Nov. 26, 2008


Nine Innings with Dr. Greg Manco

By Phil Stanton Co-Founder


Dr. Greg Manco doesn’t have one full-time job, he has two.


Manco is in his fifth season as an assistant coach at Saint Joseph’s. And he is also a full-time professor in Saint Joseph’s department of Mathematics and Computer Science.


After spending two seasons on the JV baseball team, Manco pitched for the varsity team at Rutgers in 1991. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1992 and stayed at Rutgers to earn a master’s and doctorate in statistics.


Manco coached and taught for six seasons at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia before moving across town to Saint Joseph’s.


After concluding the early signing period with four new Hawks, Manco took some time from his busy schedule to answer a few of our questions.


First Inning – Which came first for you, love of numbers or love of baseball?

Baseball came first. As a five-year-old, I went to all of my brother’s Little League games – my father was his coach – and I learned how to keep the scorebook. I would score every game I could – I’d do it for Phillies games, both at the Vet or while watching on television, and I’d even make up my own games for fun. And like many kids, I was collecting baseball cards. In addition to flipping and trading them, I was fascinated by all the information (i.e. career stats) on the backs of the cards. It wasn’t long after that my brother started to teach me algebra and I became good at math.


Second Inning – What connected the two for you?

Some older kids in the neighborhood were into Strat-O-Matic Baseball, and they eventually let me pick a team and play with them. We’re talking early 80’s here – aside from Atari Baseball it was the best game out there. (It probably still is.) I wanted to know how the game worked – how the dice translated into players’ varying talents. This is how I first learned about probability.


But it wasn’t until I was an early teen when the two really came together. My parents bought me a new copy of Bill James’ 1984 Baseball Abstract. I devoured every word on every page. I hadn’t even started my high school playing career yet and I already aspired to be a major league General Manager, so that I could incorporate all the neat stuff I was learning. For the years that followed, I’d wait for new editions of the Abstract with the same anxiety that people now have for new releases of Madden Football.


Third Inning – How was your playing career at Rutgers?

Well, I wish I could say that my ERA was in the vicinity of my GPA but it wasn’t even close. I could throw really hard and that enabled me to walk-on as a pitcher. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the ball over the plate if my life depended on it. This was at a time when Rutgers (and some other schools, like Seton Hall and Princeton) played an additional junior-varsity schedule, with games against each other and the in-state community colleges, to develop the younger guys who weren’t ready. I pitched in a ton of those JV games, and a couple for the varsity, occasionally mixing in a strike or two.


But despite my lack of playing success, I benefited greatly from this experience. For one, with all the heartache that my baseball struggles were causing me, I felt no pressure regarding my schoolwork. I was pulling great grades with little effort or stress. But it was the opportunity to play for and learn from Fred Hill that meant the most to me. I learned a lot about the game from him and also how a coach should treat his players. I can proudly say that I got to play for one of the best coaches in the history of college baseball.


Fourth Inning – Did you enter college with the plan that you would get your master’s and doctorate?

No, this just sort of evolved naturally. I originally thought I’d use my bachelor’s degree in math to pursue an actuarial career. It wasn’t until one of my professors suggested that I consider attending graduate school. I looked into it, applied, and was fortunate to receive a fellowship that allowed me to pursue my doctorate fulltime, for five years.


Fifth Inning – Were you involved with baseball during graduate school?

No. Didn’t play it, didn’t coach it, and barely watched it. In such a rigorous graduate program – Rutgers has one of the biggest and best Statistics departments in the country – pretty much everything outside my studies and specifically, outside the writing of my dissertation, got put on hold. Whereas I was once able to recite intricate details about, say, the career of Oscar Gamble, I could barely tell you which teams were in the playoffs.


It wasn’t until my first faculty appointment ten years ago, at a small, then-NAIA school with a baseball program on life-support that I got into coaching, simply to help out the head coach who had no assistant. This is when I re-discovered my love for the game and found my second career.


Sixth Inning – How do you balance life as a professor and life as a baseball coach?

I have a lot of help from the university, and especially from my bosses. They have been great. The chair of the Math department, Dr. David Hecker, allows me to bunch my classes in the morning to minimize conflict. I have also been fortunate to work for two head coaches – Shawn Pender and now Fritz Hamburg – who not only understand but appreciate my faculty responsibilities. Without their help it would be much more difficult. I have some very long days during the season but there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.


Seventh Inning – Do you miss much class time during the season?

I don’t miss any time. I’m a full-time professor so that has to come first, as it should. Just like our players, I, too, have to keep my priorities straight. Sometimes I’ll miss part of pre-game for midweek games, and maybe miss the first game of a distant road trip because of Friday morning classes. My administrators are kind enough to arrange for me to bus or fly in a day later. If the high school season is underway, then I might stay back altogether and recruit.


Eighth Inning – What courses are you teaching this semester?

I’m teaching four stat classes – two for social science majors, and two for biology majors. The latter involves more probability and, generally speaking, more theory. Of course, I always find a way to work in some baseball examples – the one I like to use is a study of the relationship between major league teams’ payrolls and their winning percentages. This past season, the Tampa Bay Rays provided further discussion on how outliers (i.e. unusual data values) affect such a study.


Ninth Inning – What is your favorite baseball statistic?

This can be answered in two ways. My favorite statistical category is on-base percentage, if only because it was the one thing that resonated most when I got into Bill James’ books. At the time it was something you barely heard about or read in the newspapers. Now the ability to reach base is widely understood to be a hitter’s most important asset. OBP and its current wide-scale acceptance signify how far baseball research has come over the years.


My favorite statistics compiled by a player has to be Dave Kingman’s totals from his 1982 season with the Mets. I can honestly recite them from memory: 35 homers, 99 RBI … and a .204 batting average. He topped it off with a grand total of nine doubles and one triple. For some strange reason which I can’t quite explain, I find that to be almost beautiful. (I guess it’s like the weird kid in American Beauty who videotaped the napkin blowing around in the wind.)


Extra Innings (or Extra Credit) – If the St. Joe’s bus leaves Philadelphia at 10 a.m. traveling south at 55 mph and the Florida Atlantic bus leaves Boca Raton at 11 a.m. heading north at 65 mph, what time and where would the Hawks and Owls meet for a game?

Well, let’s see … by the time FAU leaves its campus, we’ll be in Elkton, MD about 1,114 miles apart. We’ll both be on the road for another 1114/(55+65) = 9.28 hours, meeting up (9.28 x 65) = 603.2 miles from their campus. So with a two-hour pre-game, we’re looking at a 12:17 a.m. starting time the next day, in Timmonsville, S.C., hopefully under lights somewhere.


Now that’s the mathematician’s answer – computed under ideal, overly-simplified conditions. The realistic answer has us meeting north of Washington, D.C. where we’d still be stuck in traffic.


 (Photos courtesy of Saint Joseph's Media Relations Office)