Media Guides

This article was written by Douglas B. Lyons

This article was published in the 2007 Baseball Research Journal


For the past two years I have pored over approximately 2,000 media guides, from the  1960s through 2007, to find material for this article. In addition to learning about players’ off-season jobs, marital status, children, fathers, brothers, hobbies, and other oddities, I found out a great deal about media guides themselves. Let others devour reams of statistics to find out which batter had the highest on-base percentage in night games against lefties on the road in the eighth inning.

What was most intriguing to me was something like the entry for Bob Knepper, who lists 10 hobbies: “grand opera, coin collecting, reading, fishing, hunting, swimming, hiking, photography, golf, and playing musical instruments.” When did he have time to play ball?

The answer to that question lies in the media guides. It seems like 99.9% of the current players list some combination of fishing, hunting, and golf—frequently, all three. Bowling was frequently listed as a favorite hobby in older media guides. There are any number of ways that fishing can be listed as a hobby:

“Enjoys fishing.”

“Is an avid fisherman.”

“Lists fishing as his hobby.”

“Likes to fish in his leisure time.”

“Considered an expert fisherman.”

With the exception of the Cincinnati Reds, who used a 41⁄4″ x 7″ format in the mid 1980s, the 81⁄2″ x 41⁄8″ format was standard for many years, even after the guides went from three staples down the middle to a glued spine as they expanded so the guide could easily fit in a man’s jacket or pants pocket, or in a standard #10 envelope.

For years media guides did not include any price on the cover, as they were intended to be given by the team to sportswriters (“media”). Hence the name. But their popularity grew, and starting in the 1970s teams realized that the public had an insatiable thirst for information—historical, statistical, and personal—about ballplayers. [Imagine!] So teams started selling the media guides to the general public as well as distributing them to the press.

There has been no universal acceptance of the title “Media Guide.” The 2001 Tampa Bay Devil Rays guide, for example, is called “Information Guide” and is one of the best. It is 6″ x 9″ and not written in the clipped three dot style of smaller ones (“…enjoys fishing…married…three children…uncle played for White Sox”).

STUFF YOU JUST WON’T SEE IN TODAY’S MEDIA GUIDES

Readers of media guides will discover all sorts of oddities in addition to a player’s career games, batting streaks, or pitching highlights. The 1979 Boston Red Sox guide and the 1979 Cubs guide list ballplayers’ hair and eye color. Four Red Sox had green eyes. Some of the personal entries suggest all sorts of conversational topics.

Phil Roof met his wife “while hauling hay for neighbour…” “influenced to play baseball through listening to voice of Harry Caray broadcast St. Louis Cardinals games.” — 1977 Blue Jays

Toby [Harrah] got off to an exhilarating start in spring training last year when cute wife Pam presented him with young Toby.” — 1975 Rangers

Kurt Bevacqua: “In fall of 1975, in a nationally televised contest by NBC, won the major league bubble-gum blowing championship with a best mark of 18½ inches!” — 1977 Seattle Mariners

Bob Miller is considered “expert in art of tobacco chewing.” 1978 Blue Jays

Rick Langford “is an only child.” — 1981 A’s

Steve McCatty “…lists Art Fowler as his boyhood idol.” — 1981 A’s

Sam Khalifa’s “father, an Egyptian, works as a chemist and is also a scholar in the Muslim religion; he taught former NFL receiver and now NBC sports commentator Ahmad Rashad (formerly Bobby Moore) the Muslim religion (Rashad is Sam’s father’s first name).” — 1983 Pirates

Tony Pena “…ranks with Frank Thomas as equipment man John Hallahan’s (with the Pirates since 1941) all-time bat-breaking duo. Broke 14 on a seven-game trip last year.” — 1986 Pirates

Marvell Wynne “enjoys the antics of comedian Eddie Murphy.” 1986 Pirates

Nelson Briles “…delighted an ABC Monday Night Baseball  audience  with  his  Paul Lynde routine.” 1977 Texas Rangers

Ron Darling was “a co-chairman of Governor Mario Cuomo’s Youth Drug Prevention Campaign in New York State…Deborah Carthy-Deu, 1985 Miss Universe and Laura Martinez-Herring, 1985 Miss USA also serve on the committee.” — 1986 Mets

Steve Bowling: “In first game attended by  wife Jean, was hit on head by first pitch.” — 1978 Blue Jays

Ray Knight was “married during the off-season between the 1982 and 1983 campaigns to noted woman golfer Nancy Lopez.” — 1984 Astros

Lawrence Gowell is a “Seventh Day Adventist, which prevents him from working from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.” — 1974 Yankees

Greg Mathews: “[E]njoys…board games (chess, backgammon, darts)”. — 1989 Cardinals

Randy Miller: “…both of his parents are psychologists.” — 1978 Expos

John Dopson: “…his father is a dentist.”— 1986 Expos

5′ 9″ Luis Gomez: “One of the shortest players in the A.L.” — 1979 Blue Jays

Jim Rooker: “Jim is a very sharp dresser thanks to his wife Betty, who makes all his clothes.” — 1977 Pirates

Dave Pagan “…was raised on a farm in Snowden, Saskatchewan, a town so small his telephone number was ‘8.’ ” — 1974 Yankees Manager

Roger Craig: “…lives in Warner Springs, California  in  a  log  cabin  he  built  with  his  son.” — 1991 Giants

Gus Hoefling, strength and flexibility teacher with the Phillies in the late 1970s, had a master’s degree in martial arts from the Chinese Martial Arts Association, in Canton, China.”

“An animal lover, [Wilson Alvarez] once considered becoming a veterinarian. He currently has three dogs and two cockatoos.” — 2001 Devil Rays

Pat Kelly “…was acclaimed one of nine best dressers in Kansas City.” — 1975 White Sox

Dale] Murphy was called to serve on a Federal court jury in mid-October last year and befitting his clean-cut image, the case assigned to him involved the ownership rights to the marketing campaign of Cabbage Patch Dolls.” — 1986 Braves

Bruce Dal Canton’s “father was killed four years ago in a coalmining accident outside of California, Pensylvania.” — 1969 Pirates

According to Freddy Berowski, a researcher at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the earliest “media guide” in the Hall’s collection is the Detroit Tigers’ publication of 1925. It is not much more than a roster sheet. But as baseball grew more popular, and as baseball writers (and later broadcasters and electronic reporters) grew hungrier for information, media guides got larger. Many included the team’s history and the history of the team’s stadiums. Owners, team executives, front office staff, and scouts were later included.

Today, most teams also include photographs and brief biographies of non-roster spring training invitees and “behind the scenes” staff, such as team physicians and the non-uniformed staff (ticket manager, stadium manager, organist, public address announcer, etc.).

No media guide is considered complete today without photos and brief biographies of all of the team’s broadcasters—television, cable, radio, and foreign language. Some even mention the television and radio producers and engineers, many of whom have been with the teams for years. Most provide a complete list of all the affiliated stations that carry the team’s games.

Virtually all media guides today also include team records, as well as information (such as mailing address, fax and phone numbers, and managers) on the other teams in the league, plus similar information for interleague opponents in the other league.

There is also usually a section on former team members in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, and on those enshrined in the team’s own hall of fame, e.g., Red Sox, Reds, Mets, Orioles, Cardinals, Angels. The Phillies list players from both the Phillies and the Athletics in the Philadelphia Hall of Fame section; Rube Waddell and Wally Moses are shoulder to shoulder with Granny Hamner and Cy Williams.

But the heart of all media guides is the player profiles. Over the years, in addition to a player’s statistics, more and more pages have been devoted to such personal items as birth date and birthplace; relatives in professional baseball or other sports (for example, “Joe’s brother is a quarterback for the Miami Dolphins; his sister plays for the Liberty in the WNBA. His uncle Murray played 1940-41 in the Yankees organization.”

Marital status: Single or wife’s name and wedding date. (Some give first name as well as birth name. Some of the older guides say “Joe married the former Jane Smythe.”) Children’s names, ages or birth dates, and whether they are twins or occasionally triplets, quadruplets, or even quintuplets. The Yankees dropped marital information for some time after the Fritz Peterson-Mike Kekich wife-swapping scandal of 1973.

Most of the player profiles list the name of the high school the player attended, although some of them try to pump it up a bit by calling every high school a “prep” school. (“Rick prepped at Elk Valley High School.”) If he did not play baseball in high school (e.g., David Cone, Mike Hargrove, Claudell Washington), that is noted. The other sports played are usually noted. They are almost always basketball, football, and track and field. Occasionally volleyball, soccer, hockey, tennis, and wrestling are listed.

Many major leaguers went to junior colleges to maximize playing time, as freshmen do not get to play much on four-year college baseball teams. Some later transfer to four-year colleges or universities. A number of media guides make the distinction, as society page editors do, between attending a college and being graduated from college (or, more modernly, graduating from college). Degrees earned (Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, masters’, and even an occasional Ph.D. and majors are listed.

Some features are found in virtually all modern media guides. Because player profiles vary significantly in length, from rookie to veteran, many of these common features are scattered throughout the guide, wherever space allows. Such common features include “The last time it happened” (e.g., last no-hitter by the team, and against the team), “How to figure” (ERA, batting average), definition of a “save,” members of the team who have hit for the cycle, members of the team who have won such awards as Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, and Most Valuable Player, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, and winners of individual team awards.

A number of the early guides used to list players’ ethnicity, and only if the players chose  to  do  so. For example, the 1973 Orioles guides notes that Andy Etchebarren is of “French-Basque descent” According to the 1985 Phillies media guide, John Wockenfuss’s “ancestry is three-fourths German, one-quarter Indian.” The Orioles 1979 guide tells us that Ray Miller is of “German-Norwegian descent,” while Doug DeCinces is of “French-Italian descent.” John Flinn? He’s of “Danish and Irish descent.” Dave Ford’s ethnicity: “Polish-Slovakian.”

The media guides of the Montreal Expos were in English and French. Recent Expos guides also indicated which bats—brand and finish—the players used, and which pitches each pitcher featured, e.g., fastball, curveball, knuckleball.

Some older guides gave team statistics and records first, but didn’t start the manager, coach, and player profiles until halfway through the guide. See, for example, the 1989 Twins guide, where the manager and the team are not featured until page 54.

While many teams cite the charitable efforts made by players, the Giants include a special section, “A Giant in the community.” Other teams cite dubious “accomplishment” facts that, upon even momentary reflection, are not real accomplishments:

Bill Almon and his wife “participated in the AAA/Pirates  ‘Come-Along’  Caribbean Cruise on the Queen Elizabeth II last  November, sailing from New York to St. Kitts, Barbados, Guadeloupe and St. Thomas.” — 1986 Pirates. Wow! What a guy! 

WHAT TO PUT ON THE COVER?

  1. If the team won the World Series the previous year, that’s an easy question to answer: a picture of the trophy or of a world champion ring, or of the team celebrating.
  2. If the team won the league pennant, or a divisional title, a picture of the team celebrating, the trophy, or a pennant.

What if the team was dreadful? Well, you can always use a picture (photograph or sketch) of the manager or of one or two stars, especially if a player won a major award.

If this year marks a special anniversary for the team, either as a franchise, or, say, the Twins’ 40 years in Minnesota (2000), that would make a nice cover motif, too.

The cover may also include a picture of a retired player who is to be enshrined at Cooperstown. The Royals featured a tuxedo-clad George Brett on the cover of their 1999 media guide.

Among my favorite covers is the 1984 Twins media guide. The cover shows four Twins shirts hanging in lockers, with the uniform numbers 1, 9, 8, 4. The 1991 Giants “Information Guide” cover is almost all black, with an embossed baseball. The Los Angeles Dodgers 1990 media guide cover shows a collection of team pins.  The 1982 Pirates cover  just  shows one of their unique (at least at that time) painter’s hats. Late owner August Busch appeared on the cover of the Cardinals’ 1990 book.

For many years almost every media guide has included a two-page spread, typically in the very center of the book, or sometimes as a cardboard foldout, showing the entire roster, organized by position, bat/throw, birthplace, birth date, last year’s club, and career stats.

Pronunciation tips are also a feature of most media guides, with many names transliterated. A few writers are more creative. The 1982 Cardinals guide, for example, tells us that Tommy Herr “pronounces his last name like the opposite of him.”

Other features include the team’s spring training schedule and stadium, a history of the various spring training sites used by the club, a history of the club’s name and nicknames, perhaps a box containing some of the best nicknames in team history, a box showing month by month players’ birthdays, a chart showing which players are from which states or countries, and how each player was acquired, frequently including the name of the scout who signed him.

Stadium oddities are a frequent filler (such as the airline seats, available at Tropicana Field in Miami, (Devil Rays 2001 guide, p. 27). Other information includes TV/radio broadcast schedule, affiliated stations, ground rules, stadium firsts, All-Stars, Gold Glove winners, Hall of Famers, MVPs, Rookie of the Year winners, Cy Young Award winners, spring training schedule and stadium. All-time alphabetical lists. Retired numbers. Opponents. Birthdays. Non-roster invitees. Nationalities, minor league managers and coaches. Scouts. Medical staff. The team in postseason. Largest and smallest crowds in team history—home and road. Longest and shortest games. Streaks. Longest service with the team. A day-by-day account of the previous season. Big innings.

Many major league teams refuse to show newly acquired players wearing uniforms or hats from their old teams: everybody pictured in the media guide must wear the new team’s hat, and, if possible jersey. But media guides are frequently put together just before Opening Day, and the team does not always have time to formally photograph their new acquisition in his new uniform. What to do? Use an older photo of the player wearing some other team’s hat, and just doctor the photograph by superimposing a stock photo of the new team’s hat.

Yes, media guides are printed in early spring, when rosters may be hastily assembled. Yes, some players listed have not yet played in the majors. Some names are added to the media guides at the last minute, after a promising prospect is told that he has made the team, or somebody is acquired by a last-minute trade. Nevertheless, a special award should be given to Luis Peña. Virtually every entry for a player will list his high school, the sports he played there, any college or junior college he attended, whether he played Little League, Pony League, Dixie League, Babe Ruth League, American Legion ball, etc. Also usually listed are his wife’s name, kids’ names, relatives who were athletes, etc.

But Pena’s “PERSONAL/MISCELLANEOUS” listing in the 2005 Milwaukee Brewers’ media guide is the shortest on record. Just one word: “Single.”

With the advent of the World Wide Web, much of the information contained in printed media guides can now be obtained instantly online from official team websites. Advantage? A player acquired midseason can be added to the team’s roster and statistics can be updated virtually in real time. Disadvantage? It’s just not as much fun. 

DOUGLAS B. LYONS, a public defender in New York City, is the co-author, with his brother Jeffrey, of Out of Left Field, Curveballs and Screwballs, and Short Hops and Foul Tips. He co-wrote Broadcast Rites and Sites: I Saw It on the Radio with the Boston Red Sox with Joe Castiglione, the radio voice of the Boston Red Sox, and co-wrote From an Orphan to a King with Eddie Feigner. On his own he wrote Baseball: A Geek’s Bible (2007) as well as American History: A Geek’s Guide (2007). He has been a SABR member since 1997.

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