Murray Chass misses the books:

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 . . .

. . . 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.

It would be easy to make fun of Chass as an out-of-touch old coot — and I may do that when he holds forth on another subject — but it wouldn’t be fair to do that here.

No, there is nothing in any book that outclasses, Retrosheet, and any number of other online resources, and I will always, always, always, go to those resources first because I’m an online guy in an online age. But that doesn’t mean that the books Chass refers to — or any other book, really — don’t have their value. This is not some nostalgic point on my part. I don’t fetishize the look, feel, smell, and culture of books like so many people seem to (see, every critical article about the Kindle). I simply believe that my brain works differently when I’m browsing books than when I’m using online resources, and because of that, book browsing almost always complements what I’m doing online.

My primary experience with this is in the legal world. The online legal research services LEXIS and Westlaw are great, I use them all the time, and I’m not sure what I’d do if they weren’t around. That said, rare is the case when I don’t spend at least a little time in a legal book. Why? Because while LEXIS can grab a case quickly and efficiently when I need something that says “x, y, z” is the law, any case of any complexity is going to present issues and be amenable to arguments that fall outside of that which is said in an on-point case. The books, by virtue of their organization, allow you to browse related subjects more easily and that in turn helps you make connections and analogies you might not otherwise have thought of. If I had to give up one or the other I’d give up the books in a heartbeat, but I always feel like I’m missing a little something if I don’t make it to the library, even if only for a few brief minutes. For what it’s worth, LEXIS and Westlaw have tacitly acknowledged this inasmuch as they are continually refining their products in order to better replicate the book-browsing experience. They’ve gotten pretty good at it too, but it’s still not the same.

I suppose this is less relevant when it comes to baseball research tools. I mean really, it’s not often that you’re truly flailing with baseball like you can with the law. But there is a certain value in flipping through pages that will never truly go away, and in light of that, I have a bit of sympathy for Chass in this instance.

(link via BTF)

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  1. Ben said...

    It’s is an old axiom in research that the book you need is always on the shelf next to the one you went looking for. Computer search is an amazing tool, but our minds do the most spectacular stuff when we’re browsing.

  2. GBS said...

    I understand Chase’s feelings, but his ending bothered me:

    “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.”

    Does he truly believe that the info contained in the Red and Green Books hasn’t been available somewhere online for the last several years?

  3. Leo said...

    Chass’ bitterness, and old-fogey-ness has been evident ever since he was kicked out of the Times and forced to start his own “blog” which he subsequently proceeded to announce was not a blog because he hates bloggers because they all sit in their mom’s basement. 

    He’s been doing this long enough that he is respected by the older baseball insiders, but he’s a shell of himself these days.

  4. Josh said...

    I’m just a lowly 1L, but I can report from the field that we’re very strongly encouraged to rely almost exclusively on online LEXIS and WestLaw.

  5. Brandon Isleib said...

    I disagree vehemently, Craig with your entire post.  Why?

    Because I hate LEXIS, and that irrationally will cloud my judgment of your whole point.  Reader response!  I get to be right by fiat!

    Actually, the comparison would only be fully relevant if b-ref cost about $4/minute once you got out of school.  I’m very thankful it’s not like that.

  6. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Brandon—I’ve had flat-fee LEXIS just about everywhere I’ve worked since I got out of law school.  I have no idea if it’s a good move for the firms, but it’s nice on my end, because I don’t have to watch my minutes too closely.  Have you ever seen the pricing for LEXIS searches?  Egad, it’s outrageous.

  7. christopher said...

    In a somewhat similar vein, I can’t read research papers online.  I get them online, but I need the printout.  I have a really hard time digesting and synthesizing information when i just read a pdf on my computer.  But the kids today… they seem to have no problem with this.  Different way of learning and visualizing, i guess.

  8. Aaron Moreno said...

    Until they went to flat fees, I’m sure a law clerk’s greatest value was in his student account with Westlaw and Lexis.

  9. Gerry said...

    I got the Red & Green books every year for about a dozen years, but then I stopped seeing them in the stores. I thought they stopped publishing them years ago, but from this article it sounds like they just stopped making them available to the public and only sent them out to the media.

    There may not have been anything in them that you can’t get online today – provided you’re handy with databases. But if you don’t know how to download Retrosheet and make queries, there’s probably still some information that’s easier to get out of the Red & Green books than it is to find online.

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