Book Review: The Numbers Game

The Numbers Game is a book that should appeal to many SABR members. Although the theme of the book is baseball statistics, the stories are really about the history, people, and organizations behind the numbers. There is actually very little mathematics in the book, so if you’re turned off by polynomials you should not let that deter you from reading this well-told story.

Schwarz tells the tale of baseball statistics, beginning with “Father” Henry Chadwick in the 1850s, through Bill James in the 1970s and ‘80s, and coming current with the likes of Billy Beane, Theo Epstein and Paul DePodesta in the 21st century. The histories of many of the statistics-oriented sports organizations are also told – the Elias Sports Bureau, STATS, Inc., Project Scoresheet, Retrosheet, MLB.com, and baseballprospectus.com, among others.

Of course, SABR is prominently featured in several of the chapters.

A theme that runs throughout the book is the battle for recognition faced by the statistics proponents. On one level, there’s the battle for acceptance of statistical analyses by “traditional” baseball men. But also, on another level, there’s the battle between those that “control” the official statistics and those that are challenging the meaning, and often-times the accuracy, of those statistics.

I found the book to be an easy, enjoyable read. This book would be especially useful for new SABR members to familiarize themselves with the statistical landscape of the sport.

Here’s the key statistics:

  • Book: The Numbers Game – Baseball’s Lifelong Fascination with Statistics
  • Author: Alan Schwarz
  • Author Credentials: Baseball America writer, ESPN.com columnist, contributor to New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and other national publications.
  • Published: 2004, St. Martin’s Press, ISBN 0-312-3222-4
  • Length: 254 pages; Foreword by Peter Gammons
  • Price: Retail list – $24.95; Online: new from $12.99 + ship; used from $4.25 + ship.

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