With the Detroit Tigers and the San Francisco Giants duking it out in the World Series, we’re craving epic baseball fiction. These big-league baseball novels, including one from bestseller John Grisham (who goes further afield from his usual legal thriller turf), drive home the drama of “America’s pastime.”
“Calico Joe,” by John Grisham
John Grisham steps up to the plate with “Calico Joe,” a novel that follows the intertwined paths of baseball phenom Joe Castle and Mets pitcher Warren Tracey. “The Firm” author and lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan, who gave up his dreams of being a pro ball player in college, digs into the sport, combining his easy narrative style with an eye for detail.
“The Art of Fielding,” by Chad Harbach
Chad Harbach spent 11 years working on his debut novel centering around an unlikely baseball sensation as he awkwardly navigates four years at Westish College. As clumsy with the ladies as he is suave with the grounders, shortstop Henry Skrimshander finds mentors in catcher Mike Schwartz and Guert Affenlight, president of the small school. The coming of age story deals with the perils of fame and the frailty of the human psyche while keeping the action contained on a college campus.
“Shoeless Joe,” by W. P. Kinsella
Ray Kinsella mows his Iowa farmland and builds a baseball diamond: If the plot sounds familiar, it’s because director Phil Alden Robinson adapted W.P. Kinsella’s story for “Field of Dreams” starring Kevin Costner. Kinsella hears the famous words, “if you build it, he will come,” and he’s off on an adventure that brings Shoeless Joe Jackson back from the grave (or cornfield, as the case may be).
“The Natural,” by Bernard Malamud
Bernard’s Malamud’s debut novel, another baseball book that found its way to the silver screen, revolves around the skills of Roy Hobbs. The elegant player, whose career is stalled early after a bad run-in with a woman and a gun, finds himself with a second chance and a still-magical swing. He makes the most of the opportunity by ushering his team to big wins, with the help of a lightning-touched bat.
“Backstop,” by J. Conrad Guest
Backstop spends his days catching for the Detroit Tigers. He takes readers on a first-person journey through the life and career of a big league player, from his tumultuous rookie season to the end of his middling career. Along the way, he falls in love, finds his heart broken and catches a lot of fastballs. Author J. Conrad Guest capitalizes on his love of the Tigers to provide plenty of detail.
“The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop.,” by Robert Coover
Brown University professor Robert Coover delves into the strange relationship between fantasy baseball owners and the players on their team. The life of his protagonist, J. Henry Waugh, is thrown into turmoil after one of the pitchers on his team dies in a freak accident following a perfect game. The line between real and fake blurs, causing Waugh to wonder where he falls.
“The Brothers K,” by David James Duncan
David James Duncan’s tale of the Chance family involves baseball, Vietnam, vegetarianism … and the “K” of the title? A nod to “The Brothers Karamazov,” and to the strike-out, and to Kinkaid, one of the Chance boys who mostly narrates the book. Though some have argued this isn’t a baseball novel at all, the sport still infuses Duncan’s book with the dreams of the boys of summer.
“Pafko at the Wall,” by Don DeLillo
With the publication of his masterwork “Underworld” in 1997, Don DeLillo cemented his reputation as one of the heaviest of heavy hitters in the literary world. Most striking for some readers was the extrarodinary first section detailing the “Shot Heard Around the World,” Bobby Thompson’s pennant-winning home run on October 3, 1951. Published first as a New Yorker piece, then as the opening to “Underworld,” then as a stand-alone novella, “Pafko at the Wall” is considered a holy text by book nerds who love baseball.
–By Noah Davis