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December 29, 2011
Remembering Greg Spira
Our friend, Greg Spira, passed away yesterday.
I've been in a reflective mood lately. Part of it is the holidays, I'm sure, and spending some precious quality time with family. Part of it is the recency of the Best of Baseball Prospectus editing experience... working with all of that content really brought back memories of how things were in the old days. We dedicated those books to Doug Pappas, another of our friends who left us too soon, and whenever I flip past the dedication I'm reminded of Doug's entertaining phone conversation with the commish... goodness, we were all once so young and full of vinegar.
I met Greg the same way I met most of the founders of Baseball Prospectus--on Usenet. For many of us, rec.sport.baseball was an important place in the early '90s, and finding it changed my life. One of the most authoritative voices on rsbb when I first discovered it was Greg Spira. And speaking of vinegar, he used to use the phrase "sarcasm is a way of life" right in the middle of his handle. He was working on a little project he called the Internet Baseball Awards, and I got to know him better when I started working with him on the awards in 1993. Before web-based balloting, running a project like the IBAs was hard work--we had to take ballots via e-mail; we couldn't depend on consistent formatting or spelling, and we had to tabulate the results manually. I suppose working for Greg on the tabulation was kind of my "first job" having to do with baseball... it was certainly the first time I was working on producing anything larger than a Usenet post. Luckily, we were dealing with dozens of ballots instead of the hundreds that are submitted now, but I know Greg spent a massive amount of time administrating the IBAs over the years.
One of the things that impressed me most about Greg was his sense of fairness. Under his somewhat grouchy demeanor, I think Greg was an idealist at heart, and he always wanted to give people a chance. In the early days, we got a lot of ballots that were plainly filled out by homers, idiots, or both, and one year there was a ballot submitted with Houston Astros players for every award. This joker's third-place Cy Young vote was a write-in of "the ENTIRE Astros bullpen," which was plainly in violation of the rules. I was ready to consider that a sign and dump this ballot completely, but Greg really wanted to contact this voter, both to make sure that they knew that their ballot was in jeopardy of not being fully counted and to clarify their wishes for that Cy Young vote. I said, "Greg, there's nothing I can do--they didn't enter an e-mail address in the ballot, so we don't know who they are." He ended up trying to locate them by IP address. There's a certain purity in that approach, I think, that I'll never be able to attain.
As you can see, Greg took the Internet Baseball Awards quite seriously. He enjoyed their anyone-can-vote popularist aspects, and especially in some of those lean years where the official post-season awards were just brutal, I know he was proud that the IBAs went to such relatively deserving people. But I was chatting with Christina Kahrl earlier today, and she brought up a great point: Greg also did some impressive research, and if he'd had the time and availability to write more, he had everything it would have taken to be a well-known and influential analyst. Jay Jaffe reminded me of Greg's contribution to Baseball Prospectus 1997 on pitching to the score, and how it basically doesn't happen, which we're going to re-format and re-run here at Baseball Prospectus in Greg's honor tomorrow. Remember, this was back before BP.com (or baseball-reference, or Fangraphs); your go-to site for baseball stats probably would have been the great Doug Steele's MLB Stats page, where the stats are flat files and the disclaimer is cheerful... it was a lot of work to do this kind of analysis, but Greg had what it took.
Greg liked pretty much everything about baseball, but he really liked baseball books. Rest easy, Greg, my friend, and I hope you've got all the baseball books you want wherever you are.
Meanwhile, back here, our next book is for you.