In the amount of time that it takes you to read this sentence, probably less, you could have access to near-infinite amounts of information about baseball. Go to Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, MLB.com, and you can find any stat, any video, any moment in baseball history, like that.
Do not underestimate how amazing this is. When I was 6 years old, a backup catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals named Glenn Brummer, who had in fact grown up in my tiny hometown (which is unfortunately misspelled on Baseball Reference), stole home in the 12th inning of a game against the San Francisco Giants. It was one of only four steals in his career, and it was insane. I listened to the game on the radio back then, and it was so bizarre that, for decades afterward, I thought I had dreamed it. I had no real way to confirm my memory of it, and it was possible that the combination of "favorite team" and "hometown hero" and "a 6-year-old kid's fantasies" had created the whole thing.
But now? Now not only can I prove it happened, I can find video of it, with that Mike Shannon radio call of it, in a matter of seconds.
(I still can't believe that happened.)
The point is, in an age of instant information (and I say "age" like it's somehow ever going away), the way we experience the run-up to a new baseball season has changed. In a way, there is no run-up at all: There is just baseball, around us, all of the time. But this time of year, late January, is still a step forward: This is still the season of the baseball annuals.
When I was young, I bought two baseball annuals every year: The Sporting News' and Street & Smith's. Street & Smith's is now some sort of sports business conglomerate, but I was delighted to see the new Sporting News yearbook, with Dansby Swanson on the cover, at my local supermarket on Monday. It is the season for such magazines. I will always buy them, forever, until they stop making them.
I know that these magazines are an anachronism by nature: Baseball news and transactions happen much faster than ink can be printed. Not a single magazine, for example, has the news that Logan Forsythe is a Dodger, but you won't find an online depth chart now that doesn't have him firmly entrenched at second base. But that's not the point of those publications. They are a reminder that baseball is coming, a way to sit down for a second and be engulfed by baseball. You aren't distracted by an email or someone calling you a jerk on Twitter. You just get to be in baseball land. This is the time of year they start landing. They let you know what is coming.
So if you're still feeling cold and baseball feels decades away, here's a guide to all the publications -- magazines, books, so on -- that are either available now or will be very soon that will begin your ink-and-paper reintroduction into the world of baseball. We're a month-and-a-half away from the World Baseball Classic and two-months-and-a-week away from Opening Day. Read all these publications, and baseball will be here before you know it.
Sporting News. I've been buying these for all sports -- college basketball is actually my favorite, though now they've merged it with the NBA mag -- since I was old enough to read, so I'll always grab these. This is the most details of the mags, with depth charts, top 20 prospects lists, reports from opposing scouts and even some nods to history. (This year's mag features pictures of Jimmy Key, Darrell Evans, Steve Bedrosian and Ed Whitson.) There's a silly essay at the beginning about BPO (Bases Per Out), a stat I do not think is going to catch on, but otherwise, golden. If they ever stop making these, I will make a pretend one for myself using construction paper.
Lindy's. I should probably note here that I'm not including Fantasy Baseball preview magazines, which actually come out earlier than traditional baseball preview magazines. Lindy's produces the excellent Rotoworld guide, so if you're into that, grab it. Anyway, Lindy's doesn't have the depth that SN has, but it looks a lot nice, and the pictures always pop. The mag also closes with a lovely piece about Claire Smith, the first woman to win the Spink Award.
Athlon. This one is a little behind the other ones and hasn't arrived at my house yet, but traditionally it's the right mix between the stats of SN and the art of Lindy's.
"The Bill James Handbook": The home of the Fielding Bible Awards, the closest thing we have to the old Baseball Encyclopedias.
"Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster": I know I said we were avoiding fantasy guides, but I still read this cover to cover every year: It gives insights that go beyond just fantasy. "The Fantasy Baseball Black Book" is good for this too, but it's Kindle-only.
"The Hardball Times Annual": If you know the names Jeff Sullivan, Eno Sarris, MLB.com's own Mike Petriello, Emma Baccellieri, Rob Arthur and Carson Cistulli, then you already have this book. You should already have this book. This is more a recap of the season that just happened rather than a preview than what's coming … but then again, everything is a preview of what's coming.
"Baseball America 2017 Prospect Handbook" (released February 28): The definitive guide, it's one you'll want to have deskside all season. Every player called up from the Minors will have a section about him in this book.
"Baseball Prospectus 2017" (available for pre-order): The woolly mammoth of the genre, it's a reference book with essays that I sit down and read like a novel the minute it arrives. I've written about the annual in the past, and it has only gotten better since then. The only downside: I wrote the essay in this year's book about the Cardinals, which can only devalue the whole enterprise. But the season doesn't really get started until this book arrives.
"Smart Baseball" (available April 25): This one won't quite be out by season's start, but I'm including it because Keith Law is one of the best baseball minds on the planet, and I absolutely can't wait to read it. For that matter, Jay Jaffe's book comes out in June as well. But now I'm just plugging for my friends.
Point is: Baseball isn't here yet. But it's starting to peek its head around the corner. Get yourself ready. These publications can only help. And if you need video of Glenn Brummer stealing home plate in 1982, well, the Web has that for you too. Get you a sport that can do both.