The impetus for football's growing statistical sophistication has come not only from Siwoff and league headquarters but from the ranks of the coaches, many of whom put almost cabalistic faith in the value of numbers. Pro coaches use computers to measure how many times an opponent hits a particular hole in the line, and they can tell you that St. Louis Offensive Tackle Ernie McMillan once received a near-perfect 96% rating on execution of his pass-blocking assignment. "Our computer use has come through 100% for us" says San Francisco 49er Coach Dick Nolan, typically using a statistic to make his point.
Siwoff has experimented with computers on a limited basis, but he has dim hopes for any system that could possibly program all the statistical information he deals with daily and yet be within his reach financially. Still, he is very much a stickler for accuracy, riding herd on official scores in both football and baseball to make sure that the raw score sheets they send him are correct in every respect. Siwoff once went searching for a baseball official scorer, a newspaperman who had failed to submit any score sheets for several days, in a bar that the fellow was said to frequent. As it turned out, he wasn't there but his scorebook was—stored for safekeeping in the bar's refrigerator. "I finished filling them out and went up to the guy's apartment," Siwoff says. "He was soused, but I had him sign the score sheets as best he could. When I got out in the street, I said to myself, 'Seymour, only you would put up with this.' That's my biggest fault—sometimes I'm just too nice to people."
Nowhere does Siwoff's exuberant nature get a more thorough workout than at the ball park, where he tries to show up during the baseball season—either Yankee Stadium or Shea, depending on which team is at home—at least once a week. Before the game he is everywhere. "Hello there, Jerry Coleman," he says, greeting the Yankee broadcaster in the press lounge ("A prince of a guy. They don't make them any finer"). "Hello there, Bob Sheppard," he says on the way up a ramp ("The greatest public address announcer in the world. Unbelievable diction"). "Hello, there, Joe Pepitone," he says outside the clubhouse ("A nice kid. A little flaky, but nice").
During the game Siwoff sits in the press box, keeping score and chattering with the baseball writers. "When you've been around as long as I have," he says, "you can't go anywhere without having everybody say hello to you. It's flattering."
For all that enthusiasm, though, Siwoff knows enough to keep his statistics—and himself—in proper perspective. "There's more to sports than just data," he acknowledges. "You have to look at the broader picture, too. In football a guy might gain a lot of yards rushing. But it could say more about his blocking or the other team's defense than it does about his own ability. And look at fielding figures in baseball; they tell you tragically little. Even an outfielder's assists don't mean much. If he has a really good arm, he might not have too many assists because they're all afraid to run on him.
"Or take slugging percentages. A guy slugs .800, wow. But what's that really mean, to slug .800? Not much. And the way people can sit there and throw statistics at you all night about how the Baltimore Colts were the best team last year, it's unbelievable. All the statistics in the world don't change the fact that on January 12, 1969 the New York Jets won the Super Bowl 16-7. It's as simple as that."
So, there you have it—Seymour Siwoff is somebody who knows what the score is, no small accomplishment even for a sports statistician. "No, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that what I'm doing is the most important thing in the world," he allows. "It's a business and it's got its headaches like any other business. I don't wake up every morning and say, 'whoopee, I'm going to work.' Some days I'd just as soon stay home.
"But I do happen to believe that statistics, if used properly, are of value in telling you about the game. And if your statistics aren't accurate, what good are they anyway? Maybe an extra double here or a missing walk there aren't so important. But I can't stand being slovenly. I guess it's something I have right here." He pointed in the general vicinity of his heart and then continued in his best cheerleader's voice. "Pride, that's what it is," he said. "It's nice when somebody tells me, 'Seymour, I know I can count on you.' I mean, it's flattering, don't you think?"