The Numbers Game
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(Baseball's Lifelong Fascination with Statistics) by Alan Schwarz 

Any Scoresheet player with a grass blade of nostalgia will relish every chapter of this history of the use of statistics in baseball. However, The Numbers Game is more than an overdue accounting of when each stat was first used by whom. It’s, also, a fascinating bit of a character study of the usually eccentric characters who shaped the statistical side of baseball and how they often broke through fierce resistance from the baseball establishment.


Time after time, history has shown that the statistics of baseball has attracted the fans at least as much as the action itself and that player personnel and game strategies can be improved with better understanding of statistics. Yet, statistics have been always been grossly under-respected. Publishers kept thinking fans wouldn’t be interested. Professors hide their studies on baseball until after they’ve been tenured. GMs try to hide their statistical advisors, and most managers haven’t thought they were of any use, anyway. As we all now know, the nay sawyers have been proven wrong on all accounts.


Schwarz draws out the dramatics of these stories. Considering we already know how popular stats are now and that Major League Baseball and most of the individual teams to one degree or another have finally embraced the more sophisticated stats of this post Earl Weaver - Bill James era, Schwarz manages to keep our suspense up. He gives us a good ride from the chaotic 19th primordial baseball stew to today’s web based instant analyses.


Alan Schwarz writes for Baseball America,, and The New York Times. However, this is his first book. If I have any reservation about The Numbers Game is that the tone gets almost mushy. He might have written it for a 12-year-old girl.


However, this is not a puff piece – at least, not all of it. Earnshaw Cook’s statistical studies may have turned established baseball strategies on their head almost two decades before James – and many of his notions were true, but Schwarz clearly paints him as a pompous phony. Seymour Siwoff brought accuracy to official stat keeping and vastly expanded the Elias Sports Bureau’s stat keeping into a tool available for major league teams, but he was stubborn, power hungry, and vindictive and thwarted most all attempts to have his data more available to the public. Even Bill James is not drawn with wings and a halo, as he has been anything but conciliatory in his feud with Siwoff, which continues today. Lee Allen who worked decades for the Hall of Fame and was critical for the personal info on the first major baseball encyclopedia is described in very sympathetic tones along with his chain-smoking and “becoming what we now call an alcoholic”. The cold back-stabbing amongst the partners of STATS is just faintly brought out amongst the accolades Schwarz bestows upon them. (Pete Palmer is the only one left unscathed there.) And there was Dan Duquette’s covert stat man Mike Gimbel, who was finally exposed not just as the baseball insider’s dreaded “statistics psycho, typical of his breed” (as quoted by Schwarz of Boston writers), not just an eccentric owner of six pet alligators and other reptiles, not just a community college dropout, but, also, a bragging self-proclaimed “secret power behind the Red Sox throne”. The Boston press practically rode him out of town with tar and feathers. There are still baseball teams today who won’t acknowledge their stat men for fear of being “Gimbelized”.


There are many unsung heroes in this book, too. Canadian military strategist George Lindsey “his wife aghast, watched and listened to roughly 400 games during the mid-1950s, scoring them with exacting precision so that he could investigate several questions that dogged him.” Although, he never made a monetary profit from his findings, some of his work is still used today. For example, he developed this table specifying, “the average total runs scored after each of the 24 possible situations” (quoting Schwarz not Lindsey):


Bases Occupied










































The Numbers Game did hold a few personal disappointments, however. If you read a history of major league baseball and your favorite team never gets mentioned, you’d be, at least, be a little disappointed. The statistical based board games All-Star Baseball, Strat-O-Matic, and APBA each merited plenty of ink. However, the game I grew up on Big League Manager doesn’t even get a mention. Personally, I’d rate it the superior of the four. Perhaps, because the cards were so easy to update, they didn’t sell as many games as the others. Nor is my favorite baseball encyclopedia: The Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball ever mentioned. It is, I believe, derivative the MacMillon encyclopedia which gets an entire chapter. (They share the same head editor David Neft.) However, I much prefer how the data is laid out in “my encyclopedia”. The players are shown by position by team by year, so you have a great view of each season and a good context for the stats you are looking at. Their career totals and plenty of other interesting stuff are summarized in other parts of the book. Third, when it came to the present day fantasy baseball craze, you’d think Rostisserie was all anyone played. Nope, Scoresheet doesn’t get mentioned, either. And you know Scoresheet is the best!


For these crimes, I have to limit Alan Schwarz’s first book to a triple.

John Carter