Baseball has always been a game of numbers. Alongside the sepia-toned picture of a ballplayer, there's often a number writ large, with which the ballplayer will forever be linked. Babe Ruth? 714. Hank Aaron? 755. Ted Williams? .406. Roger Maris? 61*. But just as sepia tones gave way to brilliant color, the numbers of the past are giving way to the numbers of the future, in the biggest revolution to hit baseball since Jackie Robinson shattered the color barrier.
That revolution is taking place in baseball's managerial front offices, and its manifesto is Baseball Prospectus 2004, a comprehensive annual guide to player performance for managers and fans alike. During the last nine years, Baseball Prospectus has grown from a fringe publication to a best-selling reference book, and has become the bible that MLB execs swear on. But is it just about the numbers?"Absolutely not," says Joe Sheehan, co-author of Baseball Prospectus 2004, "it's about the game on the field. We approach this first and foremost as fans. The numbers are only interesting because they help us understand the game better. And as we understand the game better, we appreciate it more and more."The size of the book can be daunting at first glance. "Every year, this is an enormous book, but it has to be," says co-author Gary Huckabay. "The essays on each team, analysis and comments on more than 1,500 players and special interest essays on the game mean we end up with a bunch of material. It's always an interesting season from October until press time. But it's all driven by a love of the game. Yes, the nation's 30 million fantasy baseball players love the book, but there's something in here for every baseball fan."Have the Yankees' off-season moves made the upcoming season less exciting? "Forget it," says Huckabay. "The only thing certain in baseball is that anything can happen between the lines. Let's play ball."