This article was written by Rob Neyer
This article was published in the Fall 2012 Baseball Research Journal
FERDINAND COLE LANE’S (1896–1984) professional career was, to say the very least, unorthodox. After spending most of his childhood on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, “F.C.” performed a “variety of odd jobs” while attending Boston University—next door to Braves Field, and just a few “T” stops away from Fenway Park—first as an undergraduate, and later as a graduate student. During the latter years, he also worked part-time as an assistant biologist for the Massachusetts Commission of Fisheries and Game.
What might we expect from a bright young man with that sort of educational and professional history? Probably not a few decades as the editor of Baseball Magazine … yet that’s exactly what happened, and quickly.
While Lane was working as a biologist, he was diagnosed with “weak lungs” and embarked for a therapeutic stay in Alberta, Canada. After “six months in a log cabin on the remote frontier,” Lane returned to Boston and found a job with Baseball Magazine.
Lane arrived in 1910 or ’11, just two or three years after the monthly magazine had been established. Within roughly a year—beginning with the January 1912 issue—Lane had taken over as editor, a position he would hold for twenty-six years. During those twenty-six years, Lane’s writing and editing turned Baseball Magazine into both a successful business enterprise and a treasure trove for future baseball researchers and writers.
In 1937, Lane gave up his Baseball Magazine post. In 1955, he wrote, “While I loved the thrill of the game and prized the many interesting characters I was able to meet, sportswriting was always a vocation, never an avocation.” He returned to Cape Cod, his boyhood home, and lived for nearly five more decades, traveling widely and writing a number of books—none of them remotely related to baseball—before his retirement.
Of course, if Ferdinand Lane had done nothing but edit Baseball Magazine for more than a quarter of a century, anyone interested in those years would owe him a huge debt of gratitude. But Lane was so much more than an editor. He also was an extraordinary journalist and a sort of proto-sabermetrician.
Instead of spending all his days in New York—the magazine moved there from Boston shortly into Lane’s tenure—he regularly visited the game’s top players at their offseason homes, and penned long profiles of Deadball Era stars like Sam Crawford, Eddie Collins, Jake Daubert, and Grover Cleveland Alexander (or “Dode,” as Alexander’s family and friends back home in Nebraska called him).
It’s Lane’s biographical research that we find most useful today. But while his statistical wonderings probably had little impact in their time—the sporting world just doesn’t seem to have been interested in any but the already traditional statistics—Lane surely deserves some credit for his originality and his prescience. To wit, all the way back in 1916, Lane penned an article titled “Why the System of Batting Average Should Be Changed” … and, even more extraordinary, subtitled “Statistics Lie at the Foundation of Baseball Popularity—Batting Records Are the Favorite—And Yet Batting Records Are Unnecessarily Inaccurate.” And within the article, Lane essentially invented something akin to Pete Palmer’s Linear Weights and Bill James’s Runs Created; for example, according to Lane’s calculations, a triple was worth 0.90 run, a home run 1.16 runs.
Near the end of his long article, Lane expressed hope that with earned-run average recently having been introduced to the masses, a sophisticated method of measuring a hitter’s production would soon take its place in the statistical pantheon.
Lane lived for nearly 70 more years, long enough to read both Bill James and Pete Palmer’s work in popular books. But we have no indication that Lane took any special interest in baseball during the last few decades of his long life.
Not that we can hold that lack of interest against him. During those 25-odd years when Lane was interested in baseball—however professionally—he gave us more than nearly any other editor or writer has given us in a lifetime.
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