SABR Salute: Leonard Gettelson
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. Leonard Gettelson received the SABR Salute in 1977; the following biographical sketch appeared in that year’s membership directory.
Many baseball arguments have been settled over the years by perusal of the publication compiled some 30 years [ago] by Leonard Gettelson called ONE FOR THE BOOK. Now called The Sporting News Baseball Record Book, it has every conceivable record, including “most trips to the water fountain between innings.” Well, that may be a slight exaggeration, but he was approached by a fan one time who asked him which third-sacker held the record for most foul pop ups caught in one season.
Born in Red Bank, New Jersey in 1902, Leonard used to watch the nearby Long Branch team in the old Atlantic League. It was staffed with Cuban players, with Dolf Luque one of the best remembered. They didn’t bother with signs or signals, just shouted instructions in Spanish. From this introduction to baseball, he started during World War I to collect box scores and guides. It became a serious hobby for him in 1920, the same year he began work in the auditor’s office of the New York & Long Branch Railroad at $18 per week.
The railroad reference is appropriate because it would. now take a couple of box cars to hold all the record material he has accumulated. He has files and files of old newspapers, letters, and library notes; he has ledgers with records of every player in the National League since 1876 and the American League since 1901. His file system includes an index card for each game played, plus support data for every record appearing in his publication. He has every Sporting News issue ever printed, and many other publications.
Leonard started sending off his statistics and tables to newspapers when he was still in his teens. Before long, his material began appearing in New York newspapers such as the World, the Press, and the Journal, and in other publications. By 1926 he was contributing to The Sporting News, Spalding’s Baseball Record Book, and Baseball Magazine. To handle this flow of material, he established the Gettelson Baseball Bureau.
Checking box scores each Sunday at the New York Public Library, Leonard ran into Ernie Lanigan, a recognized baseball “statistorian” of that period. They became friends, exchanged data, and had a working relationship that lasted for many years. They worked together putting out The Sporting News Record Book, or Dope Book, as it was sometimes called, and Leonard took it over in 1942. This effort was discontinued during World War II, but was resumed in 1949 as ONE FOR THE BOOK.
In 1953 Leonard began compiling the World Series Record Book for TSN. He also has worked on Daguerrotypes, a compilation of the all-time greats. On these and other matters he has been in close touch over the years with many baseball writers and historians such as Taylor Spink, Fred Lieb, Lee Allen, Tom Meany, Seymour Siwoff , Cliff Kachline, and with many SABR members who have exchanged data with him. He has been a constant source of baseball information and has contributed greatly to making baseball the most thoroughly researched of all sports. Now 75, Leonard lives in semi-retirement with his wife Frances. Their son Mark, 29, is a Washington attorney.
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