NEW YORK — David Vincent, a renowned baseball researcher whose vast knowledge of home run history earned him the nickname the Sultan of Swat Stats, died Sunday in Centreville, Va. The native of Waltham was 67.
His wife, JoLynne, said the cause was cancer.
Home runs — also known as long balls, four-baggers, dingers, and taters — have been a major attraction in baseball since Babe Ruth slugged 54 in 1920, his first season with the New York Yankees.
They incite announcers to verbal frenzies; lead to pitched battles (like those between Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris in 1961 and between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998); and rouse wonder when they are hammered long distances with startling power and velocity, as Aaron Judge of the Yankees has done this season.
“In most sporting events, fans are attracted to the athlete who can run the fastest or jump the highest or throw a piece of equipment the farthest,” Dr. Vincent wrote in his book “Home Run: The Definitive History of Baseball’s Ultimate Weapon” (2007). “In baseball, this maximum event is hitting the ball out of the park.”
This season, with major leaguers hitting home runs at a record pace — one reason cited is that the seams on the balls are lower, creating less wind resistance when batters make contact — round-trippers are as newsworthy as ever.
Dr. Vincent, who as a youngster rooted for the Red Sox and their slugger Ted Williams (career home run total: 521), was a computer systems engineer with a love of baseball who led the digitization of the handwritten home run log of the Society for American Baseball Research, known as SABR. He then maintained the log and regularly updated it.
The results of his work are found in two primary places: in “SABR Presents the Home Run Encyclopedia” (1996), a 1,310-page compendium of all major leaguers’ dingers through 1995 (it was edited by Dr. Vincent and Bob McConnell, who had previously overseen the log), and on the Baseball-Reference website, where every home run whacked (and surrendered) is meticulously detailed.
“He had the passion and real-world computer skills to make an impact on a project like that,” Jacob Pomrenke, director of editorial content at SABR, said in a telephone interview.
With home run history at his fingers, Dr. Vincent could discover nearly anything in the records and manufacture his own trivia.
When the Palm Beach Post interviewed him in 2007, he noted that the most Mother’s Day home runs were hit by Frank Robinson; that Prince Fielder, at about 260 pounds, was the heaviest player ever to hit an inside-the-park homer; and that Juan Encarnacion and Frank Catalanotto of the Detroit Tigers were the teammates with the most combined letters in their surnames to hit back-to-back home runs.
“I’m that weirdo behind the home run,” Dr. Vincent told the Post.
In a phone interview, Jayson Stark, a baseball writer who gave Dr. Vincent his Ruthian nickname, said, “It’s one thing to say, ‘I’m the only person in America who has every home run hit on my computer,’ but another to be so willing to share it and make sure all that incredible research was used in a way that helped people appreciate and love baseball the way he loved it.”
Stark, who worked most recently for ESPN, added: “He would research anything, no matter how wacky, offbeat or esoteric it was. He would drop everything, interrupt his day. He had a real job. But this was his passion.”
‘He would research anything, no matter how wacky, offbeat or esoteric it was.’Jayson Stark, baseball writer
David William Vincent was born on July 26, 1949, to William Vincent, a firefighter, and the former Jean Busby, a homemaker. He was not a particularly adept Little Leaguer, but he learned how to score a game from the wife of the man who ran the league. Years later, he became an official scorer, first in the minor leagues and then with the Washington Nationals, for whom he had worked since 2005.
Dr. Vincent’s formal education focused on music, in which he earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts and a doctorate from the University of Miami. He played drums and timpani and was a band director at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City but switched to computer work to support his family. For many years, he worked for Electronic Data Systems, where he trained to be a computer systems engineer. He stayed at the company after it was acquired by Hewlett-Packard in 2008.
In addition to his wife, he leaves a son, Timothy, from his marriage to Shelley Holcomb, which ended in divorce.
Home runs were only one part of Dr. Vincent’s baseball research. For Retrosheet, the volunteer organization that archives historical play-by-play data, he created a log that recorded the number of games umpires called during their major league careers and where they were positioned for each game. And he took over the work of another researcher, who had died, to list every player and manager ejected by an umpire, and why.