By RICHARD SANDOMIR
In the short history of sports megabooks, there has been a 75-pounder about Muhammad Ali, a celebration of Pelé that was a shapely 35 pounds, and a history of the Super Bowl that tipped the publishing scales at 85 pounds.
To coincide with the July 13 All-Star Game, Major League Baseball on recently entered the market with a 75-pound, $3,000 tome that traces the game’s history through 110,000 words and more than 1,000 photographs and illustrations.
Like those before it, the leather-bound book, “The Official Major League Baseball Opus,” will come out in a limited edition (1,000 copies), packaged in a silk-covered clamshell case. The huge volume is aimed at teams, corporations, wealthy fans, museums and collectors. An abridged 26-pound version is available for $295.
“I think we’ll sell 1,000 fairly quickly,” said Don Hintze, the vice president for publishing for Major League Baseball. “We think the smaller version, which is more for the masses, will do extremely well. We’ve gotten a lot of interest from clubs on the smaller book that they can sell to season-ticket holders, or give as gifts.”
Even as it created a luxury product, M.L.B. bowed to the recession. It did not produce a special version like the $25,000 edition of the N.F.L.’s “XL: Forty Years of the Super Bowl,” that was signed by all living Super Bowl most valuable players. Four hundred copies of that version were produced; 19,600 unsigned books were priced at $4,000 each.
“I just felt the high end should be $3,000,” said Mark Skelly, the president of Opus Media Group Americas, a specialist in jumbo sports books that paid M.L.B. a fee; the two partners will share in any profits.
The 20×20-inch book is a chronological (if incomplete) history of the game, with features on streaks, the World Series, the All-Star Game, spring training, ballparks and all 30 teams. It includes new essays by writers like Roger Kahn, Robert Creamer and Steve Wulf. One advantage of an expensive book so weighty it might collapse a coffee table is the use of heavy paper stock that gives vivid new life to old photographs.
“I don’t think any sport is more photographic than baseball,” Hintze said.
The classic picture of Willie Mays making his over-the-shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series looks somewhat grainy in most book and magazine reproductions. But in “Opus,” the clarity is brilliant and the enormous page size shows reactions of fans in their seats at the Polo Grounds rarely, if ever, seen before. The book celebrates photographers like Ozzie Sweet, Walter Iooss Jr. and Charles Conlon, an early 20th century portraitist.
Throughout the book, there are profiles of numerous players — Hall of Famers like Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth, and current superstars like Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols. But the absence from this roster of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who have both been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, is noticeable, if not glaring.
“There was no big conversation about it,” Skelly said. Their omission, he added, “might have been subliminal; Major League Baseball is very conservative and I didn’t think I’d be missing anything if they weren’t profiled.”
Although there is a chapter on the Black Sox scandal, there is nothing on the steroid era.
Hintze added: “We looked at the book as a celebration of the game. There will be other things that didn’t appear that someone can make a case for. There are controversial things in the book, but there wasn’t a conscious decision to leave Clemens and Bonds out.”
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