I was just over at ESPN.com, and I found that Rob Neyer was writing his final column for them. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Mr. Neyer, because he, more than anyone else, introduced me to the statistics side of baseball.
I've long been interested in the numbers that go into baseball. At 7 years old, I remember looking in the Boston Sunday Globe and writing down every single player in the league, ranking them in some category or another. This was before I knew what a spreadsheet was - I was using a pencil and paper. Through the years, the interest in the statistical side of the game grew. At about 12, I started entering the Red Sox box scores into a MS Office Spreadsheet after every game. A pile of newspapers would be next to my family's computer, a source of constant aggravation for my poor mother. "When are you going to throw those papers away? You can't keep those forever!" I would calculate and maneuver the numbers in every way I could. At maybe 13 or 14, I came up with my first pitching metric, ranking players by a combination of K/BB, H/IP and ERA. It was around the same time I received the Bill James 1995 Season Preview. I thought it was great, and he had a completely different outlook from any baseball writer I'd ever read, but I had no idea who he was. I'd never heard of the "Historical Abstract" or anything else.
My family was a little late on board with the whole internet thing, but around 1998/99. Sports fan that I was, the coolest thing to me about the internet was the fact that I didn't have to wait until the next day to get a sports score. Indeed, I still consider this a turning point in my life. I remember getting up and opening the newspaper every morning. Not just to read recaps and analysis, but because I didn't yet even know who had won or lost. It was a completely different world. Of course, ESPN.com was one of those places I'd go for those score updates. Sure, it was a little slow back in the dial-up days, but it sure beat waiting until the next morning. Browsing the site, I came upon Rob Neyer. I'd never heard of him, but when I started reading him, I was blown away. Here was someone with the same interest in the statistical analysis that I did. Rob introduced me to OPS and other statistics, and reinforced my prior belief that pitching wins were more of a team stat than a personal one. But more importantly, he introduced me to the whole statistical analysis community. I found Bill James and Baseball-Reference.com Baseball Prospectus and the Hardball Times and everything else.
So thank you Rob Neyer. Without you, would I have found this community? Yes, probably- the internet is pretty vast, and it has become pretty easy to search over the years. That's inconsequential though. You are the one who changed my thinking, who enabled me to cultivate my interest in baseball statistics further. So, while Peter Gammons is still my favorite baseball writer, and while Bill James is the most important analyst any of us will ever read, Rob, you have been the writer who has influenced my thinking and analysis the most. I'm going to miss reading you on ESPN, but the impact you have had on me and thousands of others will not be forgotten. Good luck, and Godspeed.