"numbers" (= baseball stats)

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Wed Dec 8 16:45:10 UTC 2004

The earliest OED3 cite for "numbers" referring to baseball statistics is
from 1986, with the more general sense of 'statistics' dating to 1973.
It's possible to trace the usage of "numbers" for baseball stats over the
course of the '60s, from the numbers kept by pioneering Dodgers
statistician Allan Roth to the publication of Macmillan's _Baseball
Encyclopedia_ in 1969, which ushered in the new numbers-driven analysis of
the sport.  (See the recently published book by Alan Schwarz, _The Numbers
Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination with Statistics_, for more on this

New York Times, Feb 19, 1961, p. 181
All clubs keep extensive statistical records but no one, it is generally
conceded, has carried the numbers game to the recondite reaches ranged by
Roth. ... "I don't have any interest in numbers outside of baseball," says
Roth, who even delegates his income-tax computation to a professional.

New York Times, Mar 12, 1962, p. 37
"I'll tell you what's worse," said Garagiola. "It's having your batting
average posted on the scoreboard. It ruins the bad batters. They become so
embarrassed at seeing their averages exposed to public view that they want
to get those numbers out of sight as fast as possible."

New York Times, Apr 11, 1964, p. 20
Spring training statistics mean virtually nothing as far as ballplayers
are concerned, but they do exist and some fans seem to take an endless
interest  in them. ... Such numbers show graphically how evenly playing
time has been distributed, and how experienced players concentrate on
conditioning. ... Starting Tuesday, the numbers will count.

New York Times, Apr 25, 1966, p. 41
In those days, you see, career totals were a thoroughly neglected branch
of baseball statistics, and the full-fledged numbers craze so stimulated
by radio broadcasts (with so much time to be filled) had not yet taken

New York Times, May 1, 1969, p. 56
Numbers-gaming is only a phase in the historical revisionism of baseball.

New York Times, Oct 12, 1969, p. BR3
[Jimmy Breslin's review of _Baseball Encyclopedia_]
I always found newspaper stories about baseball to be generally unreadable
because of the torrent of numbers thrown into each paragraph. ... Joe
DiMaggio. His record takes up 25 lines, but I don't look at the numbers.

--Ben Zimmer

More information about the Ads-l mailing list