Seymour Siwoff, master of sports statistics, 99

Seymour Siwoff in the 1970s.
Seymour Siwoff in the 1970s. Joe Gilston via The New York Times

NEW YORK — Seymour Siwoff, a pioneer in bringing statistical analysis to the sports world who chronicled feats from the epic to the arcane through seven decades as the head of the Elias Sports Bureau, died Friday at his home in New York City. He was 99.

His death was confirmed by his grandson Joe Gilston, whose Joseph Gilston Trust took over Elias in March, purchasing 100 percent of its stock.

Until then, Mr. Siwoff had, since 1952, been the president and chief executive of Elias, the official record-keeper for America’s major professional sports leagues. In recent years the bureau’s day-to-day operations had been overseen by Steve Hirdt, the executive director, but Mr. Siwoff remained a presence in its Manhattan office until just a few months ago.


When Mr. Siwoff took control of Elias, it was tallying basic baseball records for newspapers and wire services. At the time the Brooklyn Dodgers were evidently the only team with its own statistician: Allan Roth tracked the performances of the Dodgers’ players in a variety of situations.

Sports statistics were still relatively primitive, and record-keeping, long before the computer age, was a laborious task. Managers, coaches, and front-office executives were armed with only modest information for plotting strategy and making trades. The correct answer to many a barroom trivia argument might remain unclear long after closing time.

That began to change when Mr. Siwoff purchased the Al Munroe Elias Baseball Bureau from the widows of Al and Walter Elias, who founded it in 1913.

Mr. Siwoff had worked part time for Elias in 1939 when he was a freshman at St. John’s University in Queens. After serving in the Army in World War II — he was wounded in the Italian campaign — he obtained an accounting degree from St. John’s, then returned to Elias, where he melded his professional training with his interest in sports.


Mr. Siwoff renamed the company the Elias Sports Bureau, reflecting his ambition to range through the entire sports world.

Elias eventually became the record-keeper for Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, and later the Women’s National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer. It also provides national and local sports broadcasting outlets and sports websites with data and content drawing on its archives.

Through its computer programming, Elias has also provided teams and media outlets with bits of history within minutes of an odd or spectacular moment on the field, revealing whether anything like it had happened before.

“Statistics can be cold and trivial,” Mr. Siwoff was quoted as having said in the 1970s in “The Numbers Game: Baseball’s Lifelong Fascination With Statistics” (2004), by Alan Schwarz, a former reporter for The New York Times. “But they can also be alive and full of drama.”

“What I enjoy most about statistics is the chance they give you to relive the past,” Mr. Siwoff said. “When Nate Colbert drives in 13 runs in a doubleheader, it gives you a chance to recall when Jim Bottomley drove in 12 in a game.” (Colbert set his record with the San Diego Padres in 1972; Bottomley achieved his with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1924.)

In addition to Gilston, Mr. Siwoff is survived by a son, Ronald; a daughter, Nancy Gilston; three other grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. His sister Lela Swift, a pioneering female director whose career went back to television’s early years, died in 2015 at 96.