OK, Boomers, this one’s for you.
All you Generation Xers have my permission to leave the room so you can watch “Tiger King” on Netflix or come up with a pop culture list on Facebook.
All you Millennials, feel free to go stream video war games on your Xbox or PlayStation.
And all you Gen Z kids, it’s time to TikTok or something.
Thanks for your patience, and please come back later when the old folks aren’t busy.
Now that they’re gone, I have some good news for my fellow Baby Boomers, the generation that allegedly yells at clouds and is painfully aware of the number of people congregating on the front lawn.
It recently has come to my attention that a treasure trove of glorious baseball content is available for your reading pleasure, and at no cost through July 15.
Baseball Digest, a 78-year-old monthly magazine published in Gurnee, has decided to unlock its online archives for the next 3½ months for fans searching for something to do during the sports shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Publisher Norman Jacobs, a limited owner of the Bulls, said in a news release he decided to make the archives available to one and all to “help fill the void until we can all return to the ballpark.”
All you have to do is go to www.baseballdigest.com/free and register.
For those unfamiliar with the magazine, Baseball Digest isn’t Sports Illustrated. It’s compact in size and doesn’t have the poetic, 8,000-word essays or glossy photos that made SI the crown jewel of sports magazines for decades — until recent changes in ownership.
Baseball Digest was all baseball, all the time and included many sportswriters who wound up in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Famous names such as Grantland Rice, Red Smith, Shirley Povich and former Tribune baseball columnist Jerome Holtzman contributed articles, as did local legends David Condon, John P. Carmichael and George Vass. (Disclaimer: I freelanced a few articles for the publication a decade or so ago and was friends with two former editors, the late John Kuenster and his replacement, Bob Kuenster, John’s son.)
When going to the Baseball Digest website, you’ll find a library of issues divided into eight decades, from the 1940s through 2019. It’s easy to go to the era of your choice. The hard part is choosing which stories to read.
If you’ve ever gone up into your attic looking for something and wound up sitting there for hours sifting through old photo albums, you’ll enjoy digging in and searching for stories that bring you back to your childhood or teenage years.
Just remember to put on your readers, because the print is a little small for the vision-challenged.
One night last week I turned off the TV, opened up the laptop and dived right in. I immediately clicked to June 1969, which had a cover story headlined “The ‘Real’ Ernie Banks” and included the first of a new series called “The Game I’ll Never Forget,” with Cubs announcer Jack Brickhouse telling his story to former Sun-Times columnist Ray Sons.
The Banks article, written by former Tribune sports writer and editor George Langford, focused on his complicated relationship with manager Leo Durocher, and Banks’ feeling he had to perform down the stretch on a 1969 team that finally had become a contender after two-plus decades of losing.
“This is my biggest opportunity in baseball,” Banks said. “When you look at this club, you can see it has the ability to win it all. If I failed to do the things this year that I really wanted to do to help the Cubs win the Eastern Division title and then the league championship, I would be a most unhappy person the rest of my life.”
From there I jumped to October 1974, when White Sox slugger Dick Allen was featured on the cover with the headline: “Baseball’s Most Feared Power Hitter.” The article referred to Allen’s 40-ounce bat, his “love-hate affair with baseball” and his theory that too much emphasis was being placed on individual statistics and not a player’s overall game.
“Like in basketball, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is great, but to me Dave DeBusschere is just as great,” Allen said. “He’s the man who won those championships for the Knicks because he did everything. He scored, but he also played defense, he got rebounds. Some people see that, but not most people. Most people just see the peaches and cream of the game.”
From then on I was hooked. I began opening every issue that included a Cubs or White Sox player on the cover or another player I loved to watch growing up. There was a July 1976 cover story by late Tribune writer John Husar on Cubs third baseman Bill Madlock, with the teasing headline: “The Batting Champ Who Almost Quit.” Then it was on to an April 1977 cover story on Tigers pitcher Mark Fidrych asking the question: “Will Fidrych Defy the Sophomore Jinx?”
Sure, we already know the answer. But who cares?
After carbo-loading on the 1970s, I fast-forwarded to the ‘80s, perusing a July 1980 cover story by John Kuenster on three promising Sox left-handers — Britt Burns, Steve Trout and Ross Baumgarten. Cubs first baseman Leon Durham was profiled in August 1984, where I also found an interesting Holtzman story on the biggest issue of the day: “The Shrinking Strike Zone.”
After spending a few hours reading about the game I grew up loving, I finally had to close the laptop or risk staying up all night.
It was a refreshing escape from the grim news of the day and a nice reminder that reading about old-school baseball is every bit as satisfying as watching a rerun of a classic game of which I already know the ending.
So thanks, Baseball Digest, for providing baseball lovers with a nostalgic trip they can take from their couch.
Staying at home was never so fun.
©2020 Chicago Tribune