Friday, December 09, 2005

Old Business Made New, 3

Old Business Made New, 3

The final part of the material sent to me by Bob McConnell:

The New SABR Guide to Minor League Statistics, 2nd Edition will be ready in several months.  This is a must publication for all minor league researchers.  It will be sold by SABR.  Watch for a date of publication in the SABR Bulletin.  [Actually, it sold out, but I do have a few copies that I retained for Baseball Press, and can be order from me—cb]

There appeared an article in the latest Baseball Research Journal, issue 31, by David Chrisman, entitled “Early RBI Leaders in the International League.”  The author included a table listing the seasonal RBI leaders (that varied from 4 to 19 per year) from 1884 through 1921.  In 1922, the league began publishing RBI totals in its official averages.  (The league officially changed its name from the Eastern League to International League in 1912.)

After the article appeared, several people wrote me questioning Chrisman’s figures.  

In those days, box scores did not include RBI in those days. Therefore, it is difficult, if not impossible, to compile RBI from game stories.  While a researcher may have no problem with a low scoring game, in high scoring games the game story did not go into sufficient detail on all the scoring for reasons of space.

Chrisman is not a member of our committee; however, he has recently been added to our mailing list

Note: To my knowledge, Chrisman never responded to Bob McConnell’s challenge in any forum.  

Years ago Wally Kuczwara, from Chicago, mad a speciality of compiling RBI totals for individual players of note.  Wally worked out of the University of Chicago’s University Newspaper Consortium, which the central depository for newspapers from allover the country.  It loans out newspapers to member universities.  At the time Wally got to know one of the security guards there, and would bring him a six-pack so he could” check out” microfilm himself, and work at home for days at a time on some such player.  He did a lot of fine work  before the powers that be caught up with him, and earning him— like Joe Jackson, who also toiled on the South Side— a lifetime ban.

What Wally explained to me about how he did his work was to get all the sources he could, and then parcel out as many RBIs as he could determine. Then “fudge” the rest.  The “fudging” is kept to a minimum by most good researchers.  But there are times when one cannot solve a problem, and then you make you’re best guess.  Usually, over the course of a season, it should not matter all that much. But as McConnell mentioned, high scoring game are always a problem.

In my first statistical compilation, the 1903 Pacific Coast League season, I found that I could pretty much determine from the game stories what inning a pitcher had been relieved in (this information was not carried in the early box scores), but a number of times was unable to determine how many were out when the pitcher in question got the hook.  What I did was make a rule that, if I couldn’t determine how many were out, I would give the pitcher relieved ⅓ of an inning, and the pitcher who came in ⅔ an inning.  While not scientifically exact, it should not make much difference over the course of a season, especially when dealing with such a small number of occasions.

I’m sure they had to make similar decisions when compiling the first Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia, and in certain cases admitted to doing so.  Of course, they compiled the encyclopedia on a deadline of something like 18 months, so they obviously could not have been expected to confirm every fact down to the nth degree of certitude. That is why corrections are still being made to the many encyclopedias out there.

At some point, I will write in depth about how and the way the 19th century major league baseball needs to be recompiled.  Let me just end this rant by saying that it should be recompiled, and that it wouldn’t be that arduous a project.

Back to my research techniques: I find problems that I can’t solve right off hand with the box scores I have.  Not only when a pitcher is relieved, but perhaps a problem with a box score.  

(In general I have found very few discrepancies in 19th century box scores, contrary to what the perception is out there.  Usually, the discrepancy is nothing more than an omission or printer’s typo.  And I’m dealing with the minor leagues, where one would assume to have an accuracy rate somewhat less than that of the majors.  So when you read somebody write that “every box score in the 19th century is different,” like Gary Gillette did in the new Baseball Encyclopedia, you can make book on the fact that they never did any 19th century compilations.)

When I compile a league, I have a blank 3 by 5 index card next to me on my desk, where I write down every problem I come across during a compilation.  Several times over the course of the season, I travel to various libraries around Southern California to dig up other newspapers to solve each and every problem.  If I need another source paper that I don’t have here, then I write the local library where the game was played, and ask for a photocopy of an additional game story.  

If none of the above works, then I fall back on that old standby— my best guess.  Or as other researchers call it: Fudging.


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