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For baseball fans, the minor leagues have always been the Undiscovered Country. The big leagues, fans knew about – they read the daily boxscores, saw the highlights (first on local broadcasts, eventually on Baseball Tonight) and read the articles (from The Sporting News to Baseball Digest to USA Today to the Internet). There was an ever-increasing information base of major-league baseball data upon which fandom could feed. But finding out about the minor leagues usually involved the equivalent of travelling to Delphi to speak with the Oracle (and we don’t mean Dan Szymborski).

Data about minor leaguers normally came in the form of sportswriters’ “Top Prospect” lists, which might have told you a Triple-A hitter’s batting average, home runs and RBI totals, or a starter’s W-L record and ERA. For more information, you had to get a subscription to the excellent Baseball America, but even then, the minor leagues are huge and there’s only so much a weekly tabloid could tell you. And BA, geared towards scouts and their often subjective assessments, has never had what you would call a great fondness for detailed statistical data.

Major-league fans eventually became more knowledgeable about the game and more demanding of raw data with which they could judge players’ performances for themselves. We can trace that development back to the work of Bill James and the Society for the Advancement of Baseball Research over the last three decades, not to mention the ubiquity of the Internet. But more recently, we’ve seen the same thing happen with the minor leagues -- fans wanting to know more, and with the rise of the Net, having unprecedented access points to that knowledge. With the growing realization that minor-league performance mattered, an industry and a community both flourished. John Sickels, for one, will be remembered as a pioneer in this area, as will Baseball Prospectus and its advanced statistical evaluation of prospects.

It’s quite possible, however, that the founding of The Baseball Cube will be seen retrospectively as an equally significant development. For the first time, the average fan could access the entire minor-league statistical records of virtually every current major-league and minor-league player -- without using middlemen, without buying massive tomes of statistics, all for free on the Internet. And the irony, perhaps, is that the man who made possible this general access into America’s pastime is a Canadian: Gary Cohen.

1B Gary Cohen
Bats: R
Throws: R
Born: Montreal, Quebec
Resides: Montreal, Quebec
Major-League Comp to Little League Career: Jeff Bagwell
Favourite Team: Montreal Expos
Favourite Player (current): Brad Wilkerson
Favourite Player (all-time): Cal Ripken, Jr.
Best Game Attended In Person: Expos 6, Phillies 5 during 1993 pennant race.
Favourite Baseball Book: Shoeless Joe
Favourite Play in Baseball: Doubles to the gap with a runner on first base
Favourite Ballpark: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Striding-To-The-Plate Music: Enter Sandman
When He’s In Da Box: Programmer-analyst, project manager
When He’s Out of Da Box: Father, husband, programmer-analyst, baseball fanatic, jogger
Three Unshakable Baseball Beliefs: Pitchers should bat, no pimping on da taters, saves are overrated.

Born and raised in Montreal as a die-hard Expos and Canadiens fan, Gary has been a devotee of baseball statistics for as long as can remember. “I collected baseball cards and memorized the statistics on the back,” he told Batter’s Box in a recent interview. “I invented games that involved a pen, a marble, a living-room stadium and a list of scoresheets with real lineups and real players. I would play the game, keep the stats and even try to add some realism to the game by shortening up on the pen for the pitchers,” he recalls. “But that actually gave them some extra power somehow, so I had to find a new way for the pitcher to bat.”

Soon afterwards, Gary discovered commercial tabletop games like Strat-o-Matic Baseball, Pursue the Pennant and eventually Diamond Mind Baseball – “playing the games, keeping stats, spending way too many nights erasing really worn-out paper.” Computer baseball followed soon afterwards, but the algorithms were relatively primitive – “my Earl Weaver Baseball Game had the really hard throwers like Rob Dibble randomly throwing balls over the centerfield fence instead of to the batter at the plate. … It was very hard to find a game that provided accurate stats, and so I never got into the computer games.” That interest in accurate statistics, combined with a love for both programming and baseball, led him to venture onto the Internet and eventually, three years ago, to create The Baseball Cube.

Seeking a niche
Initially christened Sports-Wired.Com (which is still the URL) and envisioned as a baseball links site, The Baseball Cube took on its new name a year later, complete with a miniature Rubik’s Cube icon. The new handle, says Gary, was designed to represent the different angles on stats that his site offered: “Keep turning it around to see the data from a different angle -- by team, by player, by year, etc.”

Gary looked around to see what niches were not being filled in the rapidly expanding online baseball community. “I wanted to do something different, [something] that no other site had ever done,” he said. That turned out to be minor-league statistics. “I saw a great opportunity for a niche and I took it. I think that the biggest selling point to me was that it was going to be difficult and challenging, and that no one else would have the patience or time to undertake such a project.”

No kidding; maintaining and updating the massive amounts of data contained in The Baseball Cube is, amazingly, a one-man operation. “If I told you how much time was put into this site, you would think I was crazy,” Gary says. “Everything from conceptualizing, programming, researching, data entry and data gathering is done by me. It’s obviously a lot of work, and I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit sitting in front of my computer and numbing my brain through mundane data entry.”

It has taken Gary three years of work to bring the Cube’s databanks up to their current point. “I have a few databases,” he notes. “All of them are uploaded to my server, where the Web pages read them as required. Some sites have decided to upload all of their pages in HTML for fast browsing, but I’ve found it much more efficient -- for now -- to simply store all my data in Access databases, upload them, and build ASP pages that call my databases. This way, I need to make only one Web page for all players. It simply reads in data based on the player’s ID. The disadvantage is that the site slows down,” he concedes, “but until I find a better way, this is the way it will be.”

Oddly enough, Gary wasn’t a real minor-league aficionado when he started. “My focus as a fan had always been at the pro level,” he says, “but since beginning The Baseball Cube, that has changed. Though I don’t follow the players in the minors that closely, I really enjoy scanning the historical stats and trying to track the better prospects as they make their ascent to the majors. And after reading Moneyball,” he adds, “I think my interest in minor-league numbers has increased exponentially!”

Although the Website maintenance is his job alone, The Baseball Cube is not entirely a solo effort: Gary and his wife own the Cube through a partnership. “She’s not involved with the day-to-day operation of the site, but she takes care of the back-office stuff,” he explains.

A challenging task
Minor-league data was not easy to find when Gary started out. “The most frustrating thing to me was that everyone had a little bit of the pie on their site and no site had everything,” he says. “That was the purpose of the Baseball Cube. I wanted it to be the IMDB of baseball.”

He originally pieced together his data from official team pages and minor-league team Websites, as well as other fan sites where historical information was available. “I did some ‘filling-in’ using yearbooks and historical almanacs,” he adds. The Sporting News Player Registers helped him to gather the minor-league stats for all major leaguers going as far back as 1998. Then, in 2002, he started compiling statistics for each of the minor leagues by using each team’s official Websites or, if that wasn’t an option, Baseball America.

“But I wanted to take it one step further,” Gary recalls. And thus began his sojourn into the histories of every minor-league player who was active in 2002. “The goal was to begin the base of minor-league stats in 2002 and to move forward, adding each year, building up a good history,” he says. “When I have time, I will start going backwards by filling in 2001, 2000 and so forth.”

The Baseball Cube is also one of the very few sites with extensive college statistics for professional players. “College stats,” he says, “were an uphill battle, because of the length of time they took to set up. All of the statistics have come from the college sites themselves. The original plan was to bring in all 2002 stats from all Division I colleges, where available. Once that began, I thought it would be even better to dig up the archives of each college as well, so I went as far back for each college as the site would let me go. I think I have the University of Florida back to 1980!”

Gary decided to restrict himself just to the Division I schools, simply because of the “sheer volume” of schools in the lower divisions. “My database has a list of 1,400 schools attended by players, and to gather stats for each school would be too much work for one person,” he points out. “I also found that the numbers weren’t readily available in these schools. Furthermore, to store a player profile for all of these players who would never make it to even the minor leagues seemed irrelevant.”

A great success
By any measure, this one-man project has been an overwhelming success. The Baseball Cube receives about 8,000 visitors a day, combining for close to 45,000 different page views. Consonant with the increased interest in prospects among baseball fans, Gary believes that most visitors are seeking the stats of current minor-leaguers, with the minor-league stats of current major-leaguers a secondary draw. The most popular players are the top prospects and those not far from the majors -- Rickie Weeks, Cole Hamels, Scott Kazmir and Nick Swisher, to name a few.

What makes this amount of traffic all the more remarkable is that Gary has not spent a dime advertising The Baseball Cube. “I think the biggest break for the site was being indexed into the Google search engine for the minor-league players,” he says. “Since The Cube was the only site showing minor-league player stats, I was first for a lot of searches, and so the word started to spread through the baseball message boards that there was a site with minor-league stats.”

Like any top prospect, Gary did make one rookie mistake: he originally posted links to his new site at various baseball message boards. He quickly called that off when it became clear that was considered spamming. “At the time, I didn’t realize the code of conduct for those places. So now I let my site do the talking,” he says.

These days, the only way in which The Baseball Cube causes unhappiness is through the site’s main form of revenue generation. “Ah yes, the popup ads,” says Gary. “The popup ads provide some revenue, no doubt, but not nearly enough to make this a full-time job. I would be lying if I said I would do this for absolutely no revenue, and it is obvious when you look at the site that there is an entrepreneur of some capacity behind the code.”

Gary recognizes that there are a lot of opportunities for him to make money off the site, in far more intrusive ways than pop-ups. That’s something he wants to avoid. “Deep down, I want to provide an experience at my site that does not have intrusive ads, and I am actively trying ways to do this.”

More recently, The Baseball Cube has been selling sponsorships to various player pages, a concept that he borrowed from Baseball-Reference. “It was a good idea, and I took it a step further by allowing for banners,” he says. But as successful as the sponsorships have been, Gary realizes the pop-ups probably discourage would-be customers. “It’s hard to ask for money when you’re throwing ads in people’s faces,” he notes. “This is another reason why I’m reviewing my site’s advertising policy.”

Gary has received feedback, invariably positive, from several current minor-league players and even some former big-leaguers. No major- or minor-league team has been in touch with him, however, and he’s not aware of any organization making systemic use of his site.

Down the road
So what’s next for Gary Cohen and The Baseball Cube? As it happens, he has several projects on the backburner. Rickey Henderson fans take note: Gary is currently organizing 2003 Independent League stats. “This will fill in a lot of the blanks for players who played in the minors in 2002 and dropped off the radar in 2003,” he points out.

“I also plan on working hard on the advertising component of the site, removing the intrusive ads and trying to find alternative ways to earn revenue from the traffic,” he says. “This might include improving the current Sports Product mall, or simply enhancing the sponsorship capabilities of the site.” Other projects include a Stadiums section, minor-league stats going back from 2001 and historical transactions. Gary would also like to incorporate some opinion and chatter into the site, either through forums or chats.

Keen-eyed visitors to The Baseball Cube have noticed links to sibling sites devoted to sports such as hockey and basketball. But Gary reports that these sites will fall by the wayside. “The Hockey Cube has recently shut down, and there are no plans to continue the other sites,” he says. “Hockey was complete, but it was not receiving anywhere near the traffic that The Baseball Cube received. Over the year, it has [become] evident to me that baseball is the most natural partner with the Web, and so all my efforts will be placed on The Baseball Cube.”

More than one person has suggested that The Baseball Cube should also offer current, in-season minor-league statistics. It’s something Gary’s been mulling over for quite some time now, but it’s difficult to find a viable way to pull it off. “I have ideas on some programs to write that could extract data from various other Websites and post them on The Cube, but it doesn’t seem right to me to recycle stats from Baseball America,” he notes. “The same thing goes for Major League Baseball’s stats…. [B]ut it’s still something that I’m thinking about for the 2005 season.”

And if all this sounds like the kind of work you’d like to be involved in, there’s some good news. “I’m also interested in finding people to help with scouting reports for all players in the database,” says Gary. “I’ll probably get around to contacting several fan site owners who would be willing to provide some more value to each player page.”

Far from resting on its laurels, The Baseball Cube seems to be gearing up for a second stage of development that might just propel it further into the mainstream. The last word belongs to Dan Werr of Baseball Primer, who commented in a Batter’s-Box-inspired thread earlier this year, “The Cube is the 800-pound sleeping gorilla of stat sites.”
Spinning The Baseball Cube: An Interview with Gary Cohen | 10 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
robertdudek - Wednesday, May 26 2004 @ 02:38 PM EDT (#62593) #
Great interview. Kudos to Mr. Cohen for his efforts.

I'd like to know if Mr. Cohen has plans to make his college and minor league stats available for bulk downloading in comma delimited form, or perhaps as Excel or Access files. I'm most interested in stats for 2001 and earlier and I'd be willing to pay money for them if I got it in a convenient package.
_Donkit R.K. - Wednesday, May 26 2004 @ 02:56 PM EDT (#62594) #
I've walked up Delphi, to the stadium perched atop the beautiful mountainside. Just thought I'd throw that in there...

Nice interview, btw ;-) !
_Donkit R.K. - Wednesday, May 26 2004 @ 03:48 PM EDT (#62595) #
Back On topic - I've had the Baseball Cube bookmarked for quite some time now and have made pretty frequent use of it. I use it more for current major league players, checking their minor league stats out of curiosity.Gary obviously puts a lot of hard work into the site and kudos to him. It is the only place I go (save for Da Box) for Minor League info.

Back Off-Topic - My local guide at Delphi (I travelled with a school-related group) was one of many stunningly beautiful Greek women I saw on my travels. In my mind, if Greek women united they could *easily* take over the world.
Craig B - Wednesday, May 26 2004 @ 06:14 PM EDT (#62596) #
if Greek women united they could *easily* take over the world.

At the very least, they could take over me. I think they would find me offering only token resistance.
Craig B - Wednesday, May 26 2004 @ 06:52 PM EDT (#62597) #
Back On Topic - Thanks Jordan. I love the Cube, and like Robert I am willing to pay $$$ to someone for databases of complete years of college and minor league statistics
_Gary Cohen - Wednesday, May 26 2004 @ 08:54 PM EDT (#62598) #
Hi everyone,

Thanks for the kind words about the site.

If anyone would like to contact me concerning getting complete college stats for a particular year, don't hesitate to email me.

I have 2002 and 2003 Division I Stats so far. (Same with Minor League stats)
_Gary Cohen - Wednesday, May 26 2004 @ 08:55 PM EDT (#62599) #
The email is baseball at
_Ryan Lind - Thursday, May 27 2004 @ 01:59 AM EDT (#62600) #
Thanks for the interview.

I too use Baseball Cube quite a lot, as I love going back and looking at how various baseball players progressed throughout the minor leagues. In the last week or so (the time I discovered the site,) I have used the site approximately 7,000,000 times. :D

Awesome stuff.

However, is the individual stats down for anyone else? For instance, if I type in Alexis Rios into the player search right now I get this:

Microsoft VBScript compilation error '800a03f9'

Expected 'Then'

/players/profile.asp, line 91

if popupCode=true

It was fine yesterday, but I've been experiencing this problem today.

I use Mozilla Firefox BTW.
Mike Green - Thursday, May 27 2004 @ 10:54 AM EDT (#62601) #
The Cube has added H/9, K/9, W/9 and WHIP to its pitchers' profiles. Very handy. Bravo.

The next step is to add home run allowed stats (or per 9).
_Gary Cohen - Thursday, May 27 2004 @ 12:53 PM EDT (#62602) #
The issue with the players page has been fixed.

I was doing some work last night and while uploading/testing, my Internet simultaneously and suspiciously stopped working and so I didn't get to fix the issue until this morning.

I was modifying the site to only show popups for visitors every 10 page views instead of what seems like every page right now.
Spinning The Baseball Cube: An Interview with Gary Cohen | 10 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.