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The Last Solo Umpire

Kyle Terada / USA TODAY Sports

July 11, 1923, was a sunny, seasonal day in Philadelphia. As National League umpires, Ernie Quiqley and Cy Pfirman were accustomed to living out of a suitcase and spending nights and game days in Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Boston, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago, and St. Louis. Quigley had been at this for more than a decade, starting his NL career in 1913; the first of the day’s games was the 146th that he’d umpired in Philadelphia. And while it was only Pfirman’s second season, he’d already worked 24 Phillies home games. On this day they were going to work a doubleheader, which was unusual but not extraordinary for a Wednesday, as the Cincinnati Reds were in town to play their regularly scheduled game followed by a makeup of the May 15th tilt that had been rained out.

The two umpires had been paired up since the season started on April 17th, having worked 70 games together over the first 85 days. As the more veteran member, Quigley was clearly the “chief.” Of those 70 games, he had been the home plate umpire in 68, even presiding over the plate in both ends of five doubleheaders. That’s how it had worked with Major League umpires since professional baseball started. In the early days, a single umpire worked most games. 1909 was the first NL season that had more games worked with two umpires than one, 442 games to 179. By 1910, the single-ump game had nearly been eliminated altogether, with less than 10 such games every year. Most of those rare solo games were necessitated by travel constraints — it was hard to get a person from far-flung St. Louis after a game to the east coast for another game the next day. Prior to 1923, there hadn’t been a game worked by only one umpire since 1917. In fact, the NL had begun incorporating three umpires into games occasionally in 1917.

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Modeling One-Run and Extra-Inning Games

When the 2021 regular season concluded, there was the following exchange in the “Hey Bill” section of the Bill James Online baseball community, with Bill’s response starting at “Answered:”

Hey Bill! 

 Is it possible to calculate an expected number of 1-run games for a team in a season? The reason I ask is that the Mets played in 66 1-run games this year, 40.7% of their games. That seems like a whopping big number . . . but is it? 



Asked by: kgh

Answered: 10/4/2021

It’s a very large number, but I wouldn’t know how to calculate an expected number. I don’t even know what the variables would be. I suppose one-run games are slightly more common among teams which are near .500, and obviously they would be significantly more common in a low-run environment than in a high-run environment.

Inspired by this interaction, I built a dataset to answer those questions and a few more that popped up along the way. Let’s start with the easiest one:

The 2021 Mets played 66 one-run games, or 40.7% of their contests. Is that a whopping big number?

Yes, that is a big number, but not “whopping” big.

The Mets did play 66 one-run games, with 13 of those in extra-innings and 53 in “regulation.” They played 18 total extra-inning games. This gave them a total of 71 games that were decided by one run or in extra-innings. Several teams listed below played more one-run games than the Mets did in 2021. Read the rest of this entry »