Talk on the Street & Smith’s
Another baseball tradition from my youth has gone by the wayside; there is no 2012 edition of Sporting News Baseball, which was the modern version of Street and Smith’s Official Baseball Yearbook.
After combing the newsstands and shuffling through all the baseball publications without finding an edition of Sporting News Baseball, I called the offices of Sporting News and was told that they had ceased publishing all of their yearbook magazines. Sporting News now incorporates the information usually contained in their sports yearbooks into their monthly publication available only to subscribers.
The old Street and Smith’s Official Baseball Yearbook was around for 67 years beginning in 1941. In 2007 American City Business Journals, Inc., Street & Smith’s parent company, purchased Sporting News. At that time their website said the yearbooks would have the Sporting News name “because Sporting News is an integrated sports media company whose operations also include the ‘first newsweekly in sports’….” I guess the fact that Street and Smith’s had been producing annual sports yearbooks longer than anyone else counted for nothing.
I discovered Street & Smith’s Official Baseball Yearbook in 1972 at Dickson-Sadler Drug Store in Clarksville, Tenn. Vida Blue of the Oakland Athletics was on the cover. After flipping through the magazine at the rack, I marched to the counter and laid down the whopping price of 75 cents. I bought one every year through 2007 and purchased the Sporting News version from then on. I still have my 1972 Street & Smith’s, but the cover featuring Vida Blue disintegrated long ago. I bought an additional copy on eBay that is in near mint condition, but it has Roberto Clemente on the cover.
Street & Smith’s offered predictions on the standings for the upcoming season. In 1972 Street & Smith’s picked the Atlanta Braves to finish in fourth place in the National League West. They proposed a cockamamie theory that, with Rico Carty and Orlando Cepeda coming back from injuries and Ralph Garr coming off a .343 season, the Braves probably would play Henry Aaron at third base. To that point in his career, Aaron had played a grand total of seven games at third base and he was 38 years old, so a position shift to third base seemed more than a bit farfetched. As it turned out, Aaron stayed at first base, Carty played in only 86 games, and the Braves eventually traded Cepeda. Despite missing the mark on the proposed lineup, Street & Smith’s was right about something; the Braves finished fourth.
I did not buy a Street & Smith’s every year solely for the predictions. It was always the best single source of information on all the major league teams. It also had statistics from the previous season, recaps of the playoffs and World Series, and, one of my favorite features, “Player’s Targets.” This section detailed which current players were approaching career milestones, such as 500 home runs, 3,000 hits, and 300 wins.
Looking back at my 1972 edition of Street & Smith’s, the “Players Targets” section showed Willie Mays with 639 home runs, 68 behind Babe Ruth and seven home runs ahead of Aaron. Harmon Killebrew, with 515 homers, was only 21 behind Mickey Mantle; Frank Robinson was not far behind with 503 home runs. In 1972 there were only 14 players with 400 or more career home runs, 11 of whom had over 500, three had over 600, and the Babe was the only player over 700. Going into this season, there are 47 players with over 400 career home runs, including 25 with over 500, eight with over 600, and three with over 700. Chipper Jones is 46 home runs away from 500 and Albert Pujols is 55 away, so it is unlikely that anyone will reach that plateau this season. Manny Ramirez may be back and he is 45 homers away from 600, so it is highly unlikely that anyone will reach that mark this season, either.
Roberto Clemente had 2,882 hits, leaving him just 118 shy of 3,000; he got those 118 hits and then died in a plane crash after the season, finishing his career with exactly 3,000. Going into the 1972 season, there were 10 players with over 3,000 hits, one of which had over 4,000. Going into this season, there are 28 players with over 3,000 hits, two of which have over 4,000. Ivan Rodriguez is within striking distance of 3,000, needing 156 more; Omar Vizquel needs 159. Rodriguez is 39 and Vizquel is 44 and neither play regularly, so it is unlikely that either of them will make it this season. Alex Rodriguez is just 225 away, but he has never had more than 213 hits in a season, so it is unlikely he will get there this season, either.
As far as pitching targets, Jim Bunning retired after the 1971 season with 224 wins. Juan Marichal with 221 wins was the active career leader going into the 1972 season, so no one was close to 300. Bunning finished up with 2,855 strikeouts, good enough for second all-time behind the 3,508 by Walter Johnson. The active leader in strikeouts going into the 1972 season was Bob Gibson with 2,578, so no one was close to 3,000 strikeouts, either.
I suppose the demise of Street & Smith’s Official Baseball Yearbook is merely just another sign of the times. I mean, who really needs a printed magazine to find out that Brian McCann hit .270 last year or that Dan Uggla, despite having a hitting streak of 33 games last season, finished the year at .233 with 156 strikeouts? Such statistical information is available online at the click of a mouse. It is also fairly easy to check on which players are approaching which milestones. And I must admit that I had become increasingly frustrated over the past few seasons by not being able to locate information on players who did not settle on a team until after publication of the yearbook. But I will miss having my Street & Smith’s stashed in the magazine holder beside my recliner and being able to reach down, grab it, and look up some player or statistic at a moment’s notice.
I hate that Street & Smith’s is gone. But adding insult to injury is the plethora of magazines devoted to fantasy baseball. On a recent trip to Barnes & Noble, I found no less than six publications offering player rankings, player analyses, and player projections for the purpose of making better decisions when drafting fantasy baseball teams. USA Today offers a fantasy guide and a yearbook, but even their yearbook features a fantasy forecast complete with a ranking of the top 200 fantasy players in baseball.
I could not find a single baseball publication that offered everything the old Street & Smith’s did. Maybe I can use that as justification – or rationalization – for buying an iPad. After all, when you’re watching the game on television, there are some things you just must look up on a moment’s notice. Without a current issue of Street & Smith’s Official Baseball Yearbook, the iPad may be my only hope.