I've started to wonder if one of my oldest pals in the sports business is on its way out: the printed version of the media guide.
The National Hockey League's teams this season have gone away from that particular way of distributing information. They've put a version on line, and there are said to be CD-ROM versions floating around.
Media guides and I go way back. The fascination with sports material for me started with yearbooks, like it does for most kids. I know I had the 1961 Boston Red Sox yearbook, complete with a tribute to the end of the career of Ted Williams, at the ripe old age of 5 1/2. Some rookie named Carl Yastrzemski was considered a top prospect and it was hoped that he could be some semblance of a replacement for Williams. The yearbook was a great place to get statistics and pictures on players on your favorite team.
Something like 10 years later, I discovered the media guide. They were almost mystical books at that point, mentioned by reporters in passing. A book just filled with sports statistics? Wow, what more could a teen sports fan ask for? My friend Kevin and I decided we should try to get a few of these, so we typed up letters to the various major league baseball teams asking if they could send us copies. Some did; the Houston Astros must have thought they had a big fan base in Western New York.
Teams finally figured out there was a demand for the information, and sold the books to the public. The Philadelphia 76ers, and the mathematically clever Harvey Pollock, led all of pro sports in this sense. Pollock would count up the number of dunks in the entire NBA, and print them. Or do plus-minus statistics for the Sixers. And about 400 other things. A kindred spirit.
When I was hired to work for the Sabres in October 1986, it was with some glee that I started to put together the team's official guide in the spring of 1987. The previous book was something like 108 pages. Well, I took care of that, raising the 1987-88 to 160 pages. If there were any kids like me out there, I hope they appreciated it. I hope Harvey did too. The book got even bigger in my next five years. (Should I mention that just after I finished the last book, the Sabres let me go? And didn't give me any credit in the guide? Yeah, why not?)
I do have every Sabres media guide from 1970 to 2007. The first one is the toughest; I found an extra copy in the basement of the Aud in a clean-out mission at some point. Now it looks like I have a complete, final collection. Yes, the information is still available -- and it's even free -- but a little romance is gone, at least for me.