Cover image for The numbers game : baseball's lifelong fascination with statistics
The numbers game : baseball's lifelong fascination with statistics
Schwarz, Alan.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Thomas Dunne Books, [2004]

Physical Description:
xv, 270 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GV877 .S385 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
GV877 .S385 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Most baseball fans, players and even team executives assume that the National Pastime's infatuation with statistics is simply a byproduct 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 unprecedented new book, Alan Schwarz - whom bestselling Moneyball author 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.

Almost every baseball fan for 150 years has been drawn to the game by its statistics, whether through newspaper box scores, the backs of Topps baseball cards, The Baseball Encyclopedia , or fantasy leagues. Today's most ardent stat scientists, known as "sabermetricians," spend hundreds of hours coming up with new ways to capture the game in numbers, and engage in holy wars over which statistics are best. Some of these men - and women -- are even being hired by major league teams to bring an understanding of statistics to a sport that for so long shunned it.

Taken together, Schwarz paints a history not just of baseball statistics, but of the soul of the sport itself. The Numbers Game will be an invaluable part of any fan's library and go down as one of the sport's classic books.

Author Notes

Alan Schwarz is a senior writer at Baseball America magazine, a weekly columnist for, and a frequent contributor to The New York Times. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and more than a dozen other national publications

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Sports journalist Schwarz brings to the fore this intelligent, smartly researched and often hilarious look at the use of statistics in baseball, which Schwarz definitively shows to "date back to the game's earliest days in the 19th century." It will delight any fan who memorizes the numbers on the back of trading cards or pores over newspaper box scores. The book's success is rooted in its focus on the people "obsessed with baseball's statistics ever since the box score started it all in 1845," rather than being about the statistics themselves. The reader is presented with enthusiastic but unvarnished looks at such key figures as Henry Chadwick, whose love for numbers led to his inventing the box score grid that remains, Schwarz shows, "virtually unchanged to this day"; Allan Roth, the numbers man hired by the Brooklyn Dodgers who was as important to the team's success as its famed GM Branch Rickey; and the all-but-forgotten work of George Lindsey, one of the first people to apply statistical analysis to weigh various baseball strategies. Delivered in a delightfully breezy and confident style, this volume also serves as an excellent alternate or parallel history of the sport, as we see how the statistics influenced the game itself-such as the banning of the spitball-as much as they were used to detail individual games. Agent, Esther Newberg. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Beyond even the pleasure of a big win for the home team, what baseball fans really enjoy is debating the relative merits of players, and that comes down to statistics. Schwarz, a writer for and Baseball America, gives us not statistics themselves but their historical progression to the center of the game. He shows their evolution from a time when about the only thing fans could find out about their favorite batters was how many times they appeared at the plate and how many runs they scored, to the computer-enhanced age when we can discuss a hitter's OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) and a pitcher's "true" value based on his SNWL (Support Neutral Win-Loss). Along the way, the author introduces the men who steadily refined the state of the art of baseball statistics, the teams who first began using statistics other than mere ERA and batting average to make personnel decisions, and the controversies begat by the march of statistics (Is on-base percentage more important than batting average? Is clutch hitting merely a function of chance?). Casual fans will almost certainly find something here to pique their interest, while raving statistics buffs will devour it. Recommended for most medium to large public libraries.-Jim Burns, Jacksonville P.L., FL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Peter Gammons
Forewordp. ix
Introductionp. xiii
1 Bless Them, Fatherp. 1
2 The Second Generationp. 22
3 The Sultans of Statsp. 43
4 Darwins of the Diamondp. 67
5 Big Macp. 92
6 Bill Jamesp. 111
7 From Field to Front Officep. 133
8 All the Record Books Are Wrongp. 155
9 The Arms Dealer Goes to Warp. 173
10 Luck and Where to Find Itp. 195
11 The March of On-Base Percentagep. 215
12 In God We Trust; All Others Must Have Datap. 234
Acknowledgmentsp. 255
Indexp. 257