‘NY Times’ Mines Archives For Baseball Gems

By: Wayne Robins

New York hasn’t always stood as united as it has been since Sept. 11. Shortly after the end of World War II, in fact, began a decade of divisiveness, during which New Yorkers pledged fealty to one of three warring tribes: the Dodgers, the Yankees, and the Giants.

In recent weeks, I’ve been calling Derek Jeter’s shovel pass that turned the tide of the American League Divisional Series the shortstop’s equivalent of Willie Mays’ legendary over-the-shoulder centerfield catch that helped my tribe, the New York Giants, sweep the Cleveland Indians in the 1954 World Series.

The comparison gets nods of recognition from colleagues of a certain age — and blank looks from many, say, under 40. Which is one reason I bought a new premium product from New York Times Digital: “Glory Days: Baseball in New York 1947-1957.”

The year 1947 launched a new decade of Yankee dominance and the Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson as the major leagues’ first black player. The inconsistent Giants became competitive with the arrival in 1951 of Mays, perhaps the game’s most charismatic player. The year 1957 shall live in infamy as the year of the O’Malley-Stoneham Betrayal, when the owners of the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants abandoned the fans who bled for them to bleed money from the then-foreign territories of Los Angeles and San Francisco.

For $9.95, you get a year of access through QPass to archived articles that ran in The New York Times, recollections narrated by Dave Anderson, team profiles, and other arcana, from a time when baseball was the undisputed national pastime and New York its indisputable capital.

But if you’re looking for a mother lode of great sportswriting, you’ll have to go elsewhere. Red Smith, the Times‘ Hall of Fame word-hurler, was with the Herald-Tribune during these glory days. And the Times lived down to its “Gray Lady” reputation at moments of historic import, such as Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ’round the world” — the ninth-inning home run that resulted in the Giants’ shocking defeat of the Dodgers in 1951’s pennant playoff.

Here’s the top of the Times lede, from John Drebinger: “In an electrifiying finish to what long will be remembered as the most thrilling pennant campaign in history … ” Here’s Red Smith’s lede from the Herald-Tribune, on the same event, found via a free Web search: “Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention.”

But it need not be. Archives are still the underexploited online gold mine upon which too many newspapers inexplicably sit. “‘Glory Days’ is groundbreaking in being the first Web retrospective to charge,” said Peter Krasilovsky, partner in Borrell & Associates of Portsmouth, Va. No one should expect quick profits. “Newspapers should be prepared for a multiyear ramp-up of paid services,” he said. “What they are looking to do is establish value.”

That requires a programming vision that most newspaper Web sites aren’t willing to invest the time and money to develop. Mistake! As broadband access comes to more homes, people will want innovative content. If newspaper sites don’t deliver it, someone else will. Creative packaging of archival material requires talent and energy. Build it, and they will come.

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