American Memorabilia Magazine: The Book to Grab When the Waters Rise

By Marty Appel

We in the northeast had terrible flooding in April, even 8 inches in one day in Central Park, but for someone like me, living on the 8th floor of a Manhattan high rise, I really don’t worry until the water reaches 79 feet.

Still, I was thinking about “what if,” and after photo albums, what books would I grab and save?

In the last issue, I wrote about my 2600 baseball book collection and the years of gathering that went into it. So I looked around and decided that if I could grab only one book, it would be the 1933 hardbound book, “Who’s Who in Major League Baseball,” by Harold “Speed” Johnson.

This was a remarkable book that originally came with a dust jacket. I believe there are no more than ten existing copies with dust jackets today. Mine doesn’t have one, and I did have it rebound at one point (that’s the book pronunciation “re-BOUND” as opposed to basketball’s “RE-bound.”)

This was really a wonderous book. The author, working with a photo studio in Chicago (where everyone in baseball eventually played), managed to get every player, umpire, league official, sportswriter, broadcaster, manager, coach and statistician – in short, the baseball community – to have a “civilian” portrait taken. Then, biographies (including in most cases, home addresses), were crafted to give baseball fans a full view of the national pastime.

Of course, this being 1933 and the early stages of the Great Depression, how many fans could afford such a high quality hardbound book? We have no records today as to how many were printed or sold, but I happen to watch this one fairly regularly in the auction marketplace, and I am convinced that there are about 15 copies regularly sold, and I’m guessing maybe 3 dozen more that have rested for years on someone’s bookshelf.

“Speed” Johnson (yes, there is even a picture and bio of Speed), was born in 1884 and worked himself up to the Chicago Record-Herald as a baseball writer. He got his nickname from White Sox manager Kid Gleason, who nicknamed after ballplayer Speed Magee, probably because he thought he looked like him.

Could you imagine getting every player today to report at an apportioned time to a photo studio in suit and tie for a formal portrait? Moffett-Russell Studios was the site and the portraits are magnificent. Indeed, players then all looked older than players today, and the business suits only added to the image.

It was interesting for me to discover Casey Stengel, a coach for the Dodgers, with his home address being the same one he would hold for the remaining 42 years of his life. Al Schacht, a baseball clown and coach for Washington, looks like a judge, and Lou Gehrig, who “lives with his parents at 9 Meadow Lane in New Rochelle, New York”, unmarried at age 30, has those strong good looks that we remember on Gary Cooper; only he was the real deal.

This is a book where it’s more than “I get the idea.” It’s a joy, a treasure, and it’s one of those finds that makes book collecting so special. A collection isn’t complete without this one, but expect to pay several hundred dollars for a copy in decent condition. And if you are a collector, it’s worth it.