How to Do Baseball Research: Baseball Reference Books

Basic baseball reference books

A great deal of baseball research material has moved onto the Web, and more is coming all the time. But, so far, most of that material has been statistical and tabular.

The slowest material to migrate has been narrative — history, biography, analysis — and books remain a good source of information. In addition, some material which should have moved to the Web — Negro League statistics, for example — has been slow to migrate.

The obvious place to start a list of books is with books of lists. Bibliographies remain critical in starting research. The best bibliographic source at the moment is on the web. The Baseball Index is a SABR project that catalogs only baseball-related material. It will tell you that resources exist, but not where to find them, something WorldCat is very good at.

There are still several printed, specialized bibliographies which might be of use.

Smith, Myron J., Jr. The Baseball Bibliography, Second Edition (in four volumes). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2006, 1718 pp. The first edition (1986) was 915 pp. with supplements in 1993, 422 pp. and 1998, 310 pp. All from McFarland. Much, but not all, of Smith’s citations appear in The Baseball Index. Smith is a professional bibliographer who has turned out works in a number of fields. The Smith volumes' strengths are the inclusion of thousands of magazine citations including Baseball Magazine, Sport, Sports Illustrated, Baseball Digest, and Inside Sports, periodic updates, and its organization. It contains subject and author indexes which make it easier to navigate than Grobani. It also contains many academic dissertations. Its weaknesses are incompleteness (Phelps found some 800 books included in the earlier Grobani volume which were not in Smith) and a tendency to errors. The errors ran from the merely irritating (wrong page numbers for a magazine citation) to ludicrous — a book on the Texas Rangers which is about the law-enforcement organization and has persisted through the supplements and the second edition.

Three other bibliographic works may be of some use:

Walker, Donald E., and R. Lee Cooper. Baseball and American Culture: A Thematic Biblioraphy of over 4,500 Works. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1995, 257 pp. Contains 4,627 references to books and articles. Many overlap Smith, but they are organized thematically ("Ethnic Diversity in Baseball," "Values Treasured by Americans," etc.) into twenty-five sections. The section themes focus on academic concerns.

McCue, Andy. Baseball by the Books: A History and Complete Bibliography of Baseball Fiction. Dubuque, IA: William C. Brown, 1991. 164 pp. The definitive bibliography of baseball fiction. Updated regularly by the author. Schraufnagel, Noel’s The Baseball Novel: A History and Annotated Bibliography of Adult Fiction (McFarland, 2008) does not contain any juvenile fiction.


This class of work has been most heavily affected by the web, with virtually all of the statistical material available in these volumes moving there. One, however, retains some relevance.

Thorn, John, Pete Palmer, et al., eds. Total Baseball, Seventh Edition: The Official Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball. New York: Total Sports, 2003, 2,502 pp. Earlier editions were published by Warner Books (1st and 2nd), HarperPerennial (3rd), and Viking (4th and 5th) before Total Sports did the 6th edition. Although its statistical material has been surpassed by what is on the Web, Total Baseball remains useful because it was much closer to what we think of as an "encyclopedia." It is not linlited to tabular data. Total Baseball contains essays on various areas of baseball historyand interest. The topics range from baseball and the law to ballplayers who never existed to baseball movies to a history of top awards, such as the Most Valuable Player trophy. The authors are generally drawn from the top drawer of SABR researchers. The list of topics has changed from volume to volume, although such basic topics as the Negro Leagues and college baseball were updated in each edition.

Guides and Registers

Guidebooks have been produced since 1860. Over the years, they have contained various things, from constitutions and rules to instructional material. The underlying theme, however, has always been a review of the previous season with a fairly thorough statistical compilation. For the 19th century, they are a primary source. The titles are not exact for every year. The word "official" often seems to come and go, but the titles below are those by which the books are generally known. Registers are books containing basic biographical and statistical information on (mostly) contemporary players.

Here is one highly useful reference tool for the guides:

Spalding, John. John Spalding’s Guide to Baseball Guides, Record Books & Registers, 1869-1995. San Jose, CA: John Spalding, 1996, 64 pp. This indexes longer articles and statistical features in 270 guides and registers.

Guide series

SABR's Emerald Guide to Baseball. 2007-present. Society for American Baseball Research. The only annual guide currently being published. Contains many features not found in earlier guides, especially fuller minor league information. Visit the Research Resources page to download PDFs of any past Emerald Guide.

The Sporting News Official Baseball Guide. 1942-2006. St. Louis: The Sporting News. Major features include a review of the previous season, full major league statistics for that season, minor league statistics arranged by league, and schedules and rosters for the current season.

The National League Green Book. 1934-present. New York: National League of Professional Baseball Clubs.

The American League Red Book. 1937-present. New York: American League of Professional Baseball Clubs. Unlike most record books and guides, the Green and Red books look ahead as they are basically publicity vehicles for the leagues. While they do have statistics, they are most valuable for information on umpires and schedules.

The Baseball America Almanac. 1983-present. Durham, NC: Baseball America. Similar to major league guides, but much more emphasis on minor league developments. Statistics are broken down by major league organization rather than by league. From 1983 through 1987, it was known as the Baseball America Statistics Report.

USA Today Baseball Weekly Almanac. 1992-2000. New York: Total Sports. 1992-1996 editions published by Hyperion; 1997-1998 editions by Henry Holt. Same basic material as TSN Guides. Also includes salary information, disabled-list data, and franchise statistical records.

Beadle's Dime Base-Ball Player. 1860-1862, 1864-1881. Henry Chadwick, ed. New York: Beadle & Co. The first guide, Beadle's contains rules, records, elementary statistics, discussions of notable games of the previous season, and lists of delegates to various baseball meetings. It set the template from which all future guides evolved. It died when Chadwick left for the more successful Spalding Guides series.

DeWitt's Base-Ball Guide. 1868-1885. New York: Robert M. DeWitt. Very similar to Beadle's, but also contains a model club constitution and bylaws, instructions on scorekeeping, coaching hints, and umpiring tips. Averages first appeared in DeWitt's 1872 edition.

Spalding's Official Base Ball Guide. 1878-1939. New York: A.G. Spalding & Bros., 1878-1893. NewYork: American Sports Publishing Co., 1894-1939. During its heyday, Spalding's was the king of the guides. From 1908-1924, it only superficially covered the minor leagues. That information was transferred to the publication below. Spalding's Guide was the official publication of the National League. The Library of Congress has created online copies of a number of these guides, which are available at

Spalding's Official Base Ball Record. 1908-1924. New York: American Sports Publishing Co. Includes the minor league records noted above, as well as major league, college, and semipro statistics and recaps.

Reach's Official Base Ball Guide. 1883-1939. Philadelphia: A.J. Reach, 1883-1927. Philadelphia: A.J. Reach, Wright & Ditson, 1928-1934. New York: American Sports Publishing Co., 1935-1939. In content highly similar to Spalding's, although more comprehensive. Reach's Guide started out as the official publication of the American Association (then a major league) and switched to the American League in 1902.

Spalding-Reach Official Baseball Guide. 1940-1941. New York: American Sports Publishing Co. Combined successor to the Spalding and Reach guides.

1943 Baseball; Official Baseball 1945-1946. Chicago: Office of the Baseball Commissioner, 1943. New York: A.S. Barnes & Co., 1945-1946. With the demise of the Spalding-Reach guides, The Sporting News stepped into the market. But it was not official. The Commissioner's office put out a 1943 guide and canonized A.S. Barnes for the 1945 and 1946 editions. The 1945 edition covers both the 1943 and 1944 seasons.

Register series

The Sporting News Official Baseball Register. 1940-2006. St. Louis: The Sporting News. Most of this material has been superseded by web-based resources, but nuggets of information such as nicknames, ethnicity and pronunciation are scattered through the volumes. The Register contains players' career records with year-by-year statistics, including minor league records, for all active major league players and managers. The last edition has “& Fantasy Guide” tacked onto the title, but the content varies little from the classic incarnation. In various years, managers, coaches, umpires, and former stars, especially that year's Hall of Fame inductees, have had their full records included as well. In the early years, only 400 active players were included rather than all major leaguers. Frank Phelps's Index to The Sporting News Baseball Registers, 1940-1995 (SABR Bibliography Committee, 1996) lists all who have appeared in TSN Registers and in what years. For establishing the full records of players who returned to the minors after their major league careers, this resource is invaluable. In addition, Bob McConnell produced SABR Research Guide #3, Baseball Register: Overview & Index to Features & "Former Stars" Type Records in 1986. It indexes the profiles and topical features that ran in many earlier TSN Registers. Click here to download this guide as a PDF file.

Who’s Who in Baseball. New York: Who's Who in Baseball. 1912, 1916-present. Similar to the TSN Register in both content and organization. It is not as complete but has hung on because of lower price, smaller size, and a newsdealer distribution network. Published by Baseball Magazine from its inception through 1957.

Super Register. Durham, NC: Baseball America, 1998-present. Basic format is the same as The Sporting News Register. There are fewer columns of statistical information on each player, but the book does contain all players in both the minors and the majors.

Hoie, Bob, and Carlos Bauer, compilers. The Historical Register. San Diego: Baseball Press Books, 1998, 446 pp. Presents the records of 750 of the top players in baseball history. The unique feature of this book is that it pursues the players' minor league careers after they left the majors, through semipro leagues, independent leagues, and outlaw leagues.

Other reference books

Dickson, Paul, ed. The Dickson Baseball Dictionary. New York: W.W. Norton, 2009, 974 pp. An extremely useful, annotated list of baseball terms, their origins and meanings and references to their first appearance in print. A must. This book is the third edition, with the original from Facts on File in 1989 and the second from Harcourt Brace in 1999.

Light, Jonathan Fraser, ed. The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1997, 888 pp. Entries cover a wide, wide range of topics (no statistics), from players and ballparks to salaries and groundskeepers. Some are humorous, many are revealing. The book draws on an enormous range of resources.

Okkonen, Marc, ed. Baseball Uniforms of the Twentieth Century. New York: Sterling Publishing, 1991 and 1993, 278 pp. The 1993 paperback updates the material and corrects some errors in the original. The definitive work on uniforms, with drawings illustrating how each team's uniforms changed from year to year.

Stang, Mark, and Linda Harkness. Baseball by the Numbers: A Guide to the Uniform Numbers of Major League Teams. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1997, 1,125 pp. The ultimate guide to uniform numbers. Lists them by team, by year, and by number. Inclusive through the 1992 season.

Erickson, Hal. Baseball in the Movies: A Comprehensive Reference, 1915-1991. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1992, 402 pp. Covers baseball feature films (no instructionals, World Series highlight reels or similar historical material). Long plot summaries combined with basic information and some discussion of a film's context in both movies and baseball.

Dinhofer, Shelly Mehlman. The Art of Baseball. New York: Harmony Books, 1990, 159 pp. Coffee-table sized book filled with reproductions of all kinds of baseball art, some with. historic interest and others providing fodder' for those more sociologically inclined.

Smalling, R.J. "Jack." The Baseball Autograph Collector's Handbook, 13th  edition. Self-published, 2005. This book was previously known as the Sports Americana Baseball Address List, published by Edgewater Book Co. Later editions published by Baseball America. It is valuable for contacting old ballplayers, umpires, coaches, and managers for interviews.

Chronologies: Between 1979 and 1984, Leisure Press and Stein and Day published a series of major league team chronologies, such as This Date in New York Yankees History (New York: Stein and Day, 1983) and Day by Day in New York Yankees History (New York: Leisure Press, 1983). Chronologies were published for each of the sixteen classic franchises except the Athletics and the Senators/Twins. The Yankees and Browns/Orioles are the only teams with books in both series. The only expansion teams with their own chronologies are the Mets, Expos, and Brewers, the latter by Everson House of Appleton, Wisconsin, in 1987.

Book reviews

Book reviews of baseball books can be hard to find. Several sources are Nine (see Baseball Print Periodicals), Base Ball and Black Ball (semi-annual journals from McFarland) and the newsletter of SABR's Bibliography Research Committee. The short-lived SABR Review of Books (annually 1986-1990) and its successor The Cooperstown Review: A Forum of Baseball Literary Opinion (1993-1994) are also good sources.

Where to find them

Many of the books cited here, and others you may decide you need for your research, are out of print. Your local library may be able to find them through inter-library loan. Here is a short list of used book dealers who specialize in baseball books. All are SABR members and all deal through the mail:

You might also find it useful to go to an Internet search site for used books, such as, which taps into book dealers around the world and is searchable by author, title, and subject.


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