Sunday, February 2, 2003

Local man knows story behind numbers

Five questions with Mark Wagner

Mark Wagner is a well known sports statistician and is Thom Brennaman's main stat man for his national broadcasts.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
Ever wonder which pitchers perform best in the Eastern time zone, on AstroTurf, at home or in the first part of a doubleheader? Which team turns over the ball the most in the first half while leading and when the temperature dips below freezing? Who are the only players to record at least 10,000 points, 4,000 rebounds, 2,000 assists, 700 steals and 100 technical fouls? Ask Mark Wagner.

Wagner, Cincinnati's own sports statistics expert, is one of the nation's best in his field. In more than 20 years in the business, Wagner has worked basketball, baseball, hockey and football games, toiling coast to coast, primarily as Fox broadcaster Thom Brennaman's personal statistician.

Recently, the man behind the stats answered five questions from Enquirer sports writer Ryan Ernst.

Question, How did you get into the sports statistics business?

Answer: I got into it in 1982, just kind of part-time. I was going to the Xavier-Butler game with (announcer) Joe Sunderman and about five minutes before we got there, he said he'd get me a press pass and I'd sit with him. Then he gave me some paper and said, "Keep my stats." From there it just kind of evolved. See, back then there wasn't a ton of information provided by the schools, so I started doing my own research and started putting out my own set of notes. That turned into doing stats for Channel 19 in 1984; then I got the UC job. That led to Bengals preseason football, which led to some hockey. It's kind of been a big circle.

Q, How did you start working with Thom Brennaman?

A: I had worked with Marty (Brennaman), when he did the old Metro games of the week on TV. Then, when Thom did his very first game - it was UC basketball at Miami - he hired me. Then he went on and did the Cubs and did Fox NFL football. In 1997, he comes to UC for a game and he says: "What are you doing this summer? You need to quit your job and come work for me."

I said no way. Later, he threw an offer out on the table and I about fell over dead. I didn't know what to say. I came home and asked my wife. She said, "You've wanted to do this your whole life, I'll stand behind you whatever you decide. But if you say no, I don't want to hear about it later."

That was all I needed. So the last seven years, that's all I've done: any Fox national game he does, 18 weeks of baseball, the Cotton Bowl and the ACC game of the week for Fox Sports on Sundays.

Q, Other than keeping typical stats at games, what else goes into your job?

A: What I've tried to do is make my niche. A typical stat guy will walk into a booth with media guides and scorebooks. When I started working with Thom, I wanted to do something different to impress the guys at Fox that gave the raises. So I started out doing five or six pages of notes, and people started buying into it. You can pull pretty much an average person off the street and they could do it. My idea of a statistician is doing the research. You've got to have stuff for the broadcaster to talk about, because if he looks bad, you look worse.

Q, What was the most memorable game you've ever worked?

A: The first game I ever worked with Thom. We had the Yankees at Boston, in June of '97. I don't want to sound egotistical, but it was at that moment I kind of realized I'd arrived.

Q, Have you ever thought about expanding your expertise into a company?

A: It kind of gets back to the old adage: If you want something done right, you've got to do it yourself. ... It's not the money; it's the satisfaction. When the broadcaster turns to me at the end of the game and says, "Thanks, that's all I need," that's satisfying.

We are not making these up

A few of Wagner's favorite, lesser-known statistics:

Xavier started this season with seven players whose last names started with the letter C. Xavier has the most players with the same letter starting their last name of all the 327 Division I teams.

Barry Bonds has the second-highest ratio of runs to hits in a four-year span since 1900. Bonds' 0.88 r/h Ratio from 1999-2002 trails only Max Bishop of the Philadelphia A's, who had a ratio of 0.90 from 1929-32.

Since 2000, Shawon Dunston has drawn 11 walks and been hit by a pitch 11 times. He is the only player in the majors in that span with the same number of walks and HBP.

A little-known fact: The Reds did not issue a No. 27 to any player from 1973-1988, when Jose Rijo took possession. Before then, however, No. 27 was in use by none other than Mr. Red.

From 1979-2001 the Boston Red Sox accumulated just 1,382 stolen bases. When Rickey Henderson signed with Boston before the start of last season, he alone had 1,395 stolen bases from 1979-2001.

The North Carolina Tar Heels have committed more turnovers this season than they have handed out assists. In the storied 92 years of the school's men's basketball program, a team has never finished a season with more turnovers than assists.

On Sept. 28, 2002, a new record was set at Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco. For the first time in a major-league game, both starting pitchers had Kirk as their first name: San Francisco's Kirk Rueter and Houston's Kirk Saarloos.

Marquette 82, UC 76
Daugherty: Snarl gone from 'Cats
Rankings become least of concerns

Xavier 66, Richmond 52
Victory a little sweeter for West

No. 7 Kentucky 87, South Carolina 69
Miami 57, Buffalo 55
Ohio State 65, Northwestern 52
No. 8 Louisville 95, No. 19 Indiana 76
Syracuse stuns No. 2 Pitt
Texas A&M denies Knight 800th victory
Top 25 roundup: Who's No. 1? Maybe Texas
How the Top 25 fared
Women: UConn blasts No. 1 Duke
Smith's late basket lifts Norse men to 76-75 victory

Shake this winter chill, make tracks for Florida
Reds Spring Training Guide
A look at the Grapefruit League
Leading off, Adam Dunn?
Judge: Put Rose in HOF

Bengals Q&A
Ditka interested in coaching Lions
Garcia frustrated by 49ers' coaching conundrum
Rice's heart fonder for Hawaii

Hula Bowl: South 27, North 24
Paterno: 2006 might be final year at Penn State
Grambling QB wins Gaither Award

Streaking Champali adds WEBN at Turfway
Medaglia d'Oro wins Strub Stakes after three-month layoff
Record number nominated for Triple Crown races

Groeschen: St. X swimmers step up
Schmidt: Former prep football stars get shot at pros
Withrow gets top seed in Division I
Sectional tournament pairings
St. Henry hits All 'A' state
Ohio boys games
Ohio girls games
Ky. boys games
Ky. girls games
Prep sports results

Herron pulls away by 4 strokes in Hope Classic

NBA: Penalized Pacers prevail

MacInnis, Roy lead West to skills victory
NHL YoungStars: East 8, West 3
NHL All-Star notebook
Ducks waddle past Admirals

The Boogity Man is back
Tight battle up front in Daytona
NASCAR notebook

Ex-GCL, XU players skip along in ACC
Local man knows story behind numbers
Enquirer's Page Two power rankings

Lewis prefers Tyson rematch over quality opponent