SABR Salute: David W. Smith

Editor’s note: The SABR Salute, first bestowed upon writer Fred Lieb in 1976, was designed as a manner of recognizing the contributions of some of the older members of the Society. Subsequent SABR Salutes appeared in the SABR Membership Directory and honored members who had made great contributions to baseball historical research. David W. Smith received the SABR Salute in 2001; the following biographical sketch appeared in that year’s membership directory.

Dave Smith was born in Dayton, Ohio, on March 17, 1948. His family moved to Connecticut when he was two years old to San Diego when he was seven. He remained in San Diego for the balance of his boyhood. Dave became a Dodger fan while living in Connecticut, mainly due to the influence of his mother. However, he did not see his first big league game until the Dodgers moved to the West Coast. In 1958, he attended a Phillies/Dodgers game. The first batter of the game was Richie Ashburn facing Sandy Koufax — two future Hall of Famers.

After high school, Dave earned a BA degree in Biology at the University of California at San Diego, an MA degree in microbiology at Indiana University, a Ph.D. degree in bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin, and he did two years of postgraduate work at UCLA.

Dave played football and baseball (catcher) in high school and continued playing baseball in college.

Dave is a professor of microbiology at the University of Delaware, a position that he has held since 1975. During this period, he has written a number of scientific papers and two textbooks on microbiology.

At an early age, Dave became interested in baseball statistics and this eventually led him to found Retrosheet in 1989. Retrosheet is a nonprofit organization of about 50 people who have taken on the monumental task of computerizing the play-by-play of every major league baseball game that has ever been played. Approximately 100,000 games are now in the computer and information has been gathered on another 10,000 games waiting to be processed. The computer is programmed to the extent that almost any type of information can be extracted (How many walks did player X receive while batting in the lead-off slot in his career, etc.).

Retrosheet has obtained all available scoresheets from all major league clubs. In addition, scoresheets have been obtained from a number of sportswriters and sportscasters. Unfortunately, most of these scoresheets cover only the post-World War II period. Many newspapers carried play-by-play accounts of games in the pre-World War II period and the Retrosheet people are in the process of gathering as many of these games as possible. Also, private collections of scoresheets are being sought. Dave says that one of the toughest jobs is interpreting the chicken scratches on the scoresheets. Each scoresheet recorder had his own system.

There is no official connection between Retrosheet and SABR. However, the two organizations work together very closely. Most Retrosheet participants are SABR members. Retrosheet answers requests free of charge. It supplies information to most ballclubs for their yearbooks, press releases, etc., and information to sportswriters, sportscasters and individual fans. It meets its operating expenses from donations.

Retrosheet has elected officers and, at present, Smith is president. Dave spends about 30 hours per week on the project between his administrative work and his nuts and bolts work. The organization has a website, In his spare time, Dave has made presentations at six SABR national conventions, numerous presentations at regional meetings and had an article published in the Baseball Research Journal. Along with fellow SABR members Lyle Spatz and David Vincent, he has authored a book on the All-Star Game. This book was just recently released.

Related link: In 2005, Smith was the recipient of Bob Davids Award, SABR’s highest honor.


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