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The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination with Statistics Hardcover – July 21, 2004

4.6 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"The Numbers Game is a riveting history of the search for new baseball knowledge. The amazing thing about that search, as Schwarz ably demonstrates, is that it was conducted not by baseball insiders, but by the ordinary baseball fan."
- Michael Lewis, author of the best-selling Moneyball

"Alan Schwarz has written one of the most original and engrossing histories of baseball you could ever read."
- From the Foreword by Peter Gammons

"The language of baseball is statistics, and Alan Schwarz gives us an unprecedented look at one of the world's great romance languages. Schwarz deftly illuminates the history and relevance of baseball statistics and is at the top of his game introducing the people behind the numbers. The cast is an eclectic mix of baseball linguists, including an alcoholic pack rat, a military strategist and one of Albert Einstein's faculty colleagues. You don't need a slide rule or pocket protector to appreciate the tales Schwarz has unearthed -- gems such as Babe Ruth's long lost 715th home run abound -- but you will become more fluent in baseball."
- Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; First Edition edition (July 21, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312322224
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312322229
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,264,435 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I had relatively low expectations for Alan Schwarz' "The Numbers Game" given the unhappy trend in baseball publishing of covering every concievable topic. This trend has resulted in all too many books that cover small topic areas without much in the way of original research, insight, or entertainment value.

I was thus pleasantly surprised when "The Numbers Game" turned out to be a crisply-written book that transcends the apparently dry subject matter of the evolution of baseball statistics. Schwarz has chosen a somewhat episodic approach to his material, focussing as much on specific personalities responsible for the evolution of the use, abuse, understanding, and misunderstanding of statistics in baseball as any particular topic of this number or that. As such, it reads more as a social history of the game through the lens of the numbers as a tome on stats.

There are lots of delicious anecdotes here: the shenanigans of adjusting the Baseball Encylopedia to fit accepted conventional notions of stardom; manipulations of the 1911 batting race records made to deny the hated Ty Cobb a car; the nearly forgotten contributions of the Lindseys of Canada to the scientific study of the game; infighting between the old guard of the Elias bureau and the new Turks, STATS, Inc., and the internecine fighting between amateurs and entrepreneurs that has marked the history of the latter; the great contributions of amateurs and the muted responsiveness of the baseball establishment to the likes of home statheads ranging from Bill James to Voros McCracken.

The coverage of the evolution of baseball thinking since Bill James first appeared on the scene in 1977 is particularly good.
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Format: Hardcover
Did you know that when RBI first appeared in newspapers in 1879, fans were so outraged by this new stat that the Chicago Tribune apologetically eliminated it? Or that range factor--supposedly invented by Bill James in the 1970s--predated fielding percentage by four years? Or that before shaking the sabermetric community with his DIPS theory, Voros McCracken was a punk rocker?
It's not just the history of statistics; it's the story of their inventors. So many of baseball's statisticians have been wonderful characters. Their stories are amazing--one soldier stationed in Norway made extraordinarily in-depth computations by hand from hundreds of box scores tracked and sent to him by his father.
One of the more fascinating aspects of the book for me was how analysts from all generations all too often came to the same conclusions. F.C. Lane developed run values in the 1910s that almost perfectly match Pete Palmer's Linear Weights system. George Lindsay created an expected runs matrix in the 1950s, long before The Hidden Game of Baseball was published. And it seems like every statistician has loathed the sacrifice bunt for over a century.
The discussion of errors in baseball's historical stats was remarkably disturbing. Averages could be off by 100 points, and many efforts to right these mistakes inexplicably met great resistance. You'll shake your head thinking about the all too many people who would rather Ty Cobb's hit total stay locked at the number they know than the truth.
Alan Schwarz writes a riveting history of our favorite sport's numbers. From the numbers themselves--RBI, DIPS, PECOTA, they all get a mention--to the people behind them--Henry Chadwick, Bill James, Voros McCracken, and everyone in between. They're all a part of a till-now unknown story.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is an absolute delight to read for the baseball fan regardless of how many histories of the game you've already read. Alan Schwarz has delivered a perfect blend of Baseball history and the evolution of statistics that we today take for granted as being integral to the game. In this book we learn that wasn't necessarily always true and Schwarz takes us inside the development and the arguments surrounding the relevance of various stats. At the same time the characters involved both in the statistical sense and in the game itself are colorfully described.

This was a wonderful book that entertained and educated on a subject that legions of baseball fans are absorbed in every day. The stats and their development are weaved into the history of baseball creating a unique historical view of the game we love.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
...who this book was meant for. I bet you do too. You'll need a copy too.

I read Alan Schwarz' "The Numbers Game" just before I read Michael Lewis' "Moneyball", and I'm better off because of it.
Schwarz was acknowledged by Lewis in his own book (while Schwarz was writing this one), and there are a few passages that are strikingly similar.

Lewis is a better writer; Schwarz is a little more "clumsy" I guess. Not as elegant.

But still, he tells a story of such breadth it's a bit staggering. He does so with deft, concise descriptions. They're often funny as all get out.

The two books work like two hands, interlocking. The depiction of "baseball" is more detailed after spending time with both. Schwarz places "Moneyball" in a bigger perspective; Lewis brings "The Numbers Game" down into every day baseball.

Here, Schwarz starts with the guy who invented baseball statistics, Henry Chadwick. He then leads us through decades of baseball theory, the development of baseball cards, Strat-O-Matic and Rotisserie (fantasy) baseball, computers, SABR, baseball reporters, fans, players, politics, coaches, the Internet and a whole host of wacky baseball enthusiasts who become hopelessly addicted to the world of baseball stats. Roth, Cook, Dewan, James, Podesta, Evans, Beane...

And this in less than 300 pages. This is nothing short of amazing.
While I raced through this book, I thought of two close friends of mine.

One, a man of about 60, who on occasion has waxed rhapsodically about the box score.

How he loved to simply peruse the newspaper and consider each game in it's two-inch square recapitulation...HE belongs in this book.
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