- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; Reprint edition (May 2, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0312322232
- ISBN-13: 978-0312322236
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #292,482 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination with Statistics Paperback – April 21, 2005
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“One of the most engrossing histories of baseball ever.” ―From the Foreword by Peter Gammons
“A romp . . . Schwarz merrily keeps ratcheting up the book's wows-per-page average.” ―The Washington Post
“The pastime behind the national pastime . . . a very human look at generations of baseball fanatics.” ―The Philadelphia Inquirer
“A riveting history of the search for new baseball knowledge.” ―Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball
“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 tops of his game introducing the people behind the numbers.” ―Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated
“Alan Schwarz makes statistics as interesting as games and the people who play them. Who knew that numbers could have such personality?” ―Sally Jenkins, author of Funny Cide and the bestselling It's Not About the Bike
“One of the very best baseball journalists working today, (Schwarz) has written a wonderful history that will appeal even to those with no particular interest in the game . . . Remarkable.” ―The New York Observer
“An enormously entertaining and engrossing book that should be read by everyone.” ―The Seattle Times
“An essential book for any baseball library, one that simultaneously makes for breezy reading and holds up as an essential piece of research.” ―The Chicago Sports Review
“What sounds potentially dry -- a stat freak family tree -- is instead a lush landscape of eccentric scientists, pack-rat alcoholics, back-stabbing partners and a minimum-wage night watchman whose essays created a sensation (perhaps you've heard of Bill James).” ―The San Jose Mercury News
“Reads like a whodunit . . . with a season-full of heretofore under-reported facts, nuances and stories.” ―Long Beach Press-Telegram
“Intelligent, smartly researched and often hilarious.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Alan Schwarz turns the numbers of baseball into musical notes. He makes you understand them, he makes you care about them, and in the end, he makes you share his passion for them.” ―Mike Lupica, New York Daily News
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Top Customer Reviews
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. Perhaps I'm biased because I know many of the parties mentioned and was a witness second-hand to many of the tiny, perhaps pointless, fights that lace through this period, but Schwarz did a pretty fair job at sorting out the fact from the self-serving fictive.
It's on this point that I think the book truly excels. There's an underlying theme about the nature of evidence and expertise, of the battle between those seeking a detailed truth and those in love with baseball mythology over the less smooth contours of reality, that has some lessons above and beyond the nearly literally-trivial world of baseball statistics.
Schwarz does a wonderful job at describing this process of change, and I highly recommennd this book for baseball fans, and give it a modest recommendation for those less interested in baseball but with an interest in the sociology of the use of evidence.
When one sees a sea-change in baseball's conduct because of the revelations about On-Base Percentage -- basic facts known a century earlier but studiously ignored because they did not serve the short-term interests of the players or owners -- it's hard to say there aren't even more surprises in store for baseball. Reliving this evolution makes for great Hot Stove League reading.
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. Schwarz even leaves us salivating at the end with his preview of what Tendu and MLB.com have in store for the future ("That's the slickest f---in' thing I've ever seen in my life.").
Whether you've engaged in heated arguments over an MVP award, debated Linear Weights v. VORP, or simply been engrossed by the back of a baseball card, this book demands a place on your bookshelf.
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.