Fire Gardy

Mismanaging games since 2002

Murray Chass Wants His Good Old Days Back

Murray Chass, the anti-blogging blogger, has dropped a new “column” (as he calls it), or “post” (as his fellow bloggers call it), or “pile” (as I prefer to call it). And it’s brilliant. I’m going to go ahead and fisk this thing. Bold is what Chass says.

If this is too much inside baseball, I apologize, but I am too devastated and outraged to write anything else at the moment. Major League Baseball, which can’t kill steroids, has killed the Red Book and the Green Book.

You haven’t explained what exactly the red and green books are, but I’m going to go ahead and assume they’re paper publications about Christmas, or shopping, or something. And that “ceasing to actively publish a book” is probably just about exactly as difficult as “ending the steroids issue/problem once and for all.” No reason to guess otherwise, really.

Baseball officials would say the books died of atrophy. No one was using them any more. But I used them, often on a daily basis. They sit on a shelf an arm’s length away from my desk. I can get them that quickly when I need information from them.

I’m sure they “would” use the word “atrophy,” but I’m also sure they “didn’t.” I’m going to go ahead and assume that the books are not muscle-bound, but rather leather-bound. [Insert punchline-drum-riff here.]

Also, “an arm’s length away” is not a measure of time, which is implied by the use of the word “quickly.” Murray, my friend, you’re trying to hard. Or not hard enough.

Right now the Red Book is on my desk open to page 161, American League Managers, 1901-2008. It is there because I was looking up information about a manager I had planned to write about before I got the news release from Major League Baseball announcing the demise of those trusty books.

So you’re telling me MLB has been producing a book every year that includes statistics like “every manager of every team, every year?” Doesn’t that seem like kind of a big waste?

But it is clear to me what MLB is trying to do here. Destroy history! If they don’t publish the books, Murray Chass will have no way to know who managed the Cleveland Spiders in 1899! Oh … wait … that wasn’t included in the books? Ever? I hope nobody ever wanted to find out.

What are the Red Book and Green Book? They are league reference guides for club executives and the news media, Red for the American League, Green for the National. They have more information than we need to know, but they have what we need when we need it.

Sounds like some other slightly-more-modern reference medium, which may or may not be less wasteful than producing the same information on paper hundreds of times every year. Like the internet. Which also has “more information than we need to know, but [has] what we need when we need it.” So you’re telling me I shouldn’t be that worried about this?

Each book has five pages on every team, each team’s won-lost record and place in the standings for every year of its existence, each team’s managers for every year of its existence, all sorts of hitting and pitching statistical lists, year-by-year list of 20-game winners, club leaders each year in hitting and pitching categories, teams’ top marks since their beginning, individual league champions, award winners, comprehensive statistics from the previous season, the previous year’s player transactions, relevant rules and that season’s schedule.

I only wish there was another place to find this information in a free, accessible, always-available format! Otherwise I might not be able to research statistics for my columns any more! 

The release announcing this development is shrewdly written. It doesn’t say the books won’t exist any more – that would be negative – but it says the books will be available exclusively online for the first time, as if that’s a good thing.

So the books aren’t really going away. All the information is still available, except you either have to read it on a computer screen or print it out yourself, rather than expecting someone else to print it for you and then mail it to you. Yeah … wouldn’t want to sound negative.

“The 2009 editions of the Red and Green Books,” the release says, “will mark the first time that these annual publications will be available online only.”

Okay, they’ll only be available online. I think that’s pretty clear.

Then it drops the bombshell:

A bombshell? What could it possibly be?! Expect to be surprised, readers, by the cruel audacity of Major League Baseball.

“While printed copies of the Red and Green Books will no longer be distributed by Major League Baseball, the publications will be available in an easily downloadable format on MLBPressBox.com.”

Um, they’ll only be available online. In what sense is “repeating the previous sentence using different and longer words” considered “a bombshell?”

With that wording, MLB is trying to make this a positive development, something good for me and my colleagues, but there’s a clue at the bottom of the release that indicates otherwise.

Okay, so it’s marketing. Do you expect them to send you a news release smeared in shit and tears? But it can’t possibly hurt you to have the exact same information available to you in an ever-so-slightly different format. Right? Or is it panic time?

Usually at the bottom of MLB news releases, it lists two names to contact if more information is sought or there are questions: Rich Levin and Pat Courtney. They are baseball’s top two public relations executives.

No, not panic time. It’s in-depth research time!

At the bottom of this release, however, there are no names, only telephone numbers, one for each book and one for Major League Baseball public relations. I called the numbers for the two books.

You mean instead of giving two telephone numbers, they’ve given three? Travesty! They’re withholding information!

“They’re no longer doing a publication; they’re available online,” said Andrew Davis, an aide to Katy Feeney, senior vice president for club relations and scheduling, who answered the Green Book number.

Okay, it seems pretty open and shut. Same info, different place, much cheaper to produce. No harm no foul, right?

Why are they no longer doing a publication? “I couldn’t tell you the exact reason.”

I thought we’ve been over this. Same benefits, much cheaper to produce. Why didn’t this happen 10 years ago?

Was that a permanent decision? “I don’t know. For 2009 it will be available at Pressbox.com. Beyond this year I don’t know. Nothing has been determined for future seasons.”

They don’t seem to be giving us any more information. I’d say this in-depth research thing is going swimmingly. Murray Chass is clearly an expert at this.

I called the Red Book number and left a message. Greg Domino returned the call.

Thank you for explaining how telephones work, presumably to the best of your knowledge. Otherwise I would not have known how you were able to speak to Mr Domino!

“That was a decision made not by me,” Domino, a public relations intern, said. “That was in the hands of my superiors, Phyllis and Katy, and everyone else.”

Everyone else? So you’re the only person at The Red Book Publishing Company that has exactly zero say in The Publishing Of The Red Book? And why are there separate numbers for MLB, Red Book, and Green Book? Are the AL and the NL so secretive that they have to hide in different companies while they produce a book of secret information that will then be available to anyone? Explain this please.

Why was the decision made? “To be honest I’m not entirely aware of why they decided to do so. I suppose to go green and to cut down in the repetition in other books.”

It was not your decision and you don’t know why it was made? Well, Mr Domino, then what in blazes are you doing answering The Answering Questions About The Decision Hotline? In any event, his guess is a pretty good one: it seems pretty wasteful to print that many pages when the exact same information could much more easily be made available in such a way that it’s free to distribute an infinite number of times. I hope we’re not still confused about this.

Would the printed books return? “I do not know the answer to that. You’d have to ask Phyllis or Katy.”

No, we’re still confused. Mr Chass, why do you even want the books back?

Phyllis Merhige is senior vice president for club relations. “We asked the clubs, and they said we should do it online only,” she said. “Nobody wants them anymore. You’re the only person. I take that back. Marty Appel wanted one.”

Oh, okay, we’re getting somewhere! The league asked the teams — the primary beneficiaries of these publications — what to do, and the response was essentially “We don’t care, we compile all our own information anyway, just leave me alone.” And the league, in conjunction with The Red Book Publishing Company and The Green Book Publishing Company, decided that it’s not really economically feasible to do a complete publishing run for two customers.

Wait, “not really economically feasible” is probably the wrong phrase. Please replace it with “monumentally boneheaded” and we’re getting closer, I think.

Appel is a former Yankees’ public relations director. In a column he wrote on his Web site, appelpr.com, he said, “The Red and Green Books are among the last things that have distinguished the leagues since the abandonment of separate league offices in 1999 and the end of American and National League presidencies.”

Ah. We’re now getting down to the crux of why the books are necessary. The color of the cover of the books is the last thing distinguishing the AL and the NL as different leagues since they merged into the same office building ten years ago. I mean, aside from the designated hitter, right? No, you’re right, this is a much bigger differentiator. The book covers must be brought back! Otherwise I’d be confused as to which league my team is in!

Merhige (left) and Feeney (right) didn’t let the printed books go easily. “It was very distressing to Katy and myself,” Merhige said. “People used to wait for those books on March 1.” But she added, “We asked the p.r. directors do you feel the books get used. They said no. It was an expensive book to produce, expensive to mail. We weren’t getting our money’s worth.”

Well, in economic times like these, nobody should be able to quibble with the “We stopped producing this product because it was expensive and had no customers” gambit. Companies should be more willing to make this gambit during any economic climate. Or just lose money hand over fist to make old fashioned sportswriters feel more comfortable with imagining that nothing’s changed since they were working in the mail room 50 years ago. That could work too, I guess.

Feeney noted that she had Green Books in her office dating to 1936. Asked if the books would ever return, she said, “If enough people say the loss of it is detrimental we’d go back to doing it next year in some form. That’s if enough people say they use it. Apparently people have said they don’t use it.”

73 years worth of books. 73 separate copies, printed on non-recycled paper with expensive black ink, of who managed each time from 1901-1935. And 72 copies of who managed each team from 1901-1936. And so on. Just in case the manager of the 1901 Washington Senators ever changes.

Bob Nightengale of USA Today is one reporter who uses it.  

So you’re saying we’re up to three!

“I loved the Red and Green books,” he wrote in an e-mail. “They were part of baseball’s fabric, and to see them suddenly disappear from print leaves a huge void in baseball. These were the bibles for every baseball executive and writer. You wouldn’t write a story without having them by your side.

And now the fabric of the game is torn. There’s a huge void left in baseball. This is just as bad as the steroids scandal! If not worse!

And because they’ve stopped mailing the books, in actual-book-form, to the writers, we won’t get the usual well-researched fare, heavy with statistical analysis that can only be enabled by the musty smell of a hardcover book. Instead, sportswriters will start crapping out substance-free crap that went completely unresearched and brazenly insulting anyone who attempts to learn anything new about baseball through unproven methods like “stats.” And that’s a change I don’t want to see.

“I know these are new times, the day of the Internet and all of that, but it was a rite of passage every spring to get those books and immediately thumb through them, even going to bed sometimes looking for tidbits. I miss them already!”

Oh, Bob, I miss them too. If only there were some way to read a PDF in bed before going to sleep. Like a Kindle. Or a netbook. Or a laptop. Or a bunch of paper printed out of a printer. Alas, none of these things exist in The Day of the Internet And All Of That.

The decision to eliminate the printed books probably should not be surprising. Two years ago MLB reduced the size of the books from 8 ½ inches by 11 inches to 8 ½ inches by 5 ½ inches. However, the number of pages rose from 112 to 187 (AL) and 208 (NL).

Yeah, they were already trying to cut down on the amount of paper they were wasting. And it wasn’t really working. I for one am glad to see they’re trying new things to cut down on useless costs.

One explanation given for the elimination of the printed books is the repetition of some of the elements of the books.

They do repeat 90%+ of their content every year.

The previous season’s statistics, for example, are in the average book that is published after the season. Rosters of the 30 teams appear in the spring training media guide.

What, that’s not what you meant? They actually produce two other books every year that contain most of the same information? Um, why?

The previous season’s statistics are also available, for example, on the internet. Rosters of the 30 teams appear, get this, on the internet, FOR FREE, EVEN.

But once spring training ends and the season starts, the spring training guide is put away, and the Red and Green Books become the references of choice.

Whose choice? My choice? Oh, no, you meant your choice. And the choice of two other people. Everyone else’s choice, including the executives of the thirty baseball teams, is … [drum roll please] … THE INTERNET.

I don’t blame MLB for abolishing the books. I wish they hadn’t, but if they find that no one uses them, it’s just another unfortunate development of today’s coverage of baseball.

It is unfortunate that a tiny, invisible thing changed in a tiny, invisible way that “negatively” effects three sportswriters, and nobody else, in the entire world.

Younger writers, more attuned to the use of the Internet than their older colleagues, may not have a problem with the disappearance of the books.

Yes, us younger internet writers are more able to use the internet than old people who shun technology in all forms which did not exist when they were, in turn, young people more in tune to radios than their father’s generation. And since the information is available on the internet, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s available in book form or not. So no, I don’t see a lot of problems with the disappearance of the books.

But in past years they didn’t have the Internet as an alternative reference site. They apparently just didn’t feel the need for any information the books provided.

Before these young people were young, they didn’t read books! That means that without the internet, they’d still be too young and stupid to write! They don’t understand baseball! Where’s my cane?!

I don’t see why “the ability to read information on the internet” should preclude someone from “the ability to read a book.” Murray Chass, however, seems to believe they are mutually exclusive skills.

That says more about them than it does about baseball’s decision.

I don’t know about that, Murray, but it says a whole hell of a lot about you.

3 comments

3 Comments so far

  1. thrylos98 February 26th, 2009 5:20 pm

    I think that the saddest thing about this whole story, is that this guy’s editor allowed it to be published…

  2. FunBobby February 26th, 2009 5:23 pm

    I think he is is own editor, I’m assuming this was on his “Murray Chass on Baseball Blog”.

    In other news, I was going to write this post, but I was too busy helping Murray crank start his automobile. Bada-bing

  3. sirsean February 26th, 2009 6:22 pm

    Zing!

    That’s what we call teamwork.

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