- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Real quick: How many doubles did Ryan Zimmerman hit in 2006? What was Martin Brodeur’s save percentage during the 1998-99 season? And how many touchdowns did Jerry Rice score on “Monday Night Football” in December 1995?

The answers: 47, .906 and three.

Sure, this is not exactly need-to-know information. But every so often there’s a bet to be settled, a trivia question to be answered, a foggy memory to bring into focus.

And that’s where Sean Forman’s labor of love can come in handy.

Forman heads Sports Reference LLC, a small Philadelphia-based firm that operates perhaps the most comprehensive family Web sites devoted to sports statistics and information. What began eight years ago as baseball-reference.com has expanded to include sites for professional football (pro-football-reference.com), basketball (basketball-reference.com) and, as of yesterday morning, professional hockey (hockey-reference.com.)

The sites offer a clean interface, easy navigation and access to everything from career leaders, standings, box scores and game logs of full seasons.

For many years, the baseball, basketball and football sites had separate owners and operators who worked together, sharing a Web platform and advertising models.

Forman, who operated baseball-reference.com, suggested last year merging the sites under the same umbrella and now serves as president of the joint company.

“We were sharing a lot of code and were already based on the same platform,” said Forman, a former professor of mathematics and computer science at Saint Joseph’s University. “There were economies of scale there that we were able to transfer to one another. It all made sense to merge it all together.”

Justin Kubatko, the founder of basketball-reference.com, is vice president and the company’s only other full-time employee. Other part-time employees include Doug Drinen, a professor of mathematics at the University of the South and Jay Virshbo, the former president of Howe Sports Data.

Kubatko was largely responsible for creating hockey-reference.com, something fans had long clamored for.

“We’re really excited about it,” Forman said. “It’s been something we’ve been working on for years now. It’s kind of a validation of how we’ve built our platform.”

But while the simple platform makes navigating the sites easy, the availability of statistical data will ultimately make them successful. For baseball, the company relies on the well-respected Lahman Database, as well as Retrosheet.org, which has compiled play-by-play and box score data from as far back as 1871. For hockey, the company relies on Dan Diamond and Associates, longtime publishers of the NHL Official Guide and Record Book. Forman considers the sites about 98 percent accurate, with the only limitation being the reliability of older data.

Forman said the company is profitable, with revenue coming mostly from advertising, though there are several thousand subscribers who pay a fee for customized statistical reports. He said the company intends to expand further to include college and international sports, assuming data is available.

“Pretty much anything we can find that has a compelling data set, we’ll take a look at,” Forman said.

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