First a confession. When I learned KJOK was a rabid St. Louis Cardinals fan, I was surprised to discover he could not only read and write, but was a proficient numbers analyst as well. Having grown up in an ultra-conservative Chicago Cubs household, I was raised to not trust those who lived south of Springfield, or west of the Mississippi. Cardinal fans were said to be communists, immoral, and known for their heinous cruelty to animals. We were taught they ate with their hands, lived in caves, and eschewed the use of soap. We were not, under any circumstances, allowed to interact with Redbird worshippers; unless, of course, the interaction involved pelting them with rotten cantaloupes.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become an agnostic baseball fan (that is, I’m not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of the Cubs), and often seek out activities which challenge my old prejudices. Such was the case with my KJOK e-mail exchange. Turns out he’s a decent guy. Not just decent, but an actual human being named Kevin Johnson. He sent me a picture as evidence, and although I’ve sent it to a Washington, DC laboratory for authentication (it’s hard to break old habits), I’m 95% sure it’s him.
We’ve got a few things in common; he’s a family guy, has a job, used to play softball. He also enjoys researching baseball. His internet handle has become a brand name, recognizable on many baseball sights. What I like about Kevin- and all bullshit aside here for a moment- is his versatility. Whereas a lot of baseball nuts find their particular niche; whether it be focusing on minor league ball, sabermetrics, negro leagues, whatever, Kevin deftly ventures into many different areas of baseball history. Not only does he have a broad palette, he actually gets stuff done; posting articles, commentary and statistical information on a wide variety of baseball themes. A lot of his original work can be found at www.seamheads.com, where he is one of the founding contributors.
I haven’t shared this with KJOK until now, but his work on SABR’s minor league database is one of the big reasons I finally decided to join the group. Seriously. I saw the thing (through a link at www.agatetype.typepad.com, and said, “If this is what they’re doing now, I’m in. Sign me up.”
If you take all of the crap I’m going to post on this blog over the next ten years and combined it, it won’t be anywhere near as valuable to other baseball researchers and writers as the SABR minor league database Kevin helped build. It’s a pretty astonishing achievement. KJOK was kind enough to put some projects to the side and share some of his time:
KJOK. It’s become a brand name of sorts on the internet. First off, I have to know: is KAY-JAY-OH-KAY, or KAY-JOCK?
When coming up with an internet handle, I took Kevin Johnson from Oklahoma to create KJ-OK, so it’s supposed to be KAY-JAY-OH-KAY, but I think most people read it as KAY-JOCK
Ok, cool, I guess I’ve had it right the last couple years. I’m sort of curious about the man behind the initials. Who is KJOK? Can you share some non-incriminating details from your past. Where are you from? What college did you attend? And finally- I know this sounds like I’m asking you out on a date, but… what was your major?
I’m from St. Louis County in Missouri. I attended Washington University in St. Louis. My major was Business Administration with an emphasis in Mangement Information Systems.
I understand you followed the Cardinals as a wee pup. Who was your favorite player growing up?
My favorite was Lou Brock, probably because I was a speedy, non-power hitting outfielder myself.
And who would you have in your all-time Cardinals starting line-up?
KJOK’s All-Time Cardinals starting Lineup:
C – Simmons
1B – Pujols
2B – Hornsby
SS – Smith
3B – Boyer
LF – Musial
CF – Lankford
RF – Slaughter
P – Gibson
Where the heck’s Lou Brock? Is it hard leaving him out of the line-up?
Lou is definitely on the team. But he can’t beat out Musial, so he’ll be doing a lot of pinch-running I guess.
Ok you’ve already stated you were a mini-Lou Brock growing up. I always like to ask about people’s tour of duty in Little League, because it’s part of the genesis of why we still follow the game as adults. There’s the good, bad and ugly of it that makes it so unforgettable. What was your LL experience like?
I was fortunate to join a team that almost never lost. We either went undefeated or had just 1 loss every year. There were already ‘all-star’ players at all of the infield positions, so I got put into the outfield. I was a decent fielder with a strong arm, but not much of a hitter. Offensively, I mostly walked, bunted, and stole bases. My claim to fame is I was never thrown out stealing.
After Little League, did you continue playing ball? When did you finally hang up the cleats?
I played football and soccer in high school, but once I graduated, I started playing softball. Some years I played on 3 different teams at once. I finally hung up my cleats in my early thirties due to low back problems.
What is your day job today? On your seamheads.com bio, it says you’re married with two children—how do they deal with your baseball obsession?
I work for a travel technology company, mostly crunching numbers to analyze work load and performance trends. My wife is an early to bed, early to rise person, while I’m a ‘nite owl’, so I’m able to feed my obsession at night when the rest of the family is in bed.
I know you’re in Broken Arrow , OK . Ever bump into Warren Spahn before he got called up to the big leagues in the sky?
No, my ‘touch’ with fame in Broken Arrow has been seeing Brad Penny pitch when he was in high school, and being a co-worker for awhile with Patsy Brewer, who is the widow of Jim Brewer, former Dodger pitcher.
When did you first get involved in SABR?
I first became a member around 1986, after reading about the organization in one of the Bill James Abstracts. I took a 10 year break from 1991-2001, but have been a more active member my second go-around.
When did you get involved with the minor league database? How many people are working on this project?
I became involved with the Minor League Database over two years ago. There are four ‘main’ people working on the project, plus another 5-10 volunteers at various times who are massaging specific pieces of data, such as ballparks, for example. We need more volunteers!
If somebody is interested, how would they get involved in the minor league database project?
What is the most important thing you’ve learned while working on the minor league database? (this could be anything, from the logistics of managing a large project, or something about baseball history you may not have known) What can expect from the database in the future?
The most important thing I learned may be that there is just SOOO much data that is available, but not in digitized form. It’s a very slow process to get data ‘cleaned up’ and entered into the database. The other thing I’ve learned is how knowledgeable some people are about biographical info of minor league players. It’s a huge issue to try to figure out instances such as if John Jacobs from 1948 Louisville and Jack Jacobs from 1948 Des Moines are the same player, or two different players, etc., but there are actually experts out there who are great at figuring these things out, and that’s a tremendous help to getting a good database.
What can expect from the database in the future?
In the future, I’m hoping we can continue to see leagues, teams, players, ballparks, etc. added bit by bit to the database. The best line to use is that this is a PROJECT, NOT an Encyclopedia. It probably won’t be ‘complete’ in my lifetime, as there’s just so much that can be added in.
You’re not just a minor leagues guy, of course, you’ve also written a quality piece on the 1928 St. Louis Stars play-off series, and done some nice work with MLEs. Can you talk a little bit about your diverse interests?
When I ‘came back’ to to baseball research in the early 2000′s, in addition to continuing my ballparks research, I wanted to focus on areas I didn’t really know much about, so I got involved in learning about the 19th century, Japanese Leagues, and Minor Leagues. A Negro League expert by the name of Gary Ashwill was in a historical simulation league with me, and he turned me on to researching the Negro Leagues, which is probably my favorite area of research right now.
You’ve done some biographical stuff on blackball stars, including Andrew “Rube” (Bishop?) Foster, what other kind of Negro League-related projects do you have in the works?
Finding out Rube Foster’s real birthplace possibly being La Grange was just a lucky accident. I was searching Google Books for anything related to the Negro Leagues, and found a sociological study of race relations in Chicago following the race riot of 1919, and one of the example anonymous subjects, with occupation “baseball mogul”, was obviously Foster. Gary Ashwill then found the “Bishop” name in the 1880 census taken near La Grange.
Most of my blackball work is statistical as opposed to biographical. I have a book manuscript I’ve been working on, tentatively called “Lost Leagues: 1928 Negro National and Eastern Colored Leagues”. It uses statistical research done by Gary Ashwill to do a ‘Bill James Abstract’ type of treatment on the 1928 Negro Leagues.
Bud Selig calls and says YOU can vote five more Negro League players into the Hall of Fame. Who would they be?
Bill Monroe, Quincy Trouppe, John Beckwith, Alejandro Oms, Dick Redding.
Let me give you a choice: Chino Smith or Dick Lundy? It’s “Super Star” for a couple years versus “Star” for a long, long time…
I’d have to go with Lundy, as he was such an important figure, and he managed too.
You’re a very active participant on www.seamheads.com. If somebody is a baseball history buff, but has not yet stumbled upon the site, how would your describe it to them? What is it about?
We hope it’s a site for even already knowledgeable fans to learn about baseball. It is a history site, but that includes CURRENT history, as we have articles about current teams, fantasy baseball, etc. in addition to articles that go back and re-examine more distant events, and events that may not be that well-known.
What’s the story behind the site? What do you envision in the future for the site?
Seamheads is really the creation of my friend Mike Lynch, who is the author of the book “Harry Frazee, Ban Johnson, and the Feud that Nearly Destroyed the American League”. Mike first started an OOTP historical simulation league called ‘Diamond Kings’ that I was part of, then he created a spot to host the league data and message boards, and called it seamheads.com. When he was ready to launch a baseball site, the URL and the cool name was already his to use, and he graciously asked me to join him in the initial launch. We now have over 20 writers contributing to the site. Besides high quality articles, we envision this will be a site to get some baseball data you can’t get from even Baseball-Reference.com, such as detailed ballparks data, including minor leagues, Negro League World Series/Playoffs data, Negro League Major League Equivalents (MLE’s), pre-1984 Player Salaries, etc.
What, specifically, can we look forward regarding the historical MLEs?
There are 3 other guys that have done detailed MLEs. I’m very hopeful that we’ll have a database available on seamheads.com by early next year that contains the 4 different MLE’s for 100 or so Negro League players.
Any other things coming up that we should know about? Books? Upcoming articles?
My current article on seamheads.com is on the 1927 Negro League World Series. I’ve recompiled the batting, pitching and fielding stats from play-by-play accounts.
I’ll also have a small section in the New Negro Leagues Book coming out sometime next year I believe. I’m writing the section on the history of the St. Louis Stars franchise.
Is the Negro Leagues Book a revised edition of the Lester/Clark book from 1994?
Exactly. It’s been 14 years, and a lot of new research has happened since then, so hopefully this will be the new definitive book on the Negro Leagues.
Ok, you’re on a deserted island: Give me your top 5 baseball books to bring along.
This is the toughest question!
Baseball is a Funny Game
The Glory of their Times
Bill James Historical Abstract
The ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia
Finally, taking in ALL of baseball history (black, white or other), give me your all-time greatest starting line-up. Eight position players, one DH, two starting pitchers, and a closer.
C – Josh Gibson
1B – Lou Gehrig
2B – Rogers Hornsby
SS – Honus Wagner
3B – Mike Schmidt
LF – Stan Musial
CF – Willie Mays
RF – Babe Ruth
DH – Ted Williams
SP1 – Walter Johnson
SP2 – Lefty Grove
CL – Mariano Rivera
Thanks, Kevin. Please come back down the road…