SABR Salute: John Tattersall
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. John Tattersall (1910-1981) received the SABR Salute in 1979; the following biographical sketch appeared in that year’s membership directory.
John C. Tattersall, the national authority on home runs, was born in Holyoke, Mass. in 1910. His father was in the Army and John later lived in such places as Fort McPherson, Ga., Manila, The Philippines, and Harrisburg, Pa. He attended Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Washington, D.C., receiving a BS in 1933 and a Master’s the next year.
John went to work in the shipbuilding industry in 1935 in New York, later moving to Boston and then Philadelphia (with time out for work with the War Shipbuilding Administration in WWII). He retired as Vice President of his shipbuilding company in Philadelphia in 1977 and moved to Del Ray Beach, Florida, where he now resides with his wife of 40 years, the lovely and vivacious Jessica Hutcheson Tattersall. They have two grown daughters, Joan and Diane.
John’s interest in baseball was stimulated by visits to Ponce de Leon Park in Atlanta to see the Crackers play in 1922-23. He saw his first major league game in Boston on June 19, 1926, and remembers Pirate pitcher Vic Aldridge stealing the only base of his career. His interest in home runs developed from watching the Yankees and Babe Ruth, his particular favorite. He became fascinated by statistical research and stole time from his studies at Georgetown to do baseball research at the Library of Congress.
In Boston in 1941 he purchased from the Boston Transcript, which was going out of business, a large number of baseball scrapbooks and sports pages dating back to 1876 when the National League was founded with Boston as a charter member. He soon found himself in possession of a very large amount of material which, after years of cataloging and filing, gave him almost every box score in major league history.
John first gained national attention for his baseball research in 1953 when The Sporting News ran his story on the correction of Nap Lajoie’s 1901 batting average from .405 to .422 (with the New York Times and Time Magazine subsequently picking up the story). John was a regular contributor to The Sporting News from 1950 to 1965, and he became a recognized authority on pinch hitting as well as home runs.
In the 1950s, John developed a home run log that lists every four-bagger hit each season by player and club, with date, pitching victim, park, inning, men on base, by pinch hitter, leadoff batter, etc. Lee Allen, his close friend, used to refer home run inquiries received at the Hall of Fame where he was historian to John in Philadelphia. Much of John’s mass of baseball data, home runs being only a part, became a primary source of information for the Macmillan Encyclopedia of 1969. He was “Consulting Editor” for that landmark baseball publication.
After joining SABR in 1971, shortly after it was formed, John began organizing his home run material for publication. He supplied several interesting articles for the Baseball Research Journal and in 1975 published on his own a Home Run Handbook. The following year he published The First Season, a centennial reproduction by photocopy of all the box scores of the NL in its initial season of 1876. In 1977 he reconstructed the Early World Series, 1884-1890. Now retired, John is still dreaming of publishing commercially a large-scale official Home Run Register, which will treat, in different ways, everyone of the 125,773 major league homers hit from 1876 thru 1978.
Postscript: After Tattersall’s death in 1981, SABR purchased his home run research and it was continued by Bob McConnell and, later, David Vincent. In 1996, SABR published “SABR Presents The Home Run Encyclopedia”, fulfilling Tattersall’s dream of a large-scale home run register. The SABR Home Run Log, formerly known as the Tattersall-McConnell Home Run Encyclopedia, has now been licensed to Baseball-Reference.com. Go to any player’s page at Baseball-Reference.com and click the tab that says “Home runs” to access the data.
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