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Early moneyball

Sixty years ago, Don Knuth helped the basketball team achieve new heights.

As the men’s basketball team celebrated a magical season, some recalled another time when a Case team surprised.

In the late 1950s, Donald Knuth ’60, MS ’60, PhD, was discovering his love for computer programming at Case Institute of Technology. Knuth famously mastered the school’s early IBM 650 mainframe. At the time, the inquisitive teen was also manager of the school’s lackluster basketball team. He went to work engineering more wins.

As recounted in The Daily, CWRU’s online news source, Knuth devised a system to rank players based on scoring, steals, rebounds, and other performance factors. He fed the data into the computer via punch cards, then shared the insight with Coach Phil “Nip” Heim.

How much the new metrics helped is debatable, but the team did improve Early moneyball Sixty years ago, Don Knuth helped the basketball team achieve new heights. dramatically. After going 6-10 the previous season, the Rough Riders in 1958-59 achieved a 13-4 record.

What’s more, the use of an “electronic computer” tapped the public imagination, and the team and its whiz-kid manager were featured on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Knuth would go on to greater fame as the author of the classic, multi-volume series The Art of Computer Programming.

“This series of books,” the author wrote, “is affectionately dedicated to the Type 650 computer once installed at Case Institute of Technology, in remembrance of many pleasant evenings.”

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