Until he reached junior college, Jeff Barto was cut from every baseball team he ever tried out for.
Yet the 53-year old Huntersville resident is on the verge of accomplishing something in America's pastime that no one has before.
The Ken Burns documentary "Baseball" is revered as a powerful video history of the nation's oldest professional sport. Barto, a UNCCharlotte professor, is completing a voluminous searchable database, or index, of every name, team, quote and photograph from the 181/2-hour series, which was released in 1994.
What's Barto's motivation? He leans on the film to support his instruction for his Department of Kinesiology class titled "Baseball Through History and Playing," which he has taught since 2005. The class is so popular that spring enrollment fills up and students have to be turned away.
A member of the Society of American Baseball Research, Barto said SABR has agreed to give the "Baseball" index a permanent home on its website. He is trying to find a publisher to release it in print.
For most casual baseball fans, taking on such a task would be worse than having bet on the Chicago White Sox to win the 1919 World Series.
With Professor Barto, you could say it ain't so.
In fact, poring over the 40 file boxes of documents and photographs stored at a UNCChapel Hill library over the last year has made Barto as giddy as the kid he used to be in the 1960s, taking in his beloved hometown Pittsburgh Pirates' games at Forbes Field.
SABR gave him a $1,000 grant to cover his expenses for staying in Chapel Hill to do his research. During spring and winter breaks, he said, he would help open and close the library doors, staying there from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and spending more than 100 hours digging through materials.
Barto can pinpoint exactly when he became so passionate about baseball history and statistics. It was when MacMillan publishers released its first Baseball Encyclopedia, the reference book that lists the statistics of every player who has ever played Major League Baseball.
"There I am in 1969, drinking in all the numbers that stay with me today," he said.
As a teenager, Barto became a game-day vendor at the Pirates' next home park, Three Rivers Stadium, in the early 1970s. Speaking fondly of a time in baseball history before zealous professional memorabilia collectors and mega-million-dollar contracts started limiting fans' access to players, Barto said he began gathering souvenirs from some of the game's stars.
Among his collection, Barto said, he has about 300 8-by-10-inch autographed photographs; bats that once belonged to Hall-of-Famers Joe Morgan and Carl Yazstremski; a Pete Rose uniform jersey; and ticket stubs from games played in 1905.
He hawked a Jim Palmer jersey in 1990 for $3,500 to pay for an engagement ring for his wife-to-be. He sometimes brings to class an 1800s-style uniform with "Pittsburg" (without the "h") stitched across the chest, along with other relics such as a lemon-peel ball, a fingerless glove and a mushroom-ended bat.
Six years ago, the chairman of the Department of Kinesiology was so impressed with Barto's collection that he asked him whether he would be interested in teaching a baseball history class.
"I said, 'Are you kidding me?'"
Barto teaches the class in such a way that you are just as likely to learn about Moses Fleetwood Walker - an African-American who played in one of the major leagues of the 1880s - as you are about Jackie Robinson.
"I tell students this class is about winning barroom bets," "Most of you are of the ESPN age. You know what they show you. Do you dig into anything beyond what they show you? You (would) know how you can steal first base. ..."
Look up the name "Germany Schaefer" and you'll find out.
And since "playing" is in the title of the class, students actually get to play ball. Barto divides his 44 students into four teams and has them play a round-robin softball tournament during the final weeks.
Forty-four ... hmm. Can you name three famous sluggers from the 1960s and '70s who famously wore that uniform number?
How about Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey and Reggie Jackson?
You can bet on it.