By Richard Cuicchi
Street & Smith’s sports magazines have been around since 1940, when the company debuted its college football edition. Its first annual baseball publication appeared in 1941 and thrived until 2007. It was a staple for sports fans who were hungry for prognostications of the upcoming sports seasons.
Over the years, its baseball editions encompassed reviews of the minor leagues, Army Baseball, college and high school, in addition to its primary focus of Major League Baseball. Along its historical timeline, the Street & Smith’s brand ownership changed hands on several occasions. However, after changing its focus, the Street & Smith’s company is no longer a source of information and news stories that are enjoyed by everyday sports fans.
The balance of this article will focus on a historical review of the annual baseball editions of Street & Smith’s.
Background of Street & Smith’s, the company
In fact, sports were not the initial focus of Street & Smith’s. The Street & Smith’s name actually originated in 1855 when Francis Street and Francis Smith started a publishing partnership upon assuming ownership of a fiction magazine.
In the 1880s, the company became a publisher of inexpensive novels and weekly magazines, and that product line existed until 1959. Street & Smith’s published comic books from 1940-49. As mentioned above, they began publishing their annual sports publications in 1940. However, with the coming of television, they stopped publishing their pulp magazine and comic book lines in 1949, selling some of their titles to a company called Popular Publications.
Nevertheless, the sports preseason previews remained popular. Baseball, basketball and football, in both college and professional editions, were covered at various times during the company’s illustrious history.
Publishing giant Condé Nast Publications purchased the company in 1959. Street & Smith’s later became part of American City Business Journals (ACBJ), the publisher of numerous weekly business newspapers across the country.
ACBJ acquired The Sporting News in 2007 and combined the Street & Smith’s annual baseball preview with its one-time competitor, The Sporting News’ Baseball Yearbook, in 2008. The Street & Smith’s baseball magazine banner ceased to exist after 2007. The Sporting News’ annual baseball preview lives on today. Ironically, if you do an online search for “Street & Smith baseball,” you are brought to a website (www.streetandsmiths.com), where The Sporting News’ current and back issues (from 2004 to present) of the annual preview issues are on sale.
Fast-forwarding to today, Street & Smith’s Sports Group is now a division of American City Business Journals. Its current focus areas are a weekly journal on the business operations aspects of sports, called SportsBusiness Journal, and an online service tracking real-time news and information for sports executives, called SportsBusiness Daily.
The first issue in 1941
The inaugural issue of Street & Smith’s was billed as a “pictorial year book.” A young pitching phenom, Bob Feller, graced the cover. The issue, released before baseball’s regular season started, contained reviews of each Major League team, current team rosters with prior-year stats, a forecast of emerging minor league players, game schedules for all teams and predictions for league standings and World Series champion. The photos of the players combined a good mix of posed and game-action shots. The cost of the first issue was 25 cents; at 8-½-by-11-½ inches in size, it contained 98 pages.
The editor of this first issue commented about the objective of the new publication: “We have tried to put together in the Baseball Year Book a compact volume which would present the story of the big leagues of today and something about the major leagues of tomorrow.”
Regarding the emerging war, the editors noted, “Bear with us for somewhat disregarding the effect that the Selective Service Act may have upon baseball. We know that players may be drafted this year, but we feel that when the totals are taken the effect upon baseball as a whole will be no different than the effect upon any other business.”
Even as far back as 1941, baseball fans had a bevy of baseball information sources available to them. The Sporting News and Baseball Magazine were two news publications that were around well before 1941, and Baseball Digest got started shortly after Street & Smith’s in 1942. The Sporting News Baseball Register, Who’s Who in Baseball and Who’s Who in the Major Leagues were also contemporary annual publications when Street & Smith’s started, but they were primarily focused on player and team statistical information from the game’s past seasons.
Street & Smith’s main differentiator from these other publications was that it provided preseason previews and predictions for how the Major League teams would fare during the approaching season, as well as outlooks for up-and-coming minor league players.
The rest of the 1940s
The editor of Street & Smith’s, in its 1942-45 issues of the magazine, addressed the state of Major League Baseball during the World War II seasons. He urged continuance of the game, but acknowledged a decline in relative strengths of the major league teams due to the military draft. However, he felt the clubs would be equally affected. In 1943, it was noted that more that 25 percent of the players in the big leagues left to enter various branches of service and that the minor leagues were estimated to have lost more than 2,000 players to the services. However, the early issues always seemed optimistic the game would survive, and competition among the depleted teams would be acceptable, because all teams were similarly affected.
The 1946 edition focused on the future of the game, as servicemen were returning to baseball. Jackie Robinson’s signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization was heralded as “the greatest event in the history of minor league ball, an experiment.” There was talk of expansion of the major leagues teams due to the population shift in the United States as a result of the war, with Detroit, Baltimore, Houston and West Coast cities being mentioned. Other matters during that time included player unions and the viability of the farm systems. Thus, in addressing these critical business and organizational issues, Street & Smith’s demonstrated it was more than just a statistics and photos publication.
In 1947, Street & Smith’s expanded its roster of contributing writers and began using current and former players to author articles on various topics, a practice that lasted until the 1980s. For example, in 1948, Babe Ruth co-authored a piece which was essentially an instructional commentary to hitters.
In 1948, the Year Book was prepared by PIC, “the magazine for young men,” which was a monthly publication of the Street & Smith’s product line that also covered tennis, football, horse racing, track, golf, boxing, skating, swimming, hunting and fishing. Then in 1949, the baseball publication was called PIC Quarterly, and the “Street & Smith’s” name was absent from the cover. The annual baseball preview issue appeared as “Volume 21, No. 1,” in an apparent attempt to combine baseball with this product line of sports-related publications.
The “Street & Smith’s” name returned on the cover of the 1950 edition. However, that edition also departed from the previous ones by using the title “All Sports Baseball,” and was numbered “Volume 22, No. 1.” By 1956, the word “pictorial” was permanently dropped from the title and replaced by “Baseball Year Book.”
The price of the magazine rose to 35 cents in 1954, when the publication added 24 pages and provided its largest edition to date. Yankees and Braves players practically dominated the covers during the ’50s, including Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams (1950); Mickey Mantle (1953); Eddie Mathews (1954); Yogi Berra (1955); Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider (1956); Mantle, Berra and Don Larsen (1957); Lew Burdette and Bob Buhl (1958); and Warren Spahn, Burdette and Mantle (1959).
Prominent baseball figures continued to contribute feature articles. Commissioner Happy Chandler wrote about his concerns for the Korean conflict (1951), actually without mentioning “Korea.” Joe DiMaggio penned a piece on how he believed night baseball shortened players’ careers (1956). Mickey Mantle contributed an article about how his grandfather and father set him up to pinch-hit (1957).
Significant topics facing baseball during this era, which were covered by Street & Smith’s, included the Pacific Coast League’s pursuit of a third major league, the penetration of black players in the major leagues, the use of laminated bats and growing concern that television would be the “great destroyer” of baseball attendance, with a suggestion that use of “pay” TV could offset stadium revenues.
An annual review of Army Baseball began in 1952, with some of the players being current major leaguers and prospects from the minor leagues who were serving in active duty. Overseas teams, as well as state-side Army base leagues, were covered.
In 1963, Street & Smith’s began using multiple covers for the same annual issue to appeal to multiple market regions. It was one of the first sports magazines to utilize this practice. The 1965 issue marked the 25th anniversary of the publication. A year later, the title of the magazine was changed to Street & Smith’s Official Yearbook. By the end of the decade, the price of the magazine increased to 60 cents.
Feature articles by players included: Tom Tresh (1963) about how his father, a former major leaguer, helped him reach the big leagues; Mickey Mantle (1962) about his and Roger Maris’ chase in 1961 to break Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record; and Hank Bauer (1965) about how managers have the toughest job in the majors.
The regular features of the magazine largely remained unchanged. However, by the end of the decade, the price of an annual issue had increased in five different years to $1.95, and the number of pages was now at 144.
Ted Williams, manager of the Washington Senators, wrote an article in 1971 calling for an adjustment to the benchmarks of what qualifies as “top hitters,” suggesting use of metrics akin to on-base percentage and slugging average. Johnny Bench authored a piece on why he thought the catcher position was one of the toughest jobs in baseball.
In the 1973 issue, the designated hitter position was hailed as “the most dramatic change in baseball since a foul was made a strike.”
An advertisement in the 1970 issue of Street & Smith’s was selling a complete Topps baseball card set for $14.95. In 1974, an article about the rare Honus Wagner tobacco baseball card said the card was worth $1,500.
In 1982, the College Baseball Report was added as a new feature, and in 1983, the League Championship Series summaries were included, along with the World Series and Division Championship recaps. In 1987, the magazine started including letters from fans. Articles of the era trumpeted the accomplishments of Rickey Henderson (breaking Lou Brock’s stolen base record) and Pete Rose (breaking Ty Cobb’s hit record).
The price of the magazine increased four times during the decade, topping out at $3.75. The number of pages reached 196.
The 1990 issue was a special collector edition recognizing 50 years of the magazine. It included a copy of the magazine’s covers for each year. High school players began to be highlighted in season previews. In 1997, Street & Smith’s high school All-America Team included Michael Cuddyer, Vernon Wells, Rick Ankiel and Jon Garland.
The editors of Street & Smith’s responded to reader feedback when the standard 40-man team rosters, one of the mainstays of the magazine from its early beginnings, were restored in 1998 after a one-year omission.
Four price increases during the decade brought the price of an issue to $5.95.
This would be the last decade of Street & Smith’s magazine. The 2001 issue, marking the 60th anniversary of the publication, proclaimed itself “America’s Sports Bible for Previews and Predictions.” This moniker was indeed backed up by many years of baseball season forecasts and prognostications. College baseball previews were added.
In 2002, www.streetandsmiths.com was launched. A high school All-America team was included in 2004; Lance Lynn and Buster Posey were among the “50 Juniors to Watch.”
In 2005, an editorial by publisher Mike Kallay lamented the uncovering of BALCO as part of the story of steroids tainting baseball. With Barry Bonds on the cover of 2006, an article questioned whether he was “legend or loser?”
As mentioned earlier, the 2007 issue was the last with the Street & Smith’s name. The issue included a Sandy Koufax foldout photo, and there was an article about how Tommy John surgery changed the game. The Sporting News and Street & Smith’s merged in 2008, under The Sporting News name; it continues in 2013 after a one-year hiatus in 2012.
In the end, another print publication bit the dust, so to speak, in the media industry. But this gem of a magazine will always live on through its collectors.