By Marty Appel, October 13, 2016
No baseball book hit the New York Times best sellers list in 2015, the first time that happened in 16 years.
I happen to know this because around that time, I set off on a research mission to record every baseball book that ever made the list. This was no easy task, as the lists are not included in the Times’s online archives—only on its microfilm. So it was an imposing research task, thankfully done with the cooperation of editors at the Times’s book review section.
A total of 75 books have made the list, the longest-running best sellers list in the country, and the one still considered the most prestigious by publishers. Twenty-four of the 75 (including books by Don Zimmer and Jim Abbott) would seem to have direct appeal to Yankee fans.
The 75th book, House of Nails by Lenny Dykstra, made the list in July 2016, ending a span of nearly two years in which no book made it.
In maintaining the list, I’ve chosen to stick with the hardcover best sellers, even though the Times has expanded its charts to include e-books and combined sales of hardcover and e-books in 2011. Few make one list without the other, and in the interest of consistency, we stay focused on their original list. One paperback that did not appear in hardcover is also included.
We’re baseball fans. Lists matter.
Of course, there are still some inconsistencies there, as the list was originally a monthly, and it was originally just a top 10. (Since 1978 it is a top 15, and there is now an online list that takes it to a top 35). We choose to stick to the printed version (even though this author had two books in the online list that missed the printed top 15, one of them—Munson—by one slot.)
Most publishers will label anything in that top 35 list “a New York Times best seller.” That’s called marketing.
The list began in 1935, so early baseball treats such as Ring Lardner’s You Know Me, Al or Christy Mathewson’s Pitching in a Pinch or John McGraw’s My Thirty Years in Baseballwere excluded. In 1942, the list went weekly. Six years later, the first baseball book to hit the chart was the autobiography The Babe Ruth Story by Ruth with Bob Considine, a book Babe may or may not have read as he was ill with cancer when it came out. (He did attend a publication party and asked Considine what his first name was so he could sign a book for him.)
The legendary Babe Ruth’s biography was the first baseball book on the New York Times best seller list. Ruth, who had 714 home runs in a remarkable 22-year career, is an icon to the sport of baseball.
Grantland Rice’s memoir The Tumult and the Shouting spent 26 weeks on the list in 1955, but we do not include “all sports” books in this charting, also excluding a memoir by Howard Cosell (21 weeks in 1974). But we did include Dick Schaap’s Bo Knows Bo because at least the Bo Jackson story is half baseball.
The second baseball book to make the list was Fear Strikes Out by Jimmy Piersall with Al Hirshberg, which spent one week on the list in 1955, followed by The Long Season (Jim Brosnan) and Baseball is a Funny Game (Joe Garagiola), both in 1960. Veeck as in Wreck (Bill Veeck/Ed Linn) came along for 15 weeks in 1962, and then there wasn’t another baseball best seller until Ball Four (Jim Bouton/Leonard Shecter) in 1970, an eight-year gap.
The record for the longest stay on the list goes to Men at Work (George Will), which spanned 35 weeks—nearly nine months—in 1990. The only other books to reach or exceed 20 weeks have been The Bronx Zoo (Sparky Lyle/Peter Golenbock)—29 weeks in 1979; The Boys of Summer (Roger Kahn)—24 weeks in 1972; Moneyball (Michael Lewis)—20 weeks in 2003; and Three Nights in August (Buzz Bissinger)—20 weeks in 2005.
The first decade of this century produced 28 baseball best sellers, a total greater than all baseball books combined from 1935 to 1999. There have been 15 in this current decade, despite the interruption last year. It can be noted that last year, the New York Times BookReview section, with a new editor, ceased to do a baseball roundup in the spring, something that had long been a fixture. The assumption has always been that a favorableTimes review helps sales, sometimes significantly.
One of the 15 from this decade was a best seller only on the paperback non-fiction list—The Bullpen Gospels (Dick Hayhurst), which we believe is the only baseball book to ever make that list without being available in hardcover. The only other novels on the list areThe Natural, Calico Joe, The Art of Fielding, and Shoeless Joe.
Of course, making the list, or not, is often a function of what else happens to be out at the time, as well as whether sales are jammed into a short period, as opposed to spread out over years. Thus, a book like Paul O’Neill’s Me and My Dad, published in time for Father’s Day of 2003, could make the list, while books considered baseball classics—including The Glory of Their Times (over 350,000 sold to date) by Larry Ritter or The Ultimate Baseball Book(Daniel Okrent and Harris Lewine) or even the various baseball encyclopedias (over a million sold)—never did. Also missing out are such favorites as The Fireside Book of Baseball (four volumes), David Halberstam’s Summer of ’49 and October 1964, Eliot Asinof’s Eight Men Out, Robert Creamer’s biographies of Babe Ruth and Casey Stengel, Pat Jordan’s A False Spring, and James T. Farrell’s My Baseball Diary. But David Wells’sPerfect I’m Not made it. So the list is imperfect in terms of historical importance, but trusted in terms of sales data.
Autobiographies by Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Jackie Robinson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, and Mickey Mantle never made it. Joe DiMaggio’s two- volume scrapbook of his own clippings, for which he received a huge advance, fell short. The Putnam series of 16 team histories that began with the Yankees in 1943 didn’t make it. Neither did biographies of Lou Gehrig (by Paul Gallico, Frank Graham, or Ray Robinson).
The prolific Peter Golenbock has made the list four times, collaborating with Sparky Lyle, Graig Nettles, Billy Martin, and Johnny Damon, and he did a lot of uncredited work on the 2016 Dykstra title. Roger Kahn has appeared three times—for Boys of Summer, A Season in the Sun, and Pete Rose: My Story—his book with Pete Rose, which Rose discredited 15 years later when he came clean with another version of his betting habits inMy Prison Without Bars, done with Rick Hill.
Guess who else made it three times as an author . . . Yogi Berra. Two with Dave Kaplan, and one, an autobiography with Tom Horton. Yogi was not only a man of rings, but a man of letters.
An all-star athlete in both professional football and baseball, Bo Jackson’s autobiography spent 16 weeks on the best seller list.
Source: McMains Collection
1948 The Babe Ruth Story (Babe Ruth/Bob Considine) (3 )
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)
1971 Mr. Cub (Ernie Banks/Jim Enright) (1)
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 (fiction-Bernard Malamud) (1)
1983 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)
1990 Behind the Mask (Dave Pallone/Alan Steinberg) (5)
1990 Bo Knows Bo (Bo Jackson/Dick Schaap) (16)
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 till 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 Tyre) (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)
2012 One Last Strike (Tony LaRussa/Rick Hummel) (3)
2013 Francona (Terry Francona/Dan Shaughnessy) (2)
2014 Where Nobody Knows Your Name (John Feinstein) (2)
2014 The Closer (Mariano Rivera/Wayne Coffey) (9)
2014 Jeter Unfiltered (Derek Jeter/Christopher Anderson) (5)
2016 House of Nails (Lenny Dykstra) (2)