The Bookshelf Q&A: Mitchell Soivenski

March 6, 2014 · 0 comments

Last we I received a copy of New York Yankees Home Runs: A Comprehensive Factbook, 1903-2012, published by McFarland. At first glance, it looked daunting: page after page tables and lists about one single item: the four-bagger.

But on further consideration, I realized this was an impressive undertaking. After all, the Yankees are one of — if not the — most storied franchises in the history of the game with some of the greatest sluggers to don flannel. It should not be surprising that as of the end of last season, the Bronx Bombers led the Majors in all-time home runs with 14, 916.

So I asked the author/”compiler,” Mitchell Soivenski, to educate me about undertaking such a project.

* * *

Bookshelf:  Why would someone who lives in the heart of Red Sox Nation  do a book about the Yankees?

Soivenski: It’s actually worse than that – I was born and raised in Boston!  I started to follow baseball in the summer of 1961, Yastrzemski’s rookie year, and, with a name like ‘Soivenski’, I naturally became a fan of his.  That was also the year that Mantle and Maris chased Ruth’s home run record, and, as I read the newspaper accounts of the race while riding home from school on the trolley, I began to follow the Yankees more closely as they were much more interesting than the Red Sox of Don Buddin, Pumpsie Green, and Gary Geiger, eliminated from the race before Labor Day.  Then, when Maris hit number 61 on the final day of the season and the game ended 1-0, the Yankee magic took hold of me and hasn’t let go since.  I’ve lived in New England my entire life and it’s been a peaceful co-existence with misguided Red Sox fans – there are plenty of Yankees fans around.

Bookshelf: What gave you the idea to do this book?

Soivenski: Sports statistics, particularly baseball, are a passion, and I’m constantly putting together spreadsheets and databases to create references for further analysis.  Subsequent playing with the data often suggests ideas for articles or books that will contribute to baseball scholarship (I’ve also contributed to The Baseball Research Journal and The SABR Baseball List and Record Book).  The idea for this book originated in a project to assemble the line scores, pitchers of record, and home runs for all Yankees games.  When I searched for books on team home runs and found only those for the Red Sox (The Ultimate Red Sox Home Run Guide) and LA Dodgers (Los Angeles Dodgers Home Run Compendium, 1958-2009). I thought it was a good opportunity for a new book.  Fortunately, McFarland agreed.

Bookshelf: Did you enjoy it as much at the end as you did in the beginning? If not, when did the honeymoon wear off and it became a matter of just finishing what you started?

Soivenski: I really enjoyed the whole process all the way through, and adding each data element posed a new problem that was fun to solve.  In fact, I’m still thinking of data that I should have included (home runs for both the Yankees and the New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers, and New York Mets, for instance).  What wasn’t so much fun was updating the whole set of tables several times – the book originally consisted of data through 2009 and then went through three updates to bring it through 2012 before final publication.  That was tedious.

Bookshelf: What sources did you use in putting this together?

Soivenski:The Tattersall-McConnell home run log, now available on baseball-reference.com, was the main source.  I enhanced the basic data from the log with data from newspaper box scores and game accounts via ProQuest, Sean Lahman’s baseball database, Retrosheet (the source for postseason home runs, not included in the log), and various print references.  Some data in the log (number of outs, ball-strike count, and number of pitches) isn’t available pre-1950, so was excluded.  I found inside-the-park home runs to be incompletely documented (I found some described in newspaper accounts that were not included in any references, so how many more were completely unnoted and lost?) – as these are more of a locational categorization than the other, situational categories, I relegated them to an appendix.  Some data was arrived at through brute force, ie, determining back-to-back home runs from a box score and snippets of the game account when no specific play-by-play of the home runs was mentioned.  Basically, the log was the starting point and then was supplemented with lots of additional data.

Bookshelf: Exactly how did you put it together? Did you call upon your skills as an IT person to formulate the construction and layout of the information?

Soivenski: Lots of experience with both spreadsheets and databases was a big help.  I assembled the data in a spreadsheet, uploaded it into Access, created various queries to select, combine, summarize, and otherwise manipulate the data, copied the results of the queries back into spreadsheets, and then formatted these for publication.  (P.S.: Any job opportunities for a data person out there?)

Bookshelf: How long did it take you to complete this project?

Soivenski: I don’t really know how many man-hours went into my book, but I began the effort some time in the second half of 2009 and probably completed compilation of the data and creation of most of the tables in four to six months.  I submitted a proposal in January of 2010 which was finally accepted in March of 2011 (after I’d updated through 2010).  The editing process (with a wonderful editor, Gary Mitchem) was finally completed and the book turned over to production in April of 2013 (with updates through 2011 and then 2012), and the book was finally printed last October.

Bookshelf: Was there anything that surprised you in your research?

Soivenski: Ultimately, I guess I was surprised that virtually all the data I was looking for was available or derivable – I almost expected to come across some home run in the early 1900’s that had no details available, but the details were always there.  The only exception was inside-the-park home runs, as I noted above.

Bookshelf: Are you considering doing similar books for other teams now that you have the “formula” down?

Soivenski: The Athletics are my (distant) second-favorite team and the idea crossed my mind to write a book about their home runs, but the Athletics are not the Yankees – I decided that it would be a hard sell to a publisher as well as the public.  Also, I fear that a second similar effort might seem more like work as the challenges have pretty much all been overcome.  Besides, I have many other ideas in various stages of development.

 

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