Sports Collectors Digest: Daguerreotypes

By Marty Appel


Funny name, yes?

Da-GUR-e-o-types. Daguerreotypes of Great Stars of Baseball.

It was a terrific book in its day, and an argument could be made that it would still be, if updated. But it’s been nearly 20 years since the last edition.

It was one of The Sporting News books that began in the 1930s, when the company would publish things like “Knotty Problems of Baseball,” and “Ready Reckoner of Team Standings,” and “Batting Averages at a Glance.” They were more like little booklets, 6 ¾” x 5”. The annual Guides and Registers were their bread and butter, but “One for the Book” and “World Series Records” and things like “Comedians and Pranksters of Baseball” were also part of their book catalogue.

Daguerreotypes of Great Stars of Baseball was about 250 pages of player stats – the stats of Hall of Famers and other great stars who had reached certain statistical levels (like .300 lifetime or 200 homers), although it wouldn’t be until the sixth edition that the stats became sacred entry points. Those familiar with Who’s Who in Baseball would at once recognize the style, but these were retired players, and this was the only place where you could see their minor league stats as they worked their way through Organized Baseball.

“My recollection is that in the 1930s, The Sporting News occasionally carried a brief, two-column-wide article, usually in the off-season, on a retired baseball great, under the heading ‘Daguerreotypes,’” recalls Cliff Kachline, who joined The Sporting News in 1943 after proof-reading the Baseball Register as a free lancer for a couple of years.

“His year-by-year statistics would be listed at the bottom of the feature. I assume the person who came up with this title felt it projected a word-picture of the player. And then years later, J. G. Taylor Spink adopted it for the book.”

He’s right, except the feature in the newspaper was called “Leaves from a Fans Scrapbook.” The first edition of Daguerreotypes was published in 1934 and included 52 retired players. Spink was the second generation owner of the “Bible of Baseball” weekly.

By definition, a daguerreotype is an early photograph produced on a silver, or silver-plated copper plate, a process developed in France by Louis Daguerre in the 1820s and 1830s. The Sporting News loved to use vintage words to define their features – like necrology, instead of obituary, for a really important death.

“The staff member in charge would occasionally decide on his own who to add to subsequent editions,” recalled Kachline. Over the years, Leonard Gettelson, Paul McFarlane and Craig Carter were among the editors.

But the ability to pick any old player changed with the publication of the 1971 edition, the sixth. In that, criteria became more measured. Hall of Famers were automatic, and if they weren’t players, they got a short bio. Other players who qualified were those who hit .300 (ten seasons, minimum), had 2,000 hits, 200 home runs, 175 wins, 4,000 innings or 2,000 strikeouts. Now it was a matter of defined prestige to make the book.

The cover art, a big head shot of Babe Ruth, was drawn by illustrator Jack Havey, who did a lot of Sporting News covers at the time. By now the book was 6”x9” and available in hardcover or softcover.

The 1981 edition rocked statistical conservatives by acknowledging that Ty Cobb had 4,191 hits, not 4,190 as previously shown. Indisputable evidence found the extra hit. It caused a sensation in the nation’s sports pages – The Peach got a single 20 years after he had died! And 4,191 became the number that Pete Rose had to beat to break the record.

Steve Gietschier, the last archivist of The Sporting News before they departed their St. Louis headquarters a couple of years ago, agreed that the book grew out of a weekly series in the paper.

“There were eight editions before we pulled the plug,” he says. “1934, 1951, 1958, 1961, 1968, 1971, 1981 and 1990. Before the appearance of Mac 1 {The Macmillan Encyclopedia} in 1969, ‘Dags’ was kind of like an encyclopedia, and I guess it sold fairly well. By the end, the book was obsolete. There were other, easier ways to get these stats, and we did not keep them up to date; we didn’t edit them to conform to more modern numbers. On the other hand, Dags always included minor league numbers, which were helpful.”

The Sporting News did not limit the year-by-year stats to Daguerreotypes, and early editions of The Baseball Register had a good number of retired players in a special section towards the back. The first edition of Daugerreotypes I ever obtained was published in 1961, and included a special feature – the “All-Time All-Star Team” – as selected by a group of sportswriters to mark the best of the first 50 years of the 20th century. I suppose that first appeared in the ’51 edition.

So we had nice short bios of the players selected – George Sisler (1B), Rogers Hornsby (2B), Honus Wagner (SS), Jimmy Collins (3B), Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker in the outfield, Mickey Cochrane catching, and a pitching staff of Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, with John McGaw managing.

It was a valuable little statistical reference work that stood unique in the marketplace, and still would, given the inclusion of minor league stats.