Sports Collectors Digest: Red & Green Books

By Marty Appel

In an earlier column, we wrote about the end of The Sporting News Guide and Register in print editions, bringing to a close, at least in terms of the annual Guide, a baseball tradition that went back to 1876. (The Register went back to 1940). Originally published by the Spalding and Reach sporting goods companies, it had come to be seen as the official history of the game. Now, Baseball America’s Almanac stands alone as the hard copy annual Guide, and who knows how long that will last. More and more publications are abandoning hard copies in favor of online only versions.

While traditionalists mourn this change, a bright side is that it saves a lot of paper, and can be considered a very “green” thing to do.

And (how about this segue) – we are now facing the end of the National League Green Book (what a transition) and the American League Red Book.

The Red and Green Books are among the last things that have distinguished the leagues since the abandonment of separate league offices in 1999 and the end of American and National League presidencies.

It was decided after the 2008 season that the books had run their course, almost all of the information was available elsewhere, and MLB would economize by ceasing publication. The annual issuance of the books goes back some 80 years.

Unlike the Guide and Register, these were not readily available to fans, and as such, had a little cloak of mystery attached to them. A team announcer might mention it during a game, as in “let’s look that up in the Red Book,” and most fans would wonder what in the world that was.

There was once a “Little Red Book of Baseball” too, published by Elias Sports Bureau, and serving as one of the two printed record books (the other being “One for the Book” from The Sporting News, which became the “Baseball Record Book.”) “The Little Red Book” became The Book of Baseball Records and is still published annually in very limited quantity with almost no marketing behind it.

I didn’t actually see a Red and Green Book until 1968, the year I went to work in the Yankees PR office. It was a treasure chest of great information! All the rosters were there, but also the full names and pronunciations. Home phone numbers of the PR directors! The names of the team’s player representatives. Little bios of all the league’s umpires! Attendance breakdowns! All players in league history with 35 home runs in a season! (Amazingly, that was still used as the cutoff point in last year’s editions). Team-by-team top tens all time in the major batting departments! (In 1968, the White Sox all-time home run leader was Minnie Minoso with 134, followed by Sherm Lollar with 124 and then Al Smith with 85).

An oddity was a listing of all American Leaguers in the Hall of Fame, even Paul Waner who played played 2539 games in the National League and 10 in the American. And of course, the National League had its own version of that list, including Yogi Berra as a National Leaguer. (He caught four games for the ’65 Mets).

The Red and Green Books continued after the consolidation of the league offices, with the leagues former PR Directors, Phyllis Merhige (American) and Katy Feeney (National) supervising their production, developing creative covers, and updating the previous year’s material. Essentially, the two books had the same contents, just arranged differently. For club employees, it was an honor to be shown in the book, which ran the extensive roster of front office employees. When I became Assistant Director of PR for the Yankees in 1970, having my name in the Red Book was a terrific kick. (These rosters also ran in the Baseball Guide and of course the team’s own media guides).

Two years ago, a tradition ended when the books, always spiral bound, changed from 8 ½ x 11 to 8 ½ x 5 ½, maintaining all its content. But the 2008 editions (which still insisted that Paul Waner was an American Leaguer) would be the last. Indications now are that the material will be online, but may be password protected, as the books remain insider publications for the principal use of team officials and media.

For a few years in the ‘90s, The Sporting News made arrangements with MLB to make the books available to the general public, in “perfect bound” (not spiral) editions, and purged of classified material like to team hotels and private PR phone numbers. Apparently the demand was not enough to keep this going.

It would not be easy for a collector to have a full run of these books. There were probably fewer than 4000 printed annually. My own collection goes back to 1957 for the Red Book and 1961 for the Green. Even the Hall of Fame Library is not quite sure if they have the first editions. According to librarian Jim Gates, “{it} has been produced under a number of titles, the earliest of which was an American League production with a 1929 date, which contains a listing of player trades and transactions. This would lead me to believe that it was not formally published until 1930. The earliest dated item in our collection for the National League is 1933.”

The earliest editions were about 30 pages long. Last year’s editions, with the trim size halved, reached 190 pages.

Lost to history seems to be any folklore as to why red and green were the chosen colors and why the leagues took the colors they did. The publication did continue uninterrupted even during World War II.

Many Journalists and former team employees who regularly received the book through the team’s PR office would eventually let the books slip out into the collectors market, where they can be found for fairly affordable prices, $20 for older ones being a fair market value.