Tom Zocco is a baseball historian and researcher. He joined the Society for American Baseball Research as the 47th member in 1971. He has spent his career partly as an officer of the organization. The Connecticut resident roots for the Dodgers to this day.
When SABR was formed, Mr. Zocco worked on an IBM Selectric typewriter, as this was before personal computers were ubiquitous. He read The Sporting News, considered the bible of baseball for decades, and traveled to Cooperstown, home of the Hall of Fame, to do research.
I conducted an interview by email with Mr. Zocco this week. His dedication to the game of baseball is edifying. He is a great model for anyone who aspires to document and pass on information in a discipline. He is very active on the internet, using it to continue his work, and to correspond with fellow researchers.
I’m happy to offer his story today.
INTERVIEW QUESTIONS FOR TOM ZOCCO, PRESIDENT OF LIBRARY OF ZOC
What sort of work did you do before 1971, when you joined the Society for American Baseball Research?
I had just completed two years of military service with the army. I was working in sales when I heard about sixteen people getting together to form SABR a month earlier. I contacted Bob McConnel, who was one of the officers, and told him I would be interested in joining SABR. By the end of the year, we had about fifty members. Several years later, I became secretary. By then, we had over five hundred members. I used my IBM Selectric typewriter as these were the days before personal computers.
How did your love for baseball develop?
I collected baseball cards as a kid. Also, I spent much time playing baseball. There were many kids in the neighborhood and it was always easy to gather enough of them for a ballgame and to talk about baseball. I would go to the local library and read every book on baseball that was available. My father took me to Yankee Stadium in 1957 to see my first game. It was a thrill to see Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra in person. Several months later, he took me to a World Series game at Yankee Stadium to see the Yankees against the Milwaukee Braves.
Are you a Yankees fan? Mets? Do you have a place in your heart for the Dodgers or Giants? Perhaps the Red Sox?
As a kid, growing up in Central Connecticut, everyone was either a Yankee or Red Sox fan. I decided I wanted to like someone different. We had the New York Giants, no one liked them, and so I became a Brooklyn Dodgers fan. Several years later they moved to Los Angeles. After that, I could only watch the Dodgers if they happened to be on the Saturday or Sunday game of the week. It was great, when the Mets were formed to be able to see the Dodgers play on television against the Mets. The west coast games started at 11:00 EST. I would stay up late watching those games when the Dodgers played the Mets. To this day, I am still a Dodger fan.
What do you think of the state of baseball today?
I do not care for some of the changes that have been made over the years. I dislike the designated hitter, pitch counts and the wildcard. Players do not seem to be as loyal to their teams, and often switch to a team offering the most money once they become free agents. I would have been crushed if one of my Dodger heroes switched to another team when I was a kid. You cannot afford to keep a team like the Big Red Machine together today. I used to love going to doubleheaders when I was a kid. They have become a thing of the past because of higher salaries. Also, the games take longer to play because of all the commercials needed to pay the costs. However, baseball seems to be drawing more fans than ever before.
What is your favorite project you’ve done for SABR? Could you tell me about it?
My favorite project, being a hater of the designated hitter, has been going through box scores and looking for pitchers with two or more hits, three or more runs scored or three or more RBIs in a game. I have compiled a spreadsheet with over twenty-five thousand entries beginning in 1885 and going through 2013. Spreadsheets are one of the greatest things ever invented. If I am looking for pitchers with the most hits in a game, I can use “sort ascending” and have my answer in a few seconds. Bob Miller, a pitcher for the 1950 Phillies, known as the Whiz Kids, once had four hits and threw a shutout in the same game. He was later a baseball coach at Detroit Mercy. I was looking through their media guide and this was not mentioned in Miller’s profile. I sent a copy of the box score to him, in care of the college and told him he should mention this in his profile. About a year later, I received an email from his son, informing me Miller had retired and did not receive my letter until a year later. He told me his father was so happy and recalled every hit in that game.
Can you describe your memories of listening to baseball games on the radio? Who did you listen to, and who did you like?
As the Dodgers had moved away, I listened to many Yankee games and enjoyed Mel Allen the most. When the Mets were formed I enjoyed listening to Bob Murphy, Lindsey Nelson and Ralph Kiner. Later, I discovered I could pick up the Pirates games at night and enjoyed Bob Prince. As I found out I could get other teams at night, I enjoyed Harry Caray broadcasting for the Cardinals and Waite Hoyt broadcasting for the Reds. The Red sox announcers were not very exciting until the Red Sox had their big year in 1967.
How has the arrival of the Internet affected your work?
I used to spend time at the Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown doing research. I would spend days going through box scores using microfilm. Now, with “The Sporting News,” and “Sporting Life” being available to SABR members on the internet, I can do research from the comforts of home. I also use NewspaperArchives.com and Genealogy.com. Some of the older papers, such as the Washington Post, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Boston Globe and New York Times give score by innings recaps. They are a big help because before 1927 box scores do not list runs batted in. I can also keep in touch with other researchers by email and Facebook.
Who is your favorite position player ever? Why? What about a pitcher?
My favorite position player was Maury Wills. He always caused so much excitement when he would reach first and then steal a base. My favorite pitcher was Sandy Koufax. In his last five years, he almost always won. I was crushed when Koufax retired and Wills was traded shortly after that. When Koufax threw his first no-hitter, it was against the Mets. As it was a night game in Los Angeles, the game started at 11:00 PM EST and ended twenty minutes before 3 AM. I was so pumped up, I could not sleep once I went to bed.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave? What do you want readers to know about you?
I would like to be remembered as a baseball historian and researcher. While in my teens, I started combing the box scores every week in issues of the Sporting News. Many late night games would not make the next day’s newspaper. Along with pitcher’s batting statistics, I made lists of players with five or more hits, runs scored or runs batted in; pitchers with ten or more strikeouts and ten or more innings pitched. I still comb the box scores every day compiling these statistics. Pitchers no longer throw ten innings in a game. Years ago, I was watching the game of the week on NBC. Joe Garagiola mentioned to Vin Scully he once had five hits in a game. Scully said Garagiola was putting him on. Garagiola claimed it was true. Having compiled a list of five or more hits, I looked up the date, made a photocopy of the box score, and sent it to Garagiola in care of NBC. I also sent him a list of the batting leaders. As it was early in the season, he was leading the National League in hitting with a .405 average. He wrote back thanking me and sending me an autographed, NBC-All-Stars, baseball card of himself. Years later, he was the featured speaker at the SABR convention in St Louis. Being one of the senior SABR members attending, I was invited to attend a private meeting with him. He mentioned how he could remember the dates of everything he did in baseball. I asked him if he remembered the day he had five hits in a game. He said “May 16, 1954.” He then looked at me and said, “Are you the one that sent me that box score?” I told him I was. He said he had shown it to everyone in the broadcast booth. I then gave him a list of those accomplishing the feat that year, and told him Ted Williams also had five hits that day.
There’s no off-loading memory to technology here. Mr. Zocco embodies knowledge, wisdom, and cultural memory. We always need “do-ers” of history.