The book: “100 Years of Who’s Who in Baseball”
The author: The staff of “Who’s Who in Baseball” and Douglas B. Lyons
The vital statistics: Lyons Press, 204 pages, $24.95
Find it: On amazon.com, on barnesandnoble.com, on powells.com
The pitch: The coverboy of the 2015 edition of this annual red, black and silver, ink-drenched newsprint magazine/book that now is requesting a $9.95 fee is the Angels’ Mike Trout.
Last year, it was Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw on the front.
One hundred years from now, we hope it looks, and reads, just as dopey and stale as it does today.
Anytime anything lasts 100 years, it’s worth a celebration. This book may not rise to the occasion to make such a milestone memorable, but maybe based on its track record, that’s all we should have been expecting.
The forward by Marty Appel, adding the historic context to this annual project that simply alphabetizes the basic statistical information you’d find on the guy’s baseball card or BaseballRefence.com profile, turns out to be the most enlightening part of this whole publication.
Otherwise, the annual year in a review that Lyons writes in retrospect of each year, and the season that the coverboy had to merit his elevated status, leaves a lot to be desired.
(In the bio of Jimmy Foxx with the 1939 cover, Lyons notes that “Foxx was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1951. His wife died after choking to death on food. Foxx also died after choking to death on a piece of steak.” Maybe that’s not the kind of stuff you find on the back of a baseball card, but did we really need to know that? Here? Now?)
We see that the first “Who’s Who” that touted “fun facts for fans” in 1912 cost just 15 cents — surely a kid’s monthly allowance back then. Except it jumped to 25 cents when Babe Ruth made his first of back-to-back covers in 1920. The value, however, in the pre-TV, computer age, was obtaining all that information to devour at home.
And the simplistic artwork can’t be replicated. There’s Burleigh Grimes, the acknowledged “Spit Ball King” on the 1930 cover, with a photo of him about to load up his fingers. It’s what was accepted then.
At least Grimes was a known commodity. Hank Aaron, Derek Jeter, Jackie Robinson and Yogi Berra never had their photo on the cover. Yet in 1947, Eddie Dyer made the cover. He was the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, who had won the World Series the previous year.
The amazement in looking back at the history through the covers is also to see how “the complete life records of more than 200 Major League Players” with the 1922 edition had to increase over the years. It jumped to 450 by the late ’50s.
In 1960, to justify the 50 cent cost, it was up to 470 players (with Don Drysdale on the cover). Then to 525 in 1962 (with expansion). To 625 in 1969 (more expansion). To 700 in 1975 (the price was up to $1).
By 1980, there were 800 accounted for, and in 1991, it was up to 910. Three years later, we finally broke 1,000, and the cost was $4.95.
Then they started dialing it back: Just 800 players in ’99, 700 in 2001 then up to 775 since 2008. But the price hasn’t dropped.
Nor have our limited expectations.
More to know:
== From a review by Ed Sherman for the in the National Sports Journalism Center: “Indeed, ‘Who’s Who’ is the Sergeant Joe’“Just the facts, ma’am’ Friday version of baseball books. Appel nails it when he writes, ‘(The book) is comfort food for the baseball soul—always has been.’ … Time moves on. Perhaps I continue to buy ‘Who’s Who’ because it represents an important link to my past? If so, that’s a good thing. It’s always good to feel like a kid again.”
== A review by RonKaplansBaseballBookshelf.com.