A LIFE IN SPORTS STATISTICAL RESEARCH (WITH SOME MAJOR GAPS)
In the mid 1980s I was hired by the Long Island newspaper Newsday to introduce sophisticated baseball metrics to the paper’s sports statistics pages. I had been working on-staff as a part-timer covering high school sports, but my knowledge of baseball trivia was well-known and apparently the occasional questions I send out to the office were not appreciated for their work-stopping qualities. So they decided to shut me up by letting me do what I loved best.
For a couple of years I was given a slot to assign myself research projects and deliver the results for weekly publication. Though my first love at the time was baseball, I did occasionally dig up some hockey nuggets which would make it into print. But baseball, with its granular emphasis on statistics, lent itself to the imagination of a Bill James acolyte far better than any other sport and that’s where I made my mark.
All these years later, it appears I also have left a mini-legacy. I hadn’t looked at my clips for a quarter-century, but when I combed through them to add some heft to my bio here I noticed that two of my inspirations had eventually entered the realm of baseball’s most cutting-edge metrics. As you’ll see below, in 1987 I introduced to the public’s eye what has now come to be known as WHIP (really, a fairly obvious metric) and also BABIP (this one I think I can rightfully claim fatherhood of).
And then the sports section contracted, the stats assignment was dumped and soon it was on to greener pastures for me, which had no connection to the sports world. But in early 2015 I dashed off an impetuous little post on my Facebook page, on which this site is largely based. You can read all about that process on the home page (left column).
So it’s good to be back in the game. Even if the game is a different game. But it’s no less of a love. Anyone who came of age as an Islanders fan during the end of the 1973-74 season (the arrival of Howatt and Nystrom!) and saw their fanaticism crest the following season, even before the Cups started coming, can identify with how deep a spot in my soul the sport has found a home.
Having spent the NBCSN years taking in every minute of playoff action I realistically could, I now have a tremendous motivation to keep abreast of all regular-season games as well. And analyzing the way every goal is scored in every game has brought me full-circle with my journalism roots and returned me full-time to the sport which stole my heart the night Howatt and Nystrom tag-teamed Schultz, Saleski and Kelly.
Robert Ballot, November, 2016