Sean forman didn't have to hear voices whispering in the middle of a cornfield in his native Iowa to know: If he built it, they would log on. What emerged was a kind of website of dreams called baseballreference.com, a compendium of statistics that in the year since it began operation has become indispensable to fans and historians. Forman, 29, an assistant professor of mathematics at St. Joseph's and a former catcher at Manning ( Iowa) High, has assembled easy-to-access season-by-season and team-by-team statistical recaps going back to 1876. Moreover, by typing in the name of any major leaguer, past or present, a user can see the player's statistics, his appearances in top 10 listings and, most intriguingly, his place in the Similarity Scores system, developed by statistician Bill James, which reveals other players whose statistical profiles at a given point in their careers are most like the subject's at the same point. For instance, through age 26, Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra was most like the 26-year-old Ernie Banks (above). Baseball-reference also has features such as a travel link with mileages to the major and minor league parks nearest the user.
Forman's next project, with Massachusetts fireman and fellow baseball nut Jim Furtado, is a Yahoolike portal called the Baseball Think Factory, which will include sites devoted to pitching, news and scouting. What aren't in the picture for baseballreference are hard-to-load photos or video. "Look, people need the links to be as quick as possible," says Forman. "This is a site where people look at 300 to 400 pages in one sitting."