Albert Pujols passed Eddie Collins for tenth place on the profession hits list when he went 2 for 4 in a loss to the Mets on Wednesday. Or he tied Collins. Or perhaps he was still one short. All of it relied on where you looked.
One thing is definite: Pujols, who’s thoroughly having fun with his farewell tour with the St. Louis Cardinals, had 3,314 hits after Thursday’s loss to the Mets. As for Collins, who played for the Philadelphia Athletics and the Chicago White Sox from 1906 to 1930, his hits total is murkier.
The excellent news? There’s an official total for Collins. The bad news? It is difficult for a fan to search out. And the differences function a reminder that while baseball statistics feel set in stone, there’s more variation to them than many would guess, mostly due to a predictable factor: human error.
Baseball Reference, a typical first stop for people on the lookout for such a number, says Collins ended his profession with 3,315 hits — yet another than Pujols, through Thursday. MLB.com’s accounting, which matches up with the old Total Baseball encyclopedia, had Collins tied with Pujols at 3,314. The Elias Sports Bureau, which is the official statistician of Major League Baseball and its clubs, had him at 3,313.
The Elias number is the official one — hence St. Louis’s celebrating the feat Wednesday — but because Elias doesn’t have a searchable website, the whole is all but hidden from fans and journalists who’re doing their very own research.
Baseball Reference, which collects its statistics from quite a few sources, often differs from the official Elias numbers, but each agree on Collins’s hit total in 24 of his 25 seasons. Where they differ is in 1920: Elias credits him with 222 hits that 12 months, while Baseball Reference has him at 224. (Either way, it was Collins’s single-season profession high.)
The difference, as noted previously by Alan Schwarz and others, is explained in research done by Retrosheet, an archive of each box rating since 1906. In a doubleheader on Sept. 4, 1920, the official record book has Collins 0 for 3 within the second game. But box scores from the time indicate he actually was 2 for 4. Retrosheet attributes the error to a “swap,” during which the totals for one player are by chance recorded for one more. The veracity of that box rating, as of Thursday morning, was the difference between Collins’s being in tenth place on the profession list or eleventh.
There doesn’t look like as easy a proof for MLB.com crediting Collins with 10 hits from 1906 to 1907, while Baseball Reference and Elias credit him with 11.
Potential errors in a statistic as outstanding because the hit total of a Hall of Famer might look like something Elias would need to correct, nevertheless it is comprehensible why the corporate wouldn’t need to delve too deeply into disputed numbers from the primary few a long time of the twentieth century: In Collins’s profession alone, Retrosheet has identified what it believes are 173 box rating discrepancies. Apply that across the entire players from that era, and it could most definitely be 1000’s of revisions, each with little greater than newspaper box scores to function evidence.
Pujols could make things easy by collecting one other two hits and passing Collins on each list. Should he catch fire and collect one other 122 hits this season — highly unlikely given his age and role — he could start a recent debate, about whether he has more hits than Cap Anson.
Anson, a Hall of Famer who notoriously helped create baseball’s color line, has 3,012 hits by most accounts, but he had 423 other hits taken away from him in 1968 when M.L.B.’s special records committee determined the National Association was not a significant league — a choice that many baseball historians consider was a mistake.
If those hits were ever to be restored, Anson would vault to seventh on the list, pushing a parade of Hall of Famers down one spot each.