Tuesday, December 22, 2009

He Took the Gilt off the Gingerbread

He may not look like my type but I would have liked Henry Chadwick. I'm a rule follower and believe in rules being clearly defined and fairly enforced and Chadwick did this for baseball. But what is most impressive to me was his foresight to start recording and reporting statistics starting in the 1860's. Chadwick created the newspaper box score which allowed fans to judge players' performances fairly. Though the exact calculations and reporting formats have changed a bit over the years baseball fans are still obsessed with statistics.

Chadwick knew that recording and analyzing this data was the only fair way to determine which players were truly the best and not just crowd favorites. In the Beadle's Dime Baseball Player for 1867 he stated that "Many a dashing general player has 'all the gilt taken off the gingerbread,' as the saying is, by these matter-of-fact figures given at the close of the season."

Once the data was collected and analyzed he also knew in order to increase Baseball's popularity it needed to be publicized. As a journalist himself, Chadwick used his connections to convince first the New York Times and then other papers to start reporting baseball results. Alan Schwartz, in The Numbers Guide: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination with Statistics, called Chadwick "baseball's greatest evangelist, a preacher from the pulpit of numbers."

This data collection, analysis and publication is one key to Baseball's success. It is why America celebrates even though the top performer at the plate last year only had success 36.5% of the time. In my role as Training Coordinator for the Community Action Association of Pennsylvania we use what baseball did with statistics as an example of what organizations need to do in order to identify and promote realistic performance standards for human service programs. Too bad Community Action didn't have a Henry Chadwick.

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