Some More About Baseball, Computers and Sabermetrics in the ’80s

A couple years ago (and again a month ago) I spent some time on this blog looking at the early days of baseball and sabermetrics, during the 1980s. This post goes back to that decade one more time, for excerpts from a story by USA Today’s Chuck Johnson during the 1988 World Series:

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser is using a personal computer to become the best in baseball.

“It’s just a new way to store information and get it back quicker, and it’s really helped me,” he said. “It’s like a baseball diary on an electronic device.

“I use it every time I pitch. Or, if in between starts I do something or find an adjustment that I want to talk about to myself, I’ll put it in there.”

Hershiser won’t reveal the brand name of the PC he uses, “because the advertising deal hasn’t been signed yet,” he said.

“I have some people who want to talk to me (about doing a television commercial). I think it would be a pretty good scenario to see me standing on the mound about to deliver a pitch and then turning around and going back to a computer and pumping something in, and then throwing a pitch and getting a guy out.”

Hershiser said the idea of using a PC “came from wanting to be computer-friendly when I get out of baseball.

“If I try to get a job after baseball, I’d have some knowledge about computers. Two things I might want to get into after baseball are the securities market and real estate and in both you have to deal with computers a lot.”

Sandy Alderson, the Oakland Athletics general manager, takes a hindsight view.

Though the Athletics regularly used computers to track pitchers’ and hitters’ tendencies during the 1983 and ’84 seasons, the club went back to basics in molding a winner.

“We were building a technological animal, not a baseball team,” said Alderson. “It started to bother the player that we were a push-button team. The tail was wagging the dog.”

A videotape recorder – something all teams use – is about as high-tech as the Athletics go these days.

It’s not surprising, really, that Hershiser would have looked at computers in that way, given his accountant image. But you’d expect the A’s to have been a bit more technological, given the image of Alderson and Tony La Russa, and the team being next to Silicon Valley.

My impression is that in the 1970s, Earl Weaver on the managerial side and Davey Johnson on the playing side were the only two major leaguers to use sabermetric approaches to analyzing the game. I don’t know that Weaver was using computers; it sounds like Johnson was, and if that’s the case, he may have been the first player or manager in MLB to do so. Branch Rickey is the only guy I know of from before the ’70s who used something similar to what would be called sabermetrics to analyze players. Although, it would be wrong to think that before the ’70s no one other than Rickey focused on on-base percentage and hitting charts (think of the Ted Williams shift) and other “advanced” analytics.

Published in: Uncategorized on April 12, 2014 at 10:31 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. So if Sandy Alderson was already “getting away” from computer data back in the ’80’s, what is he using today to make objective judgments about player personnel, an abacus?

  2. It is a classic propaganda tool to pretend that, before you came up with a “new” way to do business, nobody else had any idea what you were doing. The present-day analytics movement builds on 140 years of baseball history. But the best teams still only win 95-100 games a year, and still one and only one team wins the World Series each year — sometimes a team on the cutting-edge of analytics, but most often not. The A’s became successful in the late ’80s due to a combination of steroids and Dave Duncan, and they still managed to lose the World Series twice to flashes-in-the-pan like the ’88 Dodgers and 1990 Reds…

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