Letter to the Editor: Bob Fierro

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SUDDENLY NO MORE SEYMOUR

Unless you are a rabid baseball or football stats fanatic, you have probably never heard of Seymour Siwoff. No problem, but you should know that without his innovative approach to sports statistics, we probably wouldn’t have a great deal of the way data in this industry is gathered, computed, and published these days.

Seymour joined a budding little sports statistics site in 1939 then known as the Al Munroe Elias Baseball Bureau and, when he purchased it in 1952, changed its name to Elias Sports Bureau. From that point data gathering and dissemination for college and professional sports was completely revolutionized. His impact on sports statistics is ongoing, and I can tell you his impact on people who worked for him and those who used his services was just as profound.

Seymour came into my life in 1966 when my new wife told me about him. She managed a small marketing outfit which put out baseball and football statistic books for fans and she got the information from Elias. My first job out of college that year was as a gofer and trainee for the NCAA Statistical Bureau in Queens, and before long the NCAA’s computer guru Chris Earle put me in touch with Seymour, who needed a weekend gofer during the football season in his office overlooking the New York Public Library in Manhattan.

My job was simple: do what Seymour told me to do. But along the way this kind man from Brooklyn also taught me what sports statistics was all about. That’s how a kid from Queens who could not get more than a 65 out of 100 in any branch of math eventually was able to develop and promote a number of statistical services 20 years later in the Thoroughbred industry. I learned statistics from Seymour Siwoff without even knowing he was teaching me math.

One of his salient achievements during my short time with him was the development of a new way of ranking pro football quarterbacks based on overall efficiency. When the “boring” Bart Starr of the Packers came out on top and jazzy Joe Willie Namath of the Jets was near the bottom, most people took a second look, especially when Mr. Starr led the Packers to all sorts of titles. I appropriated some of his techniques 20 years later and tipped my hat to him.

My last assignment at Elias was as the stats runner in the press box for the 1968 AFL championship game at Shea Stadium when the Jets (who went on to win the Super Bowl) upset the Oakland Raiders in two-degree cold. The Shea press box was built for summer and it leaked the melting snow on its roof which froze when it hit the press box floor. But even though I was an idiot and wore sneakers which eventually got soaked (thereby freezing my toes), I didn’t complain–I was working for Elias, and Seymour, and proud of it.

Seymour passed on the day after Thanksgiving at age 99, and everyone in the data gathering, production and consuming world owe him our deep thanks. In the musical Little Shop of Horrors the central character is named Seymour. One of that work’s signature songs, “Suddenly Seymour,” had this memorable stanza which sums up Seymour Siwoff so very well:

Suddenly, Seymour is standing beside me

He don’t give me orders, he don’t condescend

Suddenly, Seymour is here to provide me

Sweet understanding, Seymour’s my friend

Indeed.

Bob Fierro is a partner with Jay Kilgore and Frank Mitchell in DataTrack International, biomechanical consultants and co-developer of BreezeFigs

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