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By The Numbers: Baseball In The Classroom: Teaching Sabermetrics

By Father Gabe Costa
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It was in the mid-1980s. I'll never forget the feeling of "Eureka!"

There was no Internet then…I was looking up statistics in the classic book TOTAL BASEBALL (edited by John Thorn, et al)…I took out my trusty calculator and started to compare the seasonal homerun totals of my favorite all-time player, Babe Ruth, with the home run totals of teams during the years Ruth played.

I started with the 1918 season, when Ruth tied for his first home run title with 11 homers, equaling Philadelphia's Tillie Walker's total. I noticed that both Ruth and Walker hit more home runs that five other Major League teams.

The next year, Ruth set the seasonal home run mark with 29 home runs…that year he hit more home runs than ten teams, four in the American League and six in the National League.

I started to suspect something at this point.

It was in looking at his 1920 season that I couldn't believe what I found! This was Eureka!

In that Year, Ruth's first with the Yankees, he hit 54 home runs, thus becoming the first player ever to hit 30, 40, and 50 in a season. He out-homered every other team in the American League and all but one team in the National League. He also hit more home runs than eleven pairs of teams that year! For example, that year the Red Sox hit 22 homers while the Tigers slugged 30 circuit clouts, drawing their combined total two shy of the Bambino's 54.

Hmmm…so I went to go further…I had to…all the way to 1933.

In the chart below, we see that Ruth accomplished the feat of outhomering teams ninety times, between the years of 1918 and 1933, not to mention besting pairs of teams eighteen times.


1918 11 4 1
1919 29 4 6
1920 54 7 7
1921 59 5 3 (a)
1922 35 1 1
1923 41 2 (b) 1
1924 46 5 3
1925 25 0 0
1926 47 5 4
1927 60 7 5
1928 54 4 3
1929 46 2 (c) 2
1930 49 1 0
1931 46 3 3
1932 41 1 0
1933 34 0 0 (d)

(a) In addition, Ruth tied Brooklyn Dodgers in 1921
(b) In addition, Ruth tied Detroit Tigers in 1923
(c) In addition, Ruth tied St. Louis Browns in 1929
(d) In addition, Ruth tied Cincinnati Reds in 1933

Note that Ruth was suspended by Commissioner Kenesaw Landis for the first six weeks of the 1922 season. The reason for this was that Ruth insisted on Barnstorming (traveling to different parts of the country to play in exhibition games) after the 1921 World Series, thereby violating a rule prohibiting such exhibitions by World Series participants. Furthermore, in 1925, the Bam was ill for part of the season and was also suspended by Yankees manager Miller Huggins for part of the season, thus limiting the number of games in which he appeared that year.

Nevertheless, after pouring over the results, I asked myself a number of questions:

  • Did anyone else in Major League history duplicate Ruth's feat of dominance, or at the very least, come close to it?
  • Was there a way I could measure this dominance?
  • Should I write an article on this feat?
  • Or, better yet, since I had read a number of yearly editions of Bill James' BASEBALL ABSTRACT, could I come up with an academic coursea course on sabermetrics – in which I could present this and other related material about baseball?

This fourth bullet was addressed by Seton Hall University. In 1988, the administration approved what is believed to be the first ever course on sabermetrics to be offered on the university level: MATH 1011 SABERMETRICS. The proposal was strongly supported by three educators: Dr Dan Gross, Dr Jane Norton and Dr John J Saccoman. It was because of them, that the proposed course became a reality.

Two dozen years later, the course is still running at Seton Hall University.

Either following Seton Hall's lead, or independently, a number of other colleges and universities have subsequently offered similar courses.

Since 1988, hundreds of students have taken courses on sabermetrics.

The next several installments of By The Numbers will be written by students currently taking a sabermetrics course.

I am sure you will enjoy their blogs.

Are you fan of sabermetrics? Let us know in the comments below...

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