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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.
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.
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