So much has changed since last we spoke! The Democrats have finally chosen a nominee, "Arrested Development" is back on the air, and I won the first-ever Pulitzer for Outstanding Achievements in Facebook Status Updates. Has this been a great month or what?
OK, a lot of that isn't true (as if you actually know who won the Pulitzers). But something has changed in the past two weeks, and it's a pretty big deal: Baseball is back. Glorious, glorious baseball. If the return of America's Pastime doesn't strike you as particularly important, you have my blessing to stop reading now, as long as you set aside a little time later to feel bad about yourself.
Those of you still with me probably already know that opening day means more than cold stadiums and wildly fluctuating batting averages. It also means magazine racks stuffed to the gills with baseball previews. What you might not know is which, if any, are worth reading. Well, I've picked up two -- Lindy's 2008 Baseball Preview and Athlon Sports' Baseball -- and neither made me ask for my money back, even though both apparently went to press so long ago they still think Johann Santana is with the Twins -- which renders inoperable pretty much everything they say about the NL East and AL West. But in true MLB fashion, I'll turn a blind eye to the obvious -- hey, lots of guys put on 20 pounds of muscle at 40 years old! -- and focus on what takes place between the lines.
Both annuals kick it off with a little humor. Or at least try to. Lindy's opening swipe is an Onion-style three-page preview of the 2008 season. Example: "April 1: The Yankees Season officially opens when Alex Rodriguez opts out of his historic contract during the National Anthem." OK, that's kinda funny. But it's also as good as it gets. Most of the gags are groan-worthy at best. And why do they nearly all focus on the Yankees?
Athlon's opens with six pages of memorable facts and moments from the 2007 season, be they highlights, low points, or just plain weird. Example: "Apr. 12: Torii Hunter receives his sixth Gold Glove in a pregame presentation, but then drops the ceremonial first pitch." See, in Major League Baseball, truth isn't just stranger than fiction, it's funnier.
The call goes to Athlon.
Both Lindy's and Athlon present some feature-style articles before getting into the stats. Lindy's has a profile of comeback kid Rick Ankiel that I swear I've read 10 times before. With one exception: This piece marvels at the ex-pitcher's magical transformation into a slugger without even mentioning the HGH allegations. Oh, I'm sorry -- I have read this before. On MLB.com.
Athlon presents "12 things to watch in 2008," as well as stories about the explosion of young pitchers in the American League and the hot young defense in the National League. Best is the two-page "Penny Wise, Dollar Foolish" feature, which ranks the best and worst deals of the off-season.
The call goes to Athlon.
Heart of the Order
OK, the real reason people buy these previews is for the previews, right? So how do they match up? Each book provides a team-by-team analysis, complete with predictions. Each breaks down the teams by offense, defense, starting pitching, relief, etc. And both do a pretty good job. But once again, Athlon's penchant for smart analysis puts it on top.
Lindy's stats are easy to digest, whereas Athlon's are presented in chart form. Lindy's also devotes more space to each team, and provides a full 2008 schedule for each. But the extra space is wasted, as Lindy's insight is once again much narrower than Athlon's. The latter looks at each team's promising minor leaguers, and uses a section called "beyond the box score" to highlight intriguing subplots for each team. No contest.
Once again, the call goes to Athlon.
And the pitcher comes to the plate...
It may not be over till it's over, but once the previews are over, it's pretty much over. Athlon wraps things up with a look at the college preseason, while Lindy's writes a gutless recap of MLB steroid scandals over the past few years. Neither is exactly thrilling, but at least Athlon goes out with a little heart.
Athlon takes it in a walk.
And that's the ballgame, folks. Put it in the books. Athlon crushes Lindy's by, oh I'd say 12-zip. This was the Red Sox vs. the Pirates, people. Smart money is on Athlon, which means it's probably on steroids.
Lindy's 2008 Baseball Preview
Published by: DMD Publications
Athlon Sports' Baseball
Published by Athlong Sports Communications