There are no hard and fast rules for how one should approach the research of a biographical subject. Different methods are required to research George Daisey, a 19th-century one-gamer, or Walter Johnson, a player who has had several books written about him. While many players can be interviewed, others have been deceased for decades. Nevertheless, there might be a benefit to having a list of resources that other biographers have used to gather the stories of baseball people.
This brief outline is not intended to replace SABR’s own 2000 publication, How to Do Baseball Research, edited by Gerald Tomlinson. That fine work focuses on all aspects of baseball research, and goes into much more detail than we attempt here. This document is a start, something that might help you organize the task ahead.
- Research files at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library. All players, and many other people, have a file at the Hall of Fame. If you can visit the library, these files can be read and copied for a fee. If not, the library staff can copy them for you or e-mail them to you for a (larger) fee. Details are available by calling 888-Hall-of-Fame or by clicking here. The library is fairly understaffed, so you might have to wait several weeks for your files.
- For much quicker service, SABR member Eric Enders runs a company called Triple E productions (http://www.ericenders.com/triplee.htm, 915-588-7210) which will do much of the same work for you, as well as helping with nearly every phase of your research. Eric charges money, of course, but his rates are comparable to the Hall of Fame staff.
- An obituary. If the person is deceased, the single most useful thing to locate is an obituary, preferably one local to where the person died. If the subject died in New York city this might be less enlightening (though still worth finding), but for a person who died in a small town a local obituary could contain information not available elsewhere. The person is often a local celebrity, and may have spent many years there. It is worth noting that while an obituary might contain a lot of useful information about the player’s post baseball life, the facts about his baseball career and his youth are often less trustworthy. Like all sources, the information needs to verified if possible.
- Oral history. If the person is still alive, you might be able to speak with them directly. If they are not, you might be able to interview friends or relatives. One word of warning: all points of fact (dates, summaries of games, statistics, etc.) need to be verified with other sources. You do not want to count on the memory of the subject as your main source.
Places to look
- Public libraries. Your local library will help you locate the nearest library to the person’s place of death, which might help you find the person’s obituary and maybe a good deal more. Tell the librarian what you are looking for — they will likely be very happy to help you, and will probably suggest other places to look. If you know that the person lived much of their life in cities or towns other than where they died, you might also want to contact the libraries there. You could find multiple “local” obituaries.
- College or university. If the person went to college, try contacting the school’s library. The library likely contains a “special collections” department. The library might also lead you to the alumni office or the sports information office.
- Relatives and friends. An obituary will likely lead you to next of kin who could be tracked down. If the subject died decades ago, their next of kin might also have passed away, leading to a genealogical search for descendants.
- The Baseball Index. (SABR Bibliography Committee). Electronic index to baseball literature, available at www.baseballindex.org, or by contacting Andy McCue. Search to get a full list of articles about the player. Finding the sources themselves could be trickier.
- SABR-L. Tell other members what you are doing and ask for leads or information that could help you. Here's how to subscribe.
- Contact appropriate committee leaders. Click here for a list of all of SABR's research committees.
- "Index to SABR Publications," compiled by Joe Murphy in 2006. Free PDF can be downloaded on this page.
- Baseball-Reference.com. Founded by SABR member Sean Forman, it's the best encyclopedia-style site. Organized by player, team, year, etc.
- BaseballLibrary.com. Day-by-days, season rosters, on-line version of The Ballplayers, an online version of the Baseball Chronology. Search archive by person’s name.
- Try a web search for a player’s name: www.google.com. You might have to wade through some useless stuff, but it is often worthwhile.
- Baseball-Almanac.com. Trivia style. Stories, jokes, lists, awards, etc. Search archive by person’s name.
- Retrosheet.org. Game-by-game information, including downloadable play-by-play and box scores. Anyone can join, and they have a member listserv.
- Many more publicly available Internet resources can be found on SABR's Research Resources page, including a link to the Paper of Record website, where complete The Sporting News archives are accessible to SABR members only.
28 August 2002
By Norman Macht
- A writer's credentials do not guarantee reliability. Fred Lieb's books have errors of fact. Charles Dryden, like other reporter-humorists, made up stuff. Jim Nasium had either a porous memory or fertile imagination.
- Players interviewed at different times of their lives told different versions of the same story, sometimes to "correct the record" other times through misremembering. So it isn't enough to say, "But the player himself said it, so it must be true." If you find this, go with the version told the soonest after the incident itself. Not a sure thing, but a better bet. Sometimes players told a story because they had read it many times and accepted it, not because they witnessed it. As Judge Porter, a noted Washington lawyer, said, "The longer I live, the more clearly I remember things that never happened."
- Verify all game-related incidents by going back to contemporary accounts and box scores. Of course, they can vary, too, which doesn't help. Players and writers get details mixed up in their reminiscences. Most important, if you fail to find any game accounts or box scores to back up a story, don't use it. A lot of good stories land on the cutting room floor for lack of verification.
- Realize that all of this will require more time than you thought it would.
- Do not knock another person's research unless you have done the research to back up your knock.
To go back to the BioProject Resources page, click here.