Batmen: ‘Right off the Bat’ and 10 Other Smashing Stick-and-Ball Reads

Screwballs or doosras? Pitchers or bowlers? Hot dogs and beer or cucumber sandwiches and tea? The strangely parallel worlds of baseball and cricket needn’t be mutually exclusive.

Cricket is more than just mustached blokes in white outfits prancing around with paddles. Likewise, baseball is more than musclebound oafs powering balls into the stands and diving into the dirt.

In their new book, Right off the Bat: Baseball, Cricket, Literature, & Life, Evander Lomke and Martin Rowe simultaneously offer up: (1) a book about cricket for baseball fans, (2) a book about baseball for cricket fans, and (3) a book about cricket and baseball for fans of neither. Call it a triple play – or perhaps triple century?

Though it serves as a great primer for newcomers to either sport, Right off the Bat isn’t just about the games (or their equally zealous, statistics-obsessed fans). Rowe and Lomke trace the history of baseball and cricket as mirrors of the social and racial struggles taking place in America and England in the 20th century. They also discuss how the sports have inspired literature and film – you’ve probably seen The Natural, but how about Lagaan?

Learn more about what these nation-defining, kissing-cousin sports have in common when Martin Rowe, the cricket half of the team, comes to the Central Library on Wednesday, August 24, 2011, for a 6:30 p.m. presentation. (Admission is free; please RSVP to attend.)

In the meantime, we’ve dug deep into the stacks and brought out a selection of baseball and cricket-related reads. Warm up with these titles, and post your favorite books about the sports in the comments! (Book descriptions provided by Syndetics Solutions, except where noted.)

10 Books on Baseball and Cricket


The Boys of Summer, Roger Kahn
Sport/Genre: Baseball, non-fiction
Before they became the team that broke (among other records) the color barrier with Jackie Robinson, the 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers were young men who learned to play baseball in places such as Reading, Pennsylvania; Anderson, Indiana; Plainfield, New Jersey; Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Kahn’s classic traces not only the rise of this legendary team but his own life as a sports writer.

Netherland, Joseph O’Neill
Sport/Genre: Cricket, novel
In a New York City made phantasmagorical by the events of 9/11, Hans--a banker originally from the Netherlands--finds himself marooned among the strange occupants of the Chelsea Hotel after his English wife and son return to London. Alone and untethered, feeling lost in the country he had come to regard as home, Hans stumbles upon the vibrant New York subculture of cricket, where he revisits his lost childhood and, thanks to a friendship with a charismatic and charming Trinidadian named Chuck Ramkissoon, begins to reconnect with his life and his adopted country.

The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship, David Halberstam
Sport/Genre: Baseball, Chicken soup for the Sox fan's soul
Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, and Johnny Pesky were all members of the famed 1940's Boston Red Sox. Their legendary careers led the Red Sox to a pennant championship and ensured the men a place in sports history. David Halberstam, the best-selling author of the baseball classic Summer of '49, has followed the members of the 1949 championship Boston Red Sox team for years, especially Williams, Doerr, DiMaggio, and Pesky. In this extremely moving book, Halberstam reveals how these four teammates became friends, and how that friendship thrived for more than 60 years.

The Match, Romesh Gunesekera
Sport/Genre: Cricket, novel
A poet and a novelist whose The Reef was shortlisted for the Booker, Gunesekera tackles some soulful topics, including the effects of time and spatial relations on life, the meaning of home and family, and friends from past lives and lost loves. In a skillfully drawn narrative, we are shown glimpses of Sunny Fernando's childhood and adolescence in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The novel climaxes at a cricket match, where Sunny meets old friends and a lost love, snapping the perfect photo that will give his soul peace. – Library Journal

The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neill’s America, Joe Posnanski
Sport/Genre: Baseball, travelogue that begins in KC
When Legendary Negro League player Buck O'Neil asked Kansas City Star sports columnist Joe Posnanski how he fell in love with baseball, Posnanski had to think about it. From that question was born the idea behind The Soul of Baseball. Posnanski and the 94-year-old O'Neil decided to spend the 2005 baseball season touring the country in hopes of stirring up the love that first drew them to the game.

Mike at Wrykyn, P.G. Wodehouse
Sport/Genre: Cricket, “wicket” humor
Perhaps best known in the States for his stories and novels featuring Jeeves the valet and affable poltroon Bertie Wooster (which, by the way, were made into an excellent television series in the early ‘90s), P.G. Wodehouse was a cricket enthusiast, and in his early writing career, he invented the adventurous, young, public school cricketer Mike Jackson. Published in 1909, Mike at Wrykyn marries classic Wodehouse picaresque with plenty of action on the green. – J.H.

Summerland, Michael Chabon
Sport/Genre: Baseball, fiction for the kid in you
For over a century, the people of Clam Island, Washington, have enjoyed barbecues and baseball games at Summerland, on the Western tip of the island, where it never rains. The small beings – known as ferishers – who ensure this perfect weather, however, are threatened by an ancient enemy, and need a hero – a baseball star, in fact – to vanquish their foe. Summerland is the story of Ethan Feld, the worst ball player in the history of the game, recruited by a hundred-year-old scout called Ringfinger Brown, himself a Negro League Legend.

Sir Aubrey, David Rayvern Allen
Sport/Genre: Cricket, biography
A volume in the Library’s extensive Loutzenhiser Special Collection of books about film, Sir Aubrey tells the story of C. Aubrey Smith, a cricketer turned actor of stage and screen. Through his work in more than 100 early Hollywood films, including Rebecca and The Prisoner of Zenda – Sir Aubrey “incarnated the American image of the English gentleman.”

Crazy ’08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History, Cait Murphy
Sport/Genre: Baseball, knuckleball non-fiction
With adroitness and flair, Murphy (Fortune magazine) revisits this fantastic season in baseball history, which has been certainly studied and celebrated before but never with her skill. [1908] was a year with such driving forces as Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Napoleon Lajoie, Christy Mathewson, and an aging Cy Young. And it was the last time the Cubs won the series. Murphy mixes irreverence, insight, and erudition to produce this treat. – Library Journal

Beadle’s Dime Book of Cricket and Football, ed. Henry Chadwick (microfilm)
Sport/Genre: Cricket, instructions from the ancients
From topics such as “practical etiquette for ladies and gentlemen,” to cooking, biography, and popular fiction, Beadle’s Dime Books of the mid-late 19th century covered it all. Preserved on microfilm at the Central Library, this guide to Britain’s two most popular sports dates back to1866 and is subtitled Be A Complete Guide to Players and Containing All the Rules and Laws of the Ground and Games. -- J.H.

Bonus Video

Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001) – DVD
Sport/Genre: Cricket, Bollywood
An arrogant British Army captain forces a bet on a group of farmers. If they can win a cricket match against the army team, they will not have to pay the tax called “lagan” for three years.

-- Jason Harper