I used to be a baseball fan, but my passion folded right around the time that ball went through Bill Buckner's legs in the sixth game of the '86 World Series. Yet a few hours with a multimedia reference disc called Microsoft Complete Baseball (Microsoft, CD-ROM for PC/Windows, $59.95) not only filled me in on diamond developments of recent years, but actually had me feeling like a fan again.
Much of the CD-ROM's contents come from Total Baseball, the exemplary reference book edited by John Thorn and Pete Palmer. From the opening screen, you can tap into team histories, player stats, bios (these also cover managers, owners, umpires, and sportswriters), a year-by-year almanac, a list of record holders, a trivia game, and a chronicle that incorporates Total Baseball's chapters on everything from the Negro Leagues to baseball collecting.
But it's the visual and aural touches that make Complete Baseball such a nifty piece of work: photos from throughout baseball's history, video footage from 12 key moments, even the folksy twang of slide guitar as you switch from one section to another. And in a step forward for CD-ROMs, Complete Baseball lets you use your modem to download the latest stats (for a pricey $1.25 a day).
The disc pretty much routs the competition, particularly the '94 edition of Total Baseball (Creative Multimedia, CD-ROM for DOS/Mac, $29.95). Total offers the entire text of Thorn and Palmer's book, including many rosters, stats, and appendixes that Microsoft edited out. Yet the no-frills interface simply throws text up on the screen, and the few sound clips and photos aren't much compensation. It's a fine reference tool, perhaps, but not a multimedia labor of love like Microsoft Complete Baseball or the just-updated Baseball's Greatest Hits (Voyager, CD-ROM for Mac and Windows, $49.95).
The people behind Greatest Hits know that all the statistics in the world won't solve the perfect mystery of a hanging curveball. So they've gone for quality, compiling original radio broadcasts and film footage to spotlight moments that have become legendary (the coup of the latest edition is a grainy, recently discovered home movie of Babe Ruth's controversial ''called shot'').
The whole of Greatest Hits has a lovely feel of history coming to life. A click of the mouse and you're hearing the voice of Ty Cobb, watching Willie Mays make his classic catch in the '54 World Series, or God help me seeing that damned ball go through poor Bill Buckner's legs all over again. For historical perspective, you're better off with Microsoft Complete Baseball. There, the entry on Buckner lays the blame for that notorious blown game exactly where it belongs: on Red Sox relief pitchers Bob Stanley and Cal Schiraldi, and manager John McNamara. It is said that Bostonians thought so highly of McNamara that they named a town after him: Marblehead. That's not in Microsoft Complete Baseball, but it's about the only thing missing.Baseball's Greatest Hits: B+