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May 17, 2006


Gary Ashwill

Scott, thanks again. Yeah, I don't want to come down too hard on those guys (Holway, Riley, & co.), because of the role they played in keeping the Negro Leagues alive in all the ways you point out. At the same time, there's no question that the statistical work has left much to be desired.

I'm going to write a lot about the issues you raise in this blog over the next few weeks or months, so I'll try to answer fairly briefly. I think compiling stats was difficult for the first generation of NeL historians for these reasons:

1) They were/are pretty much amateur historians, not academics, which can make access to materials more difficult;

2) The NeL historians started out before the age of PCs, and I think most NeL statistical work was done by hand until very recently;

3) There are major conceptual differences between the way I or Patrick Rock, say, look at statistics, and the way first-generation NeL historians do. These differences can be summed up by the word I use in the blog's subtitle: "sabermetric." Not a word I necessarily like, but it captures the difference in world view.

Just as an example, where more traditional NeL historians will try to find out how many home runs Josh Gibson hit, I'm more likely to want to find out everything I can about, say, the 1922 Negro National League. Context-- league totals, park effects, unbalanced schedules, etc.--is everything, IMO. Also, like more recent sabermetric analysts (James himself, the Baseball Prospectus guys, and others), I find fielding statistics to be meaningful and necessary to a complete account of the game.

As for why there's not more statistical work out there--I dunno. Check out Patrick Rock's work, if you haven't already. I think part of it is just that it's damned hard to do and doesn't pay anything, so very few people are stupid enough to try!

Scott Simkus

Once again, great stuff Gary. Let's face it, without Holway, Peterson and Clark, you probably wouldn't have this blog (well, maybe you would, but it might be about Melville or Aimee Mann, and I wouldn't be reading it). They've blazed the trail the past four decades, scrambling around in a race against time, tracking down former NeL'ers to gather their personal accounts and anectodal information before its too late. Creating the "myths" and hyperbole that hooked our interests in the first place. They're to be commended for their efforts. But where we're at today (in terms of the current state of statistical research) still begs the question (and I hope you'll take a stab at answering it): With the SABR Negro League committee, with people like Holway, Clark, Riley and the late Peterson, with a research grant from MLB/Hall of Fame (the mediocre "Shades of Glory" book by Hogan and forthcoming? NeL Encyclopedia on the way), with the internet and microfilm and microsoft excel and dozens if not hundreds of individuals passionate about the subject of Negro League Baseball- How come YOUR work on 1916, 1921 and the 1927/28 Cuban League seasons, far exceeds the published efforts of the army of individuals behind the "established" Negro League research community?
How can one man (in a span of just a few years), blow their work away? I'm befuddled here in the Chicago suburbs.

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