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Offseason book recommendations for Rays fans

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It’s a good time to settle in with a book or two.

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MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I’m going to let you guys in on a little secret: it’s really hard to find Rays-specific books out there. Aside from several self-published works on Amazon, there are no real “official” Rays books out there, which is, quite frankly, disappointing. Marc Topkin, well-known Rays beat reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, does have a hardcover book on the Rays, but you can only get it from the Rays shop at this time, not online.

That said, there is a whole world of amazing baseball literature out there, and just because it doesn’t have a Rays focus doesn’t mean we can’t recommend some great offseason reading material for you.

After all, what better time to pick up a book than the long, dark months between the end of the World Series and the start of spring training. We need to do something with the three daily hours we spent watching baseball games.

All the below blurbs and cover images come from Amazon, but no affiliate links have been used.

Amazon

The Only Rule is it Has to Work — Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller

What would happen if two statistics-minded outsiders were allowed to run a professional baseball team?

It’s the ultimate in fantasy baseball: You get to pick the roster, set the lineup, and decide on strategies -- with real players, in a real ballpark, in a real playoff race. That’s what baseball analysts Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller got to do when an independent minor-league team in California, the Sonoma Stompers, offered them the chance to run its baseball operations according to the most advanced statistics. Their story in The Only Rule is it Has to Work is unlike any other baseball tale you’ve ever read.

We tag along as Lindbergh and Miller apply their number-crunching insights to all aspects of assembling and running a team, following one cardinal rule for judging each innovation they try: it has to work. We meet colorful figures like general manager Theo Fightmaster and boundary-breakers like the first openly gay player in professional baseball. Even José Canseco makes a cameo appearance.

Will their knowledge of numbers help Lindbergh and Miller bring the Stompers a championship, or will they fall on their faces? Will the team have a competitive advantage or is the sport’s folk wisdom true after all? Will the players attract the attention of big-league scouts, or are they on a fast track to oblivion?

It’s a wild ride, by turns provocative and absurd, as Lindbergh and Miller tell a story that will speak to numbers geeks and traditionalists alike. And they prove that you don’t need a bat or a glove to make a genuine contribution to the game.

Amazon

Power Ball — Rob Neyer

The former ESPN columnist and analytics pioneer dramatically recreates an action-packed 2017 game between the Oakland A’s and eventual World Series Champion Houston Astros to reveal the myriad ways in which Major League Baseball has changed over the last few decades.

On September 8, 2017, the Oakland A’s faced off against the Houston Astros in a game that would signal the passing of the Moneyball mantle. Though this was only one regular season game, the match-up of these two teams demonstrated how Major League Baseball has changed since the early days of Athletics general manager Billy Beane and the publication of Michael Lewis’ classic book.

Over the past twenty years, power and analytics have taken over the game, driving carefully calibrated teams like the Astros to victory. Seemingly every pitcher now throws mid-90s heat and studiously compares their mechanics against the ideal. Every batter in the lineup can crack homers and knows their launch angles. Teams are relying on unorthodox strategies, including using power-losing—purposely tanking a few seasons to get the best players in the draft.

As he chronicles each inning and the unfolding drama as these two teams continually trade the lead—culminating in a 9-8 Oakland victory in the bottom of the ninth—Neyer considers the players and managers, the front office machinations, the role of sabermetrics, and the current thinking about what it takes to build a great team, to answer the most pressing questions fans have about the sport today.

Amazon

Baseball Life Advice — Stacey May Fowles

[Ed note: while this book leans heavily on Fowles’s Blue Jays fandom, it still deals with broader baseball issues, and is absolutely worth a read. You can read Mister Lizzie’s review of it here]

A passionate ode to baseball, its culture, and its community, which both celebrates and challenges the game – and reminds us why it really matters.

For Stacey May Fowles, the game of baseball is one of “long pauses punctuated by tiny miracles.” In this entertaining and thoughtful book, Fowles gives us a refreshingly candid and personal perspective on subjects ranging from bat flips to bandwagoners, from the romance of spring training to the politics of booing, from the necessity of taking a hard look at players’ injuries and mental health issues to finding solace at the ballpark.

Fowles confronts head-on the stereotype that female fans lack real knowledge about the game, and also calls out the “boys will be boys” attitude and its implications both on and off the field. She also shares her reverence for the no-hitter, her memories of going to the ballpark with her dad, and the challenges of falling in love with someone who didn’t like baseball. Throughout the book, she offers exhilarating snapshots of the Toronto Blue Jays’ 2015 and 2016 seasons, and gathers a selection of inspiring “baseball life advice” quotes from players and others that provide unexpected insight into how we could all live better lives.

With remarkable verve, intelligence, and an unabashed enthusiasm, Fowles explores how we can use the lens of baseball to examine who we are. And in this passionate ode to the game, its culture, and its community, she reminds us that although baseball can break your heart, it will always find a way to make it whole again.

Amazon

The Best Team Money Can Buy — Molly Knight

The bestselling, inside-the-clubhouse story of two tumultuous years when the Los Angeles Dodgers were re-made from top to bottom, becoming the most talked-about and most colorful team in baseball. “It’s as if Molly Knight ushers you behind the closed clubhouse doors.” (Buster Olney, ESPN)

In 2012 the Los Angeles Dodgers were bought out of bankruptcy in the most expensive sale in sports history. Los Angeles icon Magic Johnson and his partners hoped to put together a team worthy of Hollywood: consistently entertaining. By most accounts they have succeeded, if not always in the way they might have imagined.

In The Best Team Money Can Buy, Molly Knight tells the story of the Dodgers’ 2013 and 2014 seasons with detailed, previously unreported revelations. She shares a behind-the-scenes account of the astonishing sale of the Dodgers, as well as what the Dodgers actually knew in advance about rookie phenom and Cuban defector Yasiel Puig. We learn how close manager Don Mattingly was to losing his job during the 2013 season—and how the team turned around the season in the most remarkable fifty-game stretch of any team since World War II. Knight also provides a rare glimpse into the in-fighting and mistrust that derailed the team in 2014 and paints an intimate portrait of star pitcher Clayton Kershaw, including details about the record contract offer he turned down before accepting the richest contract any pitcher ever signed.

Exciting, surprising, and filled with juicy details, “a must-read for fans of the Dodgers and all Los Angeles sports teams….Knight’s undercover work is like none other” (Library Journal). The Best Team Money Can Buy is filled with “fascinating perspectives” (Los Angeles Times) and “interesting anecdotes about some of baseball’s most compelling figures” (The Sacramento Bee).

Amazon

Starting IX: A Franchise-by-Franchise Breakdown of Baseball’s Best Players — Jim Turvey

[Ed note: You bet we’re going to include the work of one of our brightest and most talented writers here. Read our review here]

Starting IX is a baseball history book that combines the stories of baseball’s past with the statistics of baseball’s present and future. By combining baseball’s top metrics and most indelible tales (FIP and Pipp, if you will), a starting lineup for each franchise in baseball history is chosen.Starting IX goes beyond the typical baseball history book in both its scale and its scope. No topic is left uncovered; no question is left unanswered. Who was the best center fielder in Yankees history: Mantle or DiMaggio? What would the all-time, father-son starting lineup look like? How did the MLB career of Carlos Beltran mirror the acting career of Steve Carell? All these questions and many, many (many) more are answered inside these pages.

Starting IX is the perfect book for baseball addicts: it makes use of the best and newest metrics the sport has to offer and applies these statistics to age-old baseball questions.

Starting IX is also the perfect book for newer baseball fans whose love for the sport may just be blossoming: it relies on the author’s contagious love of the game to engage readers from cover-to-cover.


There are so, so many more we didn’t even mention here, and this post could go on for days. Did we forget your favorite? Drop a link in the comments and help others build the best baseball reading list.