Foreword to 2015 edition of Who’s Who in Baseball

By Marty Appel

In the days when fans were called “cranks” and ballparks were wooden, there was a growing number of baseball fans who appreciated the game for its statistics. Statistics provided a measuring device for “who was good and who was bad” and a sense of order off the field for the well-organized game on the field. The box score was as perfect as the distance between the bases. An extension of the box score into season and career columns of numbers was waiting to be embraced.

When manager Clark Griffith took his New York Highlanders to meet Theodore Roosevelt in the White House in 1908, the President told Griffith that his son Quentin, in school, would be “inconsolable” over missing a chance to meet his heroes. “He worships the players in both leagues and knows all their records,” said TR.

So the idea of a book of all those records must have been just right for Quentin. And the staff at Baseball Magazine was ready to put one together.

The magazine, a monthly, was loved by fans for its long quirky features, and was a nice compliment to the weekly, more newsy, Sporting News. Player stories were often accompanied by the player’s stats. So from their offices in lower Manhattan the work began, and in 1912 came a little booklet called Who’s Who in Baseball, said to be “Indispensable to the fan, sporting editor, umpire, official scorer, baseball club, manager and scout.” It further said it “Represents the combined efforts of two baseball statisticians for five years.”

The product included only games played, batting average and fielding average – even for pitchers – but we did get an alphabetical listing with full names, nicknames, places and date of birth, height, weight,
and whether they batted and threw right or left handed. And we got transactions at the bottom, learning for instance that Cy Young “Jumped the St. Louis National League when the American League invaded the National territory and signed with Boston.” One would not know, however, that Cy Young was a pitcher, or that he had won 511 games.

The 56-page booklet gave you what the annual Spalding and Reach Guides did not – a year-by-year summary of the players’ careers, including the minor leagues. (The columns were not totaled). It probably took its name from the Marquis’s Who’s Who in America, first published in 1899, and by 1912, a respected reference book.

How did it do? Probably not well enough to generate thoughts of an annual edition, but by 1916, the editors decided to publish another one. For this they brought in John J. Lawres, a fan who was an early statistician of the game. Lawres had begun compiling his own ledgers of baseball stats in 1896, assembling his findings in a 5”x7 ½” 180-page notebook, which by 1916 had grown to an 8”x12” book of 500 pages.

“{My} most bulky league book was for 1913,” he wrote, “It carried 52 leagues and the names of 22,000 players.”

Yes, Lawres was a good find for Baseball Magazine – just the right guy to take on this project.

The 1916 edition came to be considered issue #1, and Lawres edited the next five editions as well. Wrote Lawres, “The labor that was begun as a diversion has become little short of slavery, but it is a pleasure to accomplish unknown a work that, in its creation, may please thousands who know neither my face, name or even existence.”

The timing was right. Little Quentin Roosevelt aside, the growing appreciation – and demand – for more and more stats went along with the nation’s love affair with baseball and its milestones. When Honus Wagner got his 3,000th hit in 1914, the Pittsburgh Post reported he was “given a rousing cheer….Hosts of fans here have been watching the Flying Dutchman’s batting record, and they’ve been hoping to see him come across with the necessary wallop…..the only other player who is said to have made 3,000 hits in his major league career was Adrian C. Anson, who batted out 3,081 in 22 years.”

This time, the booklet caught on. By 1916 it included games, at bats, runs, hits, stolen bases and average, and for pitchers, games, innings pitched, won, lost, percentage, strikeouts, walks, hits and “average,” which was ERA. Alas, the columns were still not totaled.

Ty Cobb, 29 and at the peak of his game, graced the cover. It cost 15 cents, included endorsements from baseball insiders and several pages of advertising at the back. As it included the minor league seasons of each player, it was easy to tell the path each followed to the majors. The “senior” player in the book was Honus Wagner, whose career went back to 1891. Readers of Who’s Who would have added substance to the “who was better” debate when it came to Wagner and Cobb.

If you are looking for Babe Ruth, a certain “Ruth, George” could be found in the pitchers half of the book, with no evident nickname, but with a 1913 listing for Mount St. Joseph College (stats unknown).

“Stengel, Charles D.” is in the batters section; he was already a six-year veteran of pro ball.

For nearly a quarter-century, there was nothing like Who’s Who in the marketplace, and as the game grew, as Babe Ruth cultivated vast new attention for the sport, the booklet – now more of a “book” – became a standard reference work for those who loved baseball. It was reliable, it was portable, and it contained all that we wished to know, except — oddly — the editors didn’t include home runs until 1940, after Ruth was long retired. We can only wonder whether that was editorial comment on how the long ball ruined what had been a beautiful game in the “deadball era.”

Some of the legendary statisticians of baseball took their turn at the plate, editing the book – Ernest Lanigan, Clifford Bloodgood, Allan Roth, Seymour Siwoff and his Elias Sports Bureau, Norman MacLean, Bill Shannon, and Pete Palmer. Changes were few; fans liked what they saw.

Expansion forced a larger trim size and of course, many more players, with thumbnail photos added in 1965. Always there was red on the cover, (for a few years, a separate edition was done in blue for a scholastic sale). Generally, the cover subject was a major award winner from the year before. One year however, 1947, St. Louis Cardinals’ manager Eddie Dyer was on the cover. Ruth was the cover subject in 1920 and 1921, his first two Yankee seasons, and among collectors, they have become the most coveted editions. Popular as well are ones with Lou Gehrig (1937), Joe DiMaggio (1942), Ted Williams (1943), Mickey Mantle (1957), Sandy Koufax (1964) and Willie Mays (1966). (A book containing all the covers has been published by Lyons Press).

Harris Publishing assumed ownership of the annual in 1952, the waning days of Baseball Magazine, and continues to publish it to this day – 64 of the 100 editions. The Sporting News issued its first Baseball Register in 1940, a heftier edition less likely to be carried around by sportswriters. The Register continued to publish until 2007 when it went “online” and ceased a hard copy version.

And so here we are at the 100th edition of “Who’s Who in Baseball” – comfort food for the needy baseball fans who likes his or her stats “traditional”, “hard copy,” and serving as a sign that a new season is upon us. (There is an online version available as well). We love baseball for its traditions – and this is one of them.

Batter up!

– Baseball historian and longtime New York Yankees publicist Marty Appel is the author of 20 baseball books, including “Pinstripe Empire.” He got his first “Who’s Who” in 1957.