A list of baseball research tools from John Thorn

I have a confession, one that I doubt makes me different than countless other baseball bloggers, but a confession nevertheless. Too often, what I call research for this site basically consists of me going to Baseball-Reference.com, Wikipedia, or the SABR BioProject. I combine this perhaps with references to a handful of great baseball books, the occasional interview, and a healthy dose of my opinions, assorted knowledge, and analysis, and most times, it equals a readable post. I get nice feedback for this site, but I also know I’ll need to go deeper in my research in order to write about baseball professionally. Right now, I feel a bit lazy in what I do here and that there’s not a whole lot to set my work apart.

Spurred on by these thoughts, I sent an email last week to official Major League Baseball historian and prolific baseball writer John Thorn. I’ve corresponded with Thorn for the past couple of years and even interviewed him by phone after he got the MLB historian position. Since he took that job in March 2011, Thorn’s been writing a baseball history blog, Our Game for MLB.com, and to anyone who hasn’t checked it out, I recommend it. I’m impressed by the amount of information Thorn packs into his posts, as rich in anecdotes of any baseball history site that I know. Wanting to know more about how he does it, I emailed Thorn, asking for whatever he could offer about his methodology and anything in general to point me in the right direction.

Thorn replied:

Well, Graham, you have to start with a few basic books of baseball history, including (ahem) Baseball in the Garden of Eden. See, for example: http://thebrowser.com/interviews/john-thorn-on-baseball?page=full

Seymour, Voigt, and Charlie Alexander are all good. Bill James’s Historical Abstract is entertaining but a curio unless you’ve read widely beforehand, IMHO.

Consider the newspaper archives at:

Google News
NY Times
Sporting News (available through SABR)
Sporting Life, Baseball Magazine (at la84.org)
California Historical Newspapers

and paid services such as:


That’ll get you started!

I appreciate Thorn taking the time to share this list. I’d like to encourage anyone reading to add to it, both for my own edification and for any other would-be baseball researcher or writer who’d happen by this page. I know I still have a lot to learn, but with help, I also know I can get there.

3 Replies to “A list of baseball research tools from John Thorn”

  1. For certain types of questions such as when a baseball tradition or development begin, the two volume set Game of Inches by Peter Morris is an excellent research tool.

  2. Most issues of Baseball Digest are online at no cost. Also, Sports Illustrated is available as well. It would be great if Sport magazine was online.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *