Posted by Neil Paine on August 18, 2009
Have you ever played the old "6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game? If not, the basic premise is that any actor can be linked through his or her film roles to Kevin Bacon within six steps -- it's sort of an exercise in social network analysis for the acting community, with Bacon at the center. And why Bacon? Well, he's somewhat unique in that he takes on starring roles in some movies and small parts in a variety of other films, giving him many chances to connect with wide range of fellow actors. Hence, he's become the "center of the network", the link that connects every other part in the fewest number of steps.
Why on earth are we discussing this on a baseball blog? Well, here at Baseball-Reference we have a tool called The Oracle of Baseball that can allow you to play the Bacon Game baseball-style, substituting ballplayers for actors and teammates for film colleagues. One thing the Oracle can do is automatically find the shortest chain between any two players in MLB history -- for instance, the shortest chain between Pete Rose and Ty Cobb is four steps. It can also tell you how "connected" a player is -- that is, how many players can connect with him in x number of steps, as well as the average number of steps needed to connect him with every other player in MLB history (as an example, here's Pedro Martinez).
So at this point you're probably wondering, who is baseball's Kevin Bacon? The center of the baseball universe, so to speak? Well, we can answer that as well, thanks to this page listing the most connected players in MLB history. The answer? Warren Spahn! Somehow, "6 Degrees of Warren Spahn" doesn't really have the same ring to it, though. And we can also tell you the least linkable players ever, which is actually kind of sad... Poor Ed Duffy.
Anyway, I hope you learned a lot about this Baseball-Reference feature. It's not really brand-new, but we wanted to make everyone aware of it, because it's pretty cool. And it may help you win big if you ever find yourself playing the "6 Degrees of Warren Spahn" game with your friends.