Midwest League Rosters

For the past few months, I’ve been compiling (or creating, in some cases) electronic rosters for every Midwest League team, organization, and season. I’ve been collecting the basic resources for several years; the recent effort’s been more about getting things into a useful shape than actually acquiring the data. The compilation effort has been–and continues to be–an odd combination of automation and manual handling; it turns out that much of the work is tweaking the data.

The last (still ongoing) step consists mostly of comparing the Baseball-Databank list of major league players to the lists I’ve collected and assembled; that comparison could be simplified somewhat if I’d automate it, but the error rate would be unacceptable. For each fourteen-team season my programs generate a list of about 140 "likely matches," of whom roughly fifty turn out to be false positives. Most non-matches are obvious when I eyeball them, but the edge cases can be maddening. That’s necessarily manual work, folks.

Today I’ve begun posting that effort to the MWLguide.com website. I’ve begun with Appleton, and will work alphabetically through to Wisconsin Rapids over the next few weeks. Unfortunately, at this time my presentable data only goes back to 1989, so I’ll need to repeat the effort as I complete the earlier years (coming; it’s just slow work, as I’ve suggested). But this is clearly the most-wanted missing feature for MWLguide.com, so it seems worth posting the incomplete lists and promising further cleanup. I expect I’ll have "complete" lists (see Less Thans, below) posted early in the upcoming season.

Miscellaneous Notes

Errors. This is the sort of project where every possible error is more or less guaranteed to occur. Please tell me if you find something wrong. Thanks.

The Sporting News. A project like this tends to generate a love/hate relationship with your best source–in this case, the Sporting News Guides. The quality of the Guides is more variable than you’d imagine (for instance: Don’t Trust the 2005 Edition), and there are some systematic issues which everyone finds annoying. Nonetheless: TSN has discontinued publishing most of their baseball annuals, and I miss them.

Name changes are problems, as are some common nicknames. David Ortiz called himself David Arias when he played in the MWL. Albert Belle went by Joey. Ervin Santana was Johan. (There are others like this; I recognize a few.) And many minor league sources list players by their proper names, which means my programs may miss major leaguers who went by Dick, or Bill, or Tom at the major league level (though I’d likely notice the match if they went by Rich, Willie, or Thom). The main advantage of getting this right is the demographics; I can get the birthdate right, and show a pointer to his big league career. I’d be grateful to be notified if you spot someone I missed. Thanks.

On the roster, but didn’t play. David Eckstein sat on the Michigan Battle Cats’ bench for a few days in 1997. Rick Ankiel, officially disabled at the time, spent the entire 2002 season on the Peoria roster. Neither appeared in any games. Neither pattern is particularly unusual, but they’re not documented very well. I’m including those I notice.

Less Thans. Prior to about 1964, the TSN Guides don’t reliably list players who played only a few MWL games. Baseball researchers call these players "Less Thans," and they’re a bane of our existence. I list the Less Thans that I, or my sources, know about, but it’s really quite clear that hundreds of folks who played two or four games in the Midwest League are not listed in the historical record.

Birthdates. It’s absolutely amazing to me how many players’ birthdates changed between their MWL summer and their major league career. It’s clearly always been common for players to shave a couple years off their age when they sign their initial contract. This isn’t exactly news, but I didn’t realize the practice had continued into the modern era. (Note: It appears that the stringent transportation ID requirements imposed by the Feds in 2002 have largely put an end to this practice.)

I’ve got more information. I have all years’ rosters in electronic form, and will post those as I get to them. I have all managers, most coaches, and most trainers. I have some front office staff. I have most umpires, though there are some reliability issues because the available lists are typically produced in March. I intend to mark the MWL All-Stars in the same way I’ve marked the major leaguers. And the Hall of Famers. I’ve numbers, positions, birthdates, hometowns, and other information for many players; transcribing those from paper may be next winter’s big project. Also: The database contains information I’m not posting to the website. It does not contain any statistics; other folks are working on that.

Seasons, and Organizations. I plan to create lists showing everyone who played in a specific season. I likewise intend to post roster pages for the MWL’s major league affiliates.

SABR. SABR’s Minor Leagues Committee is working on a similar, but much larger, project. Just wanted to mention it; it promises to be my favorite SABR resource. I’ll be sharing my database with that project team in the near future.

Copies? If you want a copy of the database, or a subset, drop me a line. We can negotiate about formats

You want to help? Data donations are welcome. Please put the information in a spreadsheet. Please include first and last names, preferably in separate columns; columns for year and team are also essential. I’m pretty sure I can wrestle any spreadsheet into MySQL, and then to the site. Thanks.