Sports Collectors Digest: World of Baseball

By Marty Appel

Almost 15 years ago, a beautiful set of baseball books was introduced, intended to be sold as a continuing series, to number 20 volumes when complete, and to take its place among the more handsomely designed books on the game ever issued.

And while the publishers didn’t make it to the finish line – only 11 books were published – to collectors of the series they remain a cherished set.

The books were called World of Baseball, and the publisher was a company called Redefinition, based in Alexandria, Virginia. Edward Brash, a veteran of Time-Life Books (experienced in putting out direct mail, continuing series editions), and Glen Ruh, director of Smithsonian Books, famous for handsome, coffee-table editions, conceived the idea and put a team of 25 together to create the books.

As Brash wrote in a letter to customers, “The success of this small new company….depends on the success of World of Baseball. If we make it, we will go on the publish other series on sports and other subjects. If we fail, then twenty-five people will find employment elsewhere. But in a business where so many successful companies tend to be corporate giants, I would like to believe that by producing something of value, a small company can flourish also.”

The intent was to product high-quality books beautifully designed, historically interesting, with lively writing, and laden with USA Today-type charts, graphs and stats for the reader’s interest. By all of these measures, the project was a huge success. Those who own any or all of the set still enjoy the books, even as design tastes inevitably change over the years. A hero in that sense might well be the design director, Robert Barkin, who was overseeing a rush of many volumes at once, for the books were intended to come out every two months!

In 1989, the year in which they were introduced, seven volumes were produced. They were 8 ½ x 10, no dust jacket, but uniform in appearance with a dark silver-metallic looking finish.

“We did it all by direct mail,” says Ruh, looking back with pride on the effort. “That was where we were experienced. We created an interesting envelope and used the SABR membership list as a prime target. We put five trivia questions on the envelope that made fans want to open it up and see the answers. When they opened the letter, they liked what they saw.”

As a premium for ordering, purchasers also received a “Stat Finder” statistical slide rule with lifetime stats of great players, a collectible in its own right.

“The Sluggers” was the first volume, written by John Holway, with a great Mickey Mantle photo on the cover. The book was beautiful and set the tone for what was to come. And yes, the advertising flier said, “I’d like to examine THE SLUGGERS for 21 days FREE examination, along with future volumes which I may examine under the terms described in the enclosed letter.” The letter said, “…pay just $16.95 plus shipping and handling. Keep only those volumes you want, for the same low price of $16.95 plus delivery. There is no minimum number of books you must buy, and you may cancel your subscription at any time simply by notifying us.”

The price was a little high for the time, and for many, it was hard to keep up the pace of every-other-month. The seven volumes published in 1989 would have run about $150 in the first year, and that was a tough pace to keep up. In the second year, 1990, it got a little easier, with three volumes issued. The last one, the 11th, which came out in 1991, was called “The Inside Game,” and was written by Bill Mead.

“At that point,” says Ruh, “our venture capitalist (from the U.S. News and World Report family), felt he wasn’t getting his return on investment back quickly enough. And he pulled the plug. We had two other volumes in the can, ready to go, but that was the end. The world will never see them. Had he hung in there, he would have made his money, but he didn’t have the patience.”

Ed Brash recalls that “XXXX were sold….and very high percentage of continuing purchasers.

The books remain timeless, and are available through used book channels at surprisingly modest prices. They still make for a beautiful and interesting set.

The complete list of World of Baseball titles:

The Sluggers (by John Holway, Mickey Mantle cover)

The New Professionals (by Randy Rieland, Bill Freehan cover)

Speed (by Steve Fiffer, Rickey Henderson cover)

The Explosive Sixties (by William Mead, Brooks Robinson cover)

The Hurlers (by Kevin Kerrane, Nolan Ryan cover)

The Lively Ball (by James A. Cox, Babe Ruth cover)

The Fielders (by Jim Kaplan, Ozzie Smith cover)

October’s Game (by Paul Adomites, ’84 Tigers cover)

The Old Ball Game (by Mark Alvarez, Harvard team cover)

Low and Outside (by William Mead, Joe DiMaggio cover)

The Inside Game (by William Mead, Pittsburgh Pirates cover)