On the Bookshelf

A week ago, I wrote a column called "Guilty Pleasures" about some of the baseball-related items I’ve collected.

I said I’d leave until another time a discussion of the books I have on the bookshelf. With nothing else going on, I might as well do that column now.

A lot of them are reference books. Every spring, I order from Baseball America their annual references — the Prospect Handbook, the Directory, the Almanac, and the Super Register.

BA recently updated a classic work called The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, which was last updated in 1997. It lists from 1883 forward every league for every year, the teams, their parent club affiliations (if any), win-loss records, manager, statistical leaders, and playoff results. It also has a "This Date in Minor League History" section at the end of each year; for example, on August 14, 1921, "First baseman Bunny Brief of Kansas City, American Association, was stopped by Minneapolis pitcher Grover Lowdermilk after having hit safely in 31 consecutive games." But you already knew that …

I also have the Angels Media Guides for every year except 1962. It shows up on eBay once in a while but the final bids approach $100 and I’m not that desperate.

For some time, I’ve been wanting to build a searchable online database of Angels historical minor league statistics. The BA almanacs have that data going back to the mid-1980s, but earlier than that I’m relying on The Sporting News Official Baseball Guide published every year. Those are also available on eBay, but I still have a couple holes left to fill.

The further we go back, the more fragmentary the available data, especially for the lower minors. I just renewed my membership with the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and will try to rely more on those good folk to track down detailed records.

To complement the BA annual prospect books, I also order John Sickels’ annual Baseball Prospect Book. John started years ago in the sabermetric community, and still relies on statistics for his analysis, but he’s evolved to also include context, e.g. a player’s tools, injuries, the opinions of professionals, and whatnot. For those who want an independent and knowledgeable opinion, John is a good choice. Unlike amateur fan sites and the stathead publications, John actually makes an effort to go out and see the players with his own eyes, although since he’s based in Kansas most of the players he sees are in Midwest leagues. I trust his reviews of our players with Arkansas and Cedar Rapids.

It’s out of date (published in 1993) and not entirely accurate, but a handy reference is Professional Baseball Franchises by Peter Filichia. Want to know if your hometown ever had a professional baseball team? You can look it up in this book. Before Gene Autry brought the Angels to town, Anaheim had a team in the California League (not the same as the current Cal League) in 1929, although the franchise moved to Pomona in the middle of the season. A new California League formed in 1941, and Anaheim had a charter team called the Aces, but the league disbanded with the outbreak of World War II. After the war, Anaheim had a team 1947-1948 in the newly formed Sunset League called the Valencias, but in mid-1948 the team moved to San Bernardino.

Yes, I have Moneyball, the quasi-fictional book about Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s written by Michael Lewis. Although some treat it like a newly issued Third Testament to the Bible, if you go back and research the first year after its publication a number of articles quoted Beane and others as saying parts of the book were made up. Oakland tanked this year and Beane has spent much of the off-season trading experienced talent to replenish his farm system, which should be Exhibit A that Moneyball failed as a mad science experiment. But some people continue to blindly believe in it.

A more honest work about scouting is Dollar Sign on the Muscle, by Kevin Kerrane. Last updated in 1999, it could use an update.

Another excellent read is The Numbers Game: Baseball’s Lifelong Fascination with Statistics, by Alan Schwarz. Lo and behold, baseball fans have been analyzing the game’s statistics for well over 100 years, struggling since its origins to come up with useful measurements. The sabermetrics movement may claim it’s cutting edge, but in reality it’s no more than the latest generation.

Of course, a mandatory work for any Angels fan’s bookshelf is Ross Newhan’s The Anaheim Angels: A Complete History. Published in 2000, it too could use an update.

I enjoy books about baseball history, and have many of them, including a couple books on ballparks that long ago disappeared. Nobody gets weepy about football stadia or basketball arenas, but baseball parks are treated like cathedrals. Why we feel a sense of holiness entering a ballpark, I’ve no idea. But Susan Sarandon was right when she said in the opening scene of Bull Durham, "I believe in the Church of Baseball."

One of the best historical books I’ve read is Breaking Into Baseball: Women and the National Pastime by Jean Ardell. You can order the book through her website, www.jeanardell.com. Jean’s husband Dan played in the Angels’ minor leagues in the early 1960s, and had a token appearance with the parent club in 1961. Jean and Dan are very active in SABR and the annual NINE baseball conference held each spring in Tucson.

I have a couple technical books on baseball mechanics, including Ted Williams’ classic work The Science of Hitting. And how many of you actually have the Official Baseball Rules on your shelf? I do.

Next time, I’ll talk about the baseball videos I have — not just movies like Bull Durham but documentaries and some other obscure stuff you might want to add to your collection.

In closing … I mentioned upstream the database project. With the 2007 photos finally posted on-line, I have the time available to start working on it. Maybe within a week or two I’ll have some sample pages for you to view.

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