references in print in the USA, England and Europe, tracing its origins to 17th C. and earlier ball-bat-and-base games, totally refuting the Abner Doubleday concoction of Albert Spalding, the claim for the 1849 rules of the Knickerbocker Club of New York, and its attribution to the English game of “rounders,” with speculative and scholarly diversions into other curiosities. Having read most of it myself, I highly recommend it as a 340 pp. treasure trove of baseball antiquity with reproduced engravings and drawings and a genealogical chart of the possible provenance of baseball and related ball & bat games. Larry Boes

    NOTE – Only the first 163 pages is the story of the search for baseball’s roots. The remainder consists of bibliography, notes, and appendices.

  43. Kyle on August 26th, 2005 11:57 am

    Another great book about scouting is: “Prophet of the Sandlots” by Mark Winegardner. And any reading list about baseball should include: “A False Spring” by Pat Jordan (even though its not about analysis or strategy).