One of baseball's fascinations is that it is simultaneously a game of inexpressible beauty—try, for example, to put down in words the action, grace and style of a perfect double play—and cold, hard, meticulous statistics. No sport carries as much statistical baggage as baseball does and, as is by now well known, no sport offers its followers so many bizarre "alltime records."
The relationship between a true baseball fan and statistics is at least as much an obsession as a romance, so the cheers of gratitude could be heard from coast to coast when Macmillan published The Baseball Encyclopedia in the fall of 1969. Containing no less than 2,337 pages, it brought together in one hefty volume the records of every player who had ever swung a bat or thrown a pitch in the major leagues—or at least every player whom a computer could track down.
But The Baseball Encyclopedia only covered the game through the 1968 season and, needless to say, scads of new statistics have been created since then. So now Macmillan has come out with a revised and updated edition that includes the 1973 season and sells for the entirely reasonable price of $17.95. The only trouble with the new encyclopedia is that it is considerably less encyclopedic than the original.
That is because, in the interests of economy, the full records of borderline players have been eliminated. People who had less than 25 at bats or pitched less than 25 innings and had no won-lost record have been reduced to a single, very fine line of print, unless they are still active. There are something on the order of 5,000 such unfortunates, so Macmillan has been able to get in all the 1969-73 records and trim the book to 1,532 pages at the same time.
All of which is fine, but readers who do not own the original should not think that the new edition is the real McCoy—it isn't. So far as I am concerned, it would have made more sense to handle the updating by issuing supplemental volumes every five years or so—they would be smaller, cheaper and would embellish, rather than tarnish, the splendid thoroughness of the original.
They probably could be sold for around $5.95, which is what Grosset & Dunlap is charging for The Spurts Encyclopedia: Baseball. It is a handsome, 478-page paperback that gives each player only one line of exceedingly compact career statistics but offers a wealth of other figures: season-by-season rundowns, divisional championship and World Series data, even a comparison of the performance of black, white and Latin players. For the price, it may well be a better buy than the revised encyclopedia—but nothing tops the original.