This article was written by Herm Krabbenhoft
This article was published in the Spring 2012 Baseball Research Journal
Hall of Fame slugger Hank Greenberg wrote, “My goal in baseball was always RBIs, to break (Lou) Gehrig’s record of 184 RBIs.” Did he come closer than he thought to doing so?
According to the American League’s official records, Hank Greenberg amassed a total of 1,202 runs batted in during his junior circuit career, which was spent entirely with the Detroit Tigers and spanned the 17-year period from 1930 through 1946. (See Chart 1.)
Twelve hundred RBIs over 17 years probably does not sound impressive. However, Greenberg was a full-season player for just eight of those 17 campaigns. Except for a solitary at-bat at the tail end of the 1930 season, he was a full-time minor leaguer for his first three years in professional baseball (1930–1932) and did not appear in a Tigers uniform again until 1933. He suffered a broken wrist in the twelfth game of the 1936 season and was out the rest of the year. And he was in military service from early in the 1941 campaign (after the 19th game) through the middle of the 1945 season.
During the eight full AL seasons that Greenberg did have (1933–1935, 1937–1940, and 1946), he batted in a total of 1,114 runs—an average of 139 RBIs per year. For comparison, Lou Gehrig averaged 148 RBIs per year for the eight-year period from 1931 through 1938 and Jimmie Foxx averaged 135 RBIs per season for the eight-year period from 1933 through 1940. In four of those seasons (1935, 1937, 1940, and 1946) Greenberg topped the AL in RBIs, while Gehrig and Foxx led the AL in RBIs in five and three seasons, respectively. Hammerin’ Hank’s RBI numbers certainly place him in an elite group of run-producing first basemen.
Hank Greenberg’s official RBI numbers are impressive. But are they correct?
As described in my recent article in the Baseball Research Journal, Lou Gehrig’s official RBI record is plagued with numerous errors. Thirty-four errors were discovered and corrected in Gehrig’s official RBI record for the 1923–1930 period alone. Significantly, the corrections of the RBI errors resulted in changes in Gehrig’s league-leading RBI totals in 1927, 1928, and 1930.[fn]Herm Krabbenhoft, “Lou Gehrig’s RBI Record,” The Baseball Research Journal (Fall, 2011): 1[/fn]
So, what about the accuracy of the RBI statistics in Greenberg’s official record? Not surprisingly, his official RBI record is also compromised with numerous errors, the corrections for which are given in this article. One of these corrections could mean a major change in baseball’s record book.
To ascertain the accuracy of Greenberg’s official RBI record one needs to obtain the specific details for each run scored by the Detroit Tigers in each game Greenberg played. For each of these runs I determined:
- who scored the run;
- the run-scoring event (e.g., a 1-RBI single, a 1-RBI groundout, a 1-RBI safe-on-error, a 0-RBI safe-on-error, a 0-RBI steal of home, a 0-RBI balk, etc.)
- the player who completed his plate appearance during the run-scoring event.
I examined newspaper accounts for each game, including the three major daily Detroit newspapers (the Free Press, News, and Times) and at least one major daily newspaper from the city of the team that opposed the Tigers. In this way I was able to ascertain the exact details for each of the runs the Tigers scored in 1,234 (97.2%) of the 1,269 games in which Greenberg appeared, leaving 35 games extant. Fortunately, for 32 of those 35 games the run-scored and RBI information in the accompanying box scores agreed with the runs scored and runs batted in numbers in the official day-by-day (DBD) records. For the three games where the newspaper box scores and the official DBD information are not in agreement regarding the RBI information, and the newspaper text accounts do not resolve the discrepancies, one must consider the official DBD RBI information to be correct. (See Appendix One, available online at sabr.org, for specific information on each of the 35 games with incomplete details for runs scored and runs batted in.)
From the detailed run-scored information I generated a game-by-game RBI ledger for Greenberg, which I then compared with the RBI information provided in his official DBD record. For those games where Greenberg’s RBI statistics from the newspaper accounts did not agree with the official DBD records, I proceeded to examine all relevant newspaper accounts so as to unequivocally ascertain the RBIs Greenberg actually achieved. (Appendix Two, available online at sabr.org, provides the comprehensive supporting documentation for the corrections of the RBI errors in the official records.)
1930—Greenberg’s First Major League “Season.” After spending most of 1930 with Raleigh—the Tigers farm club in the Class C Piedmont League—Hank Greenberg made his major league debut on September 14, 1930, at Navin Field in Detroit in a game against the Yankees. He entered the contest with the bases empty in the eighth inning as a pinch hitter for the Tigers pitcher Charlie Sullivan; Detroit was on the short end of a 10–1 score. It turned out to be a match-up of future Hall of Famers: Red Ruffing got Hank to pop out to second baseman Ben Chapman. Obviously there was no RBI for Hank (which is in agreement with his official DBD record). That was his only appearance in the Big Show until the 1933 campaign.
1933—Greenberg’s First “Full” Major League Season. After having spent the 1931 and 1932 seasons in the minors (Evansville of the Class B Three-I League and Beaumont of the Class AA Texas League), Greenberg headed north with the Tigers from spring training in 1933. On the bench during Detroit’s first seven games, Hank was the starting first baseman against the Browns on April 22. At the plate, Hank went 0-for-3 with a walk, and while he did score a run, he did not bat in any runs. After another week of sitting on the bench, Hank got his next start in St. Louis on April 30. Hank collected his first major league RBI when his seventh-inning single knocked in Charlie Gehringer. A week later at Navin Field Greenberg slugged his first big league big fly, a solo homer off Washington’s Earl Whitehill. During the next two weeks, Hank saw limited action, appearing in just three more games. However, on May 21, Detroit’s 30th game, he became the regular first baseman for the Tigers, relegating Harry Davis to the back-up role.
For the season, Hank Greenberg fashioned a commendable batting record—in 117 games, he compiled (officially) a .301 batting average (behind only Gehr-inger’s .325 on the team) with 12 homers (the most on the Tigers) and 87 runs batted in (second behind Gehringer’s 105 RBIs). League-wise, the only AL rookie with better numbers was Pinky Higgins of the Phila-delphia Athletics—.314 with 13 homers and 99 RBIs in 152 games.
But is Greenberg’s official 87-RBIs figure accurate? Unfortunately, no. I discovered three games with RBI errors:
- June 3, 1933: Official DBD, 1 RBI; actual, 0 RBI ….. -1 RBI
- Sept 16, 1933: Official DBD, 2 RBI; actual, 0 RBI ….. -2 RBI
- Sept 23, 1933: Official DBD, 0 RBI; actual, 1 RBI ….. +1 RBI
By this count, Greenberg achieved 85 RBIs (not 87 RBIs) in 1933. (See Appendix Two for complete supporting documentation.)
1934—Greenberg’s First 100-RBI Season. Following his stellar rookie year, Hank avoided the classic “sophomore jinx.” Starting at first base in 153 of Detroit’s 154 games (every day but Yom Kippur), Greenberg primarily batted sixth and led the team in RBIs with 139. His official 139 RBIs tied the franchise record, Harry Heilmann also having officially driven in 139 runs in 1921. But Greenberg’s official RBI record is burdened with errors in two games:
- June 13, 1934: Official DBD, 3 RBI; actual, 2 RBI ….. -1 RBI
- June 15, 1934: Official DBD, 0 RBI; actual, 1 RBI ….. +1 RBI
Because the corrections of the two RBI errors are self-compensating (i.e., – 1 RBI + 1 RBI = 0 RBI), the net change in Greenberg’s official RBI record is zero—he did have 139 RBIs in 1934.
1935—Greenberg’s “Record-Breaking” RBI Season. Going into the 1935 season, the official American League record for most runs batted in by a right-handed batter during a single season was 169 RBIs, held by Jimmie Foxx of the 1932 Philadelphia Athletics. Starting—and finishing—at first base in each of the 152 games the Tigers played in 1935, Hammerin’ Hank proceeded to carve out another phenomenal performance—he topped the junior circuit in runs batted in with 170—thereby establishing a new official mark for the most RBIs by a right-handed batter. But, are the RBI stats in Greenberg’s official DBD records correct? As it turns out, they are not.
I discovered and corrected errors in two games:
- June 29, 1935: Official DBD, 1 RBI; actual, 0 RBI ….. -1 RBI
- July 5, 1935: Official DBD, 5 RBI; actual, 4 RBI ….. -1 RBI
Thus, for the entire 1935 season, Greenberg actually had 168 RBIs, not the record-setting 170 RBIs shown in his official DBD records. Therefore, he did not establish a new AL single-season record for the most RBIs by a right-handed batter. (Note: to my knowledge, the accuracy of Foxx’s official RBI record for 1932 has not yet been ascertained.)
1936—Greenberg’s Fractured Season. Following his spectacular 1935 campaign, for which he was selected as the Most Valuable Player in the American League, Greenberg’s 1936 season began with high expectations. Through the first 11 games, the Tigers went 7–4 and were just one-half game behind the front-running Cleveland Indians. Greenberg himself was off to a fantastic start with 15 RBIs, a pace which translates into 210 RBIs for a 154-game season. However, on April 29 in Washington, Greenberg suffered a fractured left wrist during a collision at first base with Jake Powell as the Nat was running out a grounder. This was the same wrist he had broken in the second game of the 1935 World Series and Greenberg’s season was through. His final official DBD record shows Hank with 16 RBIs, crediting him with one in that fateful game. However, as clearly demonstrated by the evidence (Appendix Two at sabr.org), Greenberg did not have any RBIs in that final game:
- April 29, 1936: Official DBD, 1 RBI; actual, 0 RBI ….. -1 RBI
Thus, for Greenberg’s abbreviated 1936 season, he actually had 15 RBIs, not 16 as shown in his official DBD records.
1937—Greenberg’s “One-RBI-Short” Season. Would Greenberg rebound from the broken wrist when 1937 rolled around? Hammerin’ Hank did not disappoint, officially driving in a total of 183 runs—just one short of the AL record for the most RBIs in a single season, held by Lou Gehrig of the 1931 Yankees. At least that’s what Hank Greenberg’s official DBD records show. However, my in-depth and comprehensive investigation of each and every run scored by the Tigers revealed that there is one game with an error in the record:
- June 20, 1937 (2nd game): Official DBD, 0 RBI; actual, 1 RBI ….. +1 RBI
Greenberg actually had 184 RBIs—the same total that Lou Gehrig officially recorded in 1931.[fn]Trent McCotter reported the findings of his research on Gehrig’s RBIs in the 1931 season at the SABR national convention. While he discovered and corrected five games with RBI errors involving Gehrig, the net effect of correcting the errors was no change in Gehrig’s season total. See Herm Krabbenhoft and Trent McCotter, “Most Runs Batted In: By an Individual Player—During a Single Season—In the American League,” presentation at the National Convention of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), July 7, 2011, Long Beach, CA.[/fn] In his autobiography, Greenberg wrote, “My goal in baseball was always RBIs, to break Gehrig’s record of 184 RBIs. I would have loved to do that. I didn’t accomplish it, but I came awfully close.” As proven here, Hank came even closer than he thought.
1938—Greenberg’s Almost-Ruthian Season. What could Hank Greenberg do in 1938 as an appropriate follow-up to his RBI performance in 1937? How about challenging the major league single-season record for home runs? Hammerin’ Hank fell just two homers short of tying Babe Ruth’s 60 in 1927. Greenberg’s 58 did match Jimmie Foxx’s 1932 major league record for right-handed batters (a figure which still stands in the American League). The homers helped him knock in 146 runs—according to the official DBD records. But I determined that there is one game which is incorrect:
- May 4, 1938: Official DBD, 0 RBI; actual, 1 RBI ….. +1 RBI
So, Greenberg actually had 147 RBIs—not 146.
1939—Greenberg’s Not-Spectacular Season. In his autobiography, Greenberg states, “In 1939 the Tigers finished in fifth place. While I didn’t have a sensational year, I still led the team in hitting, with a .312 average [sic]; had 112 runs batted in, which was fourth in the American League; and hit 33 home runs, which was second in the league only to Jimmie Foxx, who hit 35. So, it wasn’t a total disaster as far as my personal record was concerned.”[fn]Gehringer actually led at .325.[/fn] But, according to my research, Hank did even better than he thought he did because of yet another error in his RBI statistics:
- July 2, 1939: Official DBD, 1 RBI; actual, 2 RBI ….. +1 RBI
So, for the entire season, Greenberg actually had 113 RBIs, not 112.
1940—Greenberg’s Third 150-RBI Season. According to the official baseball records, only 15 junior circuiteers have collected at least 150 RBIs in a single season. Lou Gehrig did it seven times, Babe Ruth five, Jimmie Foxx four, and Al Simmons and Hank Greenberg each three times. Hank’s third 150-RBI season came in the 1940 campaign according to his official DBD records. I found no errors or discrepancies in the 1940 season.
1941—Greenberg’s First Two-Uniform Season. Before the 1941 regular season began, Greenberg was drafted into military service and scheduled for induction on May 7, 1941. Prior to donning US Army fatigues, Hank wore his Tigers uniform for Detroit’s first 19 games. According to his official DBD records, Hank batted in an even dozen runs in those 19 games. And, according to my research, the official DBD records are 100% correct with respect to Hank’s RBI performance in 1941.
1945—Greenberg’s Second Two-Uniform Season. After having spent four years in military service, Greenberg was discharged on June 14, 1945, and gave up his Army khakis. After working out at Briggs Stadium for a couple of weeks, he returned to the baseball diamond wearing the “Old English D” on the first of July and slugged a home run. He went on to play in 78 games and drive in 60 runs according to his official DBD record. Had he played the entire season at that rate, he would have ended up with around 90 runs scored, 25 homers, and 120 runs batted in—the latter two figures would have topped the league. If he maintained his .311 batting average, as well, he would have claimed the triple crown. According to my research, there are no games with RBI errors in Greenberg’s official DBD records for 1945.
1946—Greenberg’s Fourth RBI Crown. Throughout the history of the American League, several players have led the loop in RBIs in two or more seasons. With 127 official runs batted in during the 1946 campaign Hank Greenberg again captured the AL RBI throne. Significantly, it was Hammerin’ Hank’s fourth RBI crown. According to the list of the AL’s annual leaders in most RBIs presented in The Elias Book of Baseball Records, only one other AL player earned more first-place RBI trophies: Lou Gehrig, who finished first five times. Two other players led the AL in RBIs four times: Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.[fn]Ruth also led in RBIs before it became an official statistic, but pre-Elias records are outside the scope of this investigation.[/fn] Yet another significant aspect of Greenberg’s 1946 runs batted in blue ribbon is that with it he established the still-standing mark for longevity in being an RBI champion. Having first topped the league in 1935, Hank’s 1946 first-place certificate came 11 years later. The next-longest span between a player’s first and last RBI crowns is the 10-year span achieved by Teddy Ballgame (1939 and 1949). My research shows that there were no games with RBI errors in Hank’s official stats, and the 127-RBI record stands.
For Hank Greenberg’s American League career, I discovered 11 games with errors in his official RBI record. Chart 2 presents the pertinent details for each of the 11 games with errors. Also included are those players who were directly connected to the RBI errors for Greenberg.
There are three topics that require discussion: (1) the reliability of the RBI information for Hank Greenberg presented in this article; (2) the consequences of making corrections to Greenberg’s official RBI record; (3) the implementation of the corrections in Greenberg’s RBI record.
Reliability of the RBI Information. The most important aspect of the information presented in Chart 2 is its reliability. Appendix Two compiles all the data used to determine the errors and provides the comprehensive supporting documentation for each of the RBI errors—and their corrections. Readers are encouraged to examine the evidence provided in Appendix Two, which is on the SABR website at sabr.org.
In the author’s opinion, each of the corrections is irrefutable and, in legal terminology, beyond reasonable doubt. Indeed, prior to the submission of this article, I provided the penultimate draft of the manuscript to three fellow SABR members for their assessments of the supporting documentation and my conclusions: David W. Smith, Tom Ruane, and Pete Palmer. Here are their assessments of the evidence:
Smith: I have read the manuscript and have no changes to note. This is a fine job and is typical of your high standards for this painstaking research. Great job.[fn]David W. Smith, personal email, September 13, 2011 and December 3, 2011.[/fn]
Ruane: Thanks for the great work on this. Most of the games you discuss are pretty straightforward, with the exception of the June 15, 1934, game. In that case, I’m inclined to agree with your conclusions, but I would be surprised if Elias finds it definitive. Once again, I agree with your research on these eleven games.[fn]Tom Ruane, personal email, September 13, 2011 and 1 December 1, 2011.[/fn]
Palmer: I believe your research is sound, so I don’t have any additional comments, except that we have to figure a way to handle these changes.[fn]Pete Palmer, personal email, October 13, 2011 and December 10, 2011.[/fn]
Chart 3 presents the net effect of correcting the RBI errors in Hank Greenberg’s official American League DBD records. As can be seen, while Hammerin’ Hank “loses” two RBIs in both 1933 and 1935 and one RBI in 1936, he gains one RBI in each season from 1937 through 1939. Thus, overall, he actually had 1,200 RBIs in his AL career, two fewer than shown in Chart 1 and in most record books.
The most significant consequence of correcting the RBI errors in Greenberg’s official DBD records is that in 1937 he actually had 184 RBIs—the same number of RBIs credited to Lou Gehrig in his official DBD record for 1931, the number claimed by the Elias Book of Baseball Records to be the AL single-season record.
The inscription on the base of the statue of Hank Greenberg adorning Comerica Park will have to be changed. The inscription reads (in part):
SELECTED AL MVP IN 1935 AFTER LEADING
THE LEAGUE WITH 39 HOMERS AND 170 RBI
DROVE IN 183 RUNS IN 1937, ONE SHORT OF
LOU GEHRIG’S 1931 LEAGUE RECORD
Another subject which the correction of RBI errors can impact is consecutive games batting in at least one run. The American League record is 14 games by Tris Speaker of the 1928 Philadelphia Athletics.[fn]Trent McCotter, “Record RBI Streak Discovered: Hall of Famer Tris Speaker Put Together a String of 14 Consecutive Games with an RBI in 1928 That Was Unrecognized for 79 Years,” Baseball Digest (May 2008): 62.[/fn] For Hank Greenberg, despite his impressive RBI totals, the longest Consecutive Games Run Batted In (CGRUNBI) streak he was able to achieve is the nine-gamer he assembled in 1937 from May 16 through May 25.[fn]The longest reported CGRUNBI streak for a Detroit Tigers player are the 12-gamers accomplished by Mickey Cochrane in 1934 and Rudy York in 1940; see Lyle, Spatz, Editor, The SABR Baseball List & Record Book, (2007): 145.[/fn] As it turned out, correcting the errors did nothing to unseat Speaker from the top of the CGRUNBI leaderboard.
IMPLEMENTATION OF GREENBERG’S CORRECTED RBI INFORMATION
The final topic of discussion concerns the implementation of the corrected RBI information for Hank Greenberg: who is going to use it or where else will it appear?
In addition to the official DBD records compiled by the defunct Howe News Bureau for the American League, there are four fundamental databases of baseball statistics:
- Pete Palmer’s database
- The Retrosheet database of game box scores and the derived daily statistical records for each player
- The STATS database
- The Elias Sports Bureau database
As previously indicated, Palmer has concurred with the corrections presented here. Since Palmer’s database of baseball statistics is contractually used by several prominent websites, including Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, and SABR.org, implementation of these corrections will be broad-based and far-reaching. Similarly, Retrosheet’s Smith and Ruane have concurred and the corrections will be incorporated on the Retrosheet website. They have already been implemented in the Retrosheet database of box scores.
With regard to the STATS database, Don Zminda, a longtime SABR member and Vice President and Director of Research for STATS, explained, “We [STATS] have contractual relationships with some major media clients, and those clients expect us to match the official numbers reported by MLB.”[fn]Don Zminda, personal email, August 28, 2011.[/fn]
The “official numbers” for Major League Baseball are currently compiled by the Elias Sports Bureau.
The final draft of this article—including the comprehensive supporting documentation—was provided to Seymour Siwoff (president of Elias), requesting his review of the evidence and his concurrence with or rejection of my conclusions. Whether or not Elias concurs with my conclusions regarding the 1935 or 1937 seasons will be clearly evident in future editions of The Elias Book of Baseball Records, since it includes RBI leaderboards from 1920 forward. As shown in Chart 3 (above), Greenberg’s actual AL-leading figures are 168 RBIs (not 170) for 1935 and 184 RBIs (not 183) for 1937.
Elias has, in fact, made several statements regarding the RBI errors in the official DBD records for the 1937 Detroit Tigers players:
- In a July 5, 2011, email to me, Steve Hirdt (executive vice president for Elias) wrote: “Thanks again for forwarding to Elias the work that you did on the Tigers RBIs in the 1937 season. As you know, as part of its duties for Major League Baseball, Elias reviews credible evidence potentially involving bookkeeping errors that affect statistics from past seasons, and makes judgments regarding whether a change is warranted. As you and I have discussed, the subject of your inquiry has some degree of complexity, and we want to be confident that we have gathered and evaluated all available evidence in order to make the best possible judgment. The material that you have forwarded to us will definitely assist in that effort. We hope to conclude that process and to reach a determination as soon as possible, consistent with the criteria for these matters.”[fn]Steve Hirdt, personal email, July 5, 2011.[/fn]
- In a phone conversation with Seymour Siwoff on July 7, 2011, I asked if Elias would correct the RBI errors in the official DBD records for York and Greenberg for the second game of the double header on June 20, 1937. Here’s a close-to-verbatim version of what he said to me: “We can’t do this. It’s an embarrassment for us. We didn’t do it; Howe [News Bureau] did it. Do what you want; it’s a free country. Good luck; good luck.”[fn]Seymour Siwoff, telephone conversation, July 7, 2011; see also Cecilia Tan, “SABR 41: Day one research presentations,” Why I Like Baseball, www.whyilikebaseball.com, July 7, 2011.[/fn]
- In an article in the Albany (NY) Times Union, Pete Iorizzo quoted Steve Hirdt as saying: “Herm is a dedicated researcher who has kindly shared with us the research that he did on RBIs for the Tigers’ 1937 season…. We are in the process of reviewing that material and trying to determine whether any other evidence exists that could be gathered and evaluated before making a judgment on the matter.”[fn]Pete Iorizzo, “Man Driven to Set the Record Straight,” Times Union (Albany, NY, July 10, 2011): C1.[/fn]
- In an article in the Detroit News, Tim Twentyman wrote: “Krabbenhoft presented his findings to the Elias Sports Bureau, the official statistician for Major League Baseball, but thinks that Elias hasn’t amended the record because Gehrig is an icon.” “‘They do not want changes, especially in significant records involving icons,’ Krabbenhoft said. ‘Getting things changed by Elias is difficult.’” “But Steve Hirdt, executive vice president of Elias, says this particular case isn’t about protecting an icon. It’s about getting all the facts to make a decision with historical ramifications.” “‘As part of its duties for Major League Baseball, Elias reviews credible evidence that might involve bookkeeping errors,’ he said. ‘We hope to have a determination on it as soon as we can, but we want to determine if any other evidence exists, notably a play-by-play of the game. Herm’s evidence by some of the newspapers, while it suggests an error might have been made, and it looks like something may be fishy there, the key play involves a case where there was a runner on base and Greenberg hits a ground ball and at the end of the play someone had made an error and the run scored. However, I’ve not seen a play-by-play that indicates the runner started the play on third base or second base. We want to be satisfied before we announce a change and we’ve exhausted looking at everything we can look at,’ Hirdt said. ‘To this point, we have not concluded that effort.’”[fn]Tim Twentyman, “Greenberg Could Share RBI Mark,” Detroit News (July 22, 2011): B5.[/fn]
- In an article in the Detroit Free Press, Steve Shrader quoted Hirdt as saying: “Where we are now is in the process of reviewing that material and trying to determine whether any other evidence exists that could be gathered and evaluated before we make a judgment.” And while Elias has made such changes, it doesn’t make such decisions lightly. It wants evidence “almost beyond a shadow of a doubt,” Hirdt said. “What’s the phrase, measure twice and cut once?” he said. “Well, we might add a zero. We might measure 20 times and cut once.”[fn]Steve Schrader, “Greenberg RBI Total Off Base?,” Detroit Free Press (August 2, 2011): B5.[/fn]
We await Elias’s determination. The final draft of this manuscript, including the comprehensive supporting documentation, was also provided to longtime SABR member John Thorn, Official Historian of Major League Baseball as well.
In “Behind the Seams—the Stat Story,” a special program recently put out by MLB Productions, narrator Bob Costas says: “Numbers are the foundation of a lot of what we love and understand about the game of baseball. … They are numbers etched in memory and instantly and reverently recalled. They are a huge part of the foundation of baseball’s narrative. … The wealth of numbers begs to be analyzed, dissected and re-evaluated. … SABR’s research obviously impacts today’s game, but also seeks to confirm certain numbers from the past.”[fn]“Behind the Seams—the Stat Story,” MLB Productions, first aired on September 18, 2011.[/fn]
Let’s reiterate that last clause: “SABR’s research … also seeks to confirm certain numbers from the past.”
As it has turned out, baseball’s official records, particularly those from the “pre-computer era” (i.e., prior to the early 1970s) are fraught with countless errors. For example, in my research on the longest consecutive games streaks for scoring at least one run by players on the Detroit Tigers, I discovered—and corrected—runs-scored errors in 13 games out of the 4,424 games the Tigers played during the period 1945 through 1972 (the last year that baseball’s official DBD records were compiled “by hand”). That corresponds to 99.71 % accuracy. For the period from 1973 forward, the official DBD records appear to be 100% correct with respect to the runs scored by the Tigers players.[fn]Dave Smith, personal email, November 14, 2006.[/fn]
However, for the period from 1920 through 1944, I discovered—and corrected—runs-scored errors in 35 games out of the 3,871 games played by Detroit, corresponding to an accuracy of 99.10%. This value might seem pretty good on the surface but is totally unsatisfactory for ascertaining accurate consecutive game streaks for scoring at least one run. All told I have discovered—and corrected—a total of 83 runs-scored errors involving 56 players, including seven Hall of Famers: Al Kaline, George Kell, Hal Newhouser, Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, Heinie Manush, and Ty Cobb.[fn]Herm Krabbenhoft, “The Authorized Correction of Errors in Runs Scored in the Official Records (1945–2008) for Detroit Tigers players,” The Baseball Research Journal 37 (2008): 115.[/fn],[fn]Herm Krabbenhoft, “The Authorized Correction of Errors in Runs Scored in the Official Records (1920–1944) for Detroit Tigers players,” The Baseball Research Journal 40 (Spring 2011): 66.[/fn]
My conclusion is that one should not blindly rely on the statistics presented in baseball’s most popular encyclopedias (such as the Baseball-Reference.com website) and record books (such as The Elias Baseball Record Book). It is imperative that any researcher independently verify the accuracy of the statistics before drawing research conclusions.
It is my hope that others will also pursue research efforts to correct the errors in the official records for runs scored and runs batted in by the players on their favorite teams.
I would like to thank the following people for their fantastic cooperation in helping me complete the research needed to irrefutably correct the RBI errors in Hank Greenberg’s official DBD records: Ron Antonucci, Jeff Bartold, Freddy Berowski, Steve Boren, Rich Bowering, Keith Carlson, David Furyes, Mike Lynch, Bob McConnell, Trent McCotter, Mark Moore, Pete Palmer, Bernadette Preston, Dick Rosen, Tom Ruane, Dave Smith, Gary Stone, Dixie Tourangeau, and Tim Wiles.
View all of Herm Krabbenhoft’s online-only supplemental material here:
- Appendix 1: Tigers games for which the exact details for the runs scored and runs batted in are not yet complete
- Appendix 2: Supporting Documentation for the Corrections of the RBI Errors in Hank Greenberg’s Official DBD Record
- Appendix 3: Retrosheet box scores for Tigers-Athletics games on 20 June 1937
- Appendix 4: RBIs given in newspaper box scores for games played between the Tigers and Athletics in Philadelphia during the 1937 season
- Appendix 5: Analysis of newspaper box scores for the second game of the double header between the Tigers and Athletics on June 20, 1937
- Appendix 6: Retrosheet Box score for Tigers-Athletics Second Game on 20 June 1937
HERM KRABBENHOFT, a SABR member since 1981, is a retired research chemist. His baseball research has focused on ultimate grand slam home runs, leadoff batters, triple plays, the uniform numbers of Detroit Tigers, and most recently, consecutive games streaks for scoring runs and batting in runs—which requires having accurate game-by-game runs and RBI statistics—which requires correcting the runs and RBI errors in baseball’s official records.