Last week, the latest edition of SABR's Baseball Research Journal arrived in my mailbox, and once more I've been happily reminded of one of Baseball's dirty little secrets: All the old-time statistics are wrong.
A number of researchers are working on this, but it's a BIG JOB. Last summer, I wrote about Herm Krabbenhoft's ongoing efforts toward correcting notable RBI records. In the course of those efforts, Krabbenhoft has tracked down all run-scoring events for the Yankees from 1930 through '38, and for the Tigers from 1931 through '46. The official day-by-day records for those teams in those years, Krabbenhoft writers in the BRJ, "are plagued with many, many errors."
For example, for the 1920-26 Yankees, 190 out of the 1,077 games New York played show RBI errors: 17.6 percent of the games are affected. And for the 1931-36 Tigers, 87 out of the 922 games Detroit played -- 9.4 percent -- are compromised with incorrect RBI statistics in the official records.
Baseball fans both serious and casual expect baseball's historical statistics to be accurate -- especially for the marquee players, the Hall of Famers, MVPs, and league leaders -- and especially for the marquee stats -- such as runs batted in. But as the RBI-errors discovered for the Yankees and Tigers of the Ruth-Gehrig-Greenberg era indicate, there probably are a significant number of RBI-errors in the official records for the other major-league teams.
There's probably no probably about it. There are almost certainly thousands of errors in the pre-World War II RBI counts, not to mention all the other statistics. And this should be terribly embarrassing to both Major League Baseball and to the Elias Sports Bureau, neither of which seems to have a great deal of interest in correcting the records. There's a great deal of work that can be done by "volunteers" like Krabbenhoft, but at the very least Elias and MLB should be encouraging, facilitating, and applauding that sort of work. Very little of which is actually happening. And Elias in particular has been terribly resistant to acknowledging the limitations of their data. Which just ain't right.
Oh, and by the way? Babe Ruth's got 2,202 RBI's since that became an official statistic in 1920. Not 2,201.