Spring training: It’s time for “Who’s Who in Baseball”

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My ongoing mind-over-matter battle with the winter elements has been buoyed by the annual arrival of Who’s Who in Baseball, a collection of lifetime records of active major league baseball players, at bookstores and magazine stands. The appearance of Who’s Who means that no matter how bad the winter has been, spring and baseball are not far away.

In addition, Who’s Who has a much deeper meaning to guys (yes, mostly guys) who grew up following their favorite big league teams and players back in the day. As you can see from the cover of the current edition, Who’s Who has been around forever. The 1972 edition pictured next to it goes back to my junior high days, when we followed baseball religiously.

Although baseball statistics are now big business — practically everything about the game that can be measured with numbers appears in print or online somewhere these days — the basic format of Who’s Who hasn’t changed much over the decades. A devoted Who’s Who reader from the 1970s could look at the page below from the 2014 edition and instantly recognize where it came from.

And oh, how we’d study those pages! I’m not alone in saying that even if I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, I can still rattle off baseball stats from 40+ years ago. Who’s Who had a lot to do with that.

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Fantasy baseball wasn’t around back in those days. But some of us played dice-and-charts statistical board games like APBA, Strat-O-Matic, Statis-Pro, Extra Innings, and Gil Hodges Pennant Fever, which allowed us to recreate player performances on our tabletops. These games were the precursors to computer and video sports simulation games today, and Who’s Who in Baseball was a key source toward informing us which players to draft for our pre-digital fantasy baseball squads.

The baseball stats explosion notwithstanding, I don’t need to know, say, how many times a guy grounded into a double play with two strikes on him. Hey, I’m a fan, not a big league manager. Instead, it’s more fun to flip through the pages of Who’s Who to trace players’ careers and to immerse myself in old-fashioned, plain vanilla stats like home runs, batting averages, wins, and ERA.

Enough snow. Play ball!

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APBA and Strat-O-Matic are still in business, offering both board and computer versions of their baseball games. Even in this digital era, sports board game devotees form a hardy bunch, featuring a lot of Generation Jones members! I’ll have more to say about that hobby in a future post.

3 responses

  1. I’m not a big fan of baseball these days but I went through a stage when when I followed the Oakland As with an almost crazy passion. It was during their glory days, when they were so good and fun. I can still reel off the names as I think my ways around the positions . . .

  2. One of the things I particularly appreciate about the WWiB (at least the more recent ones), is the listing of time spent on the DL. Surprised that baseball-reference.com doesn’t include that in their copious statistics.

    1. Ron, yes, it is interesting the WWiB still has a statistical edge on some of the online sources!

      By the way, I have your terrific book, Ron Kaplan, 501 Baseball Books Fans Must Read before They Die, here in my work office!

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