"numbers" (= baseball stats)

Mark A. Mandel mamandel at LDC.UPENN.EDU
Thu Dec 9 16:51:05 UTC 2004

Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU> writes:
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

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."

Those don't look particularly evidentiary for a special usage. The second
cite is straightforward anaphora from "those numbers" back to "their
averages [posted on the scoreboard]": literally, numbers, like ".183". Sure,
it could have been an instance of the usage, but Occam's Razor makes that
interpretation look like a case of point-shaving.

In the first cite, the second occurrence, "I don't have any interest in
numbers outside of baseball", clearly refers to numbers as numerals,
computation, mathematics -- the everyday senses of the word -- or at least
the reporter interpreted it that way, linking it to doing one's taxes. The
first occurrence, "the numbers game", has a better case but I'm not

-- Mark A. Mandel
[This text prepared with Dragon NaturallySpeaking.]

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