Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Review: 21: The Illustrated Journal of Outsider Baseball #1!

(Full disclosure: I got free stuff. I'm not affiliated with the person I got the free stuff from. I just really dig their work, man.)

I arrived home from my weekend to a somewhat large-ish envelope from Gary Cieradkowski that I wasn't expecting, but I knew what was inside as soon as I saw it.

Yes, indeed, it was the first issue of 21: The Illustrated Journal of Outsider Baseball! Inside was a note from Gary, thanking me for plugging the heck out of his other creations (which was hardly necessary, since they're awesome and I don't think Gary could've stopped me from doing so if he tried), and telling me to enjoy the first issue! That, my friends, is a nice mail day. Thank you, Gary!

So, how is it? First off, let me just say that the presentation, which is key when you're taking web content and translating it to the print medium, is spectacular. When I'd read that Gary was going to be publishing on a thick card stock, and that because of this, issues would be a hefty $25 US shipped, I have to say that I was a bit skeptical, and to be fair, the price is still a little daunting to someone like me who needs to save their pennies to do anything, even with each issue being a limited-run item. However, the finished product looks and feels fantastic. The card stock is gorgeous, easy to read, great to handle and it's sturdy as all get-out. Another beautiful thing about 21 is that the black ink has (forgive me, those in printing, for I forget what it's called, exactly) a sort of relief effect to it. It's raised ever-so-slightly off the paper surface, and looks (and feels) terrific. Gary's great sense of aesthetics (remember, in addition to The Infinite Baseball Card Set, he did a little work on a place you may have heard of called Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and he also designed the current version of the Folger's coffee can) shines through, as always. Quality efforts like this go a long way toward justifying the continued existence of print media, which so many have written off recently.

The main content on the inside of 21 should be familiar to those of you who are regular visitors of The Infinite Baseball Card Set, as this issue features 12 stories, including Infinite Card Set-style cards, front and back, about "Jewish Baseball Pioneers & Stars". The Sandy Koufax, Moe Berg, and Lipman Pike entries were reprinted from earlier Infinite Card Set posts, and the Mose Solomon entry was posted on the site recently to promote the release of 21 #1, but there are 8 more brand-new entries in the issue, including a great pre-Tigers Hank Greenberg piece, as well as ones on Babe Ruth's one-time roommate and Major League clubhouse mainstay Jimmy Reese, legendary Texas League manager Jake Atz, and 3000 game-winning (Nope, that's not a typo...that's three THOUSAND wins!) softball pitcher Harry "Coon" Rosen to name a few. The "card" section is prefaced by a solid introduction to this issue's theme, written by Gary, and the stories on the players are as well-researched, informative and entertaining as ever. Also included in the first issue are reviews of about a half-dozen baseball books that Gary found interesting (all of which looked interesting to me as well; someday, I will have a book budget and be able to speed-read...), and of course a "letter from the editor", introducing the entire concept behind 21 to those who aren't familiar yet.

My only, very minor gripe with the first issue is that some typos did sneak in, but they don't detract from the readability of the stories, and it's understood that when you're a one-person operation treading into brand new territory, stuff happens. With issue #2 (featuring the 1933 Pittsburgh Crawfords of the Negro Leagues!), Scott Simkus of the Outsider Baseball Bulletin will be joining the staff of 21 as a writer and co-conspirator, so in addition to the fantastic information and stories that Scott will be bringing to the table, an extra set of eyes on the copy before it hits the press should help nip the typos in the bud.

Overall, though, this is a brilliant first effort, a really cool leap forward from The Infinite Baseball Card Set, and a must-own if you're a fan of the site, Gary's work, Jewish baseball players and/or obscure baseball history. 21 #1 is available now, while the very limited supplies last! Ordering information is right here!

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