Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Batting averages, part 1

I blogged about my baseball-crazy 1980 last year, and I'm revisiting that spring and summer in what I'm thinking is going to be three posts. None of these posts will deal with me playing baseball, but the other things that launched me into baseball fever. With the MLB and boys' machine-pitch seasons beginning, the fever is catching me again.

Being a baseball fan today is being able to read, watch and listen to the game almost at will. Websites, blogs, podcasts, MLB Network and more broadcast games than ever today supplement the primary sources of keeping up with baseball in 1980. Those sources for me were watching Cubs and White Sox games (and the occasional national game on ABC or NBC), reading about baseball in the newspaper and magazines, and baseball cards. Baseball Digest was an incredible source of baseball knowledge to the 20th century 9-year-old (and I love looking at old copies of the magazine -- I was never a subscriber then, but I do have a few years' worth I found cheap on eBay), and I liked other baseball magazines as well whenever I came across them (such as The Sporting News). Every spring, a few preview magazines would hit the racks in the spring. In 1980, I asked my mother to buy me one I saw at the Eagle grocery store on Montrose and Cumberland: Baseball Stats Magazine.

I don't know what drew me to this particular baseball magazine over others (it wasn't Reggie Jackson on the cover -- I wasn't a Yankees fan then or now). Maybe it was just the price: $1.50 might have been just reasonable enough that Mom wouldn't mind buying it for me (she didn't). It could also have been the format of the magazine, which emphasized statistics. Even when I was little, I loved the numbers that emerged from sports. I used to read them on the back of baseball cards and in the sports section, to the point that even today, I could probably give you a good guess about how many home runs Bobby Murcer hit for the Cubs in 1977 (about 24 is my guess). So perhaps the headline on the cover "Statistical Preview of the 1980 Season" drew me to this particular magazine.

I've collected some other baseball preview magazines from this era, and none quite takes the same stats approach to the game like this one did. Advanced number crunching is a basic part of the game now but was relatively new a few decades ago. This magazine was published by Dell -- not exactly a publishing company know for sports journalism (but so proficient at logic puzzles and sudoku). Maybe this was a way to distinguish itself from other baseball previews.

As you can guess, I soaked up every bit of information in this magazine. I went back to the team previews over and over as the spring and summer progressed. I pored over the 1979 statistics that took up several pages at the back of the magazine. I looked at the ads and dreamed about buying the baseball items being sold within (more on this in the next post). Simply, this was my favorite baseball magazine ever. I'm subscribed to Baseball Digest (more because I feel I should support the magazine after enjoying it as a kid), which has a nostalgic feel to it, but it's not quite the same, then and now, as Baseball Stats Magazine. And I almost wouldn't buy a baseball preview magazine (one that's not a fantasy baseball magazine) today because I can read many previews on the Internet.

I loved the magazine, but years later I couldn't remember the name. I scoured eBay and the Web trying to find it, inevitably finding other old baseball previews and Baseball Digests but never finding my ultimate goal. Finally, in 2005, I found one on eBay, in good condition no less. If you look at the scans, they aren't perfect simply because I'm worried about bending the magazine too much.

But the baseball fever of 1980 was just beginning. And my beloved magazine would turn out to be a gateway drug to that fever. (Oh, Bobby Murcer hit 27 homers in 1977; I was close. And the Cubs' projected 75-87 record in the scan was off by 11 games, in wrong direction).

Part 2 is live. Oh, I'm thinking this may go four installments, not three. I can be a concise writer when I want to be. For these posts, I don't want to be.

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