Baseball by the Numbers

The connections are what count.

For me, baseball has always been all about the numbers.

I first got interested in sports to impress a tomboyish girl in the fifth grade, but what kept me hooked on baseball was the way the players and teams could be evaluated by all sorts of statistical measures. I hoarded baseball cards, and I followed games every day of the week during the six-month-long baseball season. As an awkward, introverted adolescent, baseball gave me a way to relate to people.

At the beginning of this month, my years of obsession — plus eight months of research and creative tinkering — finally resulted in a Web site: NumerOlogy: The Uniform Number History of the Baltimore Orioles.

I’ve always identified baseball players with their uniform numbers — they tell the story of how the players and the team evolved and grew over decades. But for a sport that’s so steeped in statistics and the sanctity of records, there are surprisingly few authoritative sources on baseball uniform numbers. The greatest exception is Mets by the Numbers, created by Jon Springer. His exhaustive research (and personal encouragement) inspired me to undertake a similar project for my own favorite team, the Orioles.

I spent countless hours on the Internet poring over team rosters, photo archives, newspaper archives, and score cards. It took four or five months to piece together a coherent chronology — basically, who wore what when. I spent the next few months wrestling with HTML and supplementing my raw data with words, trying to make the players and their numbers come to life.

After just two weeks online, NumerOlogy has already helped me connect with other like-minded fans. I’ve gotten links from other, bigger sports sites and did an interview with a local paper. I was even contacted by a former player, who told me a bit about his playing days and helped me identify another uniform number he had worn.

In baseball’s numbers game, I finally feel like I count.

Article © 2008 by Kevin Brotzman