Literary Baseball Novels

by Tom Congalton

Friday, Apr 28, 2006

The prices of literary baseball novels have consistently been strong because of additional collecting pressure from outside the traditional pool of first edition collectors, most obviously from the vast group of baseball and sports memorabilia collectors who might not be averse to adding a few favorite novels to their hoard of baseball cards and "bobbing head" dolls of favorite players. Virtually any reasonably literate (mostly) American (mostly) male might be considered a candidate to collect one or more of the novels listed in the accompanying article.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, although only peripherally a novel about baseball, stands head and shoulders above the others as an object of collecting passion. On virtually everyone's list of the great novels of the 20th Century, demand for the first edition far outstrips the available supply of collectible copies. The book was issued with at least four states of the dustwrapper. The first state was printed with a lower case "j" in Jay Gatsby's name on the rear panel; in the second state this was either hand corrected, or over stamped by the publisher. Additionally, the wrapper was taller than the book, with the resulting almost inevitable chipping or use to the upper extremities (and thus now with the almost equally inevitable restoration to same). One shouldn't be surprised to find a copy in first or second state dustwrapper, and with minimal or little restoration, being offered for upwards of $75,000. Copies in the third issue dustwrapper, with the "j" corrected in type, are offered for $30,000 - 40,000. The fourth state with the text on the rear panel beginning with the phrase "Perilously near a masterpiece," have been offered for $25,000-35,000. Unjacketed copies trade briskly at $3000-5000 for tight, square copies with the gilt spine lettering bright, and for as little as $1500-$2500 for presentable copies with faded lettering. The British edition, far scarcer but harder to sell than the American, should be expected to sell for upwards of $50,000 in dustwrapper. Ring Lardner's You Know Me, Al might be less expensive, but in dustwrapper it is probably even less common than the elusive Gatsby. Jacketed copies in the first issue red cloth rarely appear on the market, and a nice copy would probably sell for $12,000-15,000. Copies in the yellow remaindered binding with the second issue jacket have sold recently for around $4000. Jacketless copies sell for $400-800 for the red binding, $300-500 for the yellow.

Debate has raged over whether the red, blue, or gray cloth binding of Bernard Malamud's The Natural is the true first state, with the dealer offering the book usually coming down conclusively on the side of the binding which he happens to be offering at the moment. We have seen review copies in all three bindings, and believe all three were in existence at the date of publication, with no priority or preference established. Nice jacketed copies generally sell for $3500-5500. The British edition adds a glossary of baseball terms not in the American, and can be found for $400-600. First editions of Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint are readily available through the internet for $50-75, but a truly fine copy might cost as much as $200. The publisher's signed edition is limited to 600 copies and generally sells for $750-1000. This issue is often mistakenly described as a first edition, but was actually issued later, after the book became a bestseller. Roth's Great American Novel is easily found for $50-75. Robert Coover's imaginative Universal Baseball Association is difficult to find in fine condition but usually costs not much more than $200-250. W.P. Kinsella's Shoeless Joe Comes to Iowa was published in Canada simultaneously in both a soft cover, and a very elusive hardcover issue. The hardcover, with an uncoated and easily rubbed jacket, when found sells for $600-1000, the soft cover for $50-75. Kinsella later expanded the novella into the novel Shoeless Joe, first published in the U.S., sharp copies sell for $250-$350.

The trade edition of the three volumes of Paul Auster's New York Trilogy, with the dustwrapper of the first volume City of Glass in the scarce first state (with no publisher's device at the base of the spine), sell for around $2500 for the set, the simultaneously printed signed and limited editions brings $3500-4500, with a lettered issue bringing somewhat more, perhaps $6000. The same author's Hand to Mouth was heavily remaindered, and copies are readily available for $15-25. Auster's Squeeze Play, published under the pseudonym Paul Benjamin, was first issued as a trade paperback original, and is difficult to find for less than $2000. The book was re-issued as a mass market paperback in the same year. This edition is often mistaken by dealers and collectors alike as the true first, it should sell for around $75.

Don DeLillo's Underworld was also heavily remaindered, and nice copies shouldn't cost much more than $35. Stephen King's The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon was first issued in Great Britain and sells for $35-45, the American edition for little more than $25.

Collectors interested in baseball fiction might search for the useful guide to baseball fiction Baseball by the Books: A History and Complete Bibliography of Baseball Fiction by Andy McCue, published by Wm.C. Brown Publishers in 1991. It is easily found for $ 20-25.