On April 2, 2003, NetShrine was
to complete an interview with Around
The Majors reports author and
Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia
creator Lee Sinins.
NetShrine highly recommends both the Around The Majors reports and the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia. Oh, but first, check out our interview............
NetShrine: As a result of your baseball reporting, many in certain baseball circles (especially journalists and fans on the Internet) know of you. But, few know "you." Tell us about being "Lee" up to this point in your life. Just how did you get here?
I definitely took an interesting path into baseball writing. On the one
hand, I've wanted to be a baseball writer since high school. High school
was where I got my start, writing a monthly magazine that lasted somewhere
between a year and a half and two years. But, on the other hand, my path was as
far from a straight line as you can get.
I've always been a computer nerd. I remember the days when I read everything I could get my hands on for how to program--on a Commodore 64. When I was in high school, computer classes were electives that had very small enrollment. I took every computer course the school offered (all 3 or 4 of them) and every one had single digit enrollment.
I had what I thought was a perfect plan. While I enjoyed computers, I couldn't see myself doing anything other than being a baseball writer. With my computer and math grades, I could get into any college I wanted as a computer science major. So, I decided that I would use computers as my method of getting into the college of my choice and would then change majors.
I chose Syracuse, due to the excellent reputation for its school of communications. But, in my freshman year, I came to a terrible realization. I realized that I couldn't just graduated from college and immediately become a beat writer for the Yankees and take Bill James's place writing the abstracts--this was right after he stopped writing them.
I knew that, having only a casual interest in football and no interest in other sports, I wasn't going to be able to write about other things, do a good job at that and then be able to work my way towards writing about baseball. Assigning me to write about any other sports would have been the equivalent of firing me on the first day of the job. I wouldn't do a good enough job to make to the second day. So, my idea of transferring into journalism was abandoned.
Then, I came up with this "great" realization. I realized that staying in computers was a dead end. According to my theory, if it was true that computers were going to be the future and since they were about to start teaching computers to elementary school students, it meant that we would quickly reach the day where computer skills were no longer a marketable skill.
Under my theory, right after Ford invented the Model T, it was probably the case that there was a boom period for those who knew how to drive, driving had a short period as the nation's fastest growing field, but look what happened. Now, everyone can drive and who considers driving to be a good profession.
Of course, I never considered the idea that, with computers going to the masses, that increases the demand for those who can write the programs. That never occurred to me at the time. Instead, all I proved was 18 year olds think they know everything, while they really know nothing. I left computer science and became a dual major in US history and American political science. I took the two classes in constitutional law, fell in love with Justices Brennan, Marshall and Chief Justice Warren and from there, I ended up in law school.
While in law school, the only areas I could stand were criminal law and the Constitution. I had what others would consider to be success in law school--Law Journal editor, article published in the Law Journal, Dean's List 3 consecutive semesters and was on pace to graduate with honors until my GPA dropped a bit in my final semester. But, I was miserable. I couldn't stand the thought of having to practice law--unless it was criminal defense.
When I got out of law school, I talked my way into a job with the Public Defender's office. They don't hire people until after they pass the bar, but they agreed to hire me before hand. They couldn't add me to the payroll until after I passed the bar, so I worked everyday as a volunteer, after having an assurance from the boss that I would be hired for a paying job as soon as possible.
That was actually one of the best experiences of my life, up to that point. If they would have hired me, I would have jumped at it. But, the boss reneged on the deal. After working for them for a year, it became clear that he had no intention of actually hiring me, so I left.
I was miserable looking for another job after I left the PD's office. The only area of law that I wanted to work in was criminal, but other than the PD's office, almost nobody is able to practice exclusively in that area. So, the only thing worse than looking for a job in a terrible job market is doing so while there's nothing you don't want to do more than actually having to do the job if you get it.
Meanwhile, I was spending a ton of time on the computer. First, I created the Baseball City website. Decent by the standards of the day--bad by today's standards. But, everyone's got to start somewhere. Then, out of Baseball City grew the Baseball City Hall of Fame, subsequently renamed Baseball Immortals. I decided that Baseball City had needed something to attract people to continue to come back to the site. So, I started writing around the majors reports and, in addition to putting them on the website, I sent them out through email.
Then, David Cone pitched a perfect game. The next afternoon, I got an email message from Jayson Stark. He was looking for information on no hitters and perfect games and Lyle Spatz, the Chairman of SABR's Records Committee, suggested that he contacted me. I had never been contacted by the press before and thought this was a great thing. So, I started crunching numbers and doing Access queries and came up with a whole bunch of info. A few days later, my days as a media source began.
Then, I had an interview with one of the few places that I actually wouldn't have hated working for. I thought it went very well, but I didn't get the job. That rejection was the final straw. I decided that, instead of constantly regretting that I had left computers, I would do something about it. I found that there was a really good computer school in the area and they had an intensive program where I could complete the work in a year. So, I applied, got into the school and resumed my formal computer training.
Once classes started, I knew exactly what I was going to do. I was going to create my own baseball encyclopedia. As every course progressed, in addition to doing the work, I was analyzing things to determine whether that would be the right language to use for such a project. When we reached Visual Basic, I realized that was the right one.
At that time, I never expected to form an encyclopedia business. My primary consideration in creating the encyclopedia was I needed it for my own use. Then, I thought that, if there happened to be anyone out there would give me money, that would be a good way to earn a little extra on the side.
Then, it turned out that I was just as bad finding a computer programming job as I was finding a job as an attorney. Unlike the legal job search, I wasn't dreading having to do the work. The one part of finding a job that I wasn't looking forward to was the idea that I would have to eventually give up the ATM reports.
The ATM reports did start while I was working for the PD's office. So, that proved that I could do them while holding down an everyday job. But, the reports had grown since what they were back then. While I could write something called the ATM reports, they couldn't be the same kind of quality if I couldn't put in the same kind of time that I do to write them.
Then, something great happened. Sales started to take off. I've now reached the point where I don't have to conduct a job search. The encyclopedias moved from what would have been a side business to an actual business. The ATM reports moved from being a lot of fun to also being my most effective form of advertising. By putting my name in the subscriber's inbox every day, I build up name recognition. By providing a quality product, I build up consumer trust.
NetShrine: You're proof to the old axiom that the race doesn't always go to the swift, but, sometimes to those that keep running! Now that we know "how you got here" what's a typical day like for you now? Is it possible to share with us without giving up any trade secrets?
The day starts when I wake up. I usually get up sometime between 8 and 9, with
it being closer to 8 during the season. Every morning, I tell myself I've got to
get up a little earlier, so I can get the reports to people earlier. But, every
day, it's the same old story.
Actually, today was different. I set the goal of getting up at 7 and actually pulled it off. I don't go to sleep until between midnight and 1 AM, but I really don't think that has anything to do with it. No matter what time I go to bed, I don't like getting up in the morning. I don't want to sleep so much. I just hate getting up.
After I put in my contact lenses, I grab my coffee cup, take my best friend, Syracuse the dog, out and make the first of several cups of coffee for the day. While I'm busy making the coffee, he's busy drinking his water. Then, we head straight up to my room (oh, Syracuse, if you're reading this, I mean YOUR room) and I go online. Syracuse goes back to bed.
While online, I collect a lot of articles and email them to myself. The original purpose of emailing them to myself was so I could just collect them and read them offline, instead of slowing myself down looking at each one before I went to the next one. Now that I just got DSL, I'm keeping the same practice--almost. I like the idea that I can just collect all of them and read them later and also keeping copies in my email program gives me an extensive collection of archives.
I said almost in the last paragraph because my routine had to change slightly in the past week. Right after I got DSL, I had email problems every single day. It turned out that Verizon has a 100/hour, 400/day limit for email. My articles easily put me over that limit, so they would daily cut off my access to the email server for long periods of time during the day. So, in order to comply with their rules, but still retain as close to my old system as I can, I just copy the articles into email messages and then instead of sending them, I just move them from my outbox directly into an archives folder, thus bypassing the sending process.
I've been collecting about 250 articles a day during spring training. When the season starts, that number obviously gets a lot higher. If it's an AP article, if it's a feature article on someplace like ESPN.com or Sportsline.com, or if it's an item in the daily papers covering teams, if it's online, odds are good I collect it.
After I collect all of the articles, I then go through the process of reviewing them. Obviously, if I read the entire one for each article, I'd never get the ATM reports written. But, I've gotten really good at skimming them looking for ATM report items. I open up a new message window in my email program and whenever I get an ATM item, I go there and write the first paragraph of the item. I usually cut and paste a little bit of the original item in that message to have it available when typing.
By the time I make my way through the articles, I have the news part of the ATM report ready to go. Then, I load up the sabermetric baseball encyclopedia and work my way down the report, adding the commentary where it belongs.
During the season, there are some extra steps before I get to reviewing the articles. I subscribe to a stats service and I get their daily files into a format where I can use them to update my copy of the sabermetric baseball encyclopedia. I then put together most of the first report of the day before I start to review the articles. I take the previous day's report and type the new scores over the old ones. I replace the old standings with the new. I then have to type in the schedule, along with the pitching match ups. People have requested that I include the first names of the pitchers and I haven't found a place where I can just cut and paste that data into the reports. Meanwhile, all of the places that have the probable starters also include all of their numbers about each one and that's really too much for me to cut and paste into the reports each day. So, I type that in manually.
The next item in the first report of the day is the daily HR list, which I put together by hand going through all of the box scores. I actually put that list together as the first thing that I do after I collect the articles, then go back and take care of everything else and cut and paste that list when it comes on the list of items in the reports. I then take the previous day's HR leader list and update it. Then, I have a top 100 all time HR spreadsheet, load that up and update it for anyone who's on that list and homered the previous day. If someone passes or ties someone on the list, that becomes an ATM item. I then load up the encyclopedia and see if anyone reached a multiple of 50 or 100 and that would become ATM items. Then, I mail out the day's report(s).
While I'm in the process of working on the reports, the TV's almost always on. I've got a friend who I have similar political views to and if there's something good on C-SPAN, I usually get an email from him and that gets turned on. Otherwise, it's syndicated comedies like Golden Girls and Mad About You, with SportsCenter in bits and pieces in between other shows.
After I mail out the reports, hopefully, I get into the car and go to the post office. That would mean I've gotten some more orders for the encyclopedia and/or book that morning or the previous night. Then, if orders come in during the day, when it is during the day usually determines whether I go back to the post office or send them out the next day.
I spend a lot of time during the afternoons working on email and surfing the net, mostly looking for baseball stuff. Meanwhile, there were some articles during the ATM report process that I wanted to actually read, instead of skimming, so they ended up getting moved from the articles folder to the inbox and get read later in the day. Sometimes, some of those articles produce items for the next day's reports. I also plan on spending more time this year reading some of the good baseball blogs that I've found and material found in them during afternoons could make additional ATM items.
I have to check in to the NetShrine Discussion Forum a few times a day.
Meanwhile, as things happen during the day, and AP articles are written, they get collected. As the press notes get added at MLB.com, I occasionally take a look at some of them.
During the season, I watch every Yankees game, so if any of my shows are on that night, they get taped. It it's a new episode, or a worthy rerun, I'll take time out from the computer and watch the show. Otherwise, I'll still watch it, but will also be working on the computer at the same time. Since the Simpsons syndication conflicts with most Yankees games, they get taped during the season.
If it's nighttime, but not during the season, that's when I take some of my breaks from the computer. I watch a lot of TV during that time. If none of my regular shows are on, I can usually count on TNT to be showing an old Law & Order. Meanwhile, the workday is constantly being interrupted by Syracuse's requests for attention. But, they are always welcome interruptions.
The other non-baseball, non-TV, non-Syracuse item that completes my day, at least these days, is Bounceout. It's available at Yahoo games and my mother got me hooked on it. On the one hand, I've cut down to only a game or two a day. On the other hand, that's because I've gotten really good at it and can keep a good game going for an hour. While it's available for free, I'm going to have to buy the Super Bounceout edition. I don't like the sound effects, but I can turn them off in the pay version. I've been turning my computer's volume to mute when I've been playing it, but if I continue to do that, that's going to interfere with me being able to listen to games online.
NetShrine: You seem to get more done in one day that others can get done in a week - or even a month! Your passion for baseball is extremely self-evident. What is the origin of this? How did this enthusiasm come about?
It all started when I was 7, back in the great Yankees season of 1978. I'm
not sure how it happened, but at some point during that year, I got hooked on
baseball. I started reading everything I could get my hands on and by the end of
the season, baseball was all that I cared about.
Unfortunately, I don't have any firsthand memory of following the great Yankees comeback. But, I do remember watching the Yankees-Redsox playoff game at my grandparents. What made that especially sweet was my cousin, who I had a big rivalry with growing up, was a Redsox fan and I'm also almost certain that was because I was a Yankees fan.
I've always been able to work quicker than everyone else. Growing up, I had a Ripken-like streak of always being the first one in the class to finish the in-class assignments. So, while everyone else was completing their work, I was done and sitting at my desk pulling out another baseball book or magazine. I want to point out that I was also working efficiently. While I was obsessed enough with baseball to think that, combined with the fact that children don't really understand and appreciate the importance of school, I think I might have been willing to sacrifice getting the answers right in order to get to reading about baseball, in my case, that was just a hypothetical question. With the exception of science, I was always able to maintain very high grades.
Coming home after school, it was the same story. I did my homework quickly, which led to more time to read more books and magazines and play tabletop baseball games. But, no, I didn't play Strat-O-Matic growing up. I started with Statis Pro Baseball, then moved on to computer baseball on my Commodore 64, before returning to dice with Pursue the Pennant.
NetShrine: I share your excitement over that 1978 season. It was truly magical - for Yankees fans, of course. Can you tell us more about the sabermetric baseball encyclopedia? In producing it, what were some of the biggest challenges? Was there anything that surprised you? What, besides the revenue (naturally), has been the biggest benefit of producing it?
The sabermetric baseball encyclopedia is a powerful tool that allows the user to
generate an almost limitless number of leader lists. There are different ways to
display the players' career stats--either regular or in comparison to the league
averages. There are also features like consecutive seasons doing whatever
criteria you can think of, year by year league leadership rankings and other
The hardest part about building it was to get motivated to stop playing generating lists with the sorting feature and get to work on writing the code for everything else. I lost a bunch of work days that way. The thing that surprised me the most was when I took the entire code, from all of the different "forms" and copied it from Visual Basic to Word, just to see how much work I had done. It hard to believe that the code came to almost 600 pages.
Definitely the biggest benefit of producing the encyclopedia has been being able to use it. Without having it, the ATM reports would never be what they are.
NetShrine: Is there any functionality for the sabermetric baseball encyclopedia currently on your wish list that we can expect in future versions?
I'd like to be able to add X year span sorting to the sort screen.
Currently, you can get a leader list over a specific span of years. But, I'd
like to be able to be able to have the encyclopedia be able to compute leader
lists, with all of its existing criteria options, for leaders over any span of X
The best way to explain this is to use an example from the player comments book. Barry Bonds set the major league record for RCAA over a 3 year span and set the NL records for 3-10 year spans, inclusive, and then the book also lists the top 10 for the majors for 3 years and the NL for 10.
What I did to create those kind of charts was to write some additional code and then modified it by hand each time I was creating a new multi-year chart. But, there was a big idiosyncrasy about those particular sorts that may be an obstacle in trying to incorporate that feature into the encyclopedia's existing structure.
Also, I just thought of a potential neat feature--while being a teammate of ______ as a sorting criteria. There really wouldn't be any substantive value to those charts, but it could be a good way to kill some time and have some fun generating those kind of charts.
NetShrine: Those additional features sound like they would be a lot of fun for users. Since you've mentioned the players comments book, tell us more about that - - what was the driver behind you wanting to do it? Was the creation process what you expected? If not, why? Where do you see this book going in the future?
close to deciding to write a player comments book a few times in the past few
years. But, whenever I came up with that idea, it didn't last long. I thought that if I wrote a book, I'd use up too much good material and that
wouldn't leave enough for the ATM reports.
Then, this past summer, I decided I was wrong about that. So, I decided to write the book, contingent on there being a full season. If the season was seliged, then not only was there the risk of a good amount of the target audience not being in the mood to buy anything during the off season, but there was also the problem of me only wanting to do it if I'd have a full year's worth of stats for my comments.
When writing the book, I loaded up each player from the SBE and starred long enough at the screen to see if I could find something to write about. When I noticed something, I generated charts with the SBE and, if the material was good, it made it into the book. There were a lot of dead ends when something looked interesting at first glance, but turned out to not be important. But, I also came up with a lot of interesting material.
Also, for some charts, custom code was written to generate the specific charts. For example, in Jorge Posada's comment, I generated a chart that showed that he helped the Yankees tie the major league record for most RCAA in a season by the up the middle combination (C/2B/SS/CF). But, interestingly, he did it in his worst year a starter, a -2 season in 1999. Something like that needed custom code in order for the chart to be generated.
The process was pretty much what I expected and I expect future editions to look pretty similar to the first one.
NetShrine: In preparing the player entries for the book, were there findings on any particular player that just shocked you upon discovery? If yes, who was the player and what were the findings?
Now you're talking about one of the
things that I love so much about this game. I've been studying this game for
just about my whole life. I've been obsessed with baseball since I was 7 and
have been into sabermetrics since I got my first Bill James Abstract for my 12th
But, no matter how much you think you know about this game, there's always something new.
There were plenty of little surprises along the way, but the biggest surprise had to be Chuck Knoblauch's comment. Through 1999, which was his age 30 season, Knoblauch had 193 RCAA. Subsequent to that, he's had -38 RCAA. That's the 3rd worst RCAA, for ages 31 and over, among players with at least 150 RCAA through the age of 30.
The fact that Knoblauch's career fell apart so quickly was a surprising thing for us to see. But, what stood out was the caliber of the other players in the top 4 in that category--Cal Ripken, George Sisler, Ernie Banks.
NetShrine: Agreed, the beauty of baseball is that there is no way you can ever say that you have completed learning all there is to know. Related, what would you recommend to someone who wants to learn more about baseball? Of course, they should have the SBE and your book, as well as subscribe to your ATM reports. <wink> But, outside of those, what is the best route, in your opinion? And, what should people avoid?
Lee Sinins: There's
a lot of good material out there. I'd put subscribing to Baseball Prospectus at
the top of the list. I also highly recommend Rob Neyer's columns and anything by
John Sickels. There are some good baseball blogs out there, with my
favorite one being Aaron's Baseball Blog. It's really hard to list specific
sites since I'm going to inevitably end up also missing a bunch of other good ones. But,
these are definitely among those that really stand out.
And if you're not already showing up at NetShrine Discussion Forum on a regular basis, I have to ask why not. If you an excellent way to learn more about baseball, and be exposed to the views of a lot of people who know what they're talking about, there's absolutely no better place.
As far as what should be avoided, unfortunately, we know there is also a lot of bad journalism out there. There are a lot of writers and broadcasters who are still spouting the same old "conventional wisdom" that's not true. I used to have frequent attacks on the media in my reports, but have cut down from where I was a few years. I've decided to take more of a I'll make my points and not focus on the media approach and I'll do the same thing by not naming names here. But, if you're looking for some good media bashing, some of the blogs are really good at that, in addition to having good other content of their own.
NetShrine: The nice words about the NetShrine Discussion Forum are always appreciated! Since we're rounding third and heading for home on this interview, in closing we have two last things to throw at you: First, of course, thank you for this opportunity. This has been a wonderful interview. All your time and effort is very much appreciated. Second, we have one last question - if you could change one thing in baseball, but only one thing, what would that be, why would you want to change it, and how would you change it?
Lee Sinins: If
I could just change one thing, it would be the potential contentious labor
situation of the future. I want a guarantee that last year's deal wasn't just a
product of pressures caused by bad economic times. I want a guarantee that the
hard line owners (who I believe would be just as responsible for the next
disaster as they were for the last one) didn't decide to go along with the deal
on the theories that (1) now just isn't the right time to fight, so we'll just
wait until later and (2) we'll agree to this revenue sharing system, knowing
that lots of teams still won't spend on players, therefore not doing anything to
make them competitive, so then in a few years, we'll just cry that they need
even more money, and the masses will support us just like they've always have.
Why do I want that? Two main reasons. First, there's the obvious because I'm a baseball addict answer. But, there's also a more personal reason. I like being a self employed businessman. I like being able to roll out of bed and head to work by loading up my computer instead of having to go out to a job. I want to continue being a baseball writer living off proceeds from the encyclopedia and book.
A work stoppage means people will be angry at baseball and won't want to spend money on baseball related items. That present a huge business problem with me.
It's very realistic that if the 2002 season was cut short, I'd be out of business right now. Eventually, the game would return. But, my business can't survive a drastic loss in revenue. If I don't sell enough encyclopedias and books, I'm not going to be able to write the ATM reports when there is baseball to report on.
As far as how I would pull that off, I don't know. A few years ago, when I was still looking for an attorney's job, I sent resumes to the player's union, the commissioner's office and both league offices (this was back when they still existed). The union sent me a standard rejection letter and the other three didn't think I was worth responding to.
So, hopefully, if I ever came up with a plan, I'm now in a better position, with the contacts I've made in the past few years, to bring it to the attention of the right parties
That's it. Once again, our thanks to Lee for granting NetShrine this interview!
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