On Baseball Encyclopedias

Rob Neyer, writing for FiveThirtyEight:

One of those print compendiums of baseball information was a 6.5-pound behemoth nicknamed “Big Mac,” and it changed how people think about the sport. A world without the Big Mac might not just mean a world without Baseball-Reference.com, it might also mean a world without Bill James, which might mean a world without sabermetrics, a world without “Moneyball,” a world without the analytics that have transformed so many other sports. As John Thorn, Major League Baseball’s official historian, says today, “It was a revolution. This was the ‘Moby-Dick’ of baseball statistics, not only for its size, but also for its place in baseball history.”


“The whole genesis of Baseball-Reference,” site creator Sean Forman told me, “was taking what was in ‘The Baseball Encyclopedia’ and making the pages connectable. In the printed books, if you wanted to find Joe DiMaggio’s teammates, you would have to go to DiMaggio, then flip to the team roster somewhere else, then flip back to each of his teammates.”

I have a few print baseball encyclopedias on my bookshelf, including one from Neft & Cohen. The best thing about the Neft & Cohen books were they had a little synopsis of every season—you could read about how the NL was a pretty tight race in 1927, which is nice to know in a season largely known for the Yankees' dominance of the American League.