Almost two years in the making, we have completed the Historical Baseball Writer Database and have posted it in these places for your research needs and viewing pleasure:
Google Drive link
Microsoft OneDrive link
The database is the result of painstaking effort poring over copies of Baseball’s Blue Books, an annual publication that launched in 1910 as a handy reference resource of the business side of baseball for people who worked in the game at the major league and minor league levels. The Blue Book still publishes today, although most of the information that used to be listed is available online in varying degrees of free, and it is geared more towards scouting and coaching at the youth and college levels than to the business of professional ball.
From its beginning and through to 2003, the Blue Book would publish all the BBWAA-member baseball writers working at the various publications credentialed by the teams. They served as the source for this database.
Nearly every season between 1910 and 2003 is included in this database. Only 1926 and 1928 (Blue Books have not yet been located), and 1962 (BBWAA writers inexplicable excluded from that season’s book), are not yet included. Also included are the 2010-2012 seasons, and also missing are 2004-2009 and 2013-2017 (we have media directories for those past five seasons). If you can help us find resources for those missing seasons before 2010, or can help us work with the materials we have on hand to fill in seasons after 2012, please write us and let us know.
If you are doing any historical research about teams, or media, or anything related where finding out who the beat writers and columnists of the time is an important thing to know, this would be a good place to start.
Thank you to the intrepid SABR members who helped us with putting this database together: Nick Waddell, Michael Sowell, Abby Rosario, Ruth Sadler, Jeff Findlay, Paul Goodson, Kenn Tomasch and Steve Dunn. Special extra thanks to Joel Dinda, who allowed me to borrow his several dozen blue books so we could make them available to our volunteers.
Back in the olden days, it was very common for a city’s BBWAA chapter to have a banquet—or perhaps, more accurately, a bacchanalia—at which they present various awards and recognition of the mighty deeds of bat, ball and pen that took place during the regular season.
Some chapters had highly theatrical affairs. Leonard Koppett provided a detailed description of the New York chapters’ affairs in his terrific book, The Rise and Fall of the Press Box. But research from Media Committee member Lou Boyd contends that the banquets held by the Cleveland writers’ chapter were at least the equal of that of New York’s.
The Cleveland Baseball Writers Association of America’sAnnual ‘Ribs and Roasts’ Shows
‘The Forgotten Cleveland Indian MVP’s’
by Lou Boyd
“Our Dinners Are Terrible”, screamed the headline in a February 1, 1949 article in the Boston Herald, written by Bill Cunningham[i]. This pronouncement was related to the midwinter baseball awards dinner season that was held annually in major baseball cities across the United States to celebrate and skewer their baseball heroes, managers, owners and anyone else who dared to have an impact on the previous year’s baseball season.
Invariably, these presentations were the responsibility of the local baseball writers from the various big league cities. The events ranged from a host of speakers and awards being presented to the winners of select categories up to massive productions of theatrical skits. These so-called skits could take the form of gentle taps on the wrist of their target all the way up to outright embarrassment for the subject.
The article went on to indicate that different cities were producing considerably different shows. New York, as expected, was considered the ‘most stylish of the lot’, yet, there was another city that seemed to be taking the crown away from the Big Apple. It was Cleveland.
The article goes on to say, “To put on a show such as the Clevelanders staged, you need some newspaper men who can really be funny. You need some, or somebody, who can write clever parodies and, if you’re going to lampoon the leading baseball characters of your immediate locality, you need scribes who bear, or who can manufacture, reasonable resemblances to the gentlemen being given the business. That type of affair takes a real talent and a lot of hard work. Maybe it’s worth it. The customers generally think so. Sometimes the organizers have their doubts. Such shenanigans, however, have to be good. Nothing can fall flatter than a string of these firecrackers that fall to explode. All of us have seen some that were utterly awful. It’s hard to foresee what’s going to be done about Cleveland. The place is taking all the honors that exist. It has the world championship in baseball. Its professional football team is the pace-setter and crowd collector of its particular division. Now its literary section is challenging for top honors in the field of Hammerstein, Booth and Barrymore.”
While the 1948 Cleveland baseball season was monumental, the baseball writers exploits during this off-season celebration in early 1949 was not their first. The Cleveland Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) had been conducting these dinners for the local American League representative Indians beginning in 1938, and each year they selected a ‘Most Valuable Player’ of the Cleveland Indians.
1938 – 1944 Ribs & Roasts Shows
On November 9, 1937, the Cleveland chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America met at the sports offices of the Cleveland Plain Dealer to hold their annual elections for officers.[ii] It is very probable that the genesis of the Cleveland version of a sportswriter’s dinner awards show began at that meeting. The following day, it was announced that Stuart Bell, Sports Editor of the Cleveland Press was elected chairman of the chapter. Eugene Whitney was re-elected secretary and Herm Goldstein was chosen as treasurer.
According to ‘The Sporting News’ on December 30, 1937, “The Cleveland chapter of the Baseball Writers Association will hold its annual dinner on January 4 with Steve O’Neill as the guest of honor. In addition to this affair, the chapter has decided to have monthly dinner meetings and to investigate the possibility of a major party along the lines already popular in several other cities.”[iii]
The Cleveland Chapter did decide to hold a major party and award the honor of “Most Valuable Player” for the 1937 season. The award was presented on February 23, 1938 to Johnny Allen at the first annual banquet referred to as the ‘Ribs and Roasts of 1938’. The awards and banquets continued uninterrupted through the 1943 season. It is assumed that due to the war, no shows or awards were given for the 1944 and 1945 seasons.
Throughout the early years, the formal event to honor these individuals was more often than not known as the annual “Ribs and Roasts” show, with the intent behind the name to present an enjoyable evening of poking fun at the members of the Cleveland sporting community, including the writers, players and management of not only the Cleveland Indians, but also on occasion, the Browns, Barons and any other organization rooted in local Cleveland sports.
Beginning in 1946, the Cleveland writers renamed the award as the “Man of the Year” and presented the honor to Bill Veeck, owner of the Cleveland Indians. The name of the award was changed in order to include “non-players such as owners and other more sedentary personnel”.[iv] In addition to Bill Veeck, the only other non-players awarded the honor were Mel Harder for the 1961 season when he was the pitching coach and Dave Garcia in 1979 when he was manager of the team. The award was officially changed to the “Bob Feller Man of the Year” award beginning in 2010.
For some reason, the MVPs recognized by the sportswriters beginning with the 1937 season through 1943 were forgotten by the local record books and publications. An article by long time Cleveland writer Howard Preston was published in 1969 that said “Late last month the Cleveland chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America presented another ‘Ribs and Roasts Show’ which it dubbed the 23rd annual affair, designed to put the spotlight on the previous year’s sports activities in Cleveland. Somebody can’t count. I have in my possession the program from the first annual Ribs and Roasts show and the date is 31 years ago last night, Feb. 23, 1938.”[v]
Even the Cleveland Indians publicity department somehow forgot about these player awards. Beginning with the 1968 Cleveland Indians Pressbook, the organization started to expand the historical information included in the booklet given to sportswriters covering major league baseball. Included was a list of members of the organization chosen as the Cleveland ‘Man of the Year’ award beginning in 1946. It can be surmised that Marshall Samuel, long time Indians publicist joined the Tribe with Bill Veeck in 1946 from Chicago and was not aware of the previous awards and shows since there had been a lapse of two years.
The Forgotten MVP’s
In addition to Johnny Allen, the 1937 MVP, another six Indians have been lost to the record books for their accomplishments in the annals of Cleveland Indian history. Here is a list of those Tribesmen who should be recognized for their achievements recognized by the Cleveland BBWAA.[vi]
Indians Season Date of Ribs & Roast Show “MVP”
1937 February 23, 1938 Johnny Allen
1938 February 8, 1939 Mel Harder
1939 February 6, 1940 Bob Feller
1940 January 14, 1941 Lou Boudreau
1941 January 20, 1942 Jeff Heath
1942 January 26, 1943 Ken Keltner
1943 May 23, 1944 Al Smith
Hopefully, this information will someday be recognized by the historians for the outstanding contributions these men made on the field for the Cleveland Indians.
[i] Cunningham, Bill. “Our Dinners Are Terrible,” The Boston Herald, February 1, 1949.
[ii] Unknown, “Writers Elect Bell”, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 10, 1937.
[iii] Unknown, “In the Press Box”, The Sporting News, December 30, 1937.
[iv] Preston, Howard, “Who’s Where, 31 Years Later”, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 24, 1969.
[vi] Unknown, “Honor Bearden at Banquet Here”, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 19, 1948.
Further confirmation of MVP awardees and Ribs & Roasts shows for the years 1938 – 1944 were compiled primarily from articles written in The Cleveland Plain Dealer and other various Cleveland newspapers during the timeframe of the awards shows.
Because we currently reside in the early 21st Century and thus the landscape of baseball media has been weighted towards broadcast for most of the past several decades, we don’t feature as much about baseball’s “ink-stained wretches”—the print journalists—as much as we would like to. So when an opportunity presents itself, we feel compelled to seize on it.
Here’s a sterling example of such an opportunity, Committee member John Thorn, who has a must-read historical blog called Our Game at the MLBlogs Network, recently published a post entitled “Baseball Reporting“. As he tells it in his prologue leading into the piece:
When Total Baseball made its debut in 1989, the critical response was universally and lavishly favorable. One dissenting voice was that of Jack Lang, recently retired from the press box after 42 years of covering the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees, and the Mets. He continued, however, in the role he cherished, that of paterfamilias of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. He served as secretary-treasurer from 1966-88, and then in 1989 he was named executive secretary, a job created for him. How, he asked me somewhat belligerently, could you compile a baseball book of that size with no mention of the role of the press? I countered by saying that even though the book ran to 2294 pages, some worthy topics had to be left for future editions, and I invited him to tackle this one himself.
Below, from the second edition of Total Baseball, is Jack’s contribution. Because of the internet, and bloggers, and the declining appeal of newsprint (if not news itself), this is already something of a period piece. Somebody ought to update it–maybe you.
Now, I don’t know whether John meant me, specifically or necessarily, but I would bet several Baseball and the Media committee members would be well-qualified to do so, many of them probably right off the tops of their head.
I would urge anyone interested in the history of baseball journalism to click on over and devour this piece, post haste. Here is the link, once again: