This month, MiLB.com went to the movies, tuned into the television shows and watched worthwhile documentaries that spotlighted the quintessential qualities of Minor League Baseball, with fans chiming in on what else could’ve made the list and other deserving candidates. Now it’s time to turn the page and focus on books. Earlier this week, we recommended 10 of our favorite Minor
This month, MiLB.com went to the movies, tuned into the television shows and watched worthwhile documentaries that spotlighted the quintessential qualities of Minor League Baseball, with fans chiming in on what else could’ve made the list and other deserving candidates. Now it’s time to turn the page and focus on books.
Earlier this week, we recommended 10 of our favorite Minor League Baseball books. Today, it’s your turn.
What follows is an overview of fan responses — received via email, Twitter and Facebook — regarding the best Minors books that were excluded from that story. These recommendations were unanimously conveyed in a spirit of positivity and enthusiasm, collectively illustrating that, despite our societal predilection for electronic screen addiction, there’s still nothing that beats cracking open a good book.
While dozens of book recommendations were received, a trio of titles was mentioned time and time again. Here are the “big three:”
Where Nobody Knows Your Name (John Feinstein, 2014, Doubleday)
As a Twitter user named Ethan put it, “this is a good read about nine men at Triple-A at different points of their career in different roles.” Feinstein makes the same point in his introduction, albeit in more grandiose terms, elaborating on “men who have been stars and have fallen, men who have been rich and then far from rich, men who have aspired to these heights and then fallen.” The book’s connective tissue is Triple-A baseball itself, Minor League Baseball’s highest rung, a strange mix of up-and-comers, has-beens, almost-weres and might-be-agains.
Feinstein, author of best-selling sports titles such as A Good Walk Spoiled and A Season on the Brink, profiles nine men who spent all or most of the 2012 season in the International League: pitchers Scott Elarton, Brett Tomko and Chris Schwinden; hitters Scott Podsednik, Nate McLouth and John Lindsey; managers Charlie Montoyo and Ron Johnson; and umpire Mark Lollo. They were all so close, and yet so far away.
Good Enough to Dream (Roger Kahn, 1985, Bison Books)
Roger Kahn, who died earlier this year at the age of 92, was a greatly respected sports scribe best known for writing The Boys of Summer. Those who want to dig deeper into his vast body of work would do well to check out Good Enough to Dream. “It tells of the year  that Roger became one of the owners of the New York-Penn League’s Utica Blue Sox and all of the experiences he and the team had,” Carl Gorney said via Twitter. “And all told in Kahn’s fluid style.”
Publicity material for Good Enough to Dream calls it “a funny and poignant story of one season and one special team that will make us hesitate before we ever call anything ‘bush league’ again.” There certainly will never be another team like those ’83 Blue Sox: they were an independent team playing in an otherwise affiliated league and they won the championship.
The Bullpen Gospels (Dirk Hayhurst, 2010, Citadel)
Via email, Scott Blusiewicz provided the following review of Hayhurst’s 2010 memoir: It succinctly captures the reasons why many readers hold it in such high regard:
“The first book of a trilogy on his journey through professional baseball as a ‘non-prospect,’ Dirk Hayhurst pulls back the curtain and introduces us to the lifestyles and personalities of Minor League ballplayers. Although not quite as groundbreaking or salacious as Ball Four, The Bullpen Gospels provides an honest and revealing look at Minor League Baseball through the eyes of its players.”
I absolutely agree. Bullpen Gospels by @TheGarfoose is not only one of the best MiLB books, it’s a great baseball book. Some of his stories had me laughing out loud, especially when his teammate straightened his arm after Tommy John surgery!
— Wes Milligan (@wesmilligan) April 29, 2020
Paul Hemphill, an appreciation
Blusiewicz also recommended two books written by his friend, the late Paul Hemphill. His reviews follow:
Long Gone (1979): Eight years before the premiere of the HBO film of the same name, Hemphill introduced readers to Cecil “Stud” Cantrell, Dixie Lee Boxx and Jamie Weeks in his debut novel. Drawing from his own brief experience in the 1950s-era Alabama-Florida League, Hemphill delivers a highly entertaining story filled with memorable characters.
The Heart of the Game: The Education of a Minor League Ballplayer (1996): Hemphill spent the 1994 season following Marty Malloy, a second baseman for the Durham Bulls, the then-Class A Advanced affiliate of the Braves. Readers gain a glimpse of Malloy’s efforts to climb the Minor League ladder in the Atlanta organization. Duane Cross revisited this book in an article on Malloy, now a Minor League manager, for MiLB.com last June.
⚾️ Back when baseball was a simpler time. (Or maybe we just want to believe it was.) Minor League baseball was — and remains — Marty Malloy’s life.https://t.co/12DLqecir0
— Duane Cross ⚾ ? (@DuaneCrossMiLB) June 11, 2019
Blusiewicz’s Heart of the Game recommendation reminded this writer that it’s not the only Minor League book with that title. Heart of the Game: Life, Death and Mercy in Minor League America, by S.L. Price, is a deeply empathetic exploration of one of the greatest tragedies to occur on a Minor League baseball field. In 2007, Tulsa Drillers coach Mike Coolbaugh was killed by a foul ball while coaching first base. Price’s work pays tribute to Coolbaugh, the quintessential Minor League grinder, while detailing the profound impact his death had on the entire baseball community.
Lots of Bull
The Durham Bulls are, arguably, the most iconic franchise in all of Minor League Baseball. The team’s roots can be traced to the dawn of the 20th century and they’re the subject of an internationally beloved film (Bull Durham, of course). The Bulls’ presence can be felt throughout this article — Feinstein profiled Durham players in Where Nobody Knows Your Name, Hayhurst pitched for the Bulls after writing Bullpen Gospels and, of course, Hemphill’s Heart of the Game profiles the season of a Durham player.
No Bull: The Real Story of the Durham Bulls and the Rebirth of a Team and a City pic.twitter.com/M37E6pinZE
— Gringo (@ELGR1NG0787) April 28, 2020
No Bull, written by Ron Morris in 2017, tells “the real story of the rebirth of a team and the city.” The story, specifically, is about the 1980 Bulls, who brought baseball back to Durham after a decade-long absence from the region.
Sam Stephenson’s Bull City Summer, meanwhile, is a gorgeous coffee table book published in 2014. In an MiLB.com review, I called it an “inspired, educational and often breathtaking work of art that provides a multi-faceted look at the day-to-day machinations of the iconic International League franchise.”
For a fictional take on the Bulls, try James Bailey’s Greatest Show on Dirt. Bailey, a long-ago Bulls employee-turned Baseball America writer-turned novelist, sets his coming of age tale in the Bulls’ former home of Durham Athletic Park.
Not Alone in the Lone Star State
Lance Carter, a Texas resident and former Frisco Roughriders designated eater, is a big fan of his state’s baseball history. To that end, he recommended the following titles: The Texas League Baseball Almanac, Baseball in the Lone Star State and Bill O’Neal’s The Texas League 1888-1987.
The first two books on that list were co-authored by former Texas League president Tom Kayser, along with David King. The Texas League Almanac provides a day-by-day account of notable occurrences in the venerable Double-A circuit. I wrote about the book in 2014, alongside Kris Rutherford’s Baseball on the Prairie: How Seven Small-Town Teams Shaped Texas League History. The emergence of widespread train service led to the establishment of professional baseball teams in previously isolated towns, and Rutherford explains how these rustic locations (Sherman, Denison, Paris, Corsicana, Cleburne, Greenville and Temple) nurtured some of the league’s — and, in some cases, Major League Baseball’s — greatest players.
Carter went on to say that he’s looking forward to reading Jeff Guinn’s When Panthers Roared: The Fort Worth Cats and Minor League Baseball. As luck would have it, Josh Jackson has just written an exemplary MiLB.com story about this same Texas League powerhouse.
More! More! More!
Because too much is never enough, here are even more recommended Minor League titles:
• Several worthwhile suggestions were received on the MiLB.com Facebook page. Jim Ramlow chimed in to say that Diamonds in the Rough — Life in Baseball’s Minor Leagues (1979) was “an oldie but a goodie.” A fan named Val Parrish wrote that he “really enjoyed Rocket Ron. It’s about Ron Necciai who struck out 27 batters in a 9-inning game in the Appalachian League back in 1952. I love books based on one game, and it gives a great account of baseball in the low minors at the time.”
• Brian O’Connell, Pawtucket Red Sox designated eater, wrote to say that Richard Panek’s Waterloo Diamonds was a “hidden treasure” that “offered a wonderful glimpse into the management/ops side of running a struggling outfit.”
The Waterloo Diamonds were a team in the Midwest League, which reminds me to recommend Lucas Mann’s Midwest League-focused Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere. And, while I’m at it: Also check out Katya Cengel’s Bluegrass Baseball, which chronicles the lives of Minor League players in Kentucky.
Can’t stop now, so here’s two more for good measure: Knocking on Heaven’s Door by Marty Dobrow and False Spring by Pat Jordan.
• David Ratz, Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp director of promotions, wants you to read this:
Read this one two weeks ago and it was great. Very cool to see things from different player perspectives. pic.twitter.com/kanODeVbJD
— David Ratz (@DavidARatz) April 28, 2020
• Paul Caputo’s The Story Behind the Nickname ably lives up to its title. His book tells the stories behind a wide variety of the Minor Leagues’ most vibrant identities.
Finally, the picture in this tweet is worth way more than 1000 words.
— California League History (@CL_History) April 28, 2020