Baseball has been described as a microcosm of life, which makes it the perfect subject for fiction. Since 1952, several novels have been published in which the sport plays a significant role. Below, in chronological order, is a list of ten notable novels involving baseball:
1. The Natural, Bernard Malamud (1952). This groundbreaking tale of good and evil was the basis for the 1984 Robert Redford film. It is believed by many to be the finest baseball novel ever.
2. Bang the Drum Slowly, Mark Harris (1956). One of several baseball novels by Harris, it is notable for the 1973 film of the same title that launched the career of Robert De Niro. The story centers around young catcher Bruce Pearson (played by De Niro in the film), dying of Hodgkins disease.
3. The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop., Robert Coover (1968). The novel chronicles the descent into madness of a loner whose life centers around a baseball board game. It is entertaining and at times chilling.
4. The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings, William Brashler (1973). This comic novel deals with the life of black ballplayers before integration. It was also adapted into a 1976 film of the same title.
5. The Great American Novel, Philip Roth (1973). Baseball plays a central role in this ambitious comic novel by Roth. It is entertaining and, as might be expected of any early Roth work, often outrageous.
6. Shoeless Joe, W. P. Kinsella (1982). This classic tale of life, death, regret and the relationship between father and son was the basis for the 1989 film Field of Dreams. If not for this work, the phrase “if you build it, he will come” would never have become part of our lexicon.
7. The Seventh Game, Roger Kahn (1982). Ten years after the release of Kahn’s The Boys of Summer (1972), a chronicle of the Brooklyn Dodgers believed by many to be the best baseball book ever written, Kahn released this novel centering on pitcher Johnny Longboat, on the mound for the seventh and deciding game of the World Series. It is not Kahn’s best work, but it is certainly worth a look.
8. For Love of the Game, Michael Shaara (1991). Penned by the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning The Killer Angels (1974), this novel was released shortly after Shaara’s death. Some have complained that the work required additional editing, but the story of Billy Chapel, pitching the final game of the regular season, knowing that he is about to be traded and reliving events of his life, is worth reading. The book was adapted into a 1999 film of the same title, starring Kevin Kostner.
9. Sometimes You See It Coming, Kevin Baker (1993). This work by the author of the outstanding City of Fire Trilogy – Dreamland (1999), Paradise Alley (2002) and Strivers Row (2006) - chronicles the exploits of fictional baseball legend John Barr and his eccentric New York Mets teammates. Although uneven at times, the book is entertaining and often amusing.
10. Underworld, Don DeLillo (1997). This complex book by one of the finest modern American writers is not really a baseball novel, but its fifty page prologue, The Triumph of Death, contains some of the best sports writing ever penned. The prologue, first published in 1992 in Harper’s magazine under the title and subtitle Pafko at the Fence, The Shot Heard Round the World, is a retelling of Bobby Thomson’s 1951 home run that won the pennant for the New York Giants over the Brooklyn Dodgers. In addition to ballplayers who participated in that game, such as Thompson, Ralph Branca and Jackie Robinson, the story features such historical characters as J. Edgar Hoover and Frank Sinatra, both present in the stands. DeLillo uses the stage of one of the most memorable baseball games ever played to create a slice of Americana that the reader will not easily forget.