How to Do Baseball Research: Researching Baseball Records

The primary way the technological revolution has affected the way we do records research is not so much in giving us new sources; it is in the way it has allowed us to access those sources more easily. Researching an individual, team or league record for a game, a season or a career still is dependent on two major sources: the official day-by-day sheets and the daily and sporting newspapers of the time in question. Technology allows us to spot discrepancies in those sources much more easily, but there is still lots of “grunt” work involved.

And for those new to records research, it is very important to not assume that any published record is 100 percent accurate or complete. The vast majority are, but even such a marquee record as most RBIs in a season was recently found to be in error. Hack Wilson of the Cubs set the mark in 1930 with a total long thought to be 190. But SABR researchers discovered that Wilson actually had 191 that year.

TOPICS/EXPERTS

  • Before spending too much time on a project, consider that someone else may already have researched this.
  • Looking for someone who might have already done research on your record?

a) Go to the SABR directory and run search in 'areas of expertise.' Things like 'hitting streaks,' 'home runs', or 'New York Yankees' will return a list of members who might be able to help.

b) Call the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library to see what's out there (607-547-0330)

c) Read the SABR-L e-mail digest and see which people tend to be posting on specific topics

d) Post on the SABR_Record Yahoo e-group at http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/SABR_Records.

Then look at some of the printed sources—the basic building blocks of records research.

OFFICIAL DAY-BY-DAY SHEETS 

  • These are available at the Hall of Fame (607-547-0330). The HOF will make copies of the day-by-day sheets; they charge $25/hr.
  • Retrosheet is computerizing them. Check the website, which is regularly updated, to see their progress. They are moving a lot faster than earlier anticipated.

While they are "official," they are not necessarily "correct." Many have addition or transposition errors. We have found some of those errors, but we are sure others remain. Almost none of the errors have actually been marked on the sheets themselves.

Researchers should look at the entire team's stats for a particular game and compare them to opposing pitchers to see if they balance.

Don't assume the official sheets are wrong because they disagree with the newspapers. Most discrepancies can be attributed to scoring decisions in the official scorer's discretion (hit vs. error). 

NEWSPAPERS

While they are not "official," and not necessarily "correct," they are still extremely useful.

They are available at local or university libraries or through interlibrary loan. Newspapers from select cities and select years are also available on the Internet. Three such sites are:

Some caveats when researching newspapers:

  • In most cases, the game on July 6 will be in the paper of July 7
  • Sunday papers were infrequently published in the game's early history
  • Double-headers usually meant that less newspaper space was devoted to each game
  • The game narrative (play-by-play) is usually considerably more useful than the box score
  • Some papers had multiple editions each day

BOOKS

  • The Sporting News Complete Baseball Record Book is/was a great source for finding career, season, and game records. Unfortunately, it is no longer being published. The last print edition was in 2005. The last online edition was in 2008.
  • The Elias Book of Baseball Records

a) Although published by Elias Sports Bureau — official statisticians of MLB — the book is not the official record book.

b) Elias tends to keep stats as they appeared when originally published, so older stats may not be as reliable.

c) The book is available for purchase only from Elias: http://www.esb.com

  • The ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia

a) Contains season and career listings for all players

b) Some records and top accomplishments listed in back

  • SABR Baseball Research Journal

a) Published biannually; frequently features stats analysis and records

b) Some old editions are available online here: http://sabr.org/content/baseball-research-journal-archives

c) Some print editions are for sale at the SABR Bookstore

KEEPING UP-TO-DATE

 

Click here to go back to the Topics page