Monday, June 04, 2007

Taking a trip back in baseball time

When you don't have a ton of spare cash, or are just a cheap bastard, you tend to check out the deal and freebie websites, such as SlickDeals.net. The hidden gem of that site is the free magazine subscription forum, which posters talk about, well, free magazine subscription offers.

Thanks to that forum, I have a 17 year subscription to Maxim, 14 to Stuff (Hey, they kept offering, I kept accepting), and about 10 others. The latest of which is a 1 year sub to that old chestnut, "Baseball Digest."

Yes, the same magazine that you most likely read for the latest baseball scoop when you were 12. Same cheap newsprint quality, same small size, same comic book like advertising, and the same unwavering and strict adherence of only using traditional stats to determine a ballplayers worth.

In other words, nothing has changed since the last time I actually read a "Baseball Digest" in full, which I'm guessing is a good 30 years ago.

OPS? ERA+? WHIP? VORP? Sabermetrics has no standing in the world of "Baseball Digest." Once you open it up, you enter a magical place where you are a good hitter if you hit .270, defense is solely judged by a player's fielding percentage, and wins or saves by a pitcher is the be all, end all.

Reading "Baseball Digest" was like going back in time to 1975, where every player is a great player, and he's an even better person. Never a negative thing is to be said in an issue of "Baseball Digest."

A typical article is the generic "The Art of Clutch Hitting," which uses the usual suspects as examples. That being Ortiz and Jeter, and they also like the "Pesky" David Eckstein. I guess a couple of hits in the World Series makes you "Clutch," even though the rest of your career has shown you to be utterly average.

The crux of the article is that you know a clutch hitter when you see him. Deep insight was never a strong suit of "Baseball Digest."

The cover story is a puff piece on Grady Sizemore, "The Tribe's Rising Star." Did you know he's entering the conversation as the best all-around player in the game? That Grady is a special player, and a special person? That everybody loves Grady? And don't forget that he's always striving to be better, or his undeniable charisma...

Another interesting article is "Under Pressure," about the unique skills they say are required of a closer. That being such arbitrary, non-measurable things as "Lots of Attitude." All I can say is that any article about closers that even mentions Bob Wickman and Joe Borowski (Which this does, prominently) is more of a curiosity, than even remotely informative. My only other thought was, "Where's Todd Jones?" Oh yeah, he's a writer for that other print dinosaur, "The Sporting News."

Even more fascinating is the reader mail, otherwise known as "The Fans Speak Out." What is most noticeable is that the fans who write in seem to have never heard of the internet, let alone Google, Baseball-reference.com, Retrosheet.org, MLB.com, or the countless other baseball resources available on the web.

Why would I think the letters were so strange? Due to people writing in, and asking to see such things as s specific box score from decades ago, the 2007 HOF veterans committee voting results, the stats of Warren Spahn and Bud Harrelson, and most bizarrely, someone asking what season Jack Sanford of the Phillies won his MVP award?

Wow. Just wow.

The big "Baseball Digest" opinion piece tells readers who are the best all-around centerfielders in baseball, or as it should actually be titled, the most well known centerfielders.

1. Andruw Jones - Belongs if you ignore 2007, but he's showing lots of wear on the treads.
2. Torii Hunter - No argument here, having a great contract walk year.
3. Carlos Beltran - I'll give it to them, but having a down 2007.
4. Grady Sizemore - No argument, will only get better. Plus, he's the cover boy!
5. Jim Edmonds - Here on reputation only, on the verge of being washed up.
6. Johnny Damon - Another listed due to reputation only, definitely on the down side, and having one of his worst seasons.

Not even a mention of Ichiro, Curtis Granderson, Vernon Wells, or Nick Swisher, to name just a few.

In fact, they don't really use any specific reasoning, or breaking down of stats. But the number of Gold Gloves won (We all know how questionable that award can be) and numerous un-measurables as "Great range," "Strong arm," "He's a great player," and "Can go get 'em" seem to be quite important...

It amazes me to look back at my childhood, and think I took what I read in this rag as bible. Now, it's more of a curio. A rose colored glasses look at Major League Baseball. A trip back to the bygone days when we didn't know (Or care) that a player was blatantly cheating on his wife, and "Scrappiness" was more important than slugging percentage.

"Baseball Digest" is a reminder of what once was, and will never be again. I'm not sure if that's a good thing, or not...

4 comments:

  1. It may be written for eleven year olds, but at least you have Maxim for those times when you're feeling like reading a magazine for grown-ups!

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  2. Baseball Digest was by far the best of the Digest Family!

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  3. Al:

    THANK YOU for this post! I was just thinking of the BD and was actually wondering whether to sign up again. I'm thrilled that they haven't changed much. It's nice to know that there's still that gem of a publication out there in this mad, mad world of SABR geeks and the John Lowes of the world. (Lowe never met an obscure stat that he didn't like -- or print!).

    Remember a feature all the Digests ran called, "The Game I'll Never Forget"? I remember the basketball version running one from Bob Lanier. It was always subtitled, "By so-and-so, as told to so-and-so."

    Ahh, what memories!

    I also loved Fans Speak Out, and the rosters listed toward the back -- though they were probably outdated as soon as the thing went to print!

    In fact, I had a pen pal back in 1976 or 1977 -- and I had "met" him thru Fans Speak Out. Somehow we hooked up (not sure how without actual street addresses), and he was a Yankees fan. We wrote letters (remember THOSE?) all summer. It was a blast.

    Man, you got me going! I want to read BD right now!!

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