No Book Burning But No Printing Either

By Murray Chass

February 25, 2009

If this is too much inside baseball, I apologize, but I am too devastated and outraged to write anything else at the moment. Major League Baseball, which can’t kill steroids, has killed the Red Book and the Green Book.

Baseball officials would say the books died of atrophy. No one was using them any more. But I used them, often on a daily basis. They sit on a shelf an arm’s length away from my desk. I can get them that quickly when I need information from them.

Right now the Red Book is on my desk open to page 161, American League Managers, 1901-2008. It is there because I was looking up information about a manager I had planned to write about before I got the news release from Major League Baseball announcing the demise of those trusty books.

What are the Red Book and Green Book? They are league reference guides for club executives and the news media, Red for the American League, Green for the National. They have more information than we need to know, but they have what we need when we need it.

Each book has five pages on every team, each team’s won-lost record and place in the standings for every year of its existence, each team’s managers for every year of its existence, all sorts of hitting and pitching statistical lists, year-by-year list of 20-game winners, club leaders each year in hitting and pitching categories, teams’ top marks since their beginning, individual league champions, award winners, comprehensive statistics from the previous season, the previous year’s player transactions, relevant rules and that season’s schedule.

The release announcing this development is shrewdly written. It doesn’t say the books won’t exist any more – that would be negative – but it says the books will be available exclusively online for the first time, as if that’s a good thing.

“The 2009 editions of the Red and Green Books,” the release says, “will mark the first time that these annual publications will be available online only.” Then it drops the bombshell: “While printed copies of the Red and Green Books will no longer be distributed by Major League Baseball, the publications will be available in an easily downloadable format on MLBPressBox.com.”

With that wording, MLB is trying to make this a positive development, something good for me and my colleagues, but there’s a clue at the bottom of the release that indicates otherwise. Usually at the bottom of MLB news releases, it lists two names to contact if more information is sought or there are questions: Rich Levin and Pat Courtney. They are baseball’s top two public relations executives.

At the bottom of this release, however, there are no names, only telephone numbers, one for each book and one for Major League Baseball public relations. I called the numbers for the two books.

“They’re no longer doing a publication; they’re available online,” said Andrew Davis, an aide to Katy Feeney, senior vice president for club relations and scheduling, who answered the Green Book number. Why are they no longer doing a publication? “I couldn’t tell you the exact reason.”

Was that a permanent decision? “I don’t know. For 2009 it will be available at Pressbox.com. Beyond this year I don’t know. Nothing has been determined for future seasons.”

I called the Red Book number and left a message. Greg Domino returned the call.

“That was a decision made not by me,” Domino, a public relations intern, said. “That was in the hands of my superiors, Phyllis and Katy, and everyone else.” Why was the decision made? “To be honest I’m not entirely aware of why they decided to do so. I suppose to go green and to cut down in the repetition in other books.”

Would the printed books return? “I do not know the answer to that. You’d have to ask Phyllis or Katy.”

Phyllis Merhige is senior vice president for club relations. “We asked the clubs, and they said we should do it online only,” she said. “Nobody wants them anymore. You’re the only person. I take that back. Marty Appel wanted one.”

Appel is a former Yankees’ public relations director. In a column he wrote on his Web site, appelpr.com, he said, “The Red and Green Books are among the last things that have distinguished the leagues since the abandonment of separate league offices in 1999 and the end of American and National League presidencies.”

Merhige (left) and Feeney (right) didn’t let the printed books go easily. “It was very distressing to Katy and myself,” Merhige said. “People used to wait for those books on March 1.” But she added, “We asked the p.r. directors do you feel the books get used. They said no. It was an expensive book to produce, expensive to mail. We weren’t getting our money’s worth.”

Feeney noted that she had Green Books in her office dating to 1936. Asked if the books would ever return, she said, “If enough people say the loss of it is detrimental we’d go back to doing it next year in some form. That’s if enough people say they use it. Apparently people have said they don’t use it.”

Bob Nightengale of USA Today is one reporter who uses it.  

“I loved the Red and Green books,” he wrote in an e-mail. “They were part of baseball’s fabric, and to see them suddenly disappear from print leaves a huge void in baseball. These were the bibles for every baseball executive and writer. You wouldn’t write a story without having them by your side.

“I know these are new times, the day of the Internet and all of that, but it was a rite of passage every spring to get those books and immediately thumb through them, even going to bed sometimes looking for tidbits. I miss them already!”

The decision to eliminate the printed books probably should not be surprising. Two years ago MLB reduced the size of the books from 8 ½ inches by 11 inches to 8 ½ inches by 5 ½ inches. However, the number of pages rose from 112 to 187 (AL) and 208 (NL).

One explanation given for the elimination of the printed books is the repetition of some of the elements of the books. The previous season’s statistics, for example, are in the average book that is published after the season. Rosters of the 30 teams appear in the spring training media guide.

But once spring training ends and the season starts, the spring training guide is put away, and the Red and Green Books become the references of choice. I don’t blame MLB for abolishing the books. I wish they hadn’t, but if they find that no one uses them, it’s just another unfortunate development of today’s coverage of baseball.

Younger writers, more attuned to the use of the Internet than their older colleagues, may not have a problem with the disappearance of the books. But in past years they didn’t have the Internet as an alternative reference site. They apparently just didn’t feel the need for any information the books provided.

That says more about them than it does about baseball’s decision.

 

Comments? Please send email to comments@murraychass.com.