I love my Baseball Encyclopedia.
It is a thick, thick hard covered book that looks like, well, an encyclopedia. Its cover is gray and it has long ago lost its paper jacket and the spine is coming unglued from the pages and some of the pages themselves are crinkled and folded and it weighs a ton but I love it.
Let me say to all the guys reading this, it is a great library book. And when I say library, I mean the, ummm....lavatory. You can now all wipe....the grins from your faces.
A good "library" book is a book that can be cracked open, wherever, and you can dive into it at that point. You can look at it out of context whenever you want. There is no story to read. You simply open it up and start absorbing.
I don’t even remember how I came upon my Baseball Encyclopedia (yes, it is worthy of capitalization, and besides, that’s its title, so there!). But I’ve had it for years, though I am not its original owner. It is the edition printed after the 1978 season, which is fine, because I don’t have much use for anything that happened from 1979-present anyway. It’s much more fun to peruse the game’s history through journeymen who played for the 1911 Reds or the 1925 Dodgers.
Here’s how my B.E. experience usually goes: I enter the library, plunk myself down, and haul the book from its resting pace, which is on the floor, leaning against the wall, always within arm’s reach. Then I open it and start reading. That’s all. Nothing much to it. But oh, the fun I have by doing that.
As you can imagine, the B.E. contains everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, about the national pastime, dating from the days of the American Association, which was just about ten years after our president was named Lincoln, to in this case, 1978. Every player who ever pulled on a big league uniform is listed alphabetically, complete with date of birth, death, height, weight, place of birth, place of death, and any nicknames he may have had. Also listed is whether he batted left, right or both, how he threw, and of course, his season-by-season statistics in detail, including games played by position. Pitchers are listed together behind the hitters.
But I realized it’s much more interesting and fun to browse the non-stars. Sure, I could look up Babe Ruth or Tris Speaker or Ted Williams, but as I run down the list, page-by-page, I’m much more intrigued by the guy who appeared in one game a long time ago and who may have incomplete personal data, like "Duke Kelleher" (an actual entry), who caught one game in 1916 for the New York Giants, never coming to the plate to hit. All we know about Duke is that he threw righthanded, which may have been an educated guess by the editors since how many lefthanded-throwing catchers have you ever seen? We don’t know if he batted left or right; maybe because he never came to bat. But we do know that he was born 9/30/1893 in New York City and died 9/28/1947 in Staten Island. Poor Duke (real name Albert) didn’t quite make it to 54.
Did you know that former Tigers third baseman and announcer George Kell had a brother named Skeeter who played for the 1952 Philadelphia A’s? After one season and 213 at-bats and a .227 average, Skeeter never emerged in the majors again. But he and his brother did combine for 2,101 base hits (George had 2,054 of them). Speaking of combos, here’s one that could be called the Combo That Isn’t Really A Combo: the great Chicago Cub Billy Williams had 2,711 base hits in his 18-year career. But I’ll wager a Ball Park frank that you weren’t aware there was another Billy Williams, who played for the 1969 Seattle Pilots and went 0-for-10. So combined, the two Billy Williamses.....well, you get the idea.
Kell had a brother in the big leagues -- who'd a thunk it?
I guess I enjoy my B.E. because I love the romanticism of a time when all the games were played in daytime, which means all those numbers and statistics were compiled before dinnertime...
Every year’s worth of standings is listed, along with small capsule stats of each team’s top 12-13 position players and 5-8 pitchers. It tells you who the manager(s) was or were, what each skipper’s record was in the case of managerial changes, and the league leaders in various offensive and pitching categories. You can also head for the Manager Register, which lists every man who managed, his record, and the position his team finished that particular season. But the B.E. doesn’t stop there. In the cases of in-season managerial changes, the Register lists the team’s position before a man took over, its position after he left, and -- bonus -- if there were three managers that year and you’re looking up the middle guy, the Register tells you the team’s position at the end of the season, too. This even includes Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner, who tried to take over the reins in 1977 but was removed as manager after one game -- a loss -- by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. So there Turner resides, in the Manager Register, his 0-1 record forever preserved.
In fact, if there is something about baseball you want to know and you can’t find it in the Baseball Encyclopedia, it’s not worth knowing anyway. What more about the game do you need to know than the fact that Erskine Thomason threw one inning for the ’74 Phillies, striking out a hitter? Or that John Paciorek -- he was born in Detroit and went to U-M -- came to bat five times for the 1963 Houston Colt .45’s (they weren’t the Astros until 1965) and went 3-for-3 with two walks in his only game as an 18 year-old? How would YOU like to have a lifetime batting average and on-base percentage of 1.000? Pretty cool, huh? By the way, Paciorek’s appearance was on the last day of the season as the Colts started the youngest lineup ever -- on purpose. They got their tails kicked.