Last week, I did something I hadn’t done in over 30 years.
I went out and purchased a copy of Who’s Who in Baseball.
It is a sure sign of spring when it appears on the magazine rack. It was a staple of my lost youth when baseball was king.
Back in the days before the internet, the annual Who’s Who in Baseball was the go-to source for baseball statistics on all active players. It even included minor-league numbers! And transactions! And at 5×8 inches, you could carry it with you anywhere. What a gift from the baseball gods!
It was also comforting in its year-to-year familiarity: The iconic red cover, the simple but striking logo, the black-and-white pages full of statistics and head shots of players. Who couldn’t love it?
Along with a weekly dose of Mel Allen and This Week in Baseball, it was all a baseball-loving kid needed.
I stopped purchasing Who’s Who in Baseball in 1982, which, by a totally unrelated coincidence, was the same year I discovered girls.
But it isn’t just for kids. In its heyday, Who’s Who in Baseball was a trusted resource for sportswriters, scouts, and casual fans who loved the game’s numbers.
The 2015 edition marks the 100th year that Who’s Who in Baseball has been in existence. Every spring, there is anticipation to see what player will grace the cover. It is usually the previous year’s MVP or Cy Young winner, but not always. It is kind of a big deal, I guess, although not quite as big a deal as seeing who makes the cover of the new Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
Through the decades several Detroit Tigers have appeared on the cover of Who’s Who in Baseball.
The first issue, in 1912, had just a generic drawing of a nameless player on the cover. After a lapse of several years, it renewed publication again in 1916, featuring the face of a young Ty Cobb.
In 1936 it was Hank Greenberg, who had just led the Tigers to their first World Series championship.
In 1945, it was both Hal Newhouser and Dizzy Trout, the aces of the Bengal staff.
In 1946, it was Newhouser again.
Denny McLain, the aspiring organ player, made it in 1969.
It was Cy Young Award-winner Justin Verlander in 2012.
That was followed by Triple-Crown winner Miguel Cabrera in 2013.
In 2014, the primary cover photo was of the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, but small headshots of Cabrera and Max Scherzer also were included.
Who’s Who in Baseball has not changed at all since the last time I’d cracked one open.
Unlike the other annual preseason baseball publications, it doesn’t offer in-depth analysis. It doesn’t include feature stories on players and trending topics. It doesn’t make bold predictions on what teams will finish where and why. And it certainly doesn’t provide anything for the fantasy-league player.
It is pretty much baseball’s answer to the phone book.
It doesn’t give the modern fan anything that he or she can’t already access instantly by going to baseballreference.com, the gold-standard website for the game’s statistics. Who’s Who in Baseball features the same “traditional” statistics it always has. It has made no concession to modern sabermetrics at all.
Want to know Miguel Cabrera’s batting average in 2011? Who’s Who in Baseball is the book for you. Want to know his WAR from last year, or how many times he walked in 2007, or his OPS in 2013? Go someplace else.
Interested in Phil Coke’s ERA in his rookie season? Who’s Who in Baseball has it. Need to find his WHIP in 2011? Sorry, can’t help you there, bro.
Using Who’s Who in Baseball for statistical insight is kind of like attempting to drive a 1965 Volkswagen Beetle on a Los Angeles freeway during rush hour (I’ve done both, so I know.). It is strictly basic transportation. Modern vehicles, meanwhile, blow past you, leaving you in the dust.
Who’s Who in Baseball does provide one thing, however: Nostalgia. Which probably makes it worth the $9.95 price.
Just don’t expect to find Don Kelly’s 2013 WAR.