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The man behind the numbers

Former math professor creates statistics uber-site

Posted: Tuesday February 6, 2007 3:54PM; Updated: Wednesday February 7, 2007 10:58AM
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Sean Forman launched baseball-reference.com on Feb. 1, 2000, and its readership has grown steadily ever since.
Sean Forman launched baseball-reference.com on Feb. 1, 2000, and its readership has grown steadily ever since.
Al Tielemans/SI
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If you're a baseball fan at all and you can find your way onto the Internet, you know Baseball-Reference.com. It's the one-stop shop for baseball statistics, an ever-growing repository of data that is truly staggering in depth and breadth. Need the lineup for the '69 Orioles -- on Aug. 3, 1969? It's there. Need to know how Brooks Robinson did that day? It's on the same page. Want to know how your favorite first baseman stacks up against others? Easy. Who was the American League Gold Glove winner at catcher in 1972? Piece of cake. And I could go on and on. Baseball-Reference.com certainly does.

The site is the 7-year-old baby of Sean Forman, a mathematician, computer programmer, baseball fan, one-time college professor and self-professed stats geek. Forman, 35, launched the site on Feb. 1, 2000, and has built it into a powerhouse in the baseball information world. It has grown to be so successful that Forman, a catcher on his high school team in Iowa, left his job as an assistant professor of mathematics at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia to run B-R fulltime.

I talked to him about baseball, statistics, baseball statistics and his site earlier this week. Here are some excerpts:

(It was Carlton Fisk, by the way. The AL Gold Glover at catcher in '72. It was the only Gold Glove of his career. And Brooks, batting fifth, was 0-for-4 in a 5-2 loss to the Twins in Minneapolis that day.)

SI.com: The size of the site, just in sheer number of links and pages of information, is amazing. Not to sound like an old Monty Python sketch, but tell me: How big is it?

Sean Forman: There are almost 17,000 players [in Major League history] -- we have a page for every one of them. We recently launched, in the last year and a half, a wiki, similar to the Wikipedia, and we're up to about 40,000 pages on that. We have 98,000 box score pages. In addition to all the player pages, we have pages for every team in Major League history, every league.

For the last 50 years, we have game logs and splits for every player. We have additional things like, you can find out how Bob Gibson did against every batter he faced, who was the most successful against him, who was the least successful. So it's kind of one of these things that has grown organically over the last seven years. I add new things. It kind of builds upon itself and gets larger and larger. Regenerating the site, from top to bottom, would probably take close to maybe three or four days of computer time.

SI.com: When you're tooling around the site, do you ever come upon a page that looks new to you?

SF: Every once in a while -- I have a random page feature on the site -- I may look and say 'Does this make sense? Is this the most obvious way to present this material?' I think I have a pretty good grasp of everything that's on there. But there are times when someone will bring up a feature that I did like five years ago that I didn't really remember that much.

SI.com: What are the most popular player pages on the site?

SF: The two big ones are [Barry] Bonds and [Babe] Ruth. They always are at or near the top every day, for traffic. And then it's rather topical. Todd Helton, I think, was the most visited player last week [after news of a possible trade to Boston]. And then around the Hall of Fame announcement, those guys go up in traffic as well. But another guy who's gotten a lot of traffic -- but wasn't much of a ballplayer -- was Jim Morris, who was featured in The Rookie. For a while, he was actually the most popular page on the site, around the time that movie came out.

SI.com: I'd imagine that the Yankees are your most-hit team page?

SF: Right, Yankees and Red Sox, and whatever team was in the World Series. But, certainly, the Yankees and Red Sox and, a notch down below those two are the Cubs and the Mets and the Dodgers. It's kind of similar to what you would expect with the big market and small market divisions.

SI.com: Can you give us an idea of how many people visit your site, and how that's grown since your launch?

SF: On a given day -- it's a little bit of a slow period now, because spring training hasn't started -- our biggest days are usually 40,000 or 50,000 visitors per day. And then it will drop off to maybe 25-30,000 during the offseason. It's grown pretty dramatically. In 2001, I was probably seeing one tenth of that traffic, somewhere around 3,000 to 4,000 a day. It's grown probably 20 percent a year since then.

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