Well, this is utterly mind-blowing. The Baseball 100 is No. 5 on the New York Times bestseller list. There are simply no words for how absurd this is. So, of course, I had to go in search of words to describe how absurd this is. You know I can’t help myself.
You don’t write an 870-page, $40 baseball book in the hopes of it becoming a bestseller. No, you write a juicy insider account of a presidency, or you write a celebrity biography (preferably, you are the celebrity) or you write an angry screed about how the country is going right down the dumper.
Of course, these aren’t the only ways to do it — the bestseller list always has extraordinary and life-altering and surprising books on it — but those are probably the most direct ways.
And baseball doesn’t figure into the equation.
Best I can tell — feeding off the dedicated research of the great Marty Appel — the Baseball 100 is the 84th book to ever make the New York Times list … and the first one to make it in more than a year, since Willie Mays and John Shea gave us the excellent, “24: Life Stories and Lessons from the Say Hey Kid.”
There was a time when baseball books were a pretty familiar sight on the list … but that time was more than a decade ago. In the 2000s, Moneyball came out, you know what a powerhouse that was, and so did Buzz Bissinger’s “Three Nights in August,” and Jane Leavy’s superb bookend biographies on Sandy Koufax and Mickey Mantle, and David Halberstam’s book “The Teammates.” Each of these books had roaring success.
And in the decade before that, George Will, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Bob Costas and Richard Ben Cramer all wrote runaway baseball bestsellers as they delved into their own thoughts about the game.
Alas, somewhere along the way, it seems, many readers seem to have lost their appetite for sports books in general … and baseball books in particular. It’s a parallel story to baseball ratings on television, I suppose. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some baseball books written in recent years that have had success — Tyler Kepner’s terrific book about ten pitches called “K,” Tom Verducci’s “The Cubs Way” about Chicago’s rise to the top, Jeff Passan’s “The Arm” breaking down pitcher’s arms and others also along with various autobiographies of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Keith Hernandez, Chipper Jones and so on.
But even though there are great baseball books being written, there are fewer success stories. Best I can tell — and again, I say this is utter wonder — it has been seven years since a baseball book charted higher on the New York Times’ list than The Baseball 100, and that was Mariano Rivera’s autobiography, which is probably a different category from a nerdy 300,000-word book about Arky Vaughan, Bullet Rogan and Charlie Gehringer (and, yes, Mariano Rivera).
I suppose that it isn’t for me to try and figure out WHY any of this is happening … but I can’t help but think about it. And what I think about is something my friend Bill James said about baseball. You really have to go back more than 35 years — to the original “Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract” in 1984 — to find a New York Times’ bestselling comp to The Baseball 100. The Historical Abstract was even bigger, even heavier, even more in-depth, and even in that glorious time for baseball bestsellers, it made little sense as a Times bestseller. But it stayed on the list for 13 wonderful weeks because Bill understood that in this vast country there are a lot of baseball fans, and a lot of baseball-adjacent* fans out there, and if you can capture their minds with ideas and stories about the game, they can never get enough.
*The “Baseball-adjacent fan” is a concept I’ve thought quite a bit about; they are fans who maybe don’t pay much attention now, maybe got turned off by the strike or steroids or length of games, maybe just got too busy to care about baseball. But, at heart, they are still fans, still interested, still emotional about it. I think there are a lot of baseball-adjacent fans in the world.
Anyway, when I was interviewing Bill James for the movie that the great Jon Hock and I made for the Baseball Hall of Fame, he said the simplest thing. He said: “Baseball exists to be enjoyed … it doesn’t have any other purpose.” And I think about that a lot. In this crazy time of rage and fear and peril — just covering the recent Bob Woodward books — baseball is just there to be enjoyed.
And maybe, just maybe, people want to make room in their lives for a mini-refrigerator sized-book about baseball cards and baseball movies and hitting streaks and dazzling catches and myths and legends and heroes and goats and fathers and sons and some of the best baseball players who ever lived.
I don’t know. It makes as much sense to me as anything else.
OK, here’s the obligatory, “You can buy The Baseball 100” links — Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, as well as a bunch of other places. And if you are interested in a signed copy, they are still available at my favorite bookstore on earth, Rainy Day Books, though I’m told that supplies won’t last much longer which seems impossible to me considering I signed roughly 83.7 bajillion-shmillion books.
Oh, wait, there’s one more thing! I don’t know if you are anywhere near the Hall of Fame. Chances are, you are not — this has something to do with geography. But if you happen to be close by or you have always wanted to go to the Hall of Fame and have a free Columbus Day weekend …
THE POSCAST IS COMING TO COOPERSTOWN THIS SATURDAY!
I can’t explain why the Baseball Hall of Fame would allow something like this to happen, but yes Mike Schur and I will be in Cooperstown on Saturday, October 9, and we are going to a PosCast in front of a live studio audience in the renowned Grandstand Theater (or, anyway, an audience of tourists who wandered in by accident and don’t realize they’re allowed to leave).
If you want to know the whole day’s schedule, I’ll be doing a book event in the theater with the great Bruce Markusen at 11 a.m. I believe there will be signed books available. And then Mike and I will do the PosCast at 1:30 p.m. Both events will be open to all museum guests — meaning people who would rather spend an hour-plus watching Mike and I talk about fruit than tour baseball’s shrine.
Maybe you are one of these people! Anyway, we’d love to see you there.