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The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination with Statistics

by Alan Schwarz

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232984,707 (4.01)7
Most baseball fans, players and even team executives assume that the national pastime's infatuation with statistics is simply a by-product of the information age, a phenomenon that blossomed only after the arrival of Bill James and computers in the 1980s. They couldn't be more wrong. In this award-winning book, Alan Schwarz - whom bestselling Moneyballauthor Michael Lewis calls "one of today's best baseball journalists" - provides the first-ever history of baseball statistics, showing how baseball and its numbers have been inseparable ever since the pastime's birth in 1845. He tells the history of this obsession through the lives of the people who felt it most: Henry Chadwick, the 19th-century writer who invented the first box score and harped endlessly about which statistics mattered and which did not; Allan Roth, Branch Rickey's right-hand numbers man with the late-1940s Brooklyn Dodgers; Earnshaw Cook, a scientist and Manhattan Project veteran who retired to pursue inventing the perfect baseball statistic; John Dewan, a former Strat-O-Matic maven who built STATS Inc. into a multimillion-dollar powerhouse for statistics over the Internet; and dozens more. Schwarz paints a history not just of baseball statistics, but of the soul of the sport itself. Named as ESPN's 2004 Baseball Book of the Year,The Numbers Game will be an invaluable part of any fan's library and go down as one of the sport's classic books.… (more)

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Baseball, Statistics ( )
  Lasitajs | May 8, 2014 |
The best overview of the development of baseball statistics and statistical analysis (Palmer & Thorn's Hidden Game is a fairly close second; can't think of a third). Really needs an update to cover the Retrosheet, fielding, and Pitch F/X revolutions, which have taken things in unexpected directions. And of course Tango et al's The Book and the Prospectus book Baseball Between the Numbers would deserve mention in that update.

Begins at the beginning, with the New York game's box scores and Henry Chadwick's long reign as baseball's preeminent statistician and commentator. Touches at least briefly on most of the 20th century baseball statistical efforts, both official and unofficial. Al Munro Elias gets a chapter, which moves into the modern era and Seymour Siwoff's long Elias Bureau incumbency. Bill James, of course, gets his due, as do Pete Palmer and John Thorn. Many lesser efforts are mentioned; my biggest surprise was learning that Harland Mills is quite famous for his computer industry career. Late in the book is a lot of discussion about how sabermetrics has moved into baseball's front offices, not without controversy and not without problems.

The section on Project Scoresheet is a gem of fairly reporting things the participants all had strong feelings about. This discussion moves into a long portrait of the various agencies working to improve the available statistical universe, of how they've evolved in the recent past, and how their rivalries have affected their outlooks.

There's not a lot of actual statisitics in this book, though nearly everyone's contributions are accurately described. One chapter is devoted to the perpetual clutch hitting controversy.

The book ends with a sketch of Dave Smith (who turns out to be a friend of Siwoff), and of Smith's Retrosheet project. An appropriate ending, methinks, since Retrosheet is driving much of what we've learned over the past few years.

This review has also been published on a dabbler's journal. ( )
  joeldinda | Sep 8, 2011 |
Great book on the history of statistics in baseball. A must-read for any sabr-head, but anyone who enjoys math, history, or baseball would like this one too. ( )
  KApplebaum | Jan 17, 2010 |
According to Susan, a book about the history of baseball statistics "must be really boring," But I found it readable and enjoyable. There are generations of appealing geeks - most of them with no connection to baseball at all, and a lot of them military - who put their mind to finding new baseball statistics, and more importantly the right baseball statistics. It's a good follow-up to Bill James and Moneyball. Plus, it's just fascinating. I never knew that statistics just weren't kept, and all the effort needed to collect them and/or reconstruct them later on. ( )
  Othemts | Jun 25, 2008 |
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Most baseball fans, players and even team executives assume that the national pastime's infatuation with statistics is simply a by-product of the information age, a phenomenon that blossomed only after the arrival of Bill James and computers in the 1980s. They couldn't be more wrong. In this award-winning book, Alan Schwarz - whom bestselling Moneyballauthor Michael Lewis calls "one of today's best baseball journalists" - provides the first-ever history of baseball statistics, showing how baseball and its numbers have been inseparable ever since the pastime's birth in 1845. He tells the history of this obsession through the lives of the people who felt it most: Henry Chadwick, the 19th-century writer who invented the first box score and harped endlessly about which statistics mattered and which did not; Allan Roth, Branch Rickey's right-hand numbers man with the late-1940s Brooklyn Dodgers; Earnshaw Cook, a scientist and Manhattan Project veteran who retired to pursue inventing the perfect baseball statistic; John Dewan, a former Strat-O-Matic maven who built STATS Inc. into a multimillion-dollar powerhouse for statistics over the Internet; and dozens more. Schwarz paints a history not just of baseball statistics, but of the soul of the sport itself. Named as ESPN's 2004 Baseball Book of the Year,The Numbers Game will be an invaluable part of any fan's library and go down as one of the sport's classic books.

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