Henry Chadwick Award: Ray Nemec
This article was published in the Fall 2012 Baseball Research Journal.
At the time of SABR’s founding, RAY NEMEC (b. 1929) had already spent 30 years tracking minor league statistics and box scores, often traveling throughout the Midwest to do so. Longtime Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen once called him “the foremost authority on minor league players.” So it was only natural that he would be one of the first people Bob Davids contacted about his idea of forming a society, and that Nemec was on hand in Cooperstown for SABR’s first meeting on August 10, 1971. He soon became the first chairman of SABR’s Minor Leagues Research Committee, and he has been one of SABR’s most valued and productive researchers ever since.
Nemec was born in Chicago on June 19, 1929, which happened to be Lou Gehrig’s 26th birthday. The doctor who delivered Nemec, apparently a Gehrig fan, declared the new baby “a future ballplayer.” Nemec never reached the major leagues, but the natural lefthander would make his mark on the game he grew to love. He bought his first Reach Guide in 1939, which served to hook him for life. He began reading The Sporting News in 1940 and a year later was compiling statistics for minor league teams in lower classifications. He kept up this hobby throughout his high school years, and by 1950 had established contacts with other researchers around the country who shared his passion.
Among his new friends were Paul Frisz, Willie George, Karl Wingler, and Lee Allen, and they encouraged Nemec to continue his work on statistics for long-ago minor leagues, circuits that had not published their own year-end records. Nemec undertook such efforts as the 1915 Bi-State League (Illinois–Wisconsin) and the 1885 Western League, and it just kept going. He focused on leagues from the Midwest, allowing him to travel to nearby libraries to dig through newspapers. He told the Chicago Tribune in 1969: “I've been in almost every library of every town that's had a minor league team in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. I covered more than 2,000 miles compiling statistics of the 1884 Northwestern League.”
As newspaper microfilm became more accessible, Nemec was able to reduce the driving and work at home with his own film reader. Allen, who worked at the Hall of Fame by the 1960s, began referring old players who wanted to know their own long ago statistics to Nemec. In exchange, the players could supply Nemec with names and other information about other minor leaguers. His files continued to grow. By this time he was supplying minor league data to The Sporting News for many versions of the book Daguerreotypes of Great Stars of Baseball.
Nemec first came to the attention of Bob Davids in 1963 when he mailed a correction to an article Davids had written for The Sporting News. The two men began a correspondence, and eight years later Nemec received Davids’ famous call to meet in Cooperstown. SABR established the Minor Leagues Research Committee, and Nemec became its chair. In 1978 it published Minor League Stars, statistical records for dozens of former heroes, many of them little known even within SABR. In a way, Nemec had been working on the book for more than 30 years. Two other volumes followed, and SABR had firmly established the importance of the minor leagues to the history of baseball.
Ray married Loretta Majerczyk in 1954 and the couple raised four children. While still in high school he began working for Corn Products Company International (now Ingredion Inc.) and worked there for 45 years, involved in production planning and scheduling for such products as Mazola Corn Oil and Karo syrup. On the side, he made his mark as one of baseball’s greatest researchers.
For more information on the Henry Chadwick Award, click here.