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100 Issues Of 'Who's Who In Baseball'

DON GONYEA, HOST:

Every year at this time it pops up on the shelves at the newsstand. It's in the baseball section, and amid all of the glossy publications listing this year's hot prospects and Rotisserie league tips and predictions for the World Series sits a little red book - 5 inches by 8 inches, soft cover, no frills. It has survived since early last century by doing one very basic thing - providing complete statistics for every player currently active in the major leagues. It's called "Who's Who In Baseball." And its 100th issue is now on the stands. I got mine this past weekend, as I do every year around spring training, and my next guest is such a fan of the publication he's collected all 100 issues. Marty Appel, welcome.

MARTY APPEL: Thank you, great to be with you as with baseball season approaches.

GONYEA: Yeah. So you have written the forward to this year's edition. You've also written a forward to a book just out called "100 Years Of Who's Who In Baseball" that compiles all 100 covers. For those who don't know why we are so crazy about this little book, explain. What's the appeal?

APPEL: The appeal is it's got it all. It's got every player. It's got his minor league year-by-year; his major league year-by-year. It's portable; you can carry it around with you. You can keep it on the coffee table during the season. It just makes you feel like spring.

GONYEA: The first issue actually came out in 1912, and on the cover is not a photo, but a drawing of Ty Cobb. He was the dominant player of that era.

APPEL: He was indeed, and he was the symbol of what we call the Deadball Era.

GONYEA: OK. What is that again? Explain it.

APPEL: That was the time when the construction of the baseball was such that given all your power and might you still couldn't whack it over the fence very easily. It didn't travel that far. So a different construction of the baseball came along in the 1920s and the homerun became more fashionable. And it took a long time for the editors at "Who's Who In Baseball" to embrace the lively ball because even all through the Babe Ruth years, they didn't have a home run column in there. They didn't introduce that until 1940.

GONYEA: So what's with that? Babe Ruth had been retired five years already before they started putting the home run in here.

APPEL: We can only imagine the discussion that must have taken place. Like, baseball was meant to be played without home runs. Let's not put a home run column in there and maybe they'll go back to the dead ball.

(LAUGHTER)

APPEL: But there's no one around we can ask.

GONYEA: There's a period in the 90s and early 2000s when you look at the covers and player after player - there's Barry Bond, there's Mark McGwire, there's Roger Clemens, there's Alex Rodriguez - players whose legacy has been tainted by performance-enhancing drugs. So it's impossible to look back at those covers and not think that, but it wasn't really reflected in the presentation of the numbers, was it?

APPEL: Well, it certainly was in their achievements with all the home runs that were flying out. But at the time we were just sitting there in amazement at how great these athletes were without really focusing on what was going on. And the fans were as guilty as the sports writers and the players union and Major League Baseball itself.

GONYEA: So this statistics. There's no real analysis. There's no real editorial content, unless there's a forward, as you have written in the current edition. It's just stats. Now, of course, it's all over the place, these kind of statistics.

APPEL: It is. And the go-to place online is a terrific site called Baseball-Reference.com, but there you have to go separately to their minor league statistics as opposed to seeing it all-in-one. So "Who's Who In Baseball" remains beautiful for having it all together.

GONYEA: And we should say here that "Who's Who In Baseball" does have an app you can download.

APPEL: Yes.

GONYEA: It's not the same.

(LAUGHTER)

GONYEA: Marty Appel is an author and baseball historian. We're talking about the publication "Who's Who In Baseball." Thanks, Marty.

APPEL: My pleasure, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.