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December 29, 2011

Remembering Greg Spira

1967-2011

by Dave Pease

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.

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Dave Pease is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Dave's other articles. You can contact Dave by clicking here

16 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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dantroy

This is sad news. I didn't know Greg personally, but he once sent me a very encouraging note about an article I wrote several years ago. Given his contributions to RSBB discussions and to BP, that meant a lot to me.

We were in league togther last year though our paths didn't cross, much. Sad to know that now they never will. It's just too early. RIP, Greg.

Dec 29, 2011 06:57 AM
rating: 0
 
jnewfry
(131)

I was one of those people arguing with Greg (and Dave Kirsch and others) about Jack McDowell's ability to pitch to the score on r.s.bb. back in the 90's. I'm sure Greg would not have known me from any of the other random people making those points (I really didn't post much and still don't), but he was among those who made a giant impact on the way I think everyday. Greg's posts about pitching to the score made me question what I thought I knew about baseball, and made me rethink the way I looked at everything. Those debates changed me in a fundamental way, and I'm a better person for having crossed his path, if only virtually. RIP Greg, and thanks BP for the remembrance.

Dec 29, 2011 07:13 AM
rating: 0
 
Noel Steere
(965)

Rest In Peace, Greg. I have now fond, but at the time terrifying memories of Greg giving me a ride from Times Square to my mom's house in Brooklyn. God he was a terrible driver. :-)

For those of us who were on r.s.bb in the early '90s, Greg was a pillar of the community. I hadn't heard from him in quite some time, but I assumed he'd always be around. Very sad news.

Dec 29, 2011 07:23 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Oh good Lord, much as Greg was a friend and a million-dollar baseball mind cursed with a 10-cent body (to turn an old phrase on its head), he was an awful driver.

We went to Citi Field during its first year, he had gotten some great club seats for an early season game against (I think) the Pirates. Afterwards, once he could remember where he parked (definitely not his strong suit), he drove me home via the BQE. He was slow to react to my instructions to take the Tillary Street exit, and wound up hitting the giant yellow garbage can barriers where the exit split off. Not a glancing blow, either - we came to a full stop, though fortunately neither the vehicle nor us were the worse for wear (save for my heart palpitations) because nobody was behind us.

Sadly, the fear induced from that incident has erased my memory of what must have been a particularly engrossing baseball conversation. RIP, Greg.

Dec 29, 2011 07:46 AM
 
jhardman

Thanks to BP for remembering Greg here. I was a quiet reader of RSBB in the Usenet days, and ported RSBB to the BBS community for WWIVnet for several years. I've been an avid baseball fan all my life, and the folks who were posting all those monster messages in the early '90's always have a place in my heart. My BP subscription is a direct link to those great days when the (now) Internet was in its infancy, and #1817 specifically represents the trepidation I had initially to pay for something I always had before for free. RIP Greg, and thanks for all those posts and for counting my ballots. I promise I always voted fairly.

Dec 29, 2011 07:25 AM
rating: 0
 
Joel Dinda
(424)

Only met Greg a couple times, but we traded an occasional email.

I always figured the day would come when Greg would produce something really spectacular for us. He was interested in lots of things and seemed to carry in his head things I'd have to look up. Those were interesting ingredients; he was obviously capable.

Guess we won't see that book. So sad.

Dec 29, 2011 08:09 AM
rating: 0
 
seanlahman

Greg was indeed a horrible driver. He nearly killed me and Tom Ruane one day when he pulled out of a diner parking lot in front of a fire truck -- with its lights flashing and sirens blaring. The fire truck screeched to a halt and missed us by about two feet, but Greg drove on completely oblivious.

Greg was a world-class researcher, but he was a reluctant writer. I encouraged him to start a blog but he never did. He had no interest in self-promotion or personal branding, just a relentless intellectual curiosity and a love for baseball.

He and I worked together at Total Sports, where Greg had a hand in editing many books. I think his greatest pleasure came from pursuing out-of-print baseball books that could be revived as part of our "classics" series. That reflected his desire to promote the work of others, which is one of the things I'll remember best about him. So sad that Greg is gone, too soon.

Dec 29, 2011 08:19 AM
rating: 5
 
cordially
(917)

Went to a Mets game with him once. Seemed like a really nice guy. As I mentioned in the primer thread, perhaps a nice thing would be to rename the Internet Baseball Awards, the Greg Spira Internet Baseball Awards or something like that.

Dec 29, 2011 12:54 PM
rating: 7
 
BP staff member Dave Pease
BP staff
(2)

I think this is a wonderful idea.

Dec 29, 2011 13:03 PM
 
BP staff member Dave Pease
BP staff
(2)

(and I also think you have a wonderful display name)

Dec 29, 2011 13:03 PM
 
cordially
(917)

Glad you like the idea. And, fwiw, I'm not rm :)

Dec 29, 2011 15:07 PM
rating: 2
 
myshkin

I hadn't thought of rm in years until I went to look up old posts by Greg. That brought back...memories.

I second the awards naming, by the way.

Dec 29, 2011 20:24 PM
rating: 0
 
Rob Miller
(162)

I too was wondering what happened to (the always cordial) "he who shall not be named."

Dec 30, 2011 22:22 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

I can't claim to have known Greg well--his time of being closely associated with BP were coming to an end around the time my own began. However, we had a few cordial meetings or email/telephone conversations. As researchers interested in history, Greg was very excited about both the digitization of old newspapers and the getting of access to them--not everyone's local library has a subscription to the correct services. Every time I want to look up an article that is in some old periodical that is not yet on line, I think of my conversations with Greg about that, how we still couldn't get to (say) the New York Herald Tribune without going for the microfilm in person, and wish whoever was in charge of these things would GO FASTER. Alas, they did not go fast enough for Greg to see it happen.

Dec 29, 2011 13:47 PM
 
silviomossa

Wow, I hadn't thought of r.s.bb in years. Good times. I do remember Greg's voice from those years. Many condolences to his friends and family.

Dec 29, 2011 15:56 PM
rating: 0
 
fischthal

Oh my -- had he taken a recent turn? I last exchanged emails with him in September and just discovered an email from him a few weeks ago that got buried -- there was no hint that his health had taken a turn for the worse. This is truly sad.

Dec 29, 2011 20:23 PM
rating: 0
 
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