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Classic Baseball Reads for Opening Day

Journalist Devin Gordon’s guide to the best baseball writing that’s about a lot more than baseball.

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Hope springs eternal on Major League Baseball’s Opening Day. No matter what happened last season, fans of any team can wonder “Maybe this will be our year.” Perhaps nobody knows the feeling better than fans of the New York Mets, the team that always seems to lose when it’s supposed to win and win when it’s supposed to lose.

Journalist Devin Gordon’s book So Many Ways to Lose: The Amazin’ True Story of the New York Mets—The Best Worst Team in Sports, chronicles in hilarious fashion the elusively giddy highs and crushingly familiar lows of his beloved hometown franchise. For Opening Day, we asked him to curate a collection of his all-time favorite baseball writing. “Nearly all my favorite articles about baseball have a strange common thread: very little actual baseball,” Gordon says. “What that says to me is that baseball is a form of storytelling by other means. And so, in turn, storytelling should be every bit as pleasurable — every bit as rich and fun — as baseball itself.”

Image by fstop123 / Getty Images

A Clean, Well-Lighted Cellar

Roger Angell
The New Yorker

Devin Gordon: “Our greatest living sportswriter — 100 and counting — and the poet laureate of the Mets. Roger Angell taught me that writing could be, and often should be, fun to read, and that you could write about sports, and baseball in particular, without violating some sacred code. Since my Mets were the Mets, I looked forward to his annual November ode to the just-completed season more than the World Series in October. He was also where I got the idea to dedicate an entire chapter of my history of the best worst team in sports to Shea Stadium, the best worst stadium in sports. He wrote the very first sorta-paean to its singular charms, and I like to think maybe I wrote the last.”

The Undefeated Champions of Defeat City

Kathy Dobie

DG : “I think about this article, by one of favorite GQ correspondents, about a neighborhood of “the coaches, players, moms, dreamers, retired gangbangers, and wised-up ex-cons” who joined forces to build a Little League baseball in Camden, NJ, America’s most dangerous city, at least once a week. Stories like these can so easily devolve into condescending Disney exploitation, but Kathy is a master of unflinching nuance. She doesn’t let any of us take the easy way out.”

My Life in the Locker Room

Jennifer Briggs
The Dallas Observer [reprinted by Deadspin]

DG: “Good luck finding a more memorable lead than this: ‘I have one of the few jobs where the first thing people ask about is penises. Well, Reggie Jackson was my first.’ Briggs’ scorched-earth essay about her all-consuming, often humiliating journey to become a sportswriter in 1980s Texas sports was written in 1992, but if you happen to miss the pub date, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was published last week. And despite all she endured Briggs’ writing is funny and triumphant. ‘An SMU booster threatened to have my legs broken,’ she writes at one point, ‘and I was delighted. That’s something he’d say to anyone, I realized.’”

When Winter Never Ends

Wright Thompson
ESPN The Magazine

DG: “The sports bard of the American South goes deep on 44-year-old Ichiro Suzuki in twilight—a masterclass in storytelling, no direct quotes, no “he turns to me and says,” no first-person, just a meditative and beautifully mournful portrait of obsession, sacrifice, and—almost imperceptibly—the cruel love between fathers and sons.”

Waiting for Manny

Ben McGrath
The New Yorker

DG: “If Manny Ramirez had played for the Mets, and he nearly did more than once, Ben McGrath’s 2007 profile of him—one of the funniest profiles I have ever read— could’ve been the best chapter in my book. This article contains my favorite detail about any baseball player, which is that a disgruntled Manny once went to Red Sox officials and requested a trade to the Sox’ minor league affiliate in Pawtucket.”

The House That Thurman Munson Built

Michael Paterniti

DG: “And now for something completely different. Perhaps the complete antithesis of Manny Ramirez in every imaginable way, Munson was a relentless catcher and brawling team captain for the Yankees’ late 70s Bronx Zoo dynasty who died in a horrific plane crash, burned alive, on an off-day during the 1978 season, devastating Yankee nation and ending their World Series dynasty. Paterniti wrote this profile of his beaten, battered, destroyed boyhood hero two decades after the accident—an attempt to sort through why it still haunts him and so many other boys from his generation.”

Mark Reynolds is Totally Blind

Sam Miller
Baseball Prospectus

DG: “This article is genuine alchemy: it takes an absolutely preposterous premise — that an above-average slugger named Mark Reynolds was, in fact, legally blind and managed to keep it a secret for his entire baseball career — and somehow brings you to the doorstep an absolutely preposterous conclusion: Holy crap, Mark Reynolds was legally blind!

The Curious Case of Sidd Finch

George Plimpton
Sports Illustrated

DG: “Imagine a Mark Reynolds-is-blind style story about a mysterious Mets pitching prospect named Hayden “Sidd” Finch, “a 28-year-old somewhat eccentric mystic” who’d arrived out of nowhere at spring training in 1985 and electrified the team with a fastball that clocked in at an unthinkable 168 miles per hour. Only in the case of The Curious Case of Sidd Finch, the story was reporting his existence, not speculating about it...and this time everyone believed it was true? How did George Plimpton pull this off in Sports Illustrated? With an actual MLB franchise? (Hint: it was an April Fools' Day inside job.)”

The Hero of Goodall Park

Tom Junod

DG: “The curious case of Sidd Finch didn’t take long to crack—it wasn’t built to last. The case at the center of Junod’s true-crime saga, by contrast, begins in 2018 with a bizarre double murder that occurred mid-game at a small-town Maine ballpark and the clues stretch back half a century. And like so many of the best articles about baseball, there’s not all that much actual baseball in it.”

Devin Gordon

Devin Gordon is the author of So Many Ways to Lose: The Amazin’ True Story of the New York Mets—The Best Worst Team in Sports. He is a contributing writer for a number of publications, including The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, and ESPN the Magazine. He has served as executive editor at GQ and was a longtime writer and editor at Newsweek. A proud lifelong New Yorker, he feels guilty about the fact that he relocated in 2019 to Brookline, Massachusetts, with his wife, two kids and their dog.