The Iron Horse, Hammerin' Hank and one SABR member's quest for accuracy
From SABR member John Rosengren at Sports Illustrated on July 11, 2012, with mention of SABR members Herm Krabbenhoft, Steve Hirdt and Trent McCotter:
On June 28 a retired chemist set out to change baseball history. Herm Krabbenhoft, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research, made a presentation at the organization's annual convention in Minneapolis proposing that one of baseball's most notable and long-standing records -- Lou Gehrig's single-season American League mark for most runs batted in -- is inaccurate.
In 1931, Gehrig drove in 184 runs, a total that has stood as the AL record ever since. Krabbenhoft, though, thinks it should be 185. Why? Because he took it upon himself to spend the past year and a half researching every RBI Gehrig accumulated in his 2,164 career games and found one that appeared to be missing.
On May 3, 1931, Gehrig hit into what appeared to be a routine double play with runners on first and third, but Red Sox second baseman Bobby Reeves threw the ball into leftfield, allowing the Yankees' runner to score. Under the rules at the time (later changed in 1939), the batter was supposed to be credited with a run batted in, but the official scorer failed to award Gehrig the RBI. No one noticed, until Krabbenhoft pointed out the scorer's fateful omission a couple weeks ago.
It's not the first time Krabbenhoft has made such a potentially historic claim. Last year, he discovered a scorekeeping error that denied Detroit Tigers legend Hank Greenberg of an RBI in 1937. Greenberg finished that season with 183 RBIs, one short of Gehrig's established mark, but Krabbenhoft's research would have elevated Greenberg's total to 184, thus tying him with the Iron Horse.
SABR and Retrosheet.org, a database featuring play-by-pay of thousands of old games, have accepted Krabbenhoft's findings; several other outlets, including Baseball-Reference.com, Stats LLC and, most significantly, the Elias Sports Bureau, which compiles official statistics for MLB, have not. All three continue to list Gehrig's total as 184 and Greenberg's as 183.
Related audio: Listen to Herm Krabbenhoft's SABR 42 presentation here in MP3 format (22:30, 10.3 MB)
This page was last updated July 13, 2012 at 4:09 pm MST.