April 20, 2014

Talking Baseball…A Lot of It

July 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Eric Weiss was in trouble.

The “practicing attorney and unapologetic Yankees fan” from Scarsdale was wrapping up a 25-minute seminar called Baseball’s Greatest Postseason Series, when a handful of people in the Pacific Room of the Long Beach Hilton began to squirm.

The battle he was recounting was the 1912 Chicago City Series between the Cubs and White Sox that technically was played in the postseason. In other words, it was an exhibition series.

“How can you call this the greatest one ever, when it’s not even the playoffs or World Series?” blurted out one senior citizen attending the 41st SABR Convention. A couple other folks in the audience followed suit with variations on the same question, but a research committee meeting on statistical analysis was booked to use the room in two minutes, so Weiss bailed himself out by calmly and repeatedly stating that the series he had spent considerable time researching and documenting with wonderful slides, was “thrilling.” When I told a visiting baseball writer shortly afterwards about Weiss’ talk and the problems he had convincing the audience of the series’ greatness, the writer just shrugged and said, “Hey. He liked it, so who cares?”

The moment captured the Society for American Baseball Research’s annual convention in a peanut shell: Almost no subject is unworthy of a half hour presentation if the research is thorough, interesting graphs and/or slides are prepared, and the speaker’s points are clearly expressed.

SABR ConventionAnd there was a treasure trove of things to talk about at this year’s event. Feel like a pictorial history of Mexican baseball from East L.A. to Dodger Stadium? Richard Santillan and Francisco Balderrama had that. How about a talk on Ken Williams’ career, from Oregon to the St. Louis Browns? Steve Krevisky, President of SABR’s Smoky Joe Wood Chapter in Connecticut, was your tour guide. Well-respected SABR stats speakers Phil Birnbaum and Dave Smith had number-happy talks on home field advantage and pitching rotations, respectively.

There were separate seminars on Larry Doby’s integration into Cleveland and the 1971 trade of Joe Morgan from the Astros to the Reds. Daryl Grigsby had a compelling one showing how the failure to integrate the Washington Senators, Pittsburgh Pirates, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies seriously weakened those franchises during the 1950s. GIS technology was used to pinpoint the location of long-vanished Washington Park in Indianapolis. In a newsworthy presentation, Herm Krabbenhoft and Trent McCotter cross-checked newspaper accounts to determine once and for all that both Lou Gehrig (1931) and Hank Greenberg (1937) tied for the American League all-time RBI mark for a season, with 184.

If you think this SABR conventions was just for the statistical-headed, though, you’d be wrong. There were bus trips to local ball games (this time featuring a Dodgers game, Angels game, and California League game in Lake Elsinore), a baseball film festival that ran in the Atlantic Room for four days and showed everything from Bugs Bunny baseball cartoons to Eight Men Out.

And then there were the panel discussions, every one engaging. A General Managers Panel moderated by Rob Neyer featured GMs Jed Hoyer, Fred Claire and Dan Evans. Baseball injury expert Will Carroll moderated a medical panel featuring the Dodgers’ team physician, a former Angels’ trainer, and Dr. Kevin Wilk, Associate Clinical Director for Champion Sports Medicine. A panel on the four decades of SABR included an all-star cast of former Dodger Wes Parker, former White Sox and Orioles GM Roland Hemond, author and MLB historian John Thorn, John Dewan of Baseball Info Solutions and player agent Dennis Gilbert. A three-hour “FanGraphs Live” event on the second night spotlighted moderators Neyer, Jonah Keri and Carson Cistulli and spotlighted among many others Rich Lederer of Baseball Analysts, the man who campaigned tirelessly to get Bert Blyleven into the Hall of Fame. A Players Panel on the last morning saw Tommy Davis, Al Ferrara and Del Crandall in the International Ballroom doing nothing but telling great baseball stories.

Still, the jewel in the SABR championship ring are the presentations, and there are so many to choose from that if you attend a future convention it’s hard to not find one that suits your level of research diving. My personal favorite was Steve Treder and Anthony Giacalone’s riveting retelling of the 1965 Dodgers/Giants pennant race, which was so well dramatically structured they were allowed to go for a full hour. I could have sat there for three.

Jeff Polman’s fictional replay blogs of the 1924 and 1977 seasons can be visited at http://1924andyouarethere.blogspot.com and http://funkyball.wordpress.com. His current venture is The Bragging Rights League, (http://braggingleague.wordpress.com), a “blogella” that flip-flops baseball’s infamous racist past.

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