22 all-star books about California baseball including the Dodgers, Angels, Padres and more – San Bernardino Sun

22 all-star books about California baseball including the Dodgers, Angels, Padres and more – San Bernardino Sun

Given California’s impressive Major League Baseball legacy, it’s kind of mind-blowing to realize that, until just 63 years ago, a “western road trip” in MLB parlance meant a team making a stop in St. Louis by way of Chicago or Milwaukee. 

Of course, the Dodgers and Giants transformed MLB geography forever by moving west from New York following the end of the 1957 season, their successful relocations to Los Angeles and San Francisco paving the way for MLB franchises in Anaheim, Oakland and San Diego. Since then, the Golden State has produced some of the most iconic teams in MLB history, including the Koufax-and-Drysdale Dodgers, the Oakland A’s “Mustache Gang,” and the three-time World Series champion Giants of the 2010s.

But California’s baseball legacy extends far beyond its major league franchises. Organized baseball has been played in San Francisco since at least 1860, and the Pacific Coast League — which was founded in 1903 and existed in various incarnations until it was disbanded earlier this year — has a fascinating history all its own. And there have been numerous iconic MLB players whose California upbringing indelibly shaped their personalities and careers, even if they never played a game for any of the state’s MLB teams. 

Not surprisingly, this wealth of source material has resulted in an abundance of great books on California’s many connections and contributions to the National Pastime. Here are 22 essential California baseball reads, arranged in alphabetical order, covering everything from sandlot teams to world champions.

‘Baseball in San Diego: From the Padres to Petco’ by Bill Swank (2004)

The Padres didn’t join the majors until 1969, but a PCL team of the same name had been a popular San Diego fixture since 1936, and Swank’s small but lavishly illustrated book pays nostalgic tribute to the city’s deep baseball roots.

‘The Best Team Money Can Buy: The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse’ by Molly Knight (2015)

Knight’s deeply insightful behind-the-scenes look at the Dodgers’ 2012-2015 seasons – a tumultuous and exciting period in which the team finally slipped the grip of shady owner Frank McCourt and began their run of eight straight NL West titles.

‘The Bilko Athletic Club: The Story of the 1956 Los Angeles Angels’ by Gaylon H. White (2014)

Powered by beer-swilling, larger-than-life slugger Steve Bilko, the 1956 Angels were a colorful team that completely crushed their PCL competition. White’s book nicely captures the low-budget thrills of L.A. baseball in the days right before the Dodgers arrived.

‘Bo: Pitching and Wooing’ by Maury Allen (1973)

In 1962, a year after the Angels joined the American League as an expansion team, rookie pitcher Bo Belinsky tossed the team’s first no-hitter. Unfortunately, Bo was more interested in chasing Hollywood starlets than throwing strikes, but his too-short MLB career makes for a deliciously entertaining biography.

‘City of Dreams: Dodger Stadium and the Birth of Modern Los Angeles’ by Jerald Podair (2017)

Podair’s painstakingly researched book details how the Dodgers’ arrival in L.A. set off a pitched battle between public and private interests, and explains why that battle still reverberates in sports markets across America today.

‘Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball’ by Donald Hall (1976)

Though most famous today for his LSD-fueled no-hitter, Ellis was a charismatic and complex competitor who needed a poet like Hall to truly do him justice. Though he never played for a California team, Dock grew up in Gardena, and Hall’s book vividly explores his L.A. roots.

‘Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic: Reggie, Rollie, Catfish and Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s’ by Jason Turbow (2017)

The 1971-76 A’s were one of the most exciting teams of all time, and also the most fractious – battling each other as hard as they battled owner Charlie O. Finley and their on-field opponents. Turbow’s roaring history of the A’s dynasty reads like eye-popping fiction, but it’s all true.

‘Home Team: The Turbulent History of the San Francisco Giants’ by Robert F. Garratt (2017)

Though the Giants won three World Series championships in the 2010s, their first five-plus decades in San Francisco were filled with strife and disappointment. Garratt delivers the definitive history of the Bay Area’s first MLB club, with plenty of emphasis on their long-burning rivalry with the Dodgers.

‘Japanese American Baseball in California: A History’ by Kerry Yo Nakagawa (2014)

Head of the Nisei Baseball Research Project, Kerry Yo Nakagawa wrote this illuminating study that reveals how baseball (which was first introduced to Japan in the 1870s) helped Japanese Americans assimilate into U.S. culture, while also examining the important role baseball played for those imprisoned in California’s incarceration camps during WWII.

‘The Last Baseball Town’ by Chuck Hildebrand (2009)

Between 1960 and 1987, the Silicon Valley city of Campbell produced a whopping 14 youth baseball World Series teams and sent ten players to the big leagues. Hildebrand’s excellent book explains how this middle-class suburb became synonymous with baseball excellence — and why that excellence ultimately slipped away.

‘The Last Innocents: The Collision of the Turbulent Sixties and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ by Michael Leahy (2016)

Though on its surface 1960s baseball seemed completely removed from the cultural upheaval occurring elsewhere in America, the players themselves were hardly immune. Leahy’s brilliant book follows a diverse array of Dodgers (including Sandy Koufax, Maury Wills and Wes Parker) as they attempt to navigate the era’s numerous changes and challenges.

‘Lefty O’Doul: Baseball’s Forgotten Ambassador’ by Dennis Snelling (2017)

O’Doul was a two-time NL batting champ, but as Snelling’s massively entertaining bio reveals, the San Francisco native’s post-playing career was even livelier He managed his hometown’s Seals to five PCL championships, opened a SF watering hole so popular it lasted decades after his death, and was so popular as a baseball ambassador to Japan that he’s now enshrined in that country’s baseball hall of fame. 

‘Lights, Camera, Fastball: How the Hollywood Stars Changed Baseball’ by Dan Taylor (2021)

The Hollywood Stars were rarely the best team in the PCL, but they were easily its most glamorous, with a roster of celebrity stockholders that included George Burns, Clark Gable and Cecil B. DeMille. As Taylor’s history of the Stars reveals, they were also the PCL’s first team to broadcast home games on television, the first to have groundskeepers sweep the infield during the game, and the first to wear batting helmets. And they also wore shorts for four seasons!

‘Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game’ by Michael Lewis (2003)

The most influential baseball book of the 21st century, ‘Moneyball’ showed how the Oakland A’s front office — led by general manager Billy Beane — employed advanced statistical analysis to keep the team competitive despite its limited budget. Despite howls of derision from baseball traditionalists, the book (and Beane’s success) inspired similar “sabermetric” approaches in front offices across the majors… as well as a film starring Brad Pitt.

‘Mover & Shaker: Walter O’Malley, the Dodgers, & Baseball’s Westward Expansion’ by Andy McCue (2014)

Reams have been written about the Dodgers’ move to L.A., but this is the best book out there on the man behind it. McCue cuts through the myth and vilification that surrounded O’Malley during his life (and afterward) to paint a rich and nuanced portrait of one of the most significant figures in California baseball history.

‘The Pacific Coast League 1903-1988’ by Bill O’Neal (1990)

More than just a minor league, the PCL stretched from San Diego to Seattle in its heyday, delighting West Coast fans with its charismatic players and high (if not quite MLB-) level of play. O’Neal’s book remains the definitive work on this fascinating chapter in baseball history.

‘Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy’ by Jane Leavy (2002)

Still the definitive portrait of “The Left Arm of God,” Leavy’s book offers up a detailed account of Koufax’s mound greatness, while also providing insight into why the Dodger southpaw’s legend continues to resonate even among fans who never saw him pitch.

‘San Francisco Year Zero: Political Upheaval, Punk Rock and a Third-Place Baseball Team’ by Lincoln Mitchell (2019)

1978 was a harrowing year of tragedy and political upheaval in San Francisco, but there were also some bright spots — including a burgeoning punk rock scene and a Giants team that spent much of the summer atop the NL West — and Mitchell ties it all together in this compulsively readable tome.

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