No, there’s no question mark. It’s a statement, not an inquiry.
I became worried as baseball’s spring training neared its end and fairly concerned when opening day arrived. So, finally, I asked a friend at Downtown Book plus Toy if they had seen it. Nope. They handle so many books and magazines they hadn’t missed it. But I sure did. So they tried to order it for me.
It’s not going to come in. Maybe it’ll never be back.
And baseball won’t be the same.
One of the signs that winter can’t last forever has been the appearance on the magazine rack of my local book store of the red-covered annual publication with baseball players on the front and the team picture of the World Series winner on the back. Who’s Who in Baseball, a publication letting readers immerse themselves in the career statistics of just about all the guys who put on major league uniforms each year, has gone away.
The months of February, March, and early April had a big hole in them this year for people who love baseball. During those last dark days of winter and through those first tantalizing days of early spring, baseball fans could immerse themselves in seeing who was close to a milestone. Could somebody get to their 600th home run this year? Or their 300th win as a pitcher? Is there any pitcher close to 3,000 strikeouts? In today’s home-run culture, how many guys have 300 or 400 stolen bases? Who was traded for who in 1999? What was the last year that aging pitcher had a winning record or a respectable ERA? Who’s Who in Baseball was the annual hint that better days were coming even if you rooted for a team you knew was probably going to be one of the worst. Now, apparently, it’s gone. And at this house, baseball season is a little bit incomplete.
Maybe we should blame the Chicago Cubs. Who’s Who in Baseball began four years after the Cubs won the World Series in 1908. Could it be that the possibility of putting a picture of the Cubs on the back cover of the publication was just more than the publishers could bear? Is publication death preferable to admitting the Cubs won the World Series?
Here’s what happened.
Last spring, about the time the 2016 season was starting, Harris Publications shut down. It’s official farewell statement talked about the struggles the magazine industry has had “in the face of the rapid ascendance of digital media, changing consumer content preferences, magazine wholesaler struggles and consolidation in the supply chain. We have tried mightily to persevere against these forces, but have been unable to overcome these challenges.”
Last July, the assets of Harris Publications, including rights to seventy-four titles, were acquired by Athlon Media Group. That doesn’t mean those titles will survive. A company spokesman didn’t hold out much hope for Who’s Who in Baseball or many of the other Harris titles after the acquisition by putting out this statement:
“We’ll continue to evolve our content from print centric platforms into over-the-top (OTT) media to gain knowledge and strength in visual platforms. Vertical titles, such as Harris Publications, are a perfect venue for this space.”
Fact is, we can go to the internet and look up all kinds of stats on any player past or present. But there’s something about browsing through a print version of WWIB as some call it (we think it’s kind of sacrilegious) just to see what catches the eye. “Browse” shows up on web pages sometimes but it’s just not the same with a tablet or a smartphone. At least not to this writer’s generation. But this writer’s generation is kind of like the dinosaurs after the big meteor hit, aren’t we?
The oldest edition in my collection includes a player whose career began in 1942. It includes people such as Hoyt Wilhelm, Robin Roberts, Warren Spahn, Vic Davalillo, Mike Cuellar, Dick Hall, and Gaylord Perry. Leafing through those old editions brings these guys back to life, back to a time when they were throwing smoke and spitters and dashing about the base paths and the outfields. There’s something about looking at their stats when they were our heroes.
But it’s gone now.
February and March are going to seem a little colder from now on.