The BASEBALL RELIQUARY Inc.
Remarks by David
Smith upon receiving
Above all Retrosheet is an historical organization. It began with a very simple premise, namely that it was desirable to have available a play by play record of every Major League game ever played, or at least as many as possible. Baseball is unique in the way that its structure allows the recording of so many of the important events of the game, more so than other sports.
When I began the organization, the most frequent comment I received was: "Doesn’t the Hall of Fame have all that already?" Alas, this is sadly not the case and in fact there is no such thing as an official play by play account and there never has been. The totals for each player are recorded for each game, but not the individual plays. Yet almost everyone has stories of how their appreciation of game is enhanced by keeping score. There are wonderful stories of learning how to keep a scorecard, a lesson usually passed down lovingly from a parent. The teams have always contributed to this by selling programs, complete with instructions!
Against that backdrop, I have often said that Retrosheet should not be necessary, that the historical record we have compiled should have been done by Major League Baseball itself. Amazingly enough that is not the case and we are filling the gap. Along the way I have had the benefit of hundreds of selfless volunteers who do the large bulk of our very detailed work. I always feel guilty that I am singled out for attention such as I am receiving from you today when there are so many others who deserve recognition as well.
Our core principle is that the detailed accounts of our national game belong to everyone and that they should be available for free to everyone. Retrosheet is therefore a completely nonprofit, all-volunteer organization. We have never sold information and give what we have to anyone, no matter what the purpose or intended use. Our data has been used by game companies and by commercial web sites and I am delighted by that. In addition we have consulted with film projects by Billy Crystal and Spike Lee. All we ask is that we are acknowledged as the source of the information.
The policy of free data distribution is not only an important philosophical point, but it also brings practical benefit. Teams, writers, announcers, fans and collectors have been more willing to loan us material to copy once they understood that the organization is not making a profit from it.
I ask your indulgence as I tell you two brief stories that capture for me the power of baseball in so many lives. One of the most common requests I receive is for the details of someone’s "first game", often a trip to the ballpark as a 10-year old with father, grandfather, uncle, etc. Memories are sometimes sketchy and everyone seems to recall seeing a home run by Mickey Mantle or 10 strikeouts by Sandy Koufax. With some probing questions, I am usually able to find the desired game. This has happened literally hundreds of times and I always feel honored that people have invited me into their personal lives this way. About five years ago, I received one request in particular that I will never forget. It was from a man in his 40s who wanted the play by play details from his first game so he could reconstruct a scorecard for the upcoming Father’s Day for his seriously ill father who had taken him to the game. I got him the details and he later told me he had prepared the scorecard, framed it and given it to his father. The report is that it was joyfully received and led to warm family reminiscences. The father died soon after that and the man wrote to thank me for helping make that Father’s Day such a positive thing for their family.
The other story concerns the late Bob Stevens, a longtime San Francisco sportswriter for whom the Giants named the press box in their new stadium. Bob covered the Giants from the time they moved West and had kept all of his daily scorebooks, over 2000 play by play accounts that I dearly wanted to copy. Bob had a reputation for being a little gruff, so I wasn’t sure what reception I would get when I called him. After a few minutes of conversation, I was able to persuade him that I wasn’t a crank and he agreed to loan me the books. It took about a month for me to copy them and after I returned them I called once more to be sure they had arrived back in California safely. In fact they had and then Bob said something really remarkable. It went like this: "All these years I have had those books in the attic and never looked at them. But I couldn’t bring myself to throw them out because they represented so much of my life. I never knew why I was saving them; I guess I was saving them for you."
I am truly fortunate that my love for our wonderful game has allowed me to have such experiences. I am honored that Retrosheet is seen as useful and on behalf of our many volunteers I thank you very much for this marvelous honor today.