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Reflections on the Game
Mike Bryan
April 24, 1989
When the national pastime is your work, your passion becomes your profession. Listen now as five people talk about their baseball lives
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April 24, 1989

Reflections On The Game

When the national pastime is your work, your passion becomes your profession. Listen now as five people talk about their baseball lives

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He hired me to do the statistics for the Longhorn League and to work as his assistant with the Abilene Blue Sox—mainly running the box office out at the ballpark. That was my first job in baseball, and I'll tell you, it was a summer I'll never forget. Blue Sox Stadium is a great name but slightly grandiose for the facility, which had a big sign on the press box on the top of the roof that said: DANGEROUS FOR OCCUPANCY BY MORE THAN six PERSONS. The offices of the Longhorn League and the Abilene Blue Sox were on the second floor of an old house, which was also where Howard and his wife lived. I had the spare bedroom, which also served as my office. It was also where the team stored the surplus bats and tickets. Since there were twin beds in the room, I got to share the room with stray ballplayers that came and went, usually for their first night in town before they got situated.

I don't think I'd trade that experience for anything. That Longhorn was quite a league. It had clubs in Ballinger, Del Rio, Big Springs, Midland, Odessa, Sweetwater and Vernon—Texas towns most people never even heard of.

That was a great year, 1948, the year a big, tall outfielder named Bob Crews had 69 home runs for Amarillo, which tied the existing record in organized baseball for the most homers by a player in a single season—which had been set in 1933 by Joe Heuser of the Minneapolis Millers. Crews should have had 70, and the 70th would have been in the Abilene ballpark, but you know how bad lights were back then, and the outfield lights in particular. The Abilene ballpark had a scoreboard above the center-field fence. If a ball hit the scoreboard, it was a home run, even if it came back on the field. We had a centerfielder, a young man from Sacramento named Gus Stathos who had the nickname of Grandstand Gus, the Galloping Greek, and Crews hit a ball out to centerfield. From the stands you couldn't pinpoint exactly where it hit. The umpire said it hit the fence and was in play, and Crews only got a double. After the game, Stathos said the ball had hit the bottom of the scoreboard. It should have been a home run.

We had probably the two most one-sided consecutive games in baseball history, between Midland and Del Rio. Del Rio was in last place from the day the season opened. Midland defeated Del Rio 31-0 and 40-4. In that 40-4 ball game, one pitcher went the whole game for Del Rio. Only 29 of the runs were earned. I didn't see it, but I've got the score sheet.

The year after I was in Texas, the Ballinger franchise was transferred to Roswell, N.Mex., and when I say "transferred," I mean everything. They dismantled the ballpark and put it on flatbed trucks and hauled it across West Texas, into New Mexico, and rebuilt it.

In the winter of'48-49, I was hired by the California League and the Far West League to do their statistics and also to work in the office in San Francisco. Then the next year I got the big plum, which was the Pacific Coast League. I also picked up the old Sunset League. So I bought this house in San Mateo and settled in. That was in 1950, and I've been here ever since.

I can't say that I've ever been that fascinated with the type of thing that Bill James is so well known for: a greatly expanded idea of what statistics are and what they mean. I don't think you can do much in the way of predicting from statistics. Statistics tell you what has happened, period. It's a tool. A friend of mine once worked for the Oakland A's and likes to tell the story about Charley Finley and the late Ray Swallow, his farm director. This would be probably around 1966, 1967. Ray would come into Finley's office and give him all these statistics about a particular player they were thinking about bringing up, and Finley would sit there and listen and fidget and then say in this stentorian voice of his. "Cut the crap. Can he play or can't he?"

Part of the fascination with this whole thing is watching the players day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year—how they progress or fail, how well they do in certain circumstances, the streaks, the spurts, the slumps. The basics of the job are still the same: batting records, pitching records, fielding records. There has been an expansion in the number of statistical columns, such as the sacrifice fly, which didn't become a part of the official rules until the early '50s. Or saves, which didn't come in until 1969.

But the biggest change is in the transmission of information, rather than in the information itself. Everything used to come by mail, so it couldn't be real up-to-date. Now, after the games each night, the official scorers send the score sheets here to the house on the fax machine. Then sometime between midnight and 2 a.m., I sit down and go over each report to see that it proves out, to see that there isn't some mistake. After we get the score sheets checked, the information is entered onto the individual player's record.

After the season is over, it takes a couple of months to get the final official averages ready and bring the record books up to date. In the off-season you don't put in as many hours and there's more freedom. If you want to shut up shop for a day or two and go somewhere, you can.

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