Over my many years as a baseball, and sports fan, I’ve accumulated an alarmingly large collection of memorabilia and other stuff. My children have other interests, so I’ve began to sell off and give away some items to reduce my hoard to a more manageable level. Going through my pile has given me a chance to re-examine things I haven’t seen in decades. For those of you who grew up in the pre-internet time, you’ll relate. For instance, a couple old issues of Baseball Digest. I wasn’t even aware that Baseball Digest was still being published, but according to their website, the magazine is currently the longest running baseball magazine in the United States. They now publish six issues per year, compared to the monthly edition of my youth. Awesomesauce.
One in my possession is the March 1976 edition with a young George Brett on the cover. In those days, Baseball Digest was THE publication for the serious baseball fan. Sure, there were other choices, the most notable being The Sporting News, but Baseball Digest was the king. The cover of this issue tips it’s cap towards the future with two stories entitled “Hitters with the best on-base averages” and “Fielding statistics do make sense”. This was long before sabermetrics popularized OBP and other useful analyzing tools. Brett was featured prominently in the OBP story. Said manager Whitey Herzog, “When you’ve got a kid like George Brett, you’re fixed for years. He’s a helluva player now, and he’s going to get better.” And he did. Brett won his first of three career batting titles in that 1976 season.
This issue also highlighted who the experts thought would be the top rookies for the 1976 season. The Royals had two entries: Tom Poquette and Bob McClure. Of the 38 rookies featured, most disappeared within a season or two. A handful, like Chet Lemon, Ellis Valentine and Mike Flanagan enjoyed nice careers. The only borderline Hall of Famer would have been Willie Randolph. The list is just more evidence on how difficult it is to accurately judge baseball talent. There were numerous ads selling entire sets of baseball cards, with the lowest price for a complete 1976 Topps set coming from Renata Galasso, a Brooklyn based entrepreneur who would buy individual packs, then assemble complete sets to sell. I bought my 1975 set from her and still have it. You may want to sit down for this next one. There is also a full page ad from The Sport Hobbyist showing a T206 Honus Wagner, showing a recent sale price of….$1,500. In 2022, a Wagner sold for $7.25 million.
Brett landed on the cover of Baseball Digest again in December of 1979 as they crowned him the 1979 player of the year. 1980 was still in the future for Brett and I have to assume he won that years award as well. Prices of cards were going up. Ms. Galasso’s ad featured 1979 Topps Football sets for $9.99 but a 1979 baseball set would now set you back $15.49.
Brett did garner the 1980 Player of the Year according to my December 1980 book edging out Cecil Cooper, Mike Schmidt and teammate Willie Wilson. A complete set of 1980 Football cards from Ms. Galasso were now $10.99 and a 1980 baseball set would cost you $16.74. Inflation was a problem then too.
The next issue that could my eye was the August 10, 1981 Sports Illustrated with George and Mike Schmidt on the cover. I bought this issue from Kit Young cards back in 1999 (according to the receipt). It is autographed by both players, Brett signing on Schmidt’s picture and Schmidt signing on Brett. The receipt says I paid $45 for it, which today seems like a bargain.
With a stable of the best writers on the planet, Sports Illustrated was must read each week, basically Playboy for sports fans. Over the years, SI featured writers such as Roy Blount, Frank Deford, Ron Fimrite, Jack McCallum, Kenny Moore, Jim Murray, Rick Reilly and the great NFL writer Paul Zimmerman among many others. This issue was on the weak side. It had a preview of the second half of the 1981 baseball season and an article on the Atlanta Falcons and Cleveland Browns with the prediction that the two teams could meet in the Super Bowl. It contained a piece on three seven-foot college basketball centers: Patrick Ewing, Stuart Gray and Greg Dreiling from Wichita plus a piece on a harness racer that everyone loves to hate.
The most forward-thinking piece is on the advent of cable and pay TV and how it was going to change sports. I had to do an internet check just to see if SI was still published. It is! It’s now a monthly magazine and I assume has an online presence. I had to check that out too. I stopped using the online version several years ago, borne out of frustration with technical issues encountered on the site. Maybe it’s gotten better. Back in the day though, Sports Illustrated was the magazine that you waited for, standing by the mailbox every Friday, waiting on the postman.
The last issue in my stash is a June 1985 edition of Sport magazine with Brett on the cover. Sport actually started publishing in 1946 (Sports Illustrated didn’t arrive on the scene until 1954). Of all the magazines I’ve kept, this may be the best one. It contains an excellent baseball preview including a piece on a rookie pitcher named Roger Clemens and a piece on the USFL’s Los Angeles Express football franchise. There is also an editorial asking if the United States is ready to embrace the sport of Sumo wrestling. Written by Michael Shapiro, it carries the headline of, “Is America ready for battling fatties?” You could do that in 1985, before everyone got so sensitive.
Most of the advertisements are from tobacco and alcohol companies, another no-no in todays day and age. Sadly, Sport magazine went extinct in 2000. The others continue to hang on, not so much by physical publication but by internet usage. For a sports fan and occasional writer, the internet has been wonderful, making everyone’s computer and phone a virtual library, but I have to feel that we’ve also lost something in the process. There was nothing quite like walking to Morrow’s drug store each week to see who would be on the cover of the most recent sports magazines and having to carefully choose which issue you were going to spend your lawn mowing money on. Simpler days.