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MLB.com Columnist

Marty Noble

Wealth of knowledge goes missing with Waterman

Wealth of knowledge goes missing with Waterman

Wealth of knowledge goes missing with Waterman
NEW YORK -- He sits quietly, quite inconspicuously in the second row of the press box at Citi Field, flanked on his left by the official scorer and on his right by a wall, between a box score and a hard place. He comes armed with a laptop that connects him to a century-plus of the statistical history of the big leagues and, more critically, a No. 2 pencil with a point as sharp as he is. Eliminate the laptop, and he still has more baseball knowledge instantly available than most folks in the park.

He knows the rules of scoring, the rules of playing, as well as the rules of thumb that are applied during games. He has more answers than he has questions directed at him. And he always has a stack of napkins next to him, we presume, in case his cup runneth over with data.

He is statistical perspective in human form; he always thinks -- even between innings -- and seldom day dreams. He doesn't watch the game so much as examines it. He was counting pitches before any pitching coaches were assigned the task. He doesn't dump all the computer can produce in the laps of the people who need information. He provides what is salient, necessary, perplexing and sometimes preposterous.

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And though he seldom deals with the NBA, the Elias Sports Bureau has determined he has accumulated more assists than Stockton, Magic, Cousy, the Big O and CP3 combined.

So what, in the name of Seamhead Sam, are we, the denizens of the pressbox, to do now that Bob Waterman is to be absent for a while? Where are we to turn when Jose Molina grounds into double plays in his first three at-bats, when Rickie and Jermile Weeks go 5-for-5 on the same day or when the Saux come to the Citi and Saltalamacchia, Lillibridge, Middlebrooks, Podsednik and Matsuzaka play against Nieuwenhuis, Quintanilla and Valdespin and Wendelstedt works the plate? Waterman might say "Holy Van Landingham, Batman!" and determine the last time two batting orders had so many characters.

All that sort of stuff and more falls into Waterman's field of expertise -- baseball. He is a 25-year employee of The Bureau (Elias Sports) who has been a fixture at Mets games since the mid-90's. He estimates -- something the Bureau never does -- the number of Mets home games he has missed in the interim is "probably in the single digits."

Now he has missed four this year, including the Mets' series against the Phillies. Waterman, 54, underwent surgery last week. His number of Mets home games missed is likely to reach two dozen or so before he again occupies the seat that is his. No one else should be permitted to use it unless he is comparably qualified, which is to say a replacement would have to know -- without research -- the number of home runs hit this season at Citi that would have been catchable were the outfield dimensions not altered during the offseason.

It was Waterman, after all, who did know how many fly balls had reached the warning track at Shea in 2002 -- he had kept track. So when the Mets toyed with the idea of moving Shea's fences in, Tom Glavine had the ammunition to dissuade his new employers. It never came to that, but Waterman had been prepared.

He is routinely well-prepared. Most of us would be aware when a switch-hitter bats right-handed against a right-handed pitcher. Waterman watched switch-hitter Wilson Betemit swinging the bat in the on-deck circle before his first at-bat against R.A. Dickey when the Orioles played at Citi June 18.

Waterman was prepared; so was Betemit. His single in the fifth was the lone hit Dickey allowed.

* * *

Rich Gossage left his Colorado home a week and a half before he attended Yankees Old-Timers' Day for some scheduled business in the East. Two families, friends of his, were living in his home because they had lost theirs to the fires that have blackened so much of his home state. A former Fireman of the Year could do little for them other than be hospitable. Gossage is accomplished in that realm of life. His Baseball Hall of Fame induction hasn't changed him except to make him more content. He remains as normal a guy as you'd meet anywhere.

His life has been filled with good fortune -- baseball and otherwise. And now the recent wind currents in Colorado have blown in his favor as well. "We never have winds out of the North," he said Sunday. "Always out of the South. But it was different last week. If we had normal winds, we wouldn't have a house anymore."

The fires were within five miles of Gossage's home last week, but they moved no closer. "We've been real lucky," he said. "If the wind had shifted, we would have needed one of those bucket brigades."

* * *

Dickey threw consecutive one-hitters last month, impressing many people inside and outside the game, none more than the pitcher and former teammate who threw a perfect game in April. Philip Humber of the White Sox became more impressed -- with himself -- because of Dickey's accomplishments. Humber had opposed Dickey in a Triple-A game in 2007, and he produced as many hits in two at-bats as the Rays and Orioles did in 58 combined at-bats against Dickey's knuckleball June 13 and 18.

"All of a sudden I'm looking better as a hitter now," Humber said last week. "I got two knocks off R.A when I was with New Orleans [then the Mets' Triple-A affiliate], and R.A. was with Nashville. He was the best pitcher in the league. He had just started throwing the knuckleball real effectively. I got behind in the count both times and he tried to sneak a heater by me. Each time I got him."

Humber may qualify as a curiosity as a result. Perhaps he's a good knuckleball hitter, always an endangered species. Lou Brock, Tommie Agee, Howard Johnson, Tony Perez, Tim McCarver, Mickey Mantle and Johnny Bench come to mind. Phil Niekro recalls Randy Bass was a particularly difficult out for him. Bass had seven hits in 11 career at-bats against Niekro.

And Humber was 2-for-2 against Dickey in Triple-A. "Does that count?" he wanted to know.

"It's great that he's doing so well," Humber said. "He's a great guy. We were together with the [2009] Twins."

Neither gave an indication then of what might occur in 2012.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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