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About Jon
Thank You For Not ...

1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity
2) personally attacking other commenters
3) baiting other commenters
4) arguing for the sake of arguing
5) discussing politics
6) using hyperbole when something less will suffice
7) using sarcasm in a way that can be misinterpreted negatively
8) making the same point over and over again
9) typing "no-hitter" or "perfect game" to describe either in progress
10) being annoyed by the existence of this list
11) commenting under the obvious influence
12) claiming your opinion isn't allowed when it's just being disagreed with

... For the Memories
2004-01-02 09:31
by Jon Weisman

There was, and maybe still is, a newsstand just off the northwest corner of Ventura Boulevard and (I think) Newcastle Avenue in Tarzana. Back around 1975-85, at least, it was next to a place with a big clock above its doorway, and across the street from what was alternatively a Wherehouse or Big Ben's record store. The Pizza Cookery was across on the diagonal, on the southeast corner.

My family would go get pizza for dinner sometimes (fooling me into getting mushrooms on the pizza by saying they weren't mushrooms, but rather a much better topping called "scallotini"), and then head over to the newsstand, where my brother, sister and I would get comic books or something along those lines. But one time, when I was about eight years old or so, I made my first sports magazine purchase. It was Baseball Digest. Soon after, I began subscribing.

Maybe a year or two later, my Dad got me a subscription to The Sporting News, which was serious stuff back then - a rarity in the universe with weekly reports on all the major league teams, comprhensive weekly statistics and, perhaps most prized, publication of every major league box score. For those of you who were born with computers in your household and ESPN on the tube, try to imagine a world without them. The Sporting News was like your war correspondent from the front lines.

But I also treasured my monthly Baseball Digest in my single-digit years. I was learning the game, and the magazine helped fill my tabula rasa on both baseball history and current events. I remember riding in the luggage compartment of our family's '76 Plymouth Sportsman van (uh, yeah, no ESPN and no seat belt laws either) and asking my Dad if he knew who held the career strikeout record. "Walter Johnson, 3,509" was his reply. I was absolutely astonished someone could have that information memorized. The moment truly energized me as a fan - and student - of the game, and Baseball Digest became one of my textbooks.

I saved every issue, stacking them standing up in a shelf in my bedroom closet. Not as narrowly focused as I am now, I also began subscribing to and saving Football Digest and Basketball Digest as well. I basically was done with comic books - this was it.

In sixth grade, we had what we called "bank accounts" in school. It was a primitive economics lesson - I don't remember exactly how it went, but we earned credits for certain projects - maybe it was even points for high marks - and logged them in a workbook. I was a good student, but there were other good students too, so there was a race for wealth.

But it wasn't all about academics. One week, Mrs. Marsden announced a class auction. You could bring anything of yours from home and sell it, garage-sale style, for these credits. To make this part of a long story short, I sold my entire Digest collections for Monopoly money.

I had seller's remorse almost immediately thereafter, though it was also around that point that I started to outgrow Baseball Digest a little bit. I had my baseball foundation by this point, I had The Sporting News and Sports Illustrated and others, and Digest, as time went by, was telling me fewer and fewer things that I didn't know. The change was gradual but steady.

Today, the magazine is something of a timewarp. Though it has made some half-hearted attempts to modernize, both its overall approach to the game and its look are fairly dated. In the current issue, for example, there is an article by George Vass, who may have been writing for Digest when I first began reading it, on whether Josh Beckett's World Series performance may change conventional wisdom about pitching on three days rest. It's a good story idea, but nowhere in the nine pages of the article is there a sophisiticated look at the problem.

The article's premise is basically this: Pitchers did in the past, and Beckett did it in October, so there's little reason to baby these arms today. Vass selects anecdotes dating back to 1890s pitcher Jack Taylor to justify the premise, but offers no systematic analysis to fairly address the issue. Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Primer writers and readers would have heart attacks. There is an argument to be made for not piching everyone on three days rest, but this article doesn't come close to making it.

Nevertheless, nearly 30 years later, I still subscribe to Baseball Digest.

There are two reasons for this. One, the subscriptions department of the publisher of Baseball Digest, Century Publishing Company, has had its crafty moments in the past, fooling me into thinking my subscription was running out - only to leave me looking at the expiration date on the mailing label of the next issue and realizing I've got a longer commitment to Baseball Digest than the Dodgers had with Kevin Brown.

Of course, as we've seen, those kinds of commitments can be ended. But the main reason I can't let go of Baseball Digest is the letters section, "The Fans Speak Out." It is consistently the best letters section of any magazine I've ever read. Baseball Digest devotes roughly 10 pages to letters in each issue. There are some dumb or pointless questions, to be sure, but there are also priceless gems.

Here's one from the current issue, for example:

Regarding home runs hit over the center field wall to the right of the flag pole in Fenway Park (November Baseball Digest):

I saw Johnny Lindell of the Yankees hit a ball over the center field wall to the right of the flag in the early or mid-1940s.

Bill Skowron, as you mentioned, also hit one there on April 4, 1957.

I once met Bill at an old-timers game, and told him I saw the longest home run he ever hit. He started guessing: "Boston? Cleveland?"

I shook my head. "No," I said. "It was in 1950 at Iowa City."

Skowron's eyes got huge as saucers.

"You saw that one?" he said.

Skowron then was playing for Purdue University against the Iowa Hawkeyes. He hit the ball into the March wind, and it may still be going around up there.

--John Holway, Springfield, Va.

You can get great memories, I suppose, on Baseball Primer Clutch Hits, but I don't know the pristine quality of the stories gets any better than this. I love this letter, and I love that it came in response to a discussion of "home runs hit over the center field wall to the right of the flag pole in Fenway Park."

In addition, just about every month, you can count on someone writing Baseball Digest with the story of the first baseball game he or she ever attended and asking the editors to print the box score. The letter-writer's story will have wonderful detail about the experience and about the game. The editors will then, without criticism of any kind, correct some of this detail based on the factual record. It's part of the charm of the whole experience - how much these games mean to us, and simultaneously, how we can alter the finer points of such meaningful events over time.

Without these letters, my subscription to Baseball Digest would long ago have gone the way of, well, my subscription to The Sporting News. But the letters keep me reading.

However, on page 4 of the current issue, there is this message:

Dear Readers:

Due to adverse economic conditions in the magazine industry, Baseball Digest regretfully announces that it will reduce its 12-month-a-year frequency of publication which has remained the same since 1969.

The reduction begins with the elimination of only the March 2004 issue. The magazine will then continue on a montly basis until 2005 when ten issues, instead of the usual 12, will be published ...

This made me sad, and I wonder if it marks not a road bump but the beginning of the end of Baseball Digest. Clearly, some people still like it (click and scroll down to "All Customer Reviews"), but not everyone is as quirky as I am to buy a magazine based principally on the letters of its readers.

Perhaps Baseball Digest has self-petard-hoisted. After all, would there be quite as many alternative outlets for baseball coverage were it not for the interest Baseball Digest has kindled in its 61 years of publication?

Dodger Thoughts wouldn't exist without Baseball Digest, I believe I can say with some authority.

Baseball Digest is like Bob Hope in the golden years. The whole package is from some other time, and the material isn't always what it used to be. But it's a treasure, and I hope it hangs on as long as it can.

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