Collecting Insights: How Baseball Cards Sparked My Love for Data


My fascination with data and statistics did not start in academia or within the confines of a professional setting. It began in the most unassuming of places: the world of baseball cards. Each card, each major league box score contained in our local paper, the Herald-Dispatch, was not just a piece of my childhood pastime, but they were the building blocks of my future career in data and institutional research.

The Early Days: Baseball Cards and Box Scores

It all started with baseball cards. For many, these were mere collectibles, but for me, they were a treasure trove of data. I spent countless hours pouring over the stats on the back of each card, deciphering what each run, hit, strikeout, wins/losses, RBI, etc. said about a player’s performance and potential. These figures were more than numbers; they were a narrative, a way to understand and predict the game’s flow and outcomes and who to watch.

Every once in a while, I was fortunate to come across the Sunday edition of USA Today, which was another source of fascination. Its enhanced box scores and detailed statistics were like a weekly masterclass in data analysis. They offered a broader, more nuanced view of the game, providing insights that went beyond the regular scores and player averages.

APBA Baseball: The Intersection of Fun and Numbers

My engagement with data was not limited to passive observation. APBA baseball, a board game that was as much about stats as it was about strategy, allowed me to dive deeper. Here, I was not just absorbing information; I was using it. I was making decisions based on player stats in terms of who to draft, who to start, etc., predicting outcomes, and understanding the impact of each variable on the game’s result. This was where my analytical skills began to sharpen, laying a foundation for my future role in data analysis.  I remember vividly playing games and keeping track of box scores in a notebook and tallying stats in the same notebook laying the foundation for my data aggregation abilities.

The First Apple Computer: A New World of Data

The old Apple computer my dad brought home was a pivotal tool in my journey. It became my lab for experiments in data. Here, I moved from keeping track of stats on paper and tallying home runs and strikeouts where I was able to do simple analysis to synthesis, creating my own databases of baseball stats from the games I was playing. I learned to manipulate data, and even though I cannot recall exactly what I was doing, I know it allowed me to begin seeing patterns and trends, and to draw conclusions. This was more than a hobby; it was the early stage of my career in data science, though I didn’t know it yet.

Parallel Paths: Baseball Cards and Institutional Research

Now, as the Vice President for Institutional Research and Planning and the Chief Data Officer at Marshall University, I see a direct connection between those early days and my current work. The principles that guided me through understanding baseball stats are the same ones I apply in institutional research. It is about making sense of large datasets, finding the story within the numbers, and using that information to make strategic decisions whether it was which cards to buy/invest in, who to draft, etc. to where our students are coming from or who is likely to be retained.

Institutional research, in many ways, mirrors the analysis of baseball cards. It involves deep dives into data to understand the complexities of university operations. Whether it’s analyzing enrollment patterns, faculty research outputs, or financial models, each dataset offers insights crucial for informed decision-making.

The Ongoing Game: A Lifelong Passion for Data

My journey from a baseball card enthusiast, which I still am, to a data-driven academic leader illustrates a fundamental truth: our passions can guide our professional paths. The world of data and statistics is vast and multifaceted, yet at its core, it remains a story told through numbers. Whether it’s in the realm of sports or the arena of higher education, the principles of data analysis hold true.

My story is a self-testament to the power of early interests shaping our careers. What started as a childhood hobby reading the backs of baseball cards and studying box scores evolved into a lifelong pursuit of understanding and interpreting data. In both baseball and academia, it’s all about drawing insights from numbers, whether it’s to predict a player’s future performance or to strategize an institution’s path forward. The game of numbers continues, and with it, my journey in the ever-evolving, fascinating world of data.

Here’s to others finding their interests, with data!

Brian M. Morgan
Chief Data Officer, Marshall University

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