The Natural, by Bernard MalamudRead about another entry on the list.
The movie version of The Natural depicts baseball phenom Roy Hobbs, played by Robert Redford, ending his career in triumph—but the book, Malamud’s 1952 debut, concludes on a darker note. Still, the plot, inspired by the 1949 shooting of Phillies first baseman Eddie Waitkus by a deranged 19-year-old woman, has an inspiring comeback at its heart, and a bat named Wonderboy that helps Hobbs enter baseball legend by hitting a pitch so hard he rips the cover off the ball: “Wonderboy flashed in the sun. It caught the sphere where it was biggest. A noise like a twenty-one gun salute cracked the sky. There was a straining, ripping sound and a few drops of rain spattered to the ground. The ball screamed toward the pitcher and seemed suddenly to dive down at his feet. He grabbed it to throw it to first and realized to his horror that he held only the cover. The rest of it, unraveling cotton thread as it rode, was headed into the outfield.”
The Natural is among Chad Harbach's five top novels with sporting themes, Jimmy So's thirteen best baseball books, and Nicholas Dawidoff's five best baseball novels.