New Hall of Fame Yearbook latest in long line of baseball annuals

Written by: Bill Francis

A yearbook, by definition, is a book about a particular topic that is published each year. When the topic is big league baseball, the rich history of the team yearbook dates back more than three-quarters of a century.

And when the topic is the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, the yearbook serves as an annual time capsule of each historic class in Cooperstown.

Today, a typical baseball yearbook is profusely illustrated, contains a history of the franchise while interspersed with feature-length stories and biographies of a particular season’s players, coaches and manager. Sold at the ballpark as well as other outlets, they are often collected by fans as a snapshot of a particular team.

Team yearbooks in the Hall of Fame Library’s collection total more than 2,400 (including numerous duplicates), some forms of which date back to the early 20th century.

The more established franchises, such as the New York Yankees and Cincinnati Reds, have more than 150 available, while expansion era teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies fewer than five.

“Yearbooks provide librarians and researchers with a special reference source, used for both contemporary and historical information,” Hall of Fame Librarian Jim Gates. “They are an essential component of our archive.”

First in Print

Becoming a popular item by the 1950s, when nearly every big league team was producing a yearbook, some of the earliest examples were referred to as sketchbooks.

Near the end of a Boston Braves game story in July 1946, Boston Globe reporter Clif Keane added, “Billy Sullivan, Braves’ publicity man, has turned out an excellent sketchbook of the team, replete with pictures and complete histories of the players. It’s the first time that such a thing has been done, at least in this city.”

The 1950s was also a heyday for great yearbook cover art, from Charles Kerins, called “the artist who painted America’s childhood” and who was responsible for Red Sox covers from 1956 to 1960, to Willard Mullin, famous for his “Brooklyn Bum” character and acclaimed as the greatest sports cartoonist of the 20th century, who produced yearbook covers over the years for the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants and New York Mets.

“The Dodger yearbook, from the fertile pen of travelling secretary Harold Parrott, is just off the presses,” wrote columnist Jimmy Murphy in a May 1951 edition of the Brooklyn Eagle. “In its interesting pages you can meet all the Dodgers, face to face, in informal poses. There are unusual anecdotes about all the players, things you couldn’t have known until now, and the photography is out of this world.

“Where else can you get so much for half a dollar? More than 10,000 yearbooks have been sold already, with the season hardly underway. If you want yours sent to your home, mail your name and address, with 50 cents, to Dodger Yearbook, Box 53, Brooklyn, N.Y.”

Robert Cromie, writing in an April 1966 edition of the Chicago Tribune, gave that year’s Chicago White Sox yearbook a glowing review.

“Cubs fans need read no further,” he wrote. “This is about the White Sox yearbook for 1966 … which all south siders, and those whose hearts live on the south side, no matter what their voting address, will greet with all the enthusiasm of a grand-slam homer against the Yankees.

“As indicated, if you’re a Cub fan you can use the thing for a doorstop. But if you live, suffer, and almost die with the White Sox … then you’ll want copies for your home, office, glove compartment, and favorite saloon.”

Cooperstown Collection

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum entered the yearbook field in 1939, the year the Cooperstown institution was officially dedicated and held its first-ever Induction Ceremony. Initially, the final product resembled nothing more than a pamphlet, but over the decades the publication has gained both size and stature as a favorite keepsake for fans of the game.

Its 2015 Hall of Fame yearbook’s cover has photos of its four most recent electees – Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz – while inside there are feature-length articles written about the star quartet.

The most recent edition of the annual not only includes such regular features as photos, bios and statistics of all Hall of Fame members, the Ford C. Frick Award and J.G. Taylor Spink Award honorees, and rules for election, it also has stories on Houston’s Astrodome on the 50th anniversary of its opening, a question-and-answer session with longtime flamethrower Nolan Ryan, a look back at the short-lived Federal League 100 years after it left the baseball landscape, and a self-penned piece by Joe Morgan on his 25 years with a bronze plaque in Cooperstown.

In its earlier form, what today is called a Hall of Fame yearbook was nine inches by six inches with a plain orange cover that read, “National Base Ball Museum and Hall of Fame.” Inside the 24-page booklet was the life story of Abner Doubleday and the history of Doubleday Field, the origins of baseball and the National Base Ball Museum, the method of election to the Hall of Fame, and photos of the plaques up to the point of publication.

From 1949 to 1969, a format change took place with a size increase (10 inches by eight inches) and a now red but still all-text cover. Packed inside with images of the baseball institution and the game’s history, the contents included a story on the Hall of Fame as well as Hall of Famer statistics and plaques.

Another change came with the 68-page 1970 edition, with larger dimensions (11 inches by 8.5 inches) and a series of photos on a mainly white cover. The content increased, too, with a history of the Hall of Fame, a look at some of the Museum’s exhibits, photos of U.S. Presidents at baseball games, images of Hall of Famer plaques along with bios, rules for election by both the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and the Veterans Committee, and Hall of Fame Game results.

In 1981, the Hall of Fame first published what would be considered the earliest example of one of its modern yearbooks. It was also the first time the word “Yearbook” would be used on the cover. These covers, created by such renowned artists as Dick Perez and LeRoy Neiman, featured images of each year’s inductee class. By the late 1990s, photography has been used almost exclusively on the yearbook covers.

1981 National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum Yearbook. (Milo Stewart, Jr. / National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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