For the Book of the Month in March, I was thinking about writing on some piece of baseball fiction. Here I ran into a problem. What should I write about? Baseball has generated two particularly famous pieces of literature, The Natural by Bernard Malamud and Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella. Both of those are famous in large measure because of the movies ever so loosely based on the books. Beyond those two, though, what other fiction is there about baseball?
Given the position of sports in American life, I find it strange how little well-known or great fiction it has produced. I can list a series of first-rate sports movies, particularly about baseball and boxing. It seems natural that a visual medium like sports would translate so well to film. Surely it could make good books, too. Outside of the two mentioned above, the other baseball books I can think of are juveniles, things like Dean Hughes‘ and Mike Lupica‘s various baseball series. That is part of the problem. Sports books are juvenile of necessity, and that keeps the genre from progressing.
Let me focus on the second part of the site’s moniker for a second and leave sports behind. Academics have a rigid hierarchy of things considered valuable and things that are not. If you move into the world of history, good history covers narrow topics and is rarely read. Bad history is the sort of popular work read by millions. In politics, my chosen field, popular work that explain political facts in simple terms for an audience of laymen is denigrated, considered worthless in comparison to the 10,000 study of voting behavior using the same 10 variables that have been used since 1960. I would hope that world of literature takes a slightly broader look at its field of study, but I am sure to be disappointed. Books about sports are, because of the subject matter, not serious fiction and therefore unworthy of being read and discussed. Books ignored by academics can still be popular, but it is tough for them to last. Academics, by their ability to force people to read books they would otherwise ignore, can keep authors and books alive for generations. They have not done that with literature about sports.
The academic explanation is, I fear, a bit too simple. Surely if writers of baseball fiction wrote better books, it would be more likely to attract an academic eye. So let me throw the question open to the audience: What good fiction is there about baseball? What baseball fiction should be more widely read.