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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Interview with Sean Forman, Baseball-Reference.com Founder

So one of my favorite sites out there is Baseball-Reference.com. In fact, it’s not unlike my version of internet porn. I find myself on that site several times a day, looking up stats, salaries, transactions, you name it. I’ll mess around with the baseball oracle, figuring out how I can connect Alvaro Espinoza to Atlee Hammaker. What can I say? It’s the perfect site for a geek like me. Well considering how much enjoyment the site has provided me, I decided it would be fun to track down the man behind the brilliance of Baseball-Reference, founder Sean Forman.

1. Can you give readers a brief background on who you are and what led to the creation of baseball-reference?

I wanted to be able to find Ty Cobb’s stats online. I had done some web design and really enjoyed it, and I thought that the web would be the perfect place for a baseball encyclopedia. The linkability, the infinite amount of storage space and the rest of it really made an on-line encyclopedia a good fit.

I was in grad school at the University of Iowa in Applied Mathematics when I started the site. I had a fellowship and for the year (1999-2000), and I was supposed to be finishing my dissertation. Instead, I took two months to do the basic site and finished the dissertation later.

2. How were you able to do so much of the work by yourself?

Practice and patience. The site launched seven years ago, so I’ve had a lot of time to work out the best way to do things. I figure I’ve written about 150,000 lines of code and a million words. It is really just a matter of plugging away day in and day out. I’ve been full time on the site for the last year and that has made a dramatic difference in my productivity.

3. What would you say is your favorite feature on the site?

The fact that the new Play Index is able to return things like the most home runs by a Yankees against the Tigers or every walkoff hit by a Marlin in 2000 in a few seconds is my current favorite. It took several months of work to get that up and running properly and quickly enough to make it useful. That whole area now has splits, gamelogs and lots of new tools for the last 50 years.

4. Any new features you may be adding soon?

I believe I’ll have 15-20 years of minor league stats up on the site in the next few months. I’m hoping to expand the basic player pages with a lot more data this summer. The challenge will be to do so while not completely overwhelming the user.

5. Any particular player whose page you like the most?

None in particular. Ugueth Urbina used to be my wife’s favorite player, but that hasn’t worked out so well. Rickey Henderson and Wade Boggs were my favorites growing up.

6. Do you sponsor any pages, and where did you get the idea for that? Any particular sponsored pages that stick out to you?

I have sponsored some guys. I have sponsored players who have recently passed away. I don’t like the idea of people sponsoring a page just to get the bump in traffic as people try to find information on the player.

The idea kind of just came to me a few years back. I was trying to figure out how to pay my bills in a market where advertising wasn’t doing that great, and hit upon this idea. It worked out way better than I had imagined. We’ve tried it in football and basketball, but it just doesn’t seem to have the appeal there that it does in baseball.

7. Do you have any particular favorite oracle of baseball combinations?

I was at a game and noticed the guy two rows in front of me had printed out Ichiro to Sisler to show his friends. I felt like I had made it when people were printing that out to show their friends at the ballpark.

8. What do you think will be the hardest record to break?

Obviously the old pitching marks like most complete games, innings etc. aren’t going to fall any time soon. I would like to see the game get back to where we would see 100 SB seasons, but I don’t see that happening soon.

9. Any thoughts on Bonds as he approaches Hank Aaron’s record?

As far as the site goes, I’m a PED-agnostic. I’m just recording what happens on the field. He is clearly one of the greatest players ever. I never thought we’d see Ruthian or Ted Williams-like seasons again, but he has done it.

10. What’s the coolest piece of feedback you’ve ever received for the site?

I’ve gotten lots of very nice notes from users, sportswriters and others like player agents over the years. The ones that always get to me are the ones about them finding the box score of the first game they went to with their father. My son is now almost two, and I know we are going to have a lot of great memories at the ballpark.

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