Farewell to stats pioneer Chuck Waseleski
We knew and loved Chuck Waseleski.
He was the analytics guy before they were in vogue.
A nice package of goodies would come in the mail, or he’d make a road trip to Chicago or Seattle and he’d hand you these sheets in a manila envelope of numbers that nobody else had. He started with Peter Gammons’s notes column and moved to Dan Shaughnessy when he took over the Sunday notes. Then came Steve Fainaru, who actually coined the nickname, “The Maniacal One” and the Boston Globe continued it through Gordon Edes and this writer.
I knew Chuck for 32 years. He’d come up with the best stuff, like balls hit off The Wall. Who kept track of that stuff back then? He watched and recorded every Red Sox game year after year after year. He worked full time and then would come home and glue himself to the TV to record every pitch, every at-bat, and then started to put the numbers in the categories that Chuck thought were interesting.
For years, we used his work on the Sunday baseball page until last year, when his heart issues got more severe and he needed care. Waseleski was a native of Millers Falls who graduated from Turners Falls Regional High School where he was class valedictorian in 1972, and Merrimack College. He was 61 when he died Thursday . With it, a generation of Red Sox baseball numbers that were way ahead of its time and which actually meant something were gone for good.
“A really good guy,” recalled Shaughnessy. “He was a man ahead of his time. I could always imagine him as a man, hunched over on his computer alone with his stats. He was devoted to his Red Sox and the result was numbers that nobody else had.”
He befriended Wade Boggs and kept track of his incredible numbers through his huge years in Boston.
He would often give Boggs all of the data. The big thing there was he kept up with foul-ball pop-ups, for which for many years there were none, a sign that Boggs rarely had a bad swing. He kept track of swings and misses, balls hit on the ground, line drives, averages on certain counts and conditions. They were numbers that are certainly in vogue now, but back then he was the guy who kept them.
“Chuck was Bill James before we became addicted to him,’’’ said Gammons. “He would mail me lined sheets of notebook paper telling me how many times Wade Boggs popped up, or who hit The Wall how many times.
“We called him ‘The Maniacal One’ and he was a huge part of the era when El Tiante and Boggs, Freddy, Rooster, and Scooter Remy ruled. He was pure fan, pure Red Sox, and a part of a glorious era without Twitter, the Internet, or screaming radio.”
I can’t tell you how many agents approached me about how they could get a hold of Waseleski. They all wanted his phone number. Before long, Waseleski started producing files for agents on their players for arbitration cases, for free agent presentations. Waseleski’s numbers became all the rage.
Waseleski was a big fan of Bill James and would often call him for advice. It was then that Waseleski realized this was more than just a part-time job. It was a revolution in baseball and he was a big part of it as it pertained to the Red Sox.
Can’t tell you how many times where I needed a hook for a Red Sox story that Chuck helped in providing it. The Boggs stuff was incredible. I phoned Boggs’s home in Tampa on Tuesday night, but Wade was out coaching a high school team. His wife Debbie said Wade would be very saddened by the news. They had a strong bond over the years and Chuck provided Wade with numbers Wade had never heard before.
Numbers were huge with Boggs, who won five batting titles while he was with the Red Sox and had the highest batting average in the history of Fenway (.369). Waseleski’s stat of balls Boggs hit off the Green Monster was telling. They were also stats unique to Fenway Park.
I could ask the most obscure question about something to do with the Red Sox and Waseleski would come up with the answer. I could call him midgame and Waseleski would drop everything to make sure I got the most updated statistic possible.
This guy was amazing.
Once cellphones came into being, he would call me in the press box if he saw something that just happened that he had a stat for. This was stuff you couldn’t get from the team that quickly, but Chuck knew the restraints deadline reporters were under and he wanted to make sure the most important number of the night was recorded in the game story.
There was no way to properly repay Chuck for all he did for all us — from Gammons to Shaughnessy to the late Larry Whiteside to Fainaru to me and Edes. We feel the same way. He was often our savior. He allowed us to build stories off his numbers or at least to add something interesting that only he had the knowledge and ability to come up with.
“He was obsessed with numbers,” recalled Fainaru, now an investigative reporter for ESPN. “I remember calling Chuck in real time to get something more esoteric about what was happening. I called him ‘Maniacal’ not only because of his diligence to the numbers but because it reflected how different he was. He helped shape what the sport has evolved into and it shows how influential he was.
“We take for granted a lot of stats that Chuck had back then, but then he was one of a handful of people doing it.”
Waseleski died of heart complications, ironic because he had a heart of gold. He was a great Red Sox fan, but he never held back the numbers — the negative ones that told the story of why the team was doomed, and the positive ones that accentuated the great hitters, the great pitchers, and why a certain team had success.
He made a great impact on the Boston Globe’s coverage of the Red Sox from a unique position.
Thanks for everything Chuck — your friendship, knowledge, and for enhancing every piece we wrote with your input.
Your life ended way too soon, but your work, your presence, your impact will be enduring.