While browsing on the web a few weeks ago, I came across a news story about Google publishing archive copies of a magazine called Baseball Digest. This prompted me to take a closer look at some of the baseball-related material that you can find for free on the Google Books digital resource.
I cannot claim to have heard of Baseball Digest before, but it appears to be a well-known publication in the States. The Wikipedia entry states that it was first published in 1942 and that a new edition comes out eight times per year. Even with just this small amount of background information, it’s obvious that having access to past copies of this magazine is a great thing for all baseball fans and particularly to Brits keen to learn more about the history of the sport.
The oldest edition currently published is from July 1945 and the most recent is from October 2007. The July 1945 edition has a photo of “Yankee Ace” Hank Borowy on the cover and contains some fascinating articles. As with all such older pieces of work, the actual content itself is only part of the charm. What is most interesting to me is the way in which these articles show you how the sport was written about back in 1945 and what life was like for baseball fans at the time.
This is best showed in the article by H.G. Salsinger entitled “Trick Schedule Tunes out Radio”. The gist of the article is the apparent reduction in coverage of baseball games (Salsinger states: “The broadcasting of major league baseball games may be a thing of the past next year. It has simmered down to the proverbial whisper this year”), something the author puts down to the introduction of night baseball and other non-standard start times making it difficult for radio broadcasters to commit to covering games.
It’s easy for us to forget, in these days of MLB.tv and the upcoming MLB Network, how much larger and more distant the baseball world was to fans back in 1945, never mind the fact that radio was the predominant way in which baseball fans could follow the games of their local team. More to the point, it seems strange to read that the broadcasters were being inconvenienced by the start times of games. Today, it is the broadcasters who call the tune and it is the desires of the fan watching on TV that takes precedence over the fan actually going to the game.
Just having a quick flick through a few copies of Baseball Digest shows that they are a real treasure trove of information, whether you are doing some research or are reading out of curiosity. Sports Illustrated have their own archive on their website which is similarly revealing and of course we now have a modest British equivalent, Baseball Mercury, available on the GBBSA website.
Heading back to Google Books, you will find a number of books on there about baseball that you can read in full. The most interesting I have stumbled across so far is William B. Mead’s book “Baseball Goes to War”. This is highlighted on Gary Bedingfield’s excellent website about baseball in wartime and tells the tale of what baseball was like while stars such as Ted Williams were fighting a war rather than fighting off pitches.
Typing names of players into the Google Books search box can also present you with some great articles from unlikely sources. For example, the March 1928 edition of Popular Mechanics includes a piece about ‘Babe Ruth’s Home Run secrets’. From the Babe’s claim that he thought he could hit 100 homers in a season, to the great photographs of him undergoing ‘scientific tests’, it’s a lot of fun to read.
So, if you’ve got a bit of time to kill as the Christmas festivities come to a close, why not spend an hour or so seeing what Google Books has to offer to a baseball fan?