Four Things I Learned From A Copy Of A "Baseball Digest" From 1974

Is there anything that Google can't do? Now there are old copies of "Baseball Digest" floating around on the internet.

When I was growing up, my dad used to bring home copies of Baseball Digest for me from the newsstand. There was something about the magazine that was appealing. Probably all of the baseball stuff. It was more than that, though -- the half-size printings made it feel like a magazine that was made just for me. It's still available in print form, and when you subscribe you get a link to 67+ years of their back issues. Quite nice.

There are also a couple of issues on Google Books, too. The first one I came across was one from 1974, and it blew my mind. Not because it had nifty articles like an argument against the DH, or a first-person narrative from Willie Mays about his four-homer game, but because there was so much I didn't realize about 1974 and baseball. Here are some of the things I learned:

It was harder to look up baseball information before there was an internet
Obvious, sure, but it's easy to take for granted. I can look up Luis Tiant's home and away splits in five seconds right now. I can do it on my phone if I want. Back then, though, it wasn't so easy. This is from the "Fans Speak Out" section:

Of all the talked-about ballplayers, you always hear names like Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Ted Williams, but I've never heard anyone talk about Mel Ott.

He was an active major leaguer at the age of 17 and played for the New York Giants. I would like to know of any records Mel has made. Please also give me his major league statistics.

If you ever need to know what the world was like before the internet, there it is. This information-seeking strategy doesn't work quite as well these days. I've tried it.

August 1, 2011

Dear Jayson Stark,

I am writing an article for The Baseball Nation, an internet website devoted to the sport of baseball. My article is on Reggie Jackson, a former outfielder for the Athletics, Yankees, Orioles, and Angels, and I was wondering how many of his 563 home runs he hit for each team. Please look this up for me.

Thanks,

Grant Brisbee

August 10, 2011

Dear Jayson Stark,

I have not received a response to my previous letter. It must have been lost by my postman, who I suspect drinks on the job. I regret that I must ask you for a breakdown of Reggie Jackson's career numbers again, for it is important for the internet website article post that I am writing. Please advise.

Thanks,

Grant Brisbee

August 21, 2011

Dear Jayson Stark,

Oh, I get it. There just isn't enough room for the both of us, is that it? You think you can sit on your pile of knowledge like some self-appointed Duke of Statistics and keep the rest of us peons in line? This article on Reggie Jackson was perhaps the best baseball-related piece you, or anyone else, was going to read this year. But forget it now. I don't have the information, and you refuse to give it to me. You didn't create those numbers, sir. You have no right to hoard them. No right. Good day.

Thanks,

Grant Brisbee

August 21, 2011

Dear Jayson Stark,

I said, good day.

Thanks,

Grant Brisbee

There were other options, though, if you had a little extra scratch:


Screen_shot_2011-11-09_at_1


Using the ol' inflation calculator, that comes out to about $2.19 per question. And there were only two ways this could work. The first is that the guy was a baseball savant who set up a lawn chair in front of his P.O. box, eagerly awaiting the flood of information requests that probably never came. The other is that the guy could have made everything up, pocketed the money, and you'd never know about it.

Thank you for your inquiry. Mel Ott was born in 1909 in Boise to a dockworker named Ott Ott. He first played baseball as a 16-year-old, having overcome his case of polio-related blindness, and he was starting for the New York Giants just a year later. Please send another fifty cents if you would like more of this story.

Ads from 1974 are filled with stuff I really, really, really want now
I want "The Chucker", even if to give it a quick tryout. Putting one of these helmet lamps up in my house might lead to a divorce, but I don't see how it's not worth it. The Ted Williams Baseball Camp also promised great food, swimming, boating, basketball, and riflery. And there was also this:

Screen_shot_2011-11-09_at_1


I used to think of the '70s as an era filled with funky music, drugs, and key parties. Now I know it was also awash in free unusual baseball gifts. They were just giving them away. What is a free unusual baseball gift? Well, what isn't it? It's only limited by your imagination. A '52 Mickey Mantle card? A mummified Mordecai Brown finger? A green baseball with a note that read "i told you unusual baseball lol"? It could have been anything. And it was free. And unusual.

Former Giants pitcher Ron Bryant was creepy

Screen_shot_2011-11-10_at_3

People liked to complain about stuff before the internet
If it was hard to look up information back in 1974, it was still pretty easy to complain about the things that other people wrote. Most of the letters to the editor section had to do with Baseball Digest picking Pete Rose as their player of the year. One letter leads off with "You must be joking," and another concludes with, "Wake up, Baseball Digest." One guy making a case for Willie Stargell refers to "your beloved Johnny Bench" in the same sneering way that you'd expect today.

And everywhere, everywhere, everywhere, people are cherry-picking the stats that happen to support their favorite player. They're mostly the crappy stats, too. It's proof that people don't change, only the tools that are available to them.

Thank you, old Baseball Digest, for entertaining me for a couple of hours before making me sad. And that's just one month from 37 years ago. Looks like there's some diggin' through the archives to do ...

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