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Jim's Lab Notes
— Site News, Baseball Talk, and a Bunch of Other Stuff

Tuesday, April 17, 2001

A Little Background

A little information to help you figure out what the heck Jim is writing about.

Baseball on the Brain

I’m Jim Furtado and I’m a baseball nut. Not a run-of-the-mill baseball nut,   a colossal, highly dedicated, consumed fanatic.

You see, baseball invades my consciousness constantly. Working like a computer   screensaver, my thoughts wander to baseball whenever my mind isn’t actively   occupied on a task assigned to a higher priority level. Whether it’s thoughts   about the Red Sox’s injury problems, the bad luck my primary fantasy team is   experiencing, the article I recently read about top prospects, the question   of whether my kids should be taught to bat left-handed or right-handed, or the   myriad of other things that pop into my head, my mind doesn’t stray very long   from baseball.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think about baseball so much that I’m dysfunctional.   I recognize that there are more important things in life. It’s just that when   I’m not fulfilling my responsibilities or enjoying my family and friends, I   think about baseball.

For years, I felt I had to apologize for being this way. That’s because a bunch   of people tried to dissuade me from spending so much time on’ ‘a hobby.’ My   mother told me I’d be better off if I spent my time on more worthwhile pursuits.   My teachers told me I could get tip-top, scholarship-generating grades, if only   I wasn’t so preoccupied with baseball.’ My grandfather warned me that I endangered   my health and future life’s work by playing ‘that game.’ My grandmother bemoaned   the time I spent on baseball and beseeched me to dedicate more of my time to   God. Although I didn’t agree with their comments, I appreciated their interest.   I recognized that all these people cared about me enough to try to help me prioritize   my life in the order they thought was in my best interest.

But I didn’t listen. Instead I gave into an affliction shared by all die-hard   baseball fans: baseball on the brain.

I’ve often wondered exactly how I got this way. I figure this condition may   be genetic. My father was afflicted with a similar case of baseball fanaticism.   My brother suffers from a slightly less intense case of the malady. My sons   are symptomatic.

Genetics is not the only possible cause. My baseball fanaticism may be socially   rooted. Over the years many people have encouraged me to pursue my interest   in baseball. Early on, my father and brother reacted positively whenever I shared   my baseball-related tidbits with them. Although they didn’t always enjoy my   discoveries as much as I did, they encouraged me to continue my impromptu sessions   of baseball show-and-tell. Over time I began to share the same kind of things   with my friends. Luckily, they encouraged me to show them more stuff.’ So, I   did.

That was as far as things went for a number of years.

Then came the Internet.’

At first, I couldn’t find very much baseball stuff online. The web was in its   infancy and there simply wasn’t much stuff around. As a matter of fact, my initial   searches for baseball stuff didn’t take much time and produced little.

Eventually my searches led me to the rec.sport.baseball newsgroup. On rec.sport.baseball   I discovered a bunch of regular baseball fans who were as nutty about baseball   as I was. Although I lurked (or watched the ongoing discussions) on the forum   for quite a while, over time I found that I could sometimes provide information   or a point of view that others could not. After several successful forays I   decided to do what many other people were doing: I set up a web site.

The reason I set up a site was pretty basic: I wanted to share my stuff. At   first I posted a few of my own articles, a bunch of links, and a baseball newsstand.   After a while, though, I contacted a few people and offered to host anything   they were interested in sharing. A few people took me up on my offer and sent   me their stuff. It wasn’t long before I started receiving positive feedback   from visitors to the site. The site also received favorable reviews in a few   national papers. This small amount of notice encouraged me to more actively   share my stuff with others.

Eventually, I contacted the editor of The Big Bad Baseball Annual, Don Malcolm.   (The Big Bad Baseball Annual was/is mainly concerned with a subject called sabermetrics.   For the uninitiated, sabermetrics is ‘the search of objective knowledge.’ The   term, coined by baseball historian Bill James, actually describes a way of looking   at the game. Instead of just spouting simple opinions, competent practitioners   of sabermetrics’often called sabermetricians’research and study questions before   forming opinions. In other words, sabermetricians take a more scientific approach   to answering questions about the game.) Over the years I had enjoyed the thought-provoking   articles contained in the books and thought some of the stuff I was working   on might be appropriate for the book. Thankfully, Don liked the stuff I passed   along and asked me to contribute to the 1999 book. So I did. As time went on   I got to know Don and a few of the other writers quite well and was asked to   take a bigger role in the 2000 book. I welcomed the opportunity and threw myself   into the project.

I was quite excited when the 2000 book was published. My excitement, however,   stalled due to a few factors.

First, many articles in the book were too technical for my friends and family to enjoy. They were simply overwhelmed by the technical nature of a great deal of the book. All   the acronyms and complex math left them scratching their heads. Since they often   asked me to supply the same information that I provided to the book, I realized   that my stuff might be more useful to others, if I presented the material similarly   to how I presented it to my friends.

Second, I have a wife, two young sons, a job, and many other responsibilities   more important than my baseball work. That’s leaves me a finite number of hours   per week to devote to baseball. Given that my work on the book consumed so much   time, I no longer had time to update my web site.

Third, and most importantly, I felt constrained by the subject matter. There   was a lot of stuff that I no longer had time to explore, since all my baseball   time was being consumed doing sabermetric-type studies for the book. This was   a big problem for me. Although I’m very interested in sabermetrics, the subject   is just one of the baseball-related topics that I’m interested in.

So, after wrestling with mixed emotions, I decided to stop writing for the   book and get back to exploring whatever interesting baseball stuff I happen   upon.’

Around the same time, Sean Forman came to a similar decision. He and I had   become quite close over the previous year while working on the 2000 Big Bad   Baseball Annual. Over the course of our many phone conversations, online chats,   and e-mails, he and I discovered that we shared similar baseball sensibilities.   Once we realized this, we started discussing our ideas. Soon thereafter, we   began work on evolving our ideas into tangible material. About a month ago,   Sean and I started rolling out some of the projects we’ve been working on the   past year.

Lab Notes

I hope you don’t mind this bit of self-indulgence. Since I’m planning an eclectic   mix of baseball-related material, I figure an explanation might be in order   to help people who stumble upon this column figure out what ties the topics   together.

As I noted above, I’m interested in a lot of different baseball stuff. Rather   than fight those urges, I’ve decided to go with the flow. If I’m looking for   a particular baseball collectible, I’ll share my search with you. If I read   an enjoyable book, I’ll give you my review. If I watch a ball game with a particularly   knowledgeable friend, I’ll share his insights. If I refine my player evaluation   statistics, I’ll fill you in on the details. If I’m shopping for a new glove   for one of my boys, I’ll tell you what I’ve learned during the process. In other   words, I’ll share whatever baseball stuff I happen to be working on at the time.

Since I play around with a lot of stuff in my makeshift baseball lab, which   is located in the bowels of stately Furtado Manor, I hope you won’t mind if   I simply share my personal lab notes with you. Because I’ve found that people   often enjoy looking at the assorted snippets that grab my interest, I figure   I may as well take the chance that you might also enjoy this material as well.

In any event, I hope you’ll find an article that tickles your fancy. If you   don’t, please suggest   a topic that interests you.

Jim Furtado Posted: April 17, 2001 at 06:00 AM | 0 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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