Baseball inspires storytellers — reporters, novelists and myth-makers alike — as Jim Kaplan demonstrates in his engaging new book of essays Clearing the Bases: A Veteran Sportswriter on the National Pastime.

“Baseball has always had magical qualities,” Mr. Kaplan writes in the second chapter, Baseball and American Culture. “A sporting equivalent of The Wizard of Oz, baseball focuses on nothing less than going home.”

Where it comes from is less clear. Rather than being an all-American invention of the 19th century, as the legend goes, some form of baseball existed in England early enough to be mentioned by name in Jane Austen’s 1798 satire Northanger Abbey, and the sport has other English antecedents, Mr. Kaplan writes. Once imported to the United States, baseball helped mend social rifts and build civic spirit after the Civil War.

“Long before schools fielded nines, there were town teams, factory teams, business teams, farm teams,” Mr. Kaplan writes of the postwar era. “Success of a local nine reflected its sponsors’ image, and ultimately a nation’s as well.

“Indeed, baseball became so wrapped up in American life that we had to say it was invented here,” he continues. Thus the 1907-minted myth of the game’s 1839 Cooperstown, N.Y. origin, made solid with the establishment of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum created there on a made-up 100th anniversary.

Myth-busting aside, Clearing the Bases is an elegantly written baseball collection that, while offering special pleasures for aficionados of this complex and psychological pastime, also considerately holds the door open for lay readers. Author Virginia Wolff, singer-songwriter Neil Diamond and theologians Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich are just a handful of the writers whose words and stories Mr. Kaplan weaves through his work, along with well-chosen citations from baseball journalists, players and coaches.

He will give a talk about the book on Saturday, Sept. 2 at 4 p.m. at the West Tisbury Library.

Vineyarders in particular will want to read the fifth chapter, Good Times Never Seemed So Good. Adapted from a 2012 article in the Martha’s Vineyard Magazine, the essay tracks the brand-new Martha’s Vineyard Sharks team during their first season, 2011. Watching and listening, Mr. Kaplan captures the small-town ambience of a Shark Tank game (pre-lights) while providing a rare glimpse into the collegiate players’ lives and challenges during the summer season.

The Gazette’s bridge columnist, formerly a longtime reporter for Sports Illustrated and the author of more than 15 baseball books, Mr. Kaplan excels at telling the stories of underappreciated players, who often hail from northern states and provinces such as Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ontario.

The centerpiece of Clearing the Bases is an 86-page profile of former major league pitcher Ron Taylor, co-written with the two-time World Series-winning player (St. Louis Cardinals 1964, New York Mets 1969) who went from the mound to medical school and became a team doctor for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Mr. Kaplan also takes a deep dive into the career and life of Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, currently manager of the Minnesota Twins. It’s a valuable perspective on an overlooked player whose statistics more than compete with those of better-known baseball greats, before and since.

Stats are plentiful in Mr. Kaplan’s book — enough to satisfy the most demanding fan — but general readers with a taste for good writing will soon find themselves at ease here as well.

Clearing the Bases is published by Levellers Press in Amherst.