What you want to know is whether, having shelled out $29.95 just three years ago for the fifth edition of "The Baseball Encyclopedia," you should now shell out $39.95 for the sixth. The answer depends on who you are. If you are a raving baseball zealot and/or a statistics freak, you haven't bothered to ask the question; you've already bought the book. But if your interest is more temperate, the only answer can be: Maybe. Read on.

The people who put together the encyclopedia, like the people who manufacture automobiles, are in the business of built-in obsolescence. They have settled into a routine that produces a new edition every three years, apparently in the confidence that the accumulation of new statistics in this period will be sufficient in itself to attract buyers. But in hopes of interesting purchasers other than statisticians and hard-core fans, they also tinker with the basic contents of the encyclopedia: removing some features, revising or adding others, fiddling around with things just enough to make the potential buyer wonder whether he really can live without each new edition.

This year's tinkering involves four changes, two of which are minor: World Series and playoff records in the player and pitcher registers are now broken down year by year, and line scores are now provided for all postseason and All-Star games. A third addition is of little interest to me but may be to others: a comprehensive listing of how each team has played at home and away since 1900, including not merely won-lost records but also homers and runs for and against. I browsed around in this section hoping to be fascinated, enlightened or charmed, but was not.

The fourth addition, though, is another matter altogether. This is a "chronological listing by player of every trade, sale, or re-entry free agent signing involving each player" since 1900; dry though it may sound, it turns out to be a genuine humdinger. Since the game's earliest years trades have been an essential part of its fabric, providing valuable measures of the worth of players, the rise and decline of careers, the vanity and folly of human expectations. Reading the "Trades" section is not unlike reading a novel, with the added pleasure that you can write your own plot.

You may, as at first I did, want simply to discover the most traded -- i.e., either the most wanted or most unwanted player in baseball history. This, according to my calculations, was the immortal Norman Louis (Bobo) Newsom, who between the beginning of his career in 1929 and its end a quarter-century later was traded 10 times and played for a total of 17 teams, which happens to have been one more than were then in existence; he played four different times for the Senators, a fact that somehow defies comment. In one year (1943) Newsom was traded three times, which may or may not be a record but certainly is a distinction.

You may on the other hand be interested in who could be said to have been the most valuable merchandise in baseball history -- who, that is, was traded for more good players than any other. A case can be made for Ken Holtzman, who in his four trades was swapped for, among others, Rick Monday, Don Baylor, Rudy May, Tippy Martinez, Scott McGregor, Rick Dempsey and Ron Davis; but Holtzman was twice traded in multiplayer deals, so his own precise worth is in question. A case can also be made for Larry Doby, who in five trades produced Jim Busby, Chico Carrasquel, Tito Francona, Ray Moore, Billy Goodman, Buddy Daley, Dick Williams, Gene Woodling, Tito Francona (again) -- and $30,000.

Then there is Bobby Bonds. He was traded nine times, almost always by himself, and in exchange for him his employers obtained Bobby Murcer, Mickey Rivers, Ed Figueroa, Brian Downing, Chris Knapp, Dave Frost, Claudell Washington, Rusty Torres, Jim Kern, Larvell Blanks, Jerry Mumphrey, John Denny and cash -- amount unspecified. For my money, though, the most valuable merchandise of all time was Amos (The Hoosier Thunderbolt) Rusie, who was traded only once and for only one player. In 1900, he went from the New York Giants to the Cincinnati Redlegs, for whom he played one season -- eight at-bats, one hit -- before hanging up the old spikes. The pitcher the Giants got for him went 0 and 3 in his rookie year, but after that he was home free; his name was Christy Mathewson.

That is also, for my money, the dumbest trade of all time -- dumber than the one that sent Babe Ruth from Boston to New York (the Red Sox desperately needed cash and knew what they were doing), or the one that sent Nolan Ryan from the Mets to the Angels, or the one that brought Frank Robinson to the Orioles from the Reds. It was the dumbest, but it wasn't the funniest. That took place on May 20, 1902, when Piano Legs Hickman was traded for Candy LaChance. Speaking of whom, my fantasy trade is a multiteam deal involving Candy LaChance, Pete LaCock, Frank LaCorte, Mike LaCoss, Ty LaForest, Roger LaFrancois, Lerrin LaGrow, Al LaMacchia, Wayne LaMaster, Bobby LaMotte, Paul LaPalme, Dave LaPoint, Ralph LaPointe, Frank LaPorte, Dave LaRoche, Sam LaRoque, John LaRose, Vic LaRose, Harry LaRoss, Tony LaRussa and Art LaVigne; throw in Coco Laboy and it's a deal.

Does that answer your question?