This is from a sidebar to a Hartford Courant feature on April 5, 2004, when the Courant set out a timeline of some key events in the annals of baseball statistics and sabermetrics. Some of the items are already familiar to you, but others are not well known, including that a military staffer led the formation of SABR. Here’s the timeline:
1845: The first box score appeared in The New York Herald on Oct. 25, as the New York Ball Club beat the Brooklyn Ball Club, 37-19.
1850s: Box score continued to appear in New York newspapers. By the end of the decade, sportswriter Henry Chadwick revolutionized the box score, basing it on the statistics of cricket. Why cricket? Because Chadwick was British.
1860-1900: Chadwick, who published the first rulebook in 1858, continuously invented statistics and altered rules to better judge the contribution of a player. He devised a formula for ERA and batting average, he came up with such concepts as the error, the sacrifice fly and infield fly rule.
1914: Boston’s “Miracle Braves” win the World Series, thanks to the platoon system used by manager George Stallings, considered the first manager to base decisions on numbers.
1947: The first known stats expert to work for a team is hired by the Brooklyn Dodgers, as Allan Roth joined Branch Rickey. Roth was one of the first proponents of on-base percentage and slugging percentage, numbers Rickey also embraced. Roth stays with the Dodgers until 1964.
1964: Stat-minded fans find a guru in Earnshaw Cook, a Johns Hopkins engineering professor who questions conventional baseball wisdom in his book “Percentage Baseball.” After compiling piles of data, Cook brought his ideas to baseball executives. He was rebuffed, so he wrote the book that influenced a generation, including Bill James.
1971: The Society for American Baseball Research is formed in Cooperstown by 16 like-minded baseball fans and historians. The group’s founder is Department of Defense employee Bob David. SABR quickly becomes a haven for statistical analysis.
1970s: Earl Weaver becomes one of the first managers to embrace stats in his decision-making. As manager of the Orioles, Weaver studies index cards that contained statistics about matchups and tendencies. Weaver loved to platoon, didn’t like to bunt, and relied on matchup numbers for bullpen decisions.
1977: While passing time working at Stokely Van Camp’s, Bill James begins poring over statistics before producing his first “Baseball Abstract.” James turned out witty prose while turning the game upside down in his analysis. He created stats (such as runs created) and built a cult following by advertising in The Sporting News. By the early 1980s, “Baseball Abstract” was a national bestseller.
1981: The Texas Rangers hire Craig Wright for his statistical analysis, making him a trailblazer. Wright spent almost 20 years as a consultant with other teams, most notably the Dodgers. He also wrote “The Diamond Appraised” with former Rangers pitching coach Tom House and continues to write from his California home.
1984: Pete Palmer, a member of SABR since 1973, co-authors (with John Thorn) “The Hidden Game of Baseball.” Palmer, who invented on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS), also published “Total Baseball” with Thorn in 1989.
1985: Mets manager Davey Johnson, who played for Weaver, keeps a copy of “The Hidden Game of Baseball” near his desk and he references Earnshaw Cook when discussing strategy.
1986: The Orioles hire Baltimore native and economist Eddie Epstein as director of baseball research and statistics. Larry Lucchino, who hired Epstein, later brought him to San Diego. Epstein is now a consultant for several teams.
1980s: While his team was among the best and deepest in baseball, Oakland GM Sandy Alderson is studying the work of sabermetricians and consulting with an analyst named Eric Walker. By the time the A’s are cutting salary in the 1990s, Alderson is implementing many of Walker’s ideas — such as valuing on-base percentage — throughout his organization.
1993: Billy Beane, a former fringe big leaguer, joins the A’s front office and is indoctrinated into the James/Walker thinking by Alderson. Beane eventually replaces Alderson as GM and continues to follow the path of statistical analysis.
2002: Billionaire financier John Henry, who sold the Florida Marlins and purchased the Red Sox a year before, becomes the first major league owner to hire James to a full-time position. Henry, a long-time fan of James, says his organization will rely on both statistical analysis and conventional scouting.