By the Numbers: Baseball guide from 1911 links past to present

Greg Jayne: By the Numbers

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

Published:

 
photoThe 1911 “Bull” Durham Base Ball Guide is owned by Andy and Shirley Berry of Vancouver. They are looking to sell the guide, which one sold recently on eBay for $129.51.

Baseball’s charms go beyond the fact that the sport has so much history. No, the key is that the history is so well preserved.

The timeless statistics, the well-chronicled past, and the fact that the game remains largely unchanged make it possible to form a mental image of how a Ty Cobb or a Christy Mathewson played the sport. You can’t do that with, say, Jim Thorpe in football, because the game he played would be nearly unrecognizable to modern eyes.

That is what makes a little piece of history that belongs to Vancouver’s Andy and Shirley Berry so interesting.

The Berrys possess a 1911 copy of The “Bull” Durham Base Ball Guide. It was inherited years ago from Shirley’s uncle, and now the Berrys (who have been married 58 years, even though Shirley says, “My father said it won’t last six weeks”) are looking to sell it.

It’s not as though the artifact is Hall of Fame-worthy. Last month, a copy of the same guide sold on eBay for $129.51, which is a bit more than the original 5-cent purchase price but would not be enough to buy the Berrys a vacation to Tahiti.

Still, thumbing through a 127-page baseball book that was printed during the Taft Administration can be intriguing.

• There are box scores and recaps of all the 1910 World Series games (the Philadelphia Athletics beat the Chicago Cubs, naturally).

• There are statistical leaders from the 1910 season, a year in which the highest batting averages in the American League were recorded by a young Joe Jackson (who played 20 games), Ty Cobb, Nap Lajoie, and Tris Speaker. Those are four names that resonate with baseball fans a century later, even if the batting race between Cobb and Lajoie remains in dispute.

• There are 20 pages of baseball rules, and a list of record holders.

• There is a section celebrating players who managed to hit a batted ball off one of the Bull Durham signs that were “located in the majority of the baseball parks throughout the country.” The book, after all, was a promotional tool for the prominent tobacco company of the day.

• And there are recaps of the minor-league seasons, with league leaders and standings and pictures of the league champions. That includes the Portland Beavers, who won the Pacific Coast League with a 114-87 record, finishing ahead of Oakland and its 122-98 mark. Yes, the Oakland Oaks played 220 games.

The “Bull” Durham guide was one of several annual statistics books printed back in the day. And it’s striking to think about how important such guides were, bringing the sport to the masses. The major leagues at the time could be found in nine cities, none of them west of St. Louis.

There was no Internet, no SportsCenter, no daily recap of highlights. Newspapers, even in the largest cities, would carry only the barest of box scores, and season statistics were difficult to come by. The computation of those statistics was so erratic that corrections to them have been made in recent years.

It’s all part of continuing link to its past — a link that keeps the game vibrant today.

Question or comment for By the Numbers? You can reach Greg Jayne, Sports editor of The Columbian, at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jayne@columbian.com. To read his blog, go to columbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne