The Sporting News

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The Sporting News

Known as the "Bible of Baseball," The Sporting News helped to expand the popularity of baseball among Americans in the first half of the twentieth century, before coverage of the sport was saturated by daily newspapers, radio, and television. A weekly newspaper, The Sporting News provided in-depth coverage of baseball that reflected its close connections to the game's inner circles and thoroughly informed its readers, helping to elevate baseball to its status as the national pastime. For many years, the tagline "The Base Ball Paper of the World" ran on the paper's front-page masthead.

" The Sporting News ' coverage of baseball issues, ranging from the reserve clause and the farm system to night baseball, radio, and the major leagues' color barrier, represents more than an incidental source of information about baseball," G. Edward White wrote in his book Creating the National Pastime: Baseball Transforms Itself 1903-1953. " The Sporting News was consistently traditionalist to the point of being reactionary about most innovations in the game, although it made an effort to give a fair-minded presentation of most issues."

The Sporting News was owned and operated by the Spink family from 1886 to 1977. Its founder was Al Spink, a Canadian emigre who became a St. Louis promoter interested not only in baseball but also horse racing and the theater. When Al Spink suffered a financial setback, he enticed his brother Charlie to leave his homestead in the Dakotas and take over the fledging newspaper. In its early years, the newspaper covered horse racing and the theater, as well as baseball, boxing, hunting, track, and cycling. In the early 1900s, Charlie Spink set the editorial direction that would distinguish the publication for decades to come—the paper would cover only baseball.

With a circulation of a meager 3,000 readers at the turn of the century, Charlie Spink hoped to capture more readers by establishing editorial positions that stood for the good of the game, not necessarily the position of the baseball team owners. Perhaps the paper's most controversial position was to support Ban Johnson in his 1901 quest to establish the American League as a second major league to the National League. "The success of these crusades, combined with the changing nature of baseball, helped to consolidate the paper's editorial position," Stanley Frank wrote in his 1942 Saturday Evening Post article entitled "Bible of Baseball."

Sparse advertising revenue in the early years led Charlie Spink to contract with correspondents rather than hire permanent writers for much of the paper's content. Born out of frugality, the correspondent system became one of the paper's great strengths, giving readers the insight of a local scribe who witnessed the action and conversed with the participants as opposed to the basic details of wire reports. The correspondent system was especially important to the paper's extensive coverage of the minor leagues, a hallmark of its Bible of Baseball reputation. While most readers could get at least an overview of results of major league competition in their local daily newspapers, The Sporting News was the only publication that consolidated coverage of the minor leagues, covering the up-and-coming players as well as the big league stars and players. Another hallmark of The Sporting News was its printing of box scores from both major and minor league games.

When Charlie Spink died in 1914, his son J. G. Taylor Spink took over as publisher of the newspaper. During his 48-year tenure, he cemented the publication's place in baseball journalism. In his Saturday Evening Post article, Frank described Taylor Spink as "the game's unofficial conscience, historian, watchdog and worshipper; and happily, he has made a nice piece of change in these public-spirited roles." Taylor Spink piloted The Sporting News as baseball emerged as the nation's favorite spectator sport in the 1920s and 1930s, campaigning for progressive policies to improve baseball and keep it an honest game following the 1919 Black Sox scandal. Two of his innovations had lasting impacts on the game of baseball. In 1925 he introduced The Sporting News annual major league all-star team, selecting the best players at each position and best left-and right-handed pitchers. This was the precursor to an actual game among all-stars that began in 1933. In the late 1920s, The Sporting News also picked the most valuable players in each major league, filling a void in the abandoned haphazard approaches previously used to select players for this honor. This led to the establishment of today's MVP selection system by vote of the Baseball Writers of America Association.

While Spink was said to have his finger on the pulse of baseball, critics of The Sporting News contended that the paper was overly one-sided to the baseball powers, as the paper initially resisted integration (it virtually ignored the Negro Leagues), night baseball, and radio broadcasts. "Despite its traditional bias," White noted in Creating the National Pastime, " The Sporting News had a sense of when changes were on the verge of taking place in baseball."

In 1942, The Sporting News took over from Spaulding the publication of baseball's annual Official Record Book and Guide. This furthered its baseball influence and spurred the newspaper into even greater publication pursuits, for which it was best known for in the 1990s. Restricted advertising revenues during World War II also forced Taylor Spink to abandon the newspaper's baseball exclusivity, as it expanded into coverage of football, basketball, and hockey.

When Taylor Spink died in 1962, his son C. C. Johnson Spink assumed the helm of The Sporting News. In the 1960s, Johnson Spink further expanded coverage into golf, tennis, and auto racing. With no children to transfer the business to, Johnson Spink sold the newspaper in 1977 for $18 million to the Times-Mirror Company.

The paper remained an influential force in baseball through the 1950s, but it dissipated thereafter. Daily newspapers had significantly improved the quality and volume of baseball-related material following World War II. Television also offered faster transmission of information. While the paper no longer exerts the influence it once had in baseball, the J. G. Taylor Spink Award established in 1962 honors outstanding writers with a place of high acclaim at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

—Charlie Bevis

Further Reading:

Frank, Stanley. "Bible of Baseball." Saturday Evening Post. June20, 1942, 9-10.

Reidenbaugh, Lowell. The Sporting News: First Hundred Years 1886-1986. St. Louis, The Sporting News Publishing Company, 1985.

White, G. Edward. Creating the National Pastime: Baseball Transforms Itself 1903-1953. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1996.

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