Finding Who’s Who and what’s what in MLB

It being the week before Opening Day, I stopped at my local magazine store and purchased the 2008 edition of  Who’s Who in Baseball. I’ve been doing this now for 47 years, but this is the 93rd edition, as it says on the cover, so I am sure there are others with a longer streak going.

Of course, being a collector, I have gone back and purchased most of the earlier ones, although I must admit that the first few years had such little information that I do have some gaps in the teens. There are reprints available to fill in those gaps, but they, too, are expensive, and they don’t match the small format that would make them fit properly when aligned with the others. No red cover, either.

One of the things I always enjoy with each new edition is skimming through and taking note of players who have been around for, oh, 15 or 16 years, and who I have barely heard of and would have trouble telling you which team they are currently with. There are an awful lot of guys out there who fly under the radar, make their millions, avoid headlines and Mitchell Reports and keep on truckin’. 

All of this brings me to pitcher Rudy Seanez, who got released on the exact same day I was enthralled by his career record. It took 45 lines of year-by-year stats to cover his 16 seasons, not counting six lines for postseason and two lines of career totals, and then, when you get to the part about his transactions, you find that he had 12 trips to the disabled list and filed for free agency 12 times. He was released four times (now five), and traded five times. Wow. Thank you, Who’s Who. You can’t find that online. They don’t bother with minor league seasons on all those fine reference sites (which is actually the best thing about the very old editions).

Baseball America publishes a Super Register, which weighs about 40 pounds and does not include a gift certificate for hernia surgery, but it does include full career records for every player in pro ball. It’s strictly for baseball insiders or fantasy baseball players who need to plan their picks three years in advance. Who’s Who has the benefit of weighing 9 ounces and coming in the same digest size it has been published in since 1969.

The Sporting News’ important Baseball Register ceased this year, something we wrote about when they killed off the Baseball Guide a year ago.

The first Who’s Who was published in 1912 by Baseball Magazine, which dropped the idea and then brought it back in 1916 with Ty Cobb on the cover. For collectors today, it is very much about who’s on the cover as the object of desire, with Babe Ruth (1920 and 1921) the most coveted and worth up to $150. (Not until 1939, amazingly, did the book include home runs among the stats listed). The cover subject was usually the most talked about player of the previous season, or starting in 1965, multiple players.

Baseball Magazine published Who’s Who and used its staff as editors until 1942. Then Clifford Bloodgood, of the Baseball Magazine staff, received editorial credit until 1953. The great Dodger and NBC statistician Allan Roth was the editor from 1954-72. Then the Elias Sports Bureau picked up editorial charge from 1973-81, showing Seymour Siwoff as editor. From 1982-2007, Norm MacLean was the editor, and this year, the duties have shifted to longtime historian Pete Palmer. In 1990, MacLean (with Bill Shannon) put out a terrific all-time version called All-Time Greatest Who’s Who in Baseball, which has never been updated. I have always thought an “All-Time Yankee,” “Red Sox,” “Dodgers” or “Cubs” version would do well.

Through all the years, the book remains clean and traditional, avoiding the extended stats that have grown with the SABR generation, but providing the best glance at a player’s career short of carrying around 30 media guides. There are thumbnail headshots of the players accompanying their records, with good marks for keeping the photos up to date with proper caps.
The publisher is the Who’s Who in Baseball Magazine Co. of New York, and they do market editions back to 1962 on the last page of the book (after Joel Zumaya). eBay is a less costly source for older editions. Just be careful not to confuse it with Who’s Who in Major League Baseball, which was published for a time in the 1930s.

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In our last column, the subject of which was how no one jumped on the 1967 Red Sox pennant and produced an instant book, we made note of two books that were published years later on that important team. We should have identified a third, published by SABR last year, and edited by Bill Nowlin and Dan Desrochers called The 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox.

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