The First Stats Guru

For the next three posts, I’m going to step away from the men who play baseball and concentrate on those who do the same thing I do, write about it. Three of them have been hugely important in the history of the sport. One is honored in Cooperstown with a plaque, one is honored with an award named for him, and the other should be in Cooperstown too.

Henry Chadwick

To be a baseball fan is to be at least slightly enamoured of statistics. They permeate baseball from the sublime to the ridiculous. Want to know the fielding percentage of a left-handed, red-headed shortstop in 1892? I’ll bet someone has that stat. For both the good and bad of that, we owe Henry Chadwick.

Chadwick was, like his contemporary Harry Wright,  British. Chadwick was born in 1824 and moved to New York, along with his family, in 1836. He loved cricket and by 1850 he was working for the Long Island Star newspaper as their cricket reporter. Somewhere around this time he discovered baseball, fell in love with it, and began writing about it for his newspaper. By 1857 he was providing sports reporting for several New York newspapers. He covered the baseball scene in New York and Brooklyn and became known as an authoritative voice of the sport. By the civil War he was editing The Beadle Dime Baseball Player, published by Beadle and Company, the first baseball guide published for public sale. And before anybody asks, I don’t know if Beadle was related to Michelle Beadle of ESPN. Chadwick would, at various points edit both the Spaulding Guide and Reach Guide, the other two major baseball publications of the 19th Century. He died in 1908, is buried in Greenwood Cemetery under a headstone noting him as “Father of Base Ball” (which, considering his impact in spreading it may not be far from the truth), and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1938.

If what’s mentioned above is all Chadwick had done, he’d be important enough, but he became the great-grandfather of SABR. He began to fiddle with the info available and more or less invented modern baseball stats. He invented the box score, which he adopted from cricket. It was very different from the modern sheet. Here’s an 1876 example from Chadwick’s Wikipedia page:

Box Score, 1876

 Note it doesn’t show any pitching info and has more fielding info than is usual on modern box scores.

He’s also credited with inventing the batting average statistic, the earned run average statistic, being the first to use K to denote a strikeout (K being the last letter of “struck”). He also apparently began using a D for walks (D being the last letter of “walked”), but it didn’t catch on.

So far, Chadwick is the only writer actually in the Hall of Fame (the other writers are put in differently). I wish that wasn’t true (and will post my candidate later), but if you’re only going to have one, Chadwick certainly works. So do me a favor. The next time you get into a heated stat fight with someone, or use a stat to prove that one player is better than another, make sure you give a nod toward Brooklyn and Henry Chadwick. He deserves it.

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One Response to “The First Stats Guru”

  1. William Miller Says:

    I especially like the Total Bases on Hits, a stat well ahead of its time. Kind of like a forerunner of what would later become slugging percentage. Notice that neither CF is credited with a putout in the game? I find that interesting.
    Good stuff, Bill

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