If an NFL announcer sounds like an omniscient know-er of all things football, it's because they've got a stats man in the booth feeding them info. 75-year-old Marty Aronoff is one of the best stats men in the business. Bob talks with Aronoff about stats and his 200 travel days a year getting to games.
MIKE TIRICO: It’s a gain of 13, here at the back end of the quarter. And just a quick mention, Jon, that completion by Tom Brady was his 4,000th of his career, he did 8 passes complete tonight coming in, and another mark for Tom.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, if you were following the Patriots’ scoring drive against Carolina on Monday Night Football, that was a useful tidbit. But there's ESPN announcer Mike Tirico calling the action on the field, which is about two-and-a-half tons of high speed hubbub, and he's keeping track of the game stats in progress too? No, the stat was put in front of his face on a little piece of paper, like a clandestine note in seventh grade social studies. Except the passer-alonger, wasn't a tween gossip, it was a very circumspect senior citizen with bad handwriting and white hair, Marty Aronoff, elder statesman of broadcast statisticians.
For the past 30 years full time and eight part-time years before that, Aronoff has been scribbling statistical nuggets for broadcast announcers on all major networks, and plenty of minor ones. Even at the age of 75, he's traveling 200 days a year to do it.
MARTY ARONOFF: Tomorrow, I fly from Washington, my home, to Lincoln, Nebraska. I’m doing Football Saturday, Michigan State and Nebraska. Sunday morning, I will fly back to Washington. I have a college basketball game that evening, Oregon State at Maryland. Monday morning, I will be flying to Charlotte, North Carolina for a Monday Night ESPN NFL appearance, with Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden. The game is New England at Carolina. Then I will be home Tuesday, and those are the next four days.
BOB GARFIELD: And on Wednesday, he rested.
So those 200 days a year, when you show up in the booth as the statistician, what exactly do you do?
MARTY ARONOFF: I sit right next to the play-by-play announcer, and I supply them information that I observe as the game goes on, trends that are developing. There may be a historical note. It may be something about an individual's recent performance and how he’s doing that particular night. I listen very carefully to everything that’s being said by the announcers. I’m there to supplement what they're doing. I have to be concise, accurate and timely, very timely. I can't let something happen three plays ago and now suddenly I’m showing them something.
BOB GARFIELD: Many a young man has lay awake at night imagining being on the pitcher's mound for the New York Yankees or being the quarterback for the Chicago Bears. I'm sure many have done voiceovers of games, imagining themselves to be the broadcasters who sit in the booth and bring the game to the viewers and listeners at home. My guess is that there's been hardly a [LAUGHS] little boy or girl who has lay awake at night dreaming of feeding stats. Did you, as a kid, harbor that fantasy of someday telling a play-by-play man how many blown saves Mariano Rivera had recorded to date?
MARTY ARONOFF: Never. I got an undergraduate degree in mathematics at Penn State and an MBA at Northwestern, and I worked for the federal government here in Washington for 17 years. I started doing this as a sideline well into my professional career with the government. It just happened by accident that I had the opportunity to help a friend of mine, Warner Wolf, who got the play-by-play assignment with the then- Washington Bullets in 1975. And I was doing a lot of traveling and I said, Warner, if I’m ever in a city where you’re doing a game, why don’t I stop by and just help you out, give you some numbers. And he said, great, let’s try it.
But I never, when I was growing up, thought of this. It was really fate that put me into this, and by the time I started doing this full time, you know, I was into my forties.
BOB GARFIELD: We are living in the golden age of sports statistics. The digital revolution and fantasy sports have created a huge demand and the tools for meeting the demand. Now, you’ve spent the lion’s share of your career having little at your beck and call than the fact books that the leagues and the teams provided. Now you have access to just all of this extraordinary detail, almost absurd detail. Do you find that it helps or are you like, you know, the former Soviet émigrés in a supermarket –
- who are overwhelmed by [LAUGHS] the choice?
MARTY ARONOFF: [LAUGHING] Well, you're absolutely right. I have so much information available to me, a lot of what I have to do is be very selective. There are people who do what I do, especially younger people who want to make themselves known by the volume of notes they give to the announcer, so they throw things at him or her. And not all of ‘em are really that relevant. They’re more just to show that the statistician is on the ball and he’s got a lot of information. But I’m very selective. I pick my spots.
BOB GARFIELD: And finally, was there one moment in all of the thousands of games that you've done stats for that made you want to just jump up and give yourself a high five, ‘cause you had just the thing for just the moment that people would remember beyond the play itself?
MARTY ARONOFF: People remember Bill Mazeroski in 196O for the Pirates.
CHUCK THOMPSON: It is all over. In one of the most dramatic finishes in history, Bill Mazeroski has hit his second World Series homerun over the left field barrier 406 feet away, and the Pirates are the 1960 world champions of baseball!
BOB GARFIELD: Joe Carter in 1993 and, of course, Bobby Thomson.
MARTY ARONOFF: Bobby Thomson.
RUSS HODGES: One out, last of the ninth. Branca pitches. Bobby Thomson takes a strike called on the inside corner, Bobby hitting at .292. Branca throws. There's a long drive, it's gonna be, I believe - the Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!
[SOUNDTRACK UP & UNDER]
MARTY ARONOFF: I remember in 2003, the American League Champion series between the Yankees and the Red Sox. And I had just given the announcer, as we go into the 11th inning in a tie game, “This could be an opportunity for another historic moment. And Aaron Boone comes up and Boone hits a home run, wins the game, and the announcer gives me a big thumbs up, ‘cause he had just said that. [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD: Marty, thanks again.
MARTY ARONOFF: Thank you. It’s a pleasure.
BOB GARFIELD: Marty Aronoff is a freelance sports statistician for a number of famous name broadcast networks.
CHARLEY STEINER: - leading by three, as Boone hits it to deep left. That might send the Yankees to the World Series.