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The inaugural Batter's Box Group Interview, with baseball historian and sports journalist Alan Schwarz, concluded nearly five minutes ago ... and here's what was said:

[19:28] <AlanSchwarz> Hello, everyone! Thanks for stopping by the chatroom. I'm ready to start if you folks are.....
[19:30] <JoeDrew> Ok, Alan and I are ready to start now.
[19:30] <AlanSchwarz> Hit me!
[19:31] <AlanSchwarz> Hit me like Chris Michalak!
[19:31] <AlanSchwarz> (Sorry.)
[19:31] <JoeDrew> To start, we're going to do some book-review type questions, but instead of a reviewer speculating, the author will be able to answer directly
[19:31] <JoeDrew> Question from Mick Doherty in Texas: What spurred you to write this particular book?
[19:32] <AlanSchwarz> I've covered MLB for 15 years, and obviously aware that statistics are a big deal. Well, I wanted to read a history of the subject -- but for some reason one didn't exist. So I had to write it. (Sending answer now in case it gets too long; will continue....)
[19:33] <AlanSchwarz> I've always enjoyed the numerical side of the game ever since I was a kid, but I don't think I'm a stathead. I just think that any fan should understand where the stats came from, and how there have been arguments over OBP, etc., ever since the 1870s. It's pretty amazing.
[19:33] <AlanSchwarz> (Joe, when I'm done with an answer, I'll end with a *, OK?)
[19:33] <JoeDrew> sure thing.
[19:34] <AlanSchwarz> So that was the idea. I just wanted to write the book that this subject deserved.*
[19:34] <JoeDrew> A question from Joe Drew in Ontario: What audience did you have in mind while you were writing it?
[19:34] <AlanSchwarz> Just want to add that in my book, the stars aren't the stats. It's the PEOPLE who have devoted thousands of hours to them ever since the 19th century. It's a people book, not a numbers book.*
[19:35] <AlanSchwarz> The audience is simply good, intelligent baseball fans. People who want to know the history of the game, and who appreciate the science that takes place behind the scenes. And people who like reading stories about people. Again, this is a very human book; it's not a bunch of numbers! (The hardback cover notwithstanding.) :) *
[19:36] <JoeDrew> Mick Doherty again: Rob Neyer told Batter's Box of his "Pitchers" book with Bill James,
[19:36] <JoeDrew> "Personally I just try to write books that I would like to read, and then
[19:36] <JoeDrew> I hope I'm not alone." Then Neyer said, ""I have absolutely no doubt that
[19:36] <JoeDrew> this book will outsell anything I've done before, if only because if I
[19:36] <JoeDrew> hadn't written this book, I would have to own it." Does this at all mirror
[19:36] <JoeDrew> your approach to "Numbers Game"?
[19:38] <AlanSchwarz> Not really. I can echo what Rob said about wanting to write a book that I in fact would like; I think all writers do that to a fairly large extent. But I was very much aware all the way through of having to put myself in the reader's head to sense when he/she was ready for a topic switch. I tried to keep the pace of the narrative very quick. As Apollo Creed said to Rocky, "Stick and move. Stick and move."
[19:39] <AlanSchwarz> Rob and Bill, who have known each other for 15 years, take a very private approach to writing books. I take a more public one. I'm sure that derives from my working for magazines and newspapers my whole life; I'm more front-and-center on a consistent basis and need to cater to readers more. *
[19:39] <AlanSchwarz> I also have to keep editors happy more! :)
[19:40] <JoeDrew> From me: Was the book in the works for a while? What was your process for writing the manuscript? And, a somewhat related followup question from Mick Doherty, did you have any input in the book's design, and were you happy with how it came out?
[19:42] <AlanSchwarz> Believe it or not, I wrote the book very quickly -- 300 pages in about 14 months, start to finish, research included. And that was on top of my regular work for Baseball America, ESPN, The New York Times and many other outlets. It was an insane year I don't wish to repeat! (Except for the fact that I also got married during it!)
[19:43] <AlanSchwarz> I wrote the manuscript as if it were 12 long magazine articles on specific subjects. One thing I'm proud about is that the book is very well-structured. Lots of easily-digested tales that do fit together nicely and logically. I think that comes from the fact that I was a mathematics major in college. I worry a lot about structure and whether it works.
[19:43] <AlanSchwarz> As for the design, I had almost nothing to do with it, though they did take my suggestion on the font. I did not like the cover at all, though the paperback is MUCH better.
[19:44] <AlanSchwarz> *
[19:44] <JoeDrew> Ah, a fellow mathematician. :)
[19:45] <JoeDrew> Given that you limited yourself to 12 subjects, Thomas asks Whose story did you have to edit down or even cut from the book for space
[19:45] <JoeDrew> reasons, but which you really would have liked to include?
[19:45] <AlanSchwarz> Re: mathematician, I hate it when people think, "Oh, that means you must be a stathead," or whatever. It has little to do with it. I like numbers, but I breathe logic. There's a huge difference. It's about understanding proportion.
[19:47] <AlanSchwarz> Great question, Thomas. Almost every story had to be edited down, because there were so many great ones. Most of them last about 1500-2500 words and could easily have been 4000 apiece. But as I mentioned above, I wanted to keep it all snappy. What I've heard, and it's very gratifying, is that the pace of the book is one of its strong suits. I'm very proud of that, 'cause it took incredible discipline to pull that off.*
[19:47] <AlanSchwarz> For example, there was this guy in the 1940s who wrote a whole little book on reinventing pitching statistics. I could only give him half a paragraph! I'll make it up to him by mentioning him in one of my New York Times columns soon.
[19:48] <AlanSchwarz> By the way, everyone, my talk at the Learning Annex at Rogers Centre next Saturday the 18th has been discounted for latecomers. I'm not sure what the price is, but I hope some of you will come. Vernon Wells should be stopping by to answer some questions, too.
[19:49] <AlanSchwarz> *
[19:49] <JoeDrew> I'd be there, except my graduation is that day. Priorities... :)
[19:49] <AlanSchwarz> Slacker.
[19:49] <JoeDrew> Mick, with foresight as good as any I've seen, asks what the popular reaction has been to The Numbers Game. Clearly people have enjoyed the pacing, but how have reviews and sales been?
[19:50] <AlanSchwarz> You're kind of asking me to be immodest, I'm afraid, because the reaction was absolutely tremendous. George Will gave it a huge, positive review in The New York Times, and papers all over the country recommended it. (It was called the best reviewed sports book of last year, and ESPN named it its baseball Book of the Year.)
[19:51] <AlanSchwarz> Sales were great -- we just about doubled the publisher's projection. I'm not surprised, though, because I knew there were a bunch of fans out there who would enjoy learning about this stuff -- the wacko military commanders in the 40s and 50s who devoted their lives to studying baseball statistics. I mean, who knew? I sure didn't.
[19:52] <AlanSchwarz> Anyone who wants to read a few reviews, etc., can visit my website: You can also find links to all my stories in BA, ESPN, the Times, Newsweek, etc.
[19:52] <AlanSchwarz> *
[19:53] <AlanSchwarz> Every 1,000th visitor wins a new corner outfielder! (Just kidding.)
[19:53] <JoeDrew> :)
[19:53] <JoeDrew> Ok, so sales are great - Eric Hartman from Thornhill, Ontario asks how we can make them better. Is your book available in our big bookstore chains here in Canada? How about in the States?
[19:56] <AlanSchwarz> Thanks, Eric. The book should be available everywhere, but it's also super-easy to get from Amazon, B&N, etc. Just go to my website and click on the link on the home page. Also, you'll see a link to books by my friends like Jeremy Schaap, Jerry Crasnick, Michael Finkel, etc. I think you folks will enjoy it.
[19:56] <AlanSchwarz> Also, anyone who wants a signed copy can come to Rogers Centre next Saturday, or send me an e-mail. I've done a lot of that for people, and it's my pleasure.*
[19:57] <AlanSchwarz> Joe, you can send questions faster if you want....
[19:57] <JoeDrew> Sure thing, but first, everyone reading: remember that you can e-mail me questions at, or, for a quicker response, type "/msg JoeDrew <<questiongoeshere>>" (without the quotes). Be sure to include name & location!
[19:58] <AlanSchwarz> Or people can IM me directly at schwarz1492 (aol IM protocol).
[19:59] <JoeDrew> Rob Pettapiece from Burlington asks for a brief thumbnail sketch of the story behind Babe Ruth's "long lost 715th home run" - he promises to buy and read the book, but would like some teasers.
[19:59] <AlanSchwarz> No problem!
[20:00] <AlanSchwarz> In the late 1960s, when the first Baseball Encyclopedia was being built, they discovered that Ruth had hit a walk-off "homer" into the stands, but it went down only as a double or something because those were the rules of the time. Once the winning run scored, that was it, and the hitter got credit for only as many bases as it took for the runner to score....
[20:00] <AlanSchwarz> So....
[20:01] <AlanSchwarz> They had decided that since it would have been a HR by modern rules, Ruth should be at 715; there were about 35 more of these hits that were being turned into homers. Well, before the book went to press, the story got out through Len Koppett in the New York Times, and people/fans went berserk. So they decided not to switch it, and he's been at 714 ever since.
[20:04] <AlanSchwarz> As for other teasers, I can send people excerpts that ran on ESPN and in Baseball America. People should just send me an e-mail at and I'll send them to you!
[20:05] <JoeDrew> So, while we're on the subject of stats, Mick would like to know...
[20:05] <JoeDrew> You'd never see Bobby Mathews retire with 297 wins or Sam Rice and Sam
[20:05] <JoeDrew> Crawford shut it down just shy of 3,000 hits these days; Early Wynn
[20:05] <JoeDrew> hanging around for that 300th win is more memorable than the more recent
[20:05] <JoeDrew> retirements of Al Kaline and Dale Murphy with 399 and 398 homers,
[20:05] <JoeDrew> respectively. (But, then, 500, not 400 homers is "the big number.") When
[20:05] <JoeDrew> did "numerical milestones" really become important in baseball, and why?
[20:05] <JoeDrew> Did it have anything to do with stats on baseball cards?
[20:07] <AlanSchwarz> Great question....You're right, most players who played before 1950 or so didn't really know their career totals; there was no register that kept track of them. Topps began putting stats on the backs of cards in 1952, which helped, but it was really The Baseball Encyclopedia's appearance in 1969 that allowed fans and players to see what players' full totals were easily. That's where it probably started, really. (Wynn of cou
[20:07] <JoeDrew> Alan, you got cut off there, at the beginning of your parenthetical about Wynn.
[20:07] <AlanSchwarz> It's really interesting to see how scattershot stats were kept before the 1950s. As as some of you know, we've been cleaning 'em up ever since!
[20:08] <AlanSchwarz> Ah -- just that Wynn was of course before 1969, but wins were actually kept pretty well. That was about the only pitching stat that was.
[20:09] <AlanSchwarz> Hey, just found the link to an excerpt on ESPN. It's:
[20:09] <AlanSchwarz> Hopefully that works!
[20:09] <JoeDrew> In recent times, stats have become more and more important (at least in the minds of the populace at large.) I've always thought always been part of baseball, but is that really true? You certainly imply that stats weren't a big deal before they started being accumulated by the Encyclopedia.
[20:10] <JoeDrew> In recent times, of course, we deal with "Moneyball." Since
[20:10] <JoeDrew> "Moneyball," though, there has been a real backlash against the gathering
[20:10] <JoeDrew> and use of statistics, mostly because of the perceived slight against the
[20:10] <JoeDrew> establishment. Has there ever been a split like this in baseball? And was
[20:10] <JoeDrew> "Moneyball" (the book) the cause of it, or simply a catalyst to an
[20:10] <JoeDrew> ever-growing movement?
[20:10] <AlanSchwarz> Oh goodness yes. There were huge arguments as early as the 1870s and 1880s about which stats mattered and which didn't, what they should keep and throw out. The first box score appeared virtually after the first game.
[20:11] <AlanSchwarz> Basically, stats have been a part of the game ever since it was played. When they invented batting average in 1872, the immediate outcry was, What about Walks???? It's the same thing we're still hearing today! (And you thought Moneyball was new!)
[20:12] <AlanSchwarz> Re: Moneyball, there hasn't been this much of a public split, because there never was so much animosity for SCOUTS made front-and-center like it was in Moneyball. That caused a lot of the backlash.
[20:12] <AlanSchwarz> But also, I think some of the old-timers can read the writing on the wall, and they don't like it.
[20:13] <AlanSchwarz> *
[20:13] <JoeDrew> Of course, some times the old-timers are right.
[20:13] <JoeDrew> Mike D asks My question is kind of the flip side of Joe's: In your opinion, when, if
[20:13] <JoeDrew> ever, have "performance analysts" *over*used statistics, or drawn
[20:13] <JoeDrew> inappropriate conclusions from the numbers?
[20:14] <AlanSchwarz> Oh yes, absolutely. It's never one side or the other. It's a mixture of the two, and more executives know that than most people realize. It's not black and white, though the press likes to portray it that way because it makes it feel juicier.
[20:14] <JoeDrew> So, maybe we can get a little bit more specific about stats.
[20:15] <JoeDrew> Mike D has a followup: What is the statistic or metric in most need of
[20:15] <JoeDrew> refinement? And which statistic remains the most underappreciated today?
[20:15] <AlanSchwarz> I can't speak to specific analysts, but yes, of course stats have been improperly used at times. Things like, "Johnny has hit in 10 of his last 13 games", you hear that all the time, but it's totally meaningless. There are dozens more.
[20:15] <AlanSchwarz> Lots of "splits", like vs. specific teams, at ballparks, etc., are simply based on samples that are too small to be of much use. But people cite them because they sure sound interesting.
[20:16] <AlanSchwarz> I think Wins and Losses for pitchers are seriously antiquated. Giving a pitcher one or the other is silly. I like what one person (I don't remember who) has done, by assigning PORTIONS of a win or loss (80 percent, 38 percent, etc.) depending on how the pitcher threw.
[20:17] <AlanSchwarz> After all, all a WIN is is whether your team outscored the opponent while you were on the mound. It has far less to do with how you actually pitched.
[20:17] <AlanSchwarz> Also, saves and holds are just dumb!
[20:18] <JoeDrew> And yet, players get paid based upon them, and they'll even sit to protect their stats.
[20:18] <JoeDrew> Dan McIlroy (who many know as "Magpie") asked a very long question related to that phenomenon
[20:18] <AlanSchwarz> As for underappreciated stats, I would say the relief stats that Baseball Prospectus keeps track of, things like that, which really look at a reliever's perforamnce more carefully.
[20:19] <AlanSchwarz> Did you know that newspaper writers complained that players were too concerned with their stats way back in the 1880s????
[20:19] <JoeDrew> I bet Magpie did! :)
[20:20] <JoeDrew> I'll summarize Magpie's quesiton as follows: Is a manager's tendency to make decision based on stats a bad thing? Is it increasing these days, or, as you mention, has it always been with us?
[20:20] <AlanSchwarz> Henry Chadwick was a real hard-ass.
[20:20] <AlanSchwarz> This is a very important point -- managers have ALWAYS made decisions based on stats, and we already knew this. The question really is which ones, and to what degree.
[20:21] <AlanSchwarz> Managers have always looked at batting average, etc.
[20:21] <AlanSchwarz> Now, what they're doing is looking at stats that actually MATTER -- things like on-base percentage, slugging percentage, that kind of thing. Or stats against LHP/RHP, or pitch counts, etc. But managers have always looked at numbers, whether they've actually admitted it or not.
[20:22] <AlanSchwarz> Steve Boros of the early-1980s A's was the first manager to openly embrace his use of a computer. It was an old Apple II. There's a great picture of it in the book.
[20:23] <AlanSchwarz> *
[20:23] <JoeDrew> So, clearly, there are useful stats and useless stats, and I guess you're with the "sabermetricians" in the embrace of the "new" stats. But Aaron from Toronto asks, What's the most completely useless baseball statistic you've come across?
[20:24] <JoeDrew> And Jonny German asks a related question, what your personal "Triple Crown" of most useful stats is, and what your take on the traditional triple crown is.
[20:24] <AlanSchwarz> I don't embrace "new" stats willy-nilly. I pick and choose the ones I think make sense and are useful. As for useless stats, I think "hit in 10 of the last 13 games" is about as stupid as it gets!
[20:25] <AlanSchwarz> And boy, is that stupid. I also hate "30 saves in 38 opportunities," as if that's so good.
[20:26] <AlanSchwarz> I don't really think of this as a Triple Crown, but I do think that OBP/SLG/OPS really does a pretty decent job of telling you how good an offensive player is.
[20:26] <JoeDrew> What do you think of GPA?
[20:27] <AlanSchwarz> All I can say is I had a 3.4 GPA at Penn, graduated with honors, and not one person has ever cared.
[20:27] <JoeDrew> So, how about we get even more specific, tap your brain, as it were.
[20:28] <JoeDrew> Dan from Etobicoke would like to know what the general feeling is of the usefulness of current fielding metrics?
[20:29] <AlanSchwarz> Not one person who really understands the issue believes that Errors or Fielding Percentage mean much of a darn thing. (Of course a specific error can during a game, but I mean in evaluating a player moving forward.)
[20:30] <AlanSchwarz> Range Factor means something, as do Zone Rating and Ultimate Zone Rating more so. But I think we still have a very long way to go.
[20:31] <JoeDrew> Fawaz would also like to know whether there's any indication, statistically or otherwise, that runners on base affect the pitcher's performance -- whether base-stealing or otherwise.
[20:32] <AlanSchwarz> I don't know the answer to that, Fawaz. But I'm sure the numbers are out there. We'd want to look at how the pitcher does from the stretch, etc., and whether a speedy runner makes more of a difference than an anvil like Jason Giambi.
[20:33] <AlanSchwarz> Folks, I'm going to have to go in about 5 minutes, I'm afraid. My wife's gonna kill me if we don't have dinner soon!
[20:33] <AlanSchwarz> But I'm happy to stick around till then, and people can feel free to write to me asking for those links.
[20:34] <JoeDrew> Ok Alan, we'll try to keep it going!
[20:34] <JoeDrew> Thomas would like you to point to a couple of players that you wish had been playing during
[20:34] <JoeDrew> the current era, as they would have been given opportunities they were
[20:34] <JoeDrew> never given during their heyday?
[20:34] <JoeDrew> Specifically, based on statistical evaluation, not colour barrier or lack of opportunity.
[20:34] <AlanSchwarz> Oh, I think Satchel Paige, definitely, if not all the Negro League players.
[20:35] <AlanSchwarz> Lefty Grove also didn't get to the major leagues until rather late because his minor league owner wouldn't sell his contract. That's a bummer.
[20:36] <AlanSchwarz> I'm not sure what you mean, other than colour or opportunity. You mean injury? Otherwise most people got to show their stuff pretty good.
[20:36] <AlanSchwarz> Long Live Herb Washington!
[20:36] <JoeDrew> I think Thomas means the sort of person who would be given a chance thanks to more forward-thinking GMs, but I think we can move on.
[20:37] <AlanSchwarz> Oh. Well, Ken Phelps is a good example of the kind of player who wasn't appreciated in his time. I think Reggie Smith and Ken Singleton, too. They were REALLY good.
[20:37] <AlanSchwarz> Smith particularly.
[20:37] <JoeDrew> Alan, if we could just have you for a moment more, would you tell us how your fascination with statistics has changed the way you watch a particular game?
[20:38] <AlanSchwarz> Dick Allen was a stud, too, but had a tough time because he was an outspoken black man in an era when that was very controversial.
[20:39] <AlanSchwarz> Honestly, and maybe this surprises you, I don't watch games any differently now than I did before I wrote the book. Seriously. I just wanted to understand where all this stat stuff came from -- history and the characters behind it....
[20:40] <AlanSchwarz> But I don't watch a game with a calculator or spreadsheet at the ready. There are so many ways to enjoy baseball. Sitting and just watching is wonderful. I don't want to think too much when I'm watching. I'll do that after the game is over!
[20:40] <JoeDrew> Thanks very much, Alan.
[20:40] <JoeDrew> I think we can let you go to your wife's loving embrace now.
[20:40] <AlanSchwarz> OK, folks. Thanks very much for spending the time here in the chatroom. You guys have a great site, and I hope you have a great rest of the season. Good luck to your Jays! Take care ...


Comments? Folks who were there, how'd it go? How can we be better in doing this next time? Who would you like to see in a Live Chat Group Interview? What should we do differently?

And what'd you think about what was said? Feel free to contact Alan directly -- he provided a number of ways to do so throughout the transcript -- but what followup questions occured to you as the chat was progressing?
Alan Schwarz Chat Transcript | 3 comments | Create New Account
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Joe - Thursday, June 09 2005 @ 10:07 PM EDT (#119281) #
The most astonishing answer, for me, involved the fact that people were aware of the importance of walks back in 1880, but somehow the message got lost between then and now. Once the "batting average" became entrenched, there was no looking back, but even in the early days, people knew what really mattered.
Named For Hank - Thursday, June 09 2005 @ 10:09 PM EDT (#119283) #
I'm annoyed that I missed it. My DSL went down and I had no internet for a couple of hours.

Thankfully, I can now read the transcript.
Dr. Zarco - Thursday, June 09 2005 @ 10:30 PM EDT (#119286) #
Joe, I agree about the weird disappearance of walks as meaningful. Terrific job moderating by the way, you really tied things together very well. Although I had to miss the end (dinner was calling here too), it was very enjoyable to watch the questions and answers being posted. His book sure sounds like a fun and informative read, I'll certainly be getting it when I have a bit more time. I love knowing stats/records/players that few know, I wish I knew more!
Alan Schwarz Chat Transcript | 3 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.