An interview with baseball database innovator Sean Lahman

From Paul Ciullo at on November 29, 2011, with SABR member Sean Lahman:

PAC’s Sports recently interviewed award-winning database journalist and author Sean Lahman.  Sean is a visionary in the field of sport statistics, and led the first significant effort to develop a database of baseball statistics that was made freely available to the general public.  He created the Lahman Baseball Database, which is a collection of baseball statistics for every team and player in Major League history that also allows for the simulation and recreation of historical seasons from baseball history.  


Q:  Please tell us a little about the work you have done in your career thus far related to sports and the historical databases you have created; what is the purpose of them, who are the users, what has the response been to your findings?

A:  Anyone who starts doing statistical analysis eventually comes up against the same problem:  having raw data to work with.  Folks would have to build their own, but were reluctant to share.  Part of that was self-preservation.  If you were the only one with the numbers you could be the go-to guy when someone else wanted answers, and parcel them out a handful at a time. 

It was clear that I had some expertise at building databases, and that I was better at that then I was at analyzing the data on the back end.  I figured that making a full database available would spur new work by people who were smarter than me, and so I started making my baseball database available on the web during the fall of 1994.  And it didn’t take long for my vision to come true. There was a resurgence of sabermetric analysis, which gave birth to things like the Baseball Prospectus.  The availability of data also revolutionized baseball simulations, with games like Baseball Mogul and Out of the Park Baseball enabling you to recreate any season from history.  And best of all, folks used the data to build great online encyclopedias, most notably Sean Forman’s

Read the full interview here:

Originally published: December 6, 2011. Last Updated: December 6, 2011.