There used to be a wonderful store on Melrose Avenue called Sports Books LA. It carried a lot of popular titles and some obscure used ones, but the real prizes in the high-ceilinged space were the rare old baseball guides and magazines, nearly all of them encased in plastic sleeves with prices not for the budget-minded.
I didn’t care. I grew up buying old Baseball Digests and Street & Smith’s Baseball Yearbooks from Johnson’s Used Bookstore in Springfield, MA by the gross, so forking over 70 bucks for a decent-condition 1927 Official Spalding Base Ball Guide seemed like a worthy investment. Its pages have turned a little more brown since its purchase and still give off the irresistible aroma of faded parchment mixed with rotting school desk, but much of the stodgy prose within them remains timeless. Indulge me, then, while I travel back to the spring of 1927 to pen a brief review of Spalding’s “newest” publication.
Just in time for the ’27 campaign, I am giddy to announce that Spalding’s Athletic Library has added another sure winner to its publishing roster. For the modest price of 35 cents, readers can spend their idle time waiting for the morning newspaper’s sporting section with well over 400 pages of detail on the 1926 season, painstakingly assembled statistical tables, and thrilling accounts of the Cardinals’ heroic victory over the Yankees in the World Series. When discussing base ball with friends in your neighborhood or at your place of employment, the guide’s pocket size makes for a handy way to settle any argument regarding the professional ball field.
Editor John B. Foster kicks off the tome with an incisive and informative “Editorial Comment” regarding the ’26 season, praising the Redbirds’ “sticktoitiveness” in vanquishing the Yankees, as well as the exciting National League race from which they emerged victorious. All four western clubs in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Chicago remained afloat throughout, with the Cubs finishing just seven games off the pace. As Foster relates, “one time [the Cubs] were so near to the pennant they could almost hear its folds flapping in the wind.” In the American League, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Washington, and Chicago gave the Yanks a run for the pennant gold, but the Tigers and Browns vastly disappointed, while in Foster’s words, the Red Sox “had a dull and sour season.”
Foster then comments on the resolution of the notorious Ty Cobb/Tris Speaker hubbub, in which letters from former pitcher Hubert Leonard seemed to suggest a Detroit-Cleveland game-fixing by Cobb and Speaker at the end of 1919. Judge Landis dismissed the case and exonerated the two aging stars, who were then free to be approached by teams to play this year! (Word has it that Cobb will roam the outfield for the Athletics while “The Grey Eagle” will do the same for the Senators.)
Foster also laments the current mania for slugging and the total vanquishing of the “old army game” of the late 1800s, in which hitters reached base and were bunted around the bases. “There is no science in a home run,” writes Foster. “It is the luckiest hit of all because it is the result of nothing more than a free swing to try to meet the ball in the center.”
Finally, Foster implores base ball to “spruce up” its look, in particular its filthy uniforms. I tend to agree with Foster that the practice of taking one playing garment per man on long road trips and never having it cleaned during the four weeks the team may be away is disgusting. “There is nothing to excel the picture of a ball game on Opening Day when the uniforms are new and the players are bright spots in a cheerful landscape,” opines Foster.
The Guide’s fourteen-and-a-half-page compendium of “The Year in Base Ball” that follows is unparalleled, detailing every major player transaction and event on the field, and once again the play-by-play accounts of every game in the World’s Series is a crank’s delight.
Foster, turning in a workmanlike editor performance, then returns for his lengthy, engaging summaries on every club’s 1926, along with team photos, pitcher records against each opponent, and results of each and every home game. After another dozen or so dizzying pages of full statistics for every man—in all dozen batting and pitching categories, and even including fielding—the Spalding Guide follows that up with official standings and averages from all 26 National Association circuits, from the New England League to the International, to the East Texas League, Piedmont League, and even the Utah-Idaho League. Did you know that Hagerstown, Maryland won the Blue Ridge League crown for the second straight season? I surely didn’t!
Group photos and game results for 95 colleges are a wonderful bonus, as are, of course, the full 1927 schedules for the major leagues and major-minor ones. I daresay I am already making travel plans to League Park for the pennant-winning Yankees’ first visit to face the vengeful Indians on May 18th. For those needing answers to base ball’s “knotty problems,” 98 pages of Official Rules bring up the rear.
The only real drawback to this otherwise magnificent guide are the endless advertisements for Spalding products, which occupy the first four pages in front and sixteen pages in back before the Baseball Rules section. I understand in a free America it is the right of the publisher to sell his wares wherever he can, but the endless listings of two-dollar mahogany-grain horsehide mitts, “Amateur Special” base ball pants, and extra straps and spikes for bases are somewhat of an eyesore, and wear out the thumbs as you skip past these junior billboards.
Regardless, my annoying quibbles should not be enough to dissuade any true fan of the game. Pick up a copy of the 1927 Spalding Base Ball Guide today at your friendly bookseller, newsstand, or cigar store!
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Jeff Polman writes about baseball and culture for The Huffington Post and other websites, and has his own lifelong obsession, Strat-O-Matic. You should follow him on Twitter.