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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 Moneyball author Michael Lewis 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 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. 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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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 Moneyball author Michael Lewis 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 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. 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.

30 review for The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination with Statistics

  1. 5 out of 5

    Doreen Petersen

    A must for anyone interested in baseball!!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Reading this book proves that you think too much about baseball and have too much time on your hands. Great read though - really enjoyed the evolution of measures throughout the game's history and how/why we even started recording the wacky things that happened during a game beyond who won and lost.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Brw2024

    Great insights into the numbers of baseball

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bryan Alkire

    Surprisingly good history of baseball stats and the people behind those stats Well worth reading

  5. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Baseball and statistics go together like mustard and hot dogs, peanuts and Cracker Jack. From the games earliest beginnings, fans, spectators, coaches, and owners have been obsessed with gathering and analyzing runs, outs, hits, and innumerable other aspects of the game. Mr. Schwarz's book traces the development of this companionship with, well, relish. Starting as far back as the mid-1800s, Mr. Schwarz begins by profiling “The Father of Baseball,” Henry Chadwick, and his half-century-long relati Baseball and statistics go together like mustard and hot dogs, peanuts and Cracker Jack. From the games earliest beginnings, fans, spectators, coaches, and owners have been obsessed with gathering and analyzing runs, outs, hits, and innumerable other aspects of the game. Mr. Schwarz's book traces the development of this companionship with, well, relish. Starting as far back as the mid-1800s, Mr. Schwarz begins by profiling “The Father of Baseball,” Henry Chadwick, and his half-century-long relationship with the game. Mr. Chadwick was the first of many to devote hours and eventually years to designing new scoring methods, box scores and statistics in order to advance his vision of the sport. In fact, the scoring grid he developed is essentially the same box score used today. It was fascinating to learn how the game has changed over the past 150 years or so. Initially, for example, the pitcher was just a mechanism by which the ball was put into play rather than, arguably, the most important single player on the field today. The rules changed frequently as the professional leagues tried to find the right balance between offense and defense, as the pitcher became more vital, and as the size of the field standardized. All these changing rules wreaked havoc on the state of statistics. Depending on the year, batting averages could include walks as well as hits, stolen bases could include any extra bases a runner advanced, or sacrifice bunts could be excluded from a players' at-bat stats. Arguments ensued, and frequently still continue, over which stats were the most meaningful, the most important, the most helpful in selecting lineup or choosing strategy, and over the best and most accurate way to calculate those numbers. There have even been occasional backlashes throughout the history of the sport against the emphasis on statistics. In 1880, critics charged that focusing on individual players' statistics encouraged them to “play for their records rather than for their side.” In 1958, a Sports Illustrated columnist complained that “the greatest menace to big-time sports today...is a nonsense of numbers [and] the stupefying emphasis on meaningless statistics which is draining the color from competition.” As recently as 2003, the Boston Red Sox hired a sabermetrician (a statistician who specializes in baseball) as a senior adviser to baseball operations and were accused of turning the team management into “a pack of number-mumbling zombies.” Regardless of these recurring complaints, the fans' thirst for stats was, and still is, insatiable. However, as different people or organizations calculated those statistics, publications often went to press with conflicting information, coming to a head in the late 1980s and early 1990s. If The Baseball Encyclopedia and Total Baseball didn't agree, just who was the average fan supposed to trust? Did Ty Cobb have 4,190 hits or 4,191? Was Honus Wagner's batting average .327 or .329? Changes were sometimes made arbitrarily and explanations were hard to come by for the discrepancies. “Baseball's records, so important and so revered, were hopelessly screwed up, and the average fan now knew it.” Mr. Schwarz outlines the numerous efforts that have been made by dozens, if not hundreds of baseball fans and statisticians over the years to clean up the confusing mess of facts and ensure accuracy in the sports' historical records. Even famous career totals engraved on bronze plaques in the Baseball Hall of Fame were not exempt from mistakes as a sign in the gallery warns: “The data on all players was taken from reliable sources at the time the plaques were made.” While many fans, players, and managers protested changing these sacrosanct numbers after so many years, John Thorn, a noted baseball author, stated “There can be no statute of limitations on historical error.” Despite resistance from many old-school traditionalists, by 2002, most major league organizations were working with sabermetrics either through hiring a consultant or actually having someone on staff. Statistical analysis is now standard practice when determining lineup order or when to put a relief pitchers in and is being embraced by newer generations of both managers and fans. Because of the efforts of so many to track, analyze, and calculate the stats, fans can obsess over and revel in the numbers and more thoroughly enjoy America's favorite pastime. For more book reviews, come visit my blog, Build Enough Bookshelves.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Rob Kitchin

    Baseball has often been considered the most individual of team sports, and because of its tightly formulated format and rules can be easily captured by summary statistics. From the very start of the game in the mid-nineteenth century fans and the media have charted player and team performances through various batting, pitching and fielding measures. Since the 1970s some of these statistics have influenced management decisions on trades, contract negotiations, and on-field plays, with their autho Baseball has often been considered the most individual of team sports, and because of its tightly formulated format and rules can be easily captured by summary statistics. From the very start of the game in the mid-nineteenth century fans and the media have charted player and team performances through various batting, pitching and fielding measures. Since the 1970s some of these statistics have influenced management decisions on trades, contract negotiations, and on-field plays, with their authority growing in the last two decades to the extent that every professional baseball team now employs a stats unit and uses a plethora of computer packages to help augment all kinds of decisions in the club and dugout. Alan Schwarz’s The Numbers Game: Baseball’s Lifelong Fascination with Statistics charts the evolution of measuring games through box scores, basic summary statistics, more complex measures and algorithms, companies that compile and sell stats, the development of dice and card games utilising baseball stats, statistic societies and initiatives, books and chewing gum cards, the media’s use of stats to help fans follow games via newspapers, radio and TV, and their seepage into decisions by coaches and general managers. The book has both historical depth and width of coverage and provides an engaging account by focusing on key personalities and the innovations they added to baseball’s statistical landscape. For the most part the structure works well, but starts to struggle in its account of developments from the early 1970s up to the present. In part, this is because there are a number of parallel developments that fracture the timeline. The final chapter on academic attempts to make sense of baseball statistics is perhaps the weakest chapter, and the book suffers at its end because there is no concluding chapter that summarises the main thread of the argument or postulates as to what developments might or should emerge in the future. Overall, however, an interesting read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Diamond

    It's hard to say exactly what I think of The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination with Statistics—I'd assumed it would be more engaging, since statistics have played such a large part in baseball for so long. But I think this might be a case where the book was researched very well, but executed poorly. No disrespect to Alan Schwarz, but I felt The Numbers Game was lacking in that the concept was unique and interesting, but the writing was hackneyed and wooden. Like Schwarz was really exc It's hard to say exactly what I think of The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination with Statistics—I'd assumed it would be more engaging, since statistics have played such a large part in baseball for so long. But I think this might be a case where the book was researched very well, but executed poorly. No disrespect to Alan Schwarz, but I felt The Numbers Game was lacking in that the concept was unique and interesting, but the writing was hackneyed and wooden. Like Schwarz was really excited by the concept, but that excitement got lost when he put pen to paper. As a result, it's hard for me as a reader to get excited about it. Another issue I found with this was the style Schwarz adopted: describing a person who's important to the topic, but an unknown to everyone else. Then he sets off their name with a colon and ends a section or a chapter. I like to call this the Ken Burns method. It goes something like this. "Then in 2004, a book finally did come out, and the author would go down as one of the foremost compilers of nonsensical statistical errata: his name was Alan Schwarz." Used prudently, this can be an effective tool in a writer's toolbox. But when you use it as much as Schwarz does, it grows tired very quickly. Alan Schwarz is a good writer—you can see that from the myriad pieces he's written and the wide readership his articles enjoy. But I don't think the transition from short-form to long-form writing agreed with him all that well. The writing is lackluster and full of cliche. Although each chapter taken in a vacuum might read well, the book taken as a whole is left wanting.

  8. 5 out of 5

    HBalikov

    My this game has changed, and the numbers have driven most of the changes. Schwarz may be writing primarily for the fan who digs deep, but he tells and engaging story about the relationship between what we measure and how the game is played. There is plenty of space given to the "moneyball" period, Sabremetrics, and Bill James' influence. However, I was most impressed with Schwarz coverage of the first fifty years of baseball. The details were fascinating.

  9. 4 out of 5

    rmn

    A well written book about the history and evolution of baseball statistics. This is not a book on numbers, rather a book about the people who developed statistics for baseball starting with the first box scores in the 1880s and winding up with current GMs and how they utilize information.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    A great history of baseball and statistics. I was impressed with how well it flowed when presenting such a potentially dry subject. I wouldn't recommend it to those who aren't baseball fans or statistics fans, but I found it very enjoyable.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Conan

    This is a great read. For anybody who is interested in the history of baseball, the book encapsulates this rich history through the study of statistics. Whether you are a stat-head, baseball fan, or both, this is the read for you.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jacob Becklund

    It's sort of a history of baseball statistics nerds. Really a book for a very niche audience; but I'm in that niche.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Tim Basuino

    I picked up the e-version of this book upon hearing Ben Lindbergh refer to it during an episode of "Effectively Wild", commemorating the death of longtime stats accumulator Seymour Siwoff. The book was described something to the effect of "the battle between forces with respect to what to present to the public, and for what cost". There is a chapter that is exactly that, specifically the backstory as to why Bill James created Project Scoresheet - the plan to collect detailed information on every I picked up the e-version of this book upon hearing Ben Lindbergh refer to it during an episode of "Effectively Wild", commemorating the death of longtime stats accumulator Seymour Siwoff. The book was described something to the effect of "the battle between forces with respect to what to present to the public, and for what cost". There is a chapter that is exactly that, specifically the backstory as to why Bill James created Project Scoresheet - the plan to collect detailed information on every game in Major League Baseball history, which as of now pretty much has every game back to 1904 (with some annoying exceptions, primarily an Astros/Braves game in 1973). But the rest of the story deals with how certain stats came in and out of favor, and concludes with the idea that this development will hopefully never end. All in all it's a good read, if not a spectacular one - certainly there's a lot of repetition, and Schwarz's humor didn't always hit the target for me. A good way of indoctrinating oneself into the world of baseball statistics.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    I love statistics, particularly baseball statistics - so it isn't a surprise that I loved this book. The book, however, is about more than the statistics themselves, but rather the men that developed them, tracked them and made them possible. The book proceeds from the earliest days of baseball and all of the early rule changes through the current "sabermetric" period. There's also sections on how research have upended some of the most well-known "numbers" in baseball and created controversies i I love statistics, particularly baseball statistics - so it isn't a surprise that I loved this book. The book, however, is about more than the statistics themselves, but rather the men that developed them, tracked them and made them possible. The book proceeds from the earliest days of baseball and all of the early rule changes through the current "sabermetric" period. There's also sections on how research have upended some of the most well-known "numbers" in baseball and created controversies in the baseball community. There's some "math" and esoteric language, but it is relatively small compared to same James' Baseball Abstract or Thorn/Palmer's Hidden Game of Baseball.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Matt Mitchell

    I expected more of a history about the numbers in the game and how they came about. Schwarz delivered far more than that. A fascinating tale about the the history of measurement in baseball and how certain numbers came to be so revered. The stories behind the leading lights in the creation and dissemination of baseball stats maybe missed only one key character in the play up until 2004 when the book was written. I found it utterly fascinating, and it gives me even more respect for some of the in I expected more of a history about the numbers in the game and how they came about. Schwarz delivered far more than that. A fascinating tale about the the history of measurement in baseball and how certain numbers came to be so revered. The stories behind the leading lights in the creation and dissemination of baseball stats maybe missed only one key character in the play up until 2004 when the book was written. I found it utterly fascinating, and it gives me even more respect for some of the individuals in the book who I've been fortunate enough to interact with. A must read for any baseball fan, period.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Loren

    Interesting and well-written Very much enjoyed this history of baseball statistics. Only disappointment was that it was published in 2004, leaving me hoping a newer edition will eventually be written. Highly recommended.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Liam

    Interesting look at the inside of baseball statistics and their history. Schwarz develops the story of the commercialization of statistics well and depicts human characteristics alongside the numbers.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cody Christie

    A little outdated since it came out in 2004. Baseball’s statistical focus has changed greatly in the last decade and a half. Overall, there was lots of good historical information, but tit got hard to read at times

  19. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    As Peter Gammons says on the back cover, "One of the most engrossing histories of baseball ever." While one expects a bit of hyperbole in book jacket endorsements, I think Gammons is spot on. Schwarz is a skilled storyteller who makes the history of baseball statistics incredibly interesting.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lifespicer Tapps

    Probably the best baseball book I've read so far! This game really is built off of a deep statistical history!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    Don’t know how you give it less than 5 stars. It’s definitive.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Reynolds

    A funny, engaging, personality-driven rundown of how statistics became an essential part of baseball.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Keith Blackman

    History of statistics-keeping, from 19th century Harry Chadwick, to 21st century sabermetrics

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bret Eubank

    Fun for baseball/math nerds. Very thorough history of the keeping of statistics in baseball and how stats have shaped the game and the players that play it.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Robert Melnyk

    Pretty interesting book about the history and use of statistics in baseball. Some of this stuff I knew already, but there was a bunch of things that were new. I never realized how inaccurate some of the historical stats were, and how they were changed numerous times throughout the years. I enjoyed this book because I have always been a huge baseball fan, and I was a math major in school. My guess is if you are not a baseball fan, you will not enjoy this book, but for those die-hards, it is worth Pretty interesting book about the history and use of statistics in baseball. Some of this stuff I knew already, but there was a bunch of things that were new. I never realized how inaccurate some of the historical stats were, and how they were changed numerous times throughout the years. I enjoyed this book because I have always been a huge baseball fan, and I was a math major in school. My guess is if you are not a baseball fan, you will not enjoy this book, but for those die-hards, it is worth the read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Sinner

    2004 CASEY Award nominee 2005 Seymour Medal finalist 2004 Dave Moore Award Finalist 2004 ESPN Baseball Book of the Year Briefly: A seminal text The Numbers Game, billed as a history of baseball’s statistics, in fact covers two quite different topics: (1) The invention of new statistics (starting way back with the invention of batting average) that attempt to improve the measurement of the true value and ability of players, and (2) the attempts over the years to perfect baseball’s record-keeping in su 2004 CASEY Award nominee 2005 Seymour Medal finalist 2004 Dave Moore Award Finalist 2004 ESPN Baseball Book of the Year Briefly: A seminal text The Numbers Game, billed as a history of baseball’s statistics, in fact covers two quite different topics: (1) The invention of new statistics (starting way back with the invention of batting average) that attempt to improve the measurement of the true value and ability of players, and (2) the attempts over the years to perfect baseball’s record-keeping in support of those statistics, both prospectively and retrospectively. Schwartz succeeds at making both topics compelling; at various points, the twists and turns of each storyline are the dominant narrative, and neither one leaves the reader waiting to return to the other topic. Throughout, Schartz’s writing is competent—there’s nothing particularly artful about it, but it gets the job done and keeps things from dragging. The book does a great job of identifying unsung pioneers of both narratives, revealing important milestones of both topics and the central players involved in those milestones. However, its largest failing is that at times, these pioneers feel like a laundry list, without being clearly synthesized into a single narrative. Schwartz might have benefited from a stronger thesis as to what case he’s trying to make with this book; answering the “so what?” question is sometimes lacking, as Schwartz clearly cares about the historical twists and turns of baseball’s statistics and takes it for granted that his readers see value in their cataloguing, too. Nevertheless, this reader does see value in their cataloguing, and thus The Numbers Game is a seminal text in the universe of baseball books, tracking the history of baseball through a lens that deserves to be recorded. Fans do themselves a service in learning the details of that history.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Converse

    The Numbers Game is a tribute to 140 years of obsessive interest in baseball statistics. Until the 1980s, most of these obsessives were either journalists or fans, rather than players or managers. Numerous people collected baseball statistics, and devised new metrics or revived (usually thinking they were the originator) that I find it difficult to summarize Schwarz's history of baseball statistics, which I found more interesting than those of us who are not devoted fans might expect. One of the The Numbers Game is a tribute to 140 years of obsessive interest in baseball statistics. Until the 1980s, most of these obsessives were either journalists or fans, rather than players or managers. Numerous people collected baseball statistics, and devised new metrics or revived (usually thinking they were the originator) that I find it difficult to summarize Schwarz's history of baseball statistics, which I found more interesting than those of us who are not devoted fans might expect. One of the first was Henry Chadwick, a 19th century journalist who was instrumental in developing box scores for baseball. Chadwick also developed ideas similar to today's on-base percentage, an idea coming into common use in the 1980s. Until the Elias sports bureau came along starting about 1918, timely statistics were not readily available for newspaper readers. After World War II a number of persons such as George Lindsey, Earnshaw Cook, and Harlan and Eldon Mills made statistically analyses of baseball in order to work out best strategies. But except possiby for Cook, these individuals appear to have had little influence on others. In 1971 the Society for American Baseball Research was founded, creating a forum for the statistically-minded. In the late 1970s and 1980s Bill Jame's Baseball Abstracts appear to have created a larger interest in baseball statistics; James also had some involvement in the creating of STATS Inc, a sports statistics collection firm that competed with the official statistics gathers (such as Elias) for the leagues. Starting perhaps in the late 1980s, baseball statistics became an important part of both salary negotiations and team strategy.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jay

    I thought I was one of few people that enjoyed baseball statistics, but there must be millions out there. This is the story of the changing statistics used in baseball throughout its existence, and in effect the "arms race" to collect the data and create the stats that are most useful to baseball (and fantasy baseball) teams and most interesting to the fans. The book is balanced between telling the stories of the statistics and their connection to the past, and the people that created them, wrot I thought I was one of few people that enjoyed baseball statistics, but there must be millions out there. This is the story of the changing statistics used in baseball throughout its existence, and in effect the "arms race" to collect the data and create the stats that are most useful to baseball (and fantasy baseball) teams and most interesting to the fans. The book is balanced between telling the stories of the statistics and their connection to the past, and the people that created them, wrote about them, or ran the businesses that dealt in them. It was interesting to see the impacts Bill James has had on the game. The oddest chapter was near the end, describing scientists' involvement in vetting statistics. The chapter makes the case that much of the varience in baseball stats is due to randomness, and that the popularity of most baseball statistics is more in the need for humans to find patterns in information than actual differences (also well described in Nate Silver's recent "The Signal and the Noise"). This takes some wind out of the sails. Just ignore the message of that chapter and enjoy the stats! The one I want to see, stats showing "the most interesting game"...

  29. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

    No sport is more about statistics than baseball is, with its long lists of batting averages, ERAs, on-base percentages, and many other well-known and obscure numbers. However, this isn't a modern phenomenon, and here, baseball writer Alan Schwarz sets out to tell the story of baseball and statistics, from Henry Chadwick, who invented the modern box score back in the mid-19th century, through modern figures like Seymour Siwoff of the Elias Sports Bureau and Bill James, perhaps the best-known of t No sport is more about statistics than baseball is, with its long lists of batting averages, ERAs, on-base percentages, and many other well-known and obscure numbers. However, this isn't a modern phenomenon, and here, baseball writer Alan Schwarz sets out to tell the story of baseball and statistics, from Henry Chadwick, who invented the modern box score back in the mid-19th century, through modern figures like Seymour Siwoff of the Elias Sports Bureau and Bill James, perhaps the best-known of today's statistics gurus. You might think that a book about statistics would be dry, but it's not in the least; Schwarz's focus on the people behind the creation of baseball statistics keeps it moving along nicely, providing personal stories along with the numbers. This is an essential book for any baseball fan who is interested in the history of the game.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Rick

    Not Moneyball but a very solid chronicle of the use of numbers to understand the game of baseball. Schwarz makes the points that this fascination is as old as the game itself, that it was and still largely is fan-driven, that baseball was slow to embrace statistical analysis and remains so today, though it’s getting better, that the first and for the longest time the only widespread use of statistics by clubs was to negotiate salaries, particularly in the age of arbitration, and that always some Not Moneyball but a very solid chronicle of the use of numbers to understand the game of baseball. Schwarz makes the points that this fascination is as old as the game itself, that it was and still largely is fan-driven, that baseball was slow to embrace statistical analysis and remains so today, though it’s getting better, that the first and for the longest time the only widespread use of statistics by clubs was to negotiate salaries, particularly in the age of arbitration, and that always some fan, sportswriter, or maverick official used statistics to think about how to build teams and play the game. Interesting but not insightful and the necessary chapter on rotisserie leagues and their use of stats was, for me, a drag.

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