Footprints on the Baseball Landscape: My Interview with Greg Gajus

March 27, 2019
 
Intro
 
I wrote an article recently where I reflected on my personal encounters with 2 of the most prominent members of the sabermetric community.   I met Bill James in April of 2017 when he gave a speech at Xavier University in Cincinnati, and, more recently, I met Rob Neyer earlier this month when he was in town to accept the 2018 Casey Award for his wonderful book Power Ball: Anatomy of a Modern Baseball Game.
 
As it turns out, there was at least one other person who was in attendance at both of those events. His name is Greg Gajus. 
 
I did not meet Greg at Bill’s event, but found out later that he had attended as he posted a reply to my article about the event. At Rob’s award in March, I got the chance to meet him in person.
 
Now, you may not be familiar with Greg. Then again……maybe you are. Or, maybe you’ve crossed paths with his work, but just don’t know it. He’s left footprints all over the baseball landscape, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you have encountered his handiwork at some point. 
 
Greg has been a blogger, a researcher, and a contributor to baseball books. He’s operated the scoreboard for a Major League team. Greg was also one of the original volunteers who contributed his time and efforts to helping make Bill’s 1980’s vision of "Project Scoresheet" a true groundbreaking achievement in the collection of baseball game data that had previously been out of reach of fans.
 
Greg has written content for one of the first big names in fantasy baseball analysis, John Benson. And, he’s a co-author of a new book on baseball’s first openly all-professional team, the 1869 Red Stockings, a book being released just in time for the 150th anniversary of that historic team.
 
In addition to that, he’s a really nice guy. We sat down for a few hours at the Firehouse Grill in Blue Ash, Ohio (a Cincinnati suburb) as he graciously accepted my request to interview him. It was clear from the moment I met him that Greg combines a true love and respect for the game with an impressive depth of knowledge, and those were all on full display.   After meeting with him, my only regret is that I hadn’t met him years earlier. He’s a true baseball aficionado. 
 
I thought an interview of Greg would make for an interesting article. I hope you agree.
 
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Dan Marks (DM): So, Greg, to set the stage for our readers, can you give us a little bit of your personal background?
 
Greg Gajus (GG): I grew up in Cincinnati. The first year of baseball I remember is 1967, which was a combination of the first set of Strat-O-Matic cards I had and watching the World Series between the Cardinals and the Red Sox. That’s the first year I have really strong memories of, so I missed out on Sandy Koufax by a year.
 
I began with the mid-1960’s Reds, and then grew up with the Big Red Machine, and it was another decade before I realized that teams did not win 95 games every year.
 
I joined the army out of high school, spent 3 years in Germany, came back, went to the University of Cincinnati, studied broadcasting, and worked in the TV industry for pretty much my entire career. I ended up at Turner Broadcasting in Atlanta in 1994, and spent 21 years there before retiring in 2014, and then returned to Cincinnati and have been here since.
 
DM: What would you say really kick-started your interest in baseball?
 
GG: I liked playing, even though I was terrible. I was beyond terrible. I wasn’t good enough to get cut from my high school team. But, I enjoyed playing, and then the numbers fascinated me. I learned to keep score when I was 8. One of my favorite pieces of memorabilia was from a game I kept score of from 1968 or 1969, so the numbers and keeping track of them fascinated me. 
 
And, it’s really just everything about the game. I like the history, I like the photos, I like the beauty, the smell of the grass. I like watching a well-turned double play, and I like analyzing the numbers. And, I guess it helped that the Reds were really good at a young age, to see the game played at that level.
 
DM: Did you have any favorite players?
 
GG: Vada Pinson and Jim Maloney were definitely two. Pinson was left-handed, I was left-handed, so that drove that. He was an extremely graceful and fascinating player to see as a kid. And then Bob Howsam traded him and broke my 11 year-old heart. Now I know that he was probably making the right move when he was on the downhill for a better, younger player that had more upside, but, at the time, it broke my heart.
 
Maloney was the star of the Reds’ pitching staff as I was growing up, and he blew out his Achilles tendon just as the Big Red Machine was ready to get going, and that’s one of my favorite "what ifs" of Reds’ history, is could he have made the Hall of Fame if he could have stayed healthy and pitched through that great run in the 1970’s?
 
David Concepcion was a favorite during the Big Red Machine era, and I was a big fan of Eric Davis and Adam Dunn, who couldn’t be more different. I’m a big fan of Joey Votto now, I don’t know that there is any player I would want sit down and talk to more than him.
 
DM: Are there any strong memories that stand out for you, either for the Reds or for baseball in general?
 
GG: The first one I really remember was Johnny Bench’s final home run. I attended that in person. I had never gone to any of the postseason games during the Big Red Machine era. I did go to the 1979 NLCS against the Pirates, both games which they lost.
 
Bench’s home run was big. I was also there for Pete Rose’s (record breaking) hit in 1985. I had never yet been in a stadium that was as loud as it was for that hit. 
 
And then, really, the entire 1990 season. I was working at WLWT, who had the TV rights to the games, and I think I was able to attend on the order of 50 to 60 games, including all the postseason games in Cincinnati, so that entire season, which was completely unexpected after the disaster of 1989, was a pretty exciting run, and every one of those postseason games was exciting. Joe Oliver’s walk-off single in Game 2 remains my favorite moment.
 
I’ve been to Reds Fantasy Camp four times and every one of those has been memorable. The best part is being part of a team for a week – guys you don’t know on Sunday are your brothers by Tuesday. If nothing else, Fantasy Camp taught me that I’m still terrible at baseball, and any time a player needs a day off, they do. And that the guys that played the game for a living still love the game as much as we do.
 
DM: Any strong memories outside of the Reds?
 
GG: One of my first favorite players, only because he shared a birthday with me, was Stan Musial. As Bill James once noted, Ken Griffey Jr.’s the second best hitting outfielder born in Donora, Pennsylvania on November 21.
 
Sandy Koufax I have no memory of him playing, but like a lot of people, I became fascinated with Koufax. Jane Leavy’s book on him is outstanding. 
 
And, I lived in Atlanta during the Braves’ long run, so I became fascinated with Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz for building a team that could remain dominant that long. It was just really impressive to see how they were able to sustain a run in a way that really no one else has ever done.
 
DM: So, we’ve talked about some of your experiences as a fan. Can you tell us about some of other experiences in and around the game of baseball in your other capacities?
 
GG: Sure. One of my favorites was actually being involved with Project Scoresheet back in the 1980’s. Bill had put a note in one of the Abstracts about coming up with a volunteer network to score games. It’s probably hard for fans to realize right now, but knowing something as simple as how often a runner went from first to third on a single was not out there. Elias (Sports Bureau) had the data, they weren’t releasing it, and there were a thousand other things like that, like what did people hit on counts?
 
So I thought, OK, this is kind of cool, and I was shocked a few days before that next season to get a call from Jim Baker, and so I and a few friends were the Cincinnati scorers that first year of Project Scoresheet. They produced a book, and they gave us an opportunity to write, so I had some contributions in the Project Scoresheet books from the mid-80’s.
 
And, out of that, I got involved in writing for John Benson, who was a big fantasy league analyst writer in the pre-Internet days, that was kind of an interesting way to dig in and look at players using some of the basics that Bill had developed. So, I did that for a few years. He also did a historical book and I wrote some of the profiles in that, and that was a lot of fun.
 
DM: Regarding Project Scoresheet, you said you and a few other people were the Cincinnati representatives. To get a sense of what was involved, how much time did you have to put into that? How did that work?
 
GG: We worked out a schedule. Ideally, you would do it on a TV game when available, and that was back when VCR’s had come in, so I would usually tape a game to make sure I didn’t miss anything, because it was important to try and get it as correct as possible, but you would also score off radio. You just wanted to make sure each game was covered, ideally by a couple of people for each game.
 
You would score the game, but you were scoring pitch by pitch, and you were contributing to an effort to learn more about the game, which for everyone who was involved in it, that was really one of the cool features of Project Scoresheet.
 
DM: It was completely comprised of volunteers, right?
 
GG: Yeah, it was all voluntary, and really, I think, Stats, Inc. came out of it, and it was one of the major milestones of just getting the information out to fans that had been so insular, as baseball knowledge was what teams told writers and writers would write it. The outside view that came from Bill just wasn’t a significant part of the overall discussion, and it took decades to really change that.
 
DM: How many years did you do that for?
 
GG: I did it for a couple of years, and then Stats, Inc. took it over into a more professional organization. So, there was probably a two-year period where we kept involved in it.
 
DM: What other jobs have you had in and around baseball?
 
GG: I worked at the scoreboard at Riverfront Stadium for 3 years. In the 1990’s, I worked for WLWT, and one of the interesting things about Marge Schott was, she wanted to move the expenses anywhere she could, she made paying for the scoreboard operation part of the TV contract. The guy at the station running the scoreboard operation knew I was a big fan and invited me to join the crew, which was an interesting job. Doing balls and strikes was a high-pressure job – every pitch involvement with the game.  I currently work part time for MLBAM (MLB Advanced Media) as part of the Gameday operation.
 
DM: Did your duties involve things other than balls and strikes?
 
GG: Yeah, there were audio carts to play, and another job was updating the who-hit-home-runs and the out of town scores. The big highlight with that was that I was working the day that Mark Whiten hit 4 home runs against the Reds, which was one of the big baseball events I’ve seen. I’ve never seen a no-hitter - I’ve seen two 8 2/3 inning no-hitters (Mario Soto and Ron Robinson).
 
DM: You mentioned you were in Atlanta for a while. Can you talk about that?
 
GG: The interesting part about being in Atlanta was that I worked for Turner Broadcasting, which at the time the Braves were the company team, and as a well-known Reds’ fan, I took a lot of grief for that, so I started telling people that I would root for the Reds to win and for the Braves to make money. 
 
One of my jobs would occasionally entail research for the Braves because they were part of the company, and we would do research on game experience, things like that. And the other interesting thing was just to be down there during one of the great dynasties in baseball history, so seeing John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox and that whole team, that had an impact on how I think I team should be run, and it works, because the one thing the Braves did that you rarely see from other teams is that they were absolutely willing to walk away from guys once they were on the downhill side of their career. Great Hall of Famers like Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux did not finish their careers with the Braves. That had a real influence on my thinking.
 
Bobby Cox used a different closer every year. When I would hear the arguments about "the 9th innings are special" or "it takes a special guy to do that", I’m like, "well, the Braves had a lot of special guys, apparently", because they had a different guy every year or every other year. So, it was an interesting experience to be around Atlanta at that time.
 
DM: When I was preparing for this interview, I did some searching on you, and 2 other people seemed to come up a lot in connection with you, names that I’m sure are very familiar to most Cincinnati-area fans, and maybe even some fans from outside the area, and that’s long-time sportswriter for the Enquirer John Erardi and Reds’ historian Greg Rhodes. Can you tell us a little bit about your connection with them, things you’ve collaborated on, and a bit about how those relationships were formed?
 
GG: Sure. I got to know Greg Rhodes (now the Reds Historian) first through SABR, probably in the mid-80’s, and in ’97 he had told me that he was going to do a book on the Big Red Machine, and he was actually doing it with John Erardi, who covered the Reds for the Cincinnati Enquirer. I had not met John at that time, and I just told Greg I would love to contribute any way I could, I would be more than glad to do your stat research, and you pay me what you think it’s worth at the end of the project. 
 
So, that was the first book of his that I got involved with. And, this was in the pre-Baseball-reference.com days, so things that would take me approximately 20 minutes to research now took weeks back then. Things like looking at the lineups of the Reds in ’75 and ’76 involved getting a big stack of box scores and entering them into a spreadsheet. And, they let me do some sidebar writing, so I wrote about things like Dave Concepcion’s Hall of Fame case and Sparky Anderson’s pretty revolutionary use of relief pitchers in that era, as he was one of the first to go to a deeper bullpen.
 
So, I got involved with that book, and then I worked on a couple of their other books. Greg did a book with John Snyder called Redleg Journal, which was a day-by-day history of the Reds, going all the way back to 1869. I did the same thing, whatever research they wanted, and wrote some sidebars.
 
Then I stayed in touch with them while I was in Atlanta. We had a small email group of Greg, John, Joel Luckhaupt (who’s one of the stat guys at Fox Sports Ohio), and myself. So, we would always be trading research and what’s going on, and John would eventually write about it for the Enquirer. John was still writing for the Enquirer at the time….he wrote for them for about 40 years before he retired. His most recent book on Tony Perez (Tony Perez: From Cuba to Cooperstown), was the same type of thing, I did some research and fact checking for him (verifying that Tony Perez’ reputation as a clutch hitter was well deserved), and he did a rather large appendix on Cuban players, so I was checking the "slash lines" of 199 different Cuban players.
 
Most recently, the 3 of us jointly have done a book on the 1869 Red Stockings called Baseball Revolutionaries: How the 1869 Red Stockings Rocked the Country and Made Baseball Famous, and they let me be a co-author in this particular project, so I wrote a good 20-30% of it while Greg and John wrote the rest of it, and it’s out on Amazon now. And we’re hoping that with the 150th anniversary of this very interesting team that was very important in baseball history, that we find a market for this particular book.
 
DM: Let’s talk a little bit about Bill James. You’re currently a member of Bill James Online, correct?
 
GG: Yes.
 
DM: Do you recall how you first got interested in reading Bill’s stuff and how that led into subsequent things like your involvement in Project Scoresheet?
 
GG: You know, I believe I became aware of Bill through the Sports Illustrated article by Dan Okrent, and I sent away for the self-published Abstracts, which I got probably around the same time as the first widely distributed one came out, I think in 1982, and like many of us on the site, that first exposure to Bill’s thinking and writing was just mind-blowing, an entirely different way to look at the game. 
 
And the insights back then, which seem probably pretty basic now, things like there’s better ways to measure defense, that age matters, that walks help a team, just all these different insights, whether it was a complicated formula or just the different constructs of the research. The biggest thing he said early on in the Abstracts that always stuck with me was to start with the question, not with the answer, and the traditional sports writing basically starts with the answer and then builds an argument why it’s right, but if you’re going to try and discover something, you have to start with the question.   That became hugely useful in my career as a television researcher, where basically all I did was analyze ratings, and the similarities between analyzing TV ratings and baseball statistics are pretty strong.
 
And then, reading Bill, that led to Project Scoresheet. And the Historical Abstract, that was another thing I just remember, I think it was ’86, was applying this different way of looking at the game to the history, which I knew, I had always been a big fan of baseball history, and I had read the Baseball Encyclopedia, page by page, when it first came out in the late ‘60’s. Seeing the game through that lens, learning about how good players really were (or weren’t) was really eye-opening too.
 
I did meet him once at a Stats, Inc. convention, I want to say ’89 or ’90, and then met him briefly at the Xavier event 2 years ago. It’s still kind of intimidating to meet him and talk to him, but his work and his writing and his thought process, as much as anything, was hugely important to my career, as I’ve heard many other people say too. It’s just a different way of looking at things, and it took a long time, but it finally made a difference in baseball.
 
DM: So, back in the day when working on Project Scoresheet, how did you submit your work? Was it faxed?
 
GG: Yes! With Project Scoresheet, we would fax the scoresheets in, and someone would translate them. I mean, I was an early user of things like spreadsheets. There was a brief time when I was on the cutting edge of the computer revolution.
 
I remember the early program attempts, like John Benson did the software for fantasy drafts that would do things like automatically calculate how your team was projecting to do compared to everybody else, and back then a laptop probably weighed like 15 pounds.
 
DM: 15 pounds, and probably had a handle on it too, possibly? So, you’re a fantasy baseball player and have played over a number of years. Do you think your experiences affected how you approached that kind of endeavor.
 
GG: Yes. You felt like you had a real edge competing when no one else was reading Bill’s stuff. You knew enough to stay away from 34-year old corner outfielders, and things like that. Even the most basic insights were a pretty big edge.
 
DM: You do some occasional blogging as well?
 
GG: Not as much lately because I was involved with the book, but I have written occasionally on Redleg Nation, usually historical articles.   I’ve written about Ted Abernathy’s rather remarkable 1967 season, Eric Davis’ unbelievable peak, still the best player I’ve ever seen, from about the middle of ’86 to the middle of ’87 was just a remarkable run for a player. I wrote about Fred Norman’s Reds Hall of Fame case, and he was selected after I wrote that.
 
DM: So your writing had some impact?
 
GG: Yes, I take full credit for Freddie Norman’s selection to the Reds Hall of Fame [laughs]. No, I don’t take any credit for that.   But, it was interesting to see that happen after I wrote the article. Nearly every key contributor to the Big Red Machine was in the Reds Hall of Fame except for him, and I pointed that out in the article. 
 
DM: Do you have any non-Reds favorites that you enjoy watching?
 
GG: The guy I love right now is Alex Bregman, who’s got a little bit of Pete Rose in him. Just the all-around play. His skill set kind of reminds me of Joe Morgan…he’s not walking as much as Joe and he’s not as fast as Joe, but that kind of all-around skill set with that Pete intensity, he’s one I really like right now.   Trout, of course, Mookie Betts is fun to watch, and he led my fantasy team to the championship last year, so I can’t complain about him.
 
 
DM: Let’s talk Hall of Fame. Are there any eligible players not currently in the Hall that you’d really like to see inducted?
 
GG: I can’t justify it statistically, but personally, Dave Concepcion is one. Vada Pinson, being a favorite player is another. They’re both likely to remain outside unless they get an interesting committee that takes up their case, but those 2 would be personal favorites.
 
Guys that I think should be in…there’s a large list of them. I agree with John Erardi that Minnie Minoso really deserves to be in because of the weird way his career played out.   He had all of these little disadvantages that added up.   He would probably be my #1. Ted Simmons is somebody that I think deserves in. Dwight Evans, to me, is somebody I think really deserves consideration. Lou Whitaker is another one that seems to belong.  
 
DM: What are some of your other interests?
 
GG: Growing in the era of the late ‘60’s, I was equally divided between baseball and NASA.   The Apollo program and the entire space race was fascinating. I have had the opportunity to meet a lot of the famous astronauts. Jim Lovell is still my ultimate celebrity encounter, and a wonderfully gracious guy who talks very matter of factly about what they did. The space program is one of the best things we do.
 
I’ve also been interested in investing and that sort of thing.   I’ve become a Warren Buffett fan. Warren and Bill have some similarities in that they can explain complicated issues very, very clearly.
 
I’m a fanatical Al Stewart fan, I’ve seen him in concert probably 15-20 times, the only historical folk rock act in America. He’s still touring, he’s in his seventies now
 
I’m also a big Monty Python fan, and got to meet John Cleese one time. I got to meet Michael Palin briefly as well.
 
DM: In recognition of your upcoming book release, let’s finish up with a literary baseball question. What are your 5 favorite baseball books?
 
GG: I’d go with:
 
  • Bill’s 1986 Historical Abstract (the first one).  
  • The Soul of Baseball  by Joe Posnanski
  • Five Seasons by Roger Angell
  • The Long Season by Jim Brosnan
  • Veeck as in Wreck (Bill Veeck’s autobiography)
 
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My thanks again to Greg for sitting down to chat with me. I hope you enjoyed reading.
 
Dan
 
 
 

COMMENTS (3 Comments, most recent shown first)

Steven Goldleaf
Oh, yeah. You had the word "Historical" right in there and everything. My bad.


11:10 AM Mar 28th
 
DMBBHF
Hi Steven,

He was referring to the first HISTORICAL Abstract, not the first of Bill's annual Abstracts. There have been just 2 Historical Abstacts - the one in 1986, and then the updated one about 15 years later.

Thanks,
Dan
10:16 AM Mar 28th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Thanks, Dan. In what sense is the 1986 Abstract "the first one"? It was the sixth Ballentine Abstract, and about the nine one overall.
7:30 AM Mar 28th
 
 
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