The Good Book

A few weeks ago, the editors of the Los Angeles Times Book Review asked me to write a short piece on the Baseball Encyclopedia, mythology, and the fragility of the historical record. It’s in today’s paper. You Could Look It Up. It was a special pleasure to interview David Neft, the Encyclopedia’s original editor, whose thoughts about records and typographic qualifications echo my own:

“I don’t believe in asterisks. Period. The record is the record. The record is the achievement. You may not like the person who holds the record. You may think he cheated. It doesn’t matter. He’s got the record.”

7 comments… add one
  • yeah, i agree with you and neft yf…i was always sad about the asterisk applied to the maris record…it was a damn shame and i believe he died thinking baseball didn’t appreciate the accomplishment [we real fans did]…a change to the game gave him an extra handful of games needed to break the record, but so what?…other changes have led to the designated hitter, divisional play, wild card, but no asterisks…he didn’t cheat, or at least no allegations have ever been made…he shouldn’t have been penalized for the extra games…still annoys me…

    dc March 29, 2008, 11:26 pm
  • The book’s editor at Macmillan, Bob Markel, proposed running an ad that pictured it next to the King James Bible, with a caption reading “VOLUME II.” “The powers that be shot that one down,” says Markel.
    It’s a shame that was shot down, that would have been a great–and appropriate, for some of us–advertisement.

    Atheose March 30, 2008, 11:37 am
  • pictured it next to the King James Bible
    Hopefully the Baseball Encyclopedia will be a bit more accurate than the King James Bible, which in a 1631 version said, “Thou Shalt Commit Adultery.”

    pastorsteve March 30, 2008, 8:31 pm
  • Correcting an above post, there never was an asterisk attached to Maris’ record. Anywhere.
    Also, I can safely say that the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia will not asterisk any record now or in the future.
    Greg Spira
    Managing Editor
    ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia

    spira March 31, 2008, 12:12 am
  • Great read, YF.
    Total Baseball IV was a similar revelation for me. I didn’t know before seeing it on a bookstore shelf that so much baseball data could be found in one book. Along with satisfying for more than two full summers my insatiable need for baseball knowledge, it introduced me for the first time to the idea that statistics could be created that actually bridge the different eras of baseball.
    I begged my mom to buy the book for me ($60!), and gladly accepted that it would be my birthday present a month or two early. I’ve never regretted that trade.

    Paul SF March 31, 2008, 12:22 am
  • thanks for the clarification greg…i guess i should have put the word “asterisk” in quotations…while it may never appeared in any record books that way, that’s how it was treated by many people, including the baseball establishment, who were annoyed that it was maris, and not a more revered player, like mantle, who was breaking one of the game’s more prestigious records…ford frick was supposed to have made a statement to the effect that unless the record was broken within the first 154 games the new record would be “shown” as having been broken in a 162 game schedule, while the old record broken in 154 games would also be “shown”…i guess the implication there is that frick thought there should be 2 distinct records, a virtual “asterisk”…ironically, i don’t think mlb had an official record book at the time, and frick later said there was no plan to qualify the record…fun fact: the 61st homer was hit off of a red sox pitcher ;)

    dc March 31, 2008, 9:04 am
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