mlbam wapo

Everybody knows Major League Baseball Advanced Media is an unkillable beast, funnelling huge products through their industry leading products and willingness to crush any and all competitors without a second thought.

Which makes MLBAM’s recent decision to open up their very private and well-guarded API (application programming interface) for a programming/development contest kind of a big deal. Luckily, it’s MLBAM so the only people who really stand to benefit is Major League Baseball Advanced Media.


The challenge, Bases Coded, is part of MLBAM’s major gaming initiative and will offer teams the opportunity to hack at the convergence of sports and technology while utilizing MLBAM’s private data API.

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During the competition, participating teams will be able to interface with MLBAM’s technologists, developers and engineers with the selected finalists showcasing their projects to a panel of industry experts and a live audience at an Internet Week NY event this May. The grand prize will be awarded to the winning team at that event after the judging concludes.

Thanks in no small part to recent examples of MLB properties crowdsourcing their logo design (to say nothing of publicly funded stadia), my initial reaction to the “Bases Coded” campaign was one of considerable skepticism. Another example of paying very little for what is very expensive work.

On the other hand, making pening all the pitch f/x data to scraping by engineering database managers lead to a Great Leap Forward in analysis and understanding through the available technology, the creativity of the many can often outweigh the impact of the few.

Reaching out to a few software developers for their reaction, I realized not everyone is hardened shell over a withering husk of a soul like me. Some found the opportunity to tool around with MLBAM’s API a great opportunity to create something cool.

Ruhee Dewji is a Toronto-based developer, hardcore Jays fan (Calgary Flames, too. Nobody is perfect) who thinks Bases Coded might produce something exciting.

I imagine having access to the MLBAM private data API might get more than a few developers excited because of the potential wealth of easily accessible information. I like the specification of “students, professionals and hobbyists”–encouraging to pretty much everyone who wants to give it a try.

There’s great potential for making stats/data accessible to a wider audience, I think, which is likely the direction I’d lean. And there are a lot (A LOT) of developers into baseball, so this could end up being amazing if the right people get involved.

Ruhee echoes the sentiment of a programming executive I spoke with, suggesting MLBAM is throwing the net out wide, hoping for a spark of innovation they might turn over to their own dev team to turn the dream into reality. MLBAM’s development team produced the beloved At Bat application, so it isn’t as if they’re half-assed in this regard.

The wording on the press release is interesting in that it is very non-specific: create…something. Data visualization, like Ruhee suggests? Something to compete with Bloomberg – more nuts and bolts baseball know-how as Halifax-based programmer Luke DeWitt told me he tinkered with in the past? By leaving it open, developers are free to create to their heart’s content.

If they build something truly impressive, MLBAM can cut a check and be half-way to another moneymaker. They can always pull the plug on their private API if anyone gets a little too greedy, rendering all the time and effort wasted.

The terms of use are not yet available but, rest assured, there will be highly specific wording on ownership of anything created for purposes of this project. No matter who gets paid or how much, the fans are sure to benefit: smart people working with other smart people for my entertainment? I like our chances.