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Sunday, June 9, 2002

Sports

In time, Retrosheet will have every baseball play of all time
Site seeing

Hilary Kraus - Staff writer

Don't call David Smith a numbers freak. Call him a baseball historian and an incredible one at that.

Smith, a 54-year-old biology professor at the University of Delaware, began his unusual baseball project in 1989. Thirteen years later, he's still working on it with no end in site.

His goal is to document every individual play of every major league game ever played. It's known as Retrosheet and since 1995, Smith has been posting the data on Retrosheet.org.

It's a Web site that's worth more than a quick look, if for nothing else, merely to admire Smith's research. For nostalgia nuts, plan on staying a while.

"The largest majority of people we get are those who are looking for details of the first game they went to," Smith said of his non-profit Web site.

"I get these rather sweet e-mails coming from people who don't know me, telling me their life story.

`I was 8 years old and my brother and I went with my father and my uncle to a game. I think it was Yankee Stadium. I know it was 1963 and the White Sox played. I'm sure it was Whitey Ford who pitched, but maybe it was Mel Stottlemyre. And Mantle probably hit a home run. Can you find the game?"'

Well, no. But if the fan knows the date, there's a good chance the boxscore and the play-by-play will be posted on Retrosheet.org.

Yes, there are still a lot of missing years, but Smith and his researchers are constantly updating. About 105,000 play-by-play accounts have been collected, representing about 60 percent of the 115,717 games played from 1901 -- the start of modern baseball -- through 1983.

By the end of June, boxscores dating back to 1974 will be posted. Currently, the starting and winning pitchers from every game dating back to 1920 are posted. By the end of the month, the information will go back to 1900. By the end of the year, Smith plans on posting information dating back to 1871.

So why does Smith put so much time into his hobby? Because Major League Baseball never has.

"It's one of those things that most people assume already existed," Smith said "You would think the national pastime, all of that kind of schmaltzy stuff. How can it not be true that Major League Baseball does not have a record of all the plays of all the games?"

Not even close. The Cleveland Indians' books, Smith said, go back to 1946. The Pittsburgh Pirates, 1970. Houston, 1974, and nothing before that.

And the Dodgers, one of the most documented teams of all time, have nothing from the Brooklyn years.

Smith has gotten a lot of information by borrowing big-league teams' ratty old scorebooks. He copies the pages and provides free repairs.

Some organizations were unwilling and downright nasty at first. Others -- like the Mariners, said Smith -- have been great. The first team that let him copy its books was the Baltimore Orioles, his favorite team (just 60 miles from his home in Newark, Del.). However, it took until 1997 for all the teams to cooperate. Smith also relies on personal scorebooks of longtime statisticians. Anyway he can get it, he'll take it.

And then there are the errors. Smith and his researchers have found an average of 50 to 60 mistakes per season. Although more interested in preserving than correcting history, one of Retrosheet's biggest finds was from the 1961 season, when Roger Maris of the New York Yankees probably was credited with an extra run batted in, which corrected would drop him into a tie for the league lead.

MLB has not made the change. Retrosheet has.

•For an archive of Site Seeing columns, go to www.spokesmanreview.com/siteseeing

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