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The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination with Statistics Paperback – 2 May 2005


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Product details

  • Paperback: 270 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; Reprint edition (2 May 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312322232
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312322236
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.7 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 576,441 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Earthshaker on 17 Sep 2008
Format: Paperback
Baseball as a sport lends itself very much to statistics. Although a team game, it boils down to the confrontation of two individuals: the pitcher throws to the batter and one out of a set of defined outcomes occurs (the batter is out, the batter gets on base in one of several defined ways, or the batter fights the pitch off and lives to face another). Each game, then, can be summarised as a series of numbers, and the seasoned baseball fan can run his or her eye over the statistics in the box-score and get a feel for what went on in the game, how it compares to others, and how players compare to each other.
So far, so simple. Let's look at that again though: each game can be summarised as a series of numbers. But which numbers to collect? And which have value in assessing the worth of players? What, indeed, should people be looking for in a player? The search for accurate ways of assessing value is something many fans would associate with recent developments in the game, as summarised in Michael Lewis's justly-celebrated "Moneyball" - the reassessment of batting average as a statistic and its partial replacement by on-base percentage, which finally gave some value to a player's patience and ability to work the pitcher into walking him. In this book, however, Schwarz demonstrates that baseball has been engaged in tinkering with its statistics from the word go: inheriting initial assumptions from cricket score-keeping, the game has fine-tuned what it records ever since in an attempt to come up with accurate measurements of value. Accordingly, Schwarz's book is not "just" a history of the numbers, but something that encourages you to think about the nature of the game and make your own decisions about whether the statistics, over the years, have done the job adequately or not.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By C. J. Booth on 20 July 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have been really lucky this year to have read some fantastic baseball related books. Two of the very best have been Fantasyland, by Sam Walker, and this book. Whilst at first glance it may appear to be a stathead publication, dedicated to the sometimes anal collection and repetition of barely useful trivia and numbers, it is in fact a concise history of the game itself, seen through the eyes of modern day Sabermetricians. In terms of enlightenment about the great game, i would put this up with 'The thinking fans guide to baseball' and 'The Boys of Summer' and the author is to be congratulated on creating a universe of characters, both on the field and off, who come to life with his accurate and witty prose. A Home Run!
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By Rob Kitchin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 26 April 2014
Format: Paperback
Baseball has often been considered the most individual of team sports, and because of its tightly formulated format and rules can be easily captured by summary statistics. From the very start of the game in the mid-nineteenth century fans and the media have charted player and team performances through various batting, pitching and fielding measures. Since the 1970s some of these statistics have influenced management decisions on trades, contract negotiations, and on-field plays, with their authority growing in the last two decades to the extent that every professional baseball team now employs a stats unit and uses a plethora of computer packages to help augment all kinds of decisions in the club and dugout. Alan Schwarz’s The Numbers Game: Baseball’s Lifelong Fascination with Statistics charts the evolution of measuring games through box scores, basic summary statistics, more complex measures and algorithms, companies that compile and sell stats, the development of dice and card games utilising baseball stats, statistic societies and initiatives, books and chewing gum cards, the media’s use of stats to help fans follow games via newspapers, radio and TV, and their seepage into decisions by coaches and general managers. The book has both historical depth and width of coverage and provides an engaging account by focusing on key personalities and the innovations they added to baseball’s statistical landscape. For the most part the structure works well, but starts to struggle in its account of developments from the early 1970s up to the present. In part, this is because there are a number of parallel developments that fracture the timeline.Read more ›
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By RichGibbons on 24 Nov 2011
Format: Paperback
As a recent convert to America's Favourite Past-Time, this was a great introduction to the fascination with statistics that baseball is so famous for. It gives a lot of background info about various players over the years and is a genuinely engaging book - definitely recommended for anyone with an interest in baseball.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 34 reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Inside the History of Baseball's Number Games...and more 17 Aug 2004
By Matthew Wall - Published on Amazon.com
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. 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.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Mandatory reading for all baseball fans 17 July 2004
By Anthony Passaretti - Published on Amazon.com
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. 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.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Inside the numbers 13 Sep 2004
By R. J. Marsella - Published on Amazon.com
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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I have two friends... 2 Jun 2005
By M J Heilbron Jr. - Published on Amazon.com
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.

Another, a guy my age (41), shared my pre-adolescent love for baseball by going to Dodger games, watching the All-Star games together, playing Little League and collecting baseball cards. He continued on with his fascination by playing Strat-O-Matic, high school ball, and getting involved with Rotisserie leagues where I did not. HE belongs in this book.

Now that I think about it...they both already are in this book. These are the guys who fill every paragraph of this tome.

Baseball isn't just "baseball."

To those who do not "get it", that statement is simply moronic; to the rest of us, it makes all the sense in the world.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
In God we trust, all others bring data 10 Dec 2005
By Englebert Humperdink - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is highly recommended for those either with an established interest in, or an emerging curiosity about, the subject of baseball statistics. Alan Schwarz succeeds in maintaining a high level of readability throughout this book, despite tackling what might generally be perceived as 'dry' topics. His focus on the personalities behind the various statistical developments allows for a more relaxed presentation of the history of this facet of the game of baseball.
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