Touring the Bases Withâ€¦D. Bruce Brown
D. Bruce Brown is the chairman of the Bob Davids Chapter of the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR). The chapter serves the Mid-Atlantic region of the country and is the oldest SABR chapter–named for the founder of SABR, Washington, DC resident, Bob Davids. D. Bruce Brown has attended the last ten SABR national conventions and is an excellent representative of the organization, knowledgeable about it at the national and local chapter level. More importantly, he can tell you about the new “Moneyball” movie and just about everything baseball under the sun. We were fortunate enough to have him as the guest on the Outta the Parkway Show on Friday to provide a report on the national convention held a few weeks ago in Los Angeles.
TL. In our email exchange, you described the recent SABR convention as approaching “Nirvana.” Â Is that because of the trivia contest that you co-host or the experience overall?
DBB. I was referring to the entire convention experience overall, but the trivia contest is an entertaining part of the convention experience. We met this year in Long Beach, California. This was SABR’s 41st annual convention. The first was held as SABR was being organized in upstate New York in August of 1971. Â It was attended by 16 media types along with Bob Davids and it has been held ever since then. I think the second convention may have been held in someone’s home in Arlington, Virginia in 1972. Â I did not join until 1997, but I would have joined long ago had I known what SABR was or would become.
TL. You have attended ten straight conventions, is that correct?
DBB. Yes, I got to wear my 10-year ribbon this year.
TL. What were some of the highlights of this convention for you personally? Too few of us Seamheads get to go to the event very often, so could you share your experiences with us?
DBB. There were two highlights for me, one of which was the presentation by super agent Scott Boras. Â There were probably five or six hundred people in the room for his speech and all of them were ready to hate him, rotten tomatoes at the ready, but an hour later we were completely charmed. He is very articulate as you might expect, but he is a ballplayer. He started as a ballplayer, talked about being a ballplayer, and talked about what he could and could not do as a player. Almost anyone who joins a baseball organization,or anyone who talks about it on the radio, or writes about it, has played baseball. And I think we all start there. Some of us were better than others, and we can relate to someone who is really good and that is why we are fans, because we love to watch people who are excellent at the game.
Well, Scott was “pretty good.” He played in the minor leagues. And he talked about that and about going to law school when he realized he was not going to get his chance to play major league ball. Through a set of circumstances, he had a chance to represent players. And he talked about his opportunity to help Greg Maddux get the first five-year contract and to help Kevin Brown get the first $100 million contract. What he did was he really out-prepared the people across the table from him. He did not out-prepare them by a few paragraphs; he out-prepared them by multiples. He prepared just like a lawyer would ready to go to court. He had every possible statistic. He was so ready for the trial that there was no way he could lose.
It is not hard to see why he is not liked by the baseball establishment, because he does the homework that they don’t. And he wins the negotiation. They may win the press conference afterwards, but his client, the player who is many times deemed unworthy by the press and the fans, has just walked away with an enormous contract. And that feeds into his success. He did not talk about this in a braggadocio way. It was almost a self-effacing way, as if to say, “What else would you expect me to do?”
He did not demean the competition, he just said “We have had some success and this is how we did it.” He got a rousing ovation and there was an extended question and answer period and frankly, we could have let him go on for another hour.
TL. We had a player rep on several weeks ago, Josh Kusnick, and he made the connection between the player rep and the union–how the player reps are certified by the union before they can represent big league players. As you were talking I could not help thinking about what he said. Did Boras mention that connection because you certainly have to admit they both win against ownership by out preparing for the negotiations. Did Boras mention the union?
DBB. No, he did not, but the thought I had as I listened to him was that these owners are typically people for whom baseball is not a full-time focus, they have businesses to run, they have means, reasons why they became wealthy enough to own a team and they continue in those pursuits.
But any CEO, industry captain let’s say, tends to be confident because they are not accustomed to losing. Â But in this case you are going to lose if you don’t prepare. And I think that is what is going on and I think that is why Boras continues to win big contracts and why he continues to lose popularity with the average fan who says this has ruined baseball and the salaries are out of control and these are mind-bending numbers. Boras says, that is true, but we are going to continue to prepare and continue to win.
CG (Chip Greene). What team do you follow? Ted and I follow the two local teams, and I wonder which one you prefer?
DBB. Chip, do you mind if I talk a little about the Bob Davids Chapter of SABR a minute first. We were the first chapter formed when it became apparent that chapters would be an appropriate way to divide SABR. Â We have been holding Chapter conventions ourselves since just after SABR began holding their own conventions. We hold ours at the end of January every year when people are ready for some baseball. We hold two other large meetings every year. We have a major league meeting every year where we attend a major league game–on a rotation between the Nationals and the Orioles each year. The meeting generally begins at 2 pm in the afternoon and we have a speaker from the team. We have had general managers, ball players and announcers. Those are well-attended sessions and then we go to the ball game together after being fed by the team.
Then we have a minor league game meeting each year that parallels that format. We try to rotate around to the various minor league affiliates in our chapter. Our geographic region includes central Pennsylvania, parts of West Virginia, all of Virginia, DC, Maryland and southern Delaware. So we have held these meetings in Richmond, in Harrisburg, and this year we were over in Delmarva to watch the Shorebirds.
Part of our intention is to use these meetings to bring SABR to people who don’t necessarily live near a center of population. They are still members; they are still baseball fans. With these three meetings, we get together a lot. We have smaller monthly meetings. We have “Hot Stove” in Arlington, VA. We have “Talkin Baseball” once a week in Columbia, MD where we have a baseball author come to talk. We had Jane Leavey just a month or so ago there. We are the largest chapter and the most active and that is because we are blessed with having two major league teams and a lot of great volunteers who love to get together and talk baseball.
CG. What is your impression of how SABR is received overall by organized baseball at the professional level, by major league teams, minor league teams?
DBB. Â That is great question. Â When representatives of the clubs address SABR groups, when they take the lectern, they say they are a little nervous to talk to you guys, because while they are typically the people in their circles who know the most about baseball, they are afraid that we know so much more than they do and of course that is just not true. We are social about it, but we are fans of the game. We are also researchers. People join SABR for a lot of different reasons. We have about 6,500 members world wide.
We are NOT just SABRmetricians; we are not just merely stat heads. There are people who might make that their specialty, but it was Bill James–who has been a SABR member for a long time–who invented the term SABRmetrician, and he said that almost as soon as it was out of his mouth he regretted it. It is a misnomer. People who are SABR members are baseball fans who congregate and are maybe one tick more serious than the average fan about their baseball. They are fans who keep score at games and who read three or four baseball books each year. It’s hard to build a profile of an average SABR member. I thought SABR was a bunch of mathematicians, but once I attended a meeting I came back and told my wife, “I have found my people.”
The perception of the baseball establishment is that we don’t know what it’s like; we don’t know the smell of the clubhouse, that we don’t know at all about real baseball. Â That is going to be portrayed dramatically by the movie that is about to be released this September based on the book,Â Moneyball.
Different chapters enjoy different relationships with their ball clubs. The Nationals and Orioles are always accommodating when we ask them to host us. Â When the chapters have a single team with which to build a relationship, there has been some success in building a relationship. I am thinking specifically about Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Colorado. Those chapters have tables set up at those ball parks where they solicit SABR membership. They hold meetings regularly with those teams. Ownership of those teams are very interested in SABR and in Pittsburgh’s case, they have come to SABR for analysis of prospects. Houston has a similar relationship.
In this area most of our membership is located closer to Washington than Baltimore and we would like to have a tighter relationship with the Nationals. I don’t know how that can be facilitated, but we certainly have many fans who welcomed the team back here when that similarly long-suffering Montreal franchise was moved here.
TL. You are actually a San Francisco Giants fan if I remember correctly, is that right?
DBB. That is correct. It is just an accident of geography. My dad was in graduate school at Berkeley when the Giants moved to San Francisco and I attended my first game at Candlestick Park in 1961. When I see a uniform of what I consider to be my home team, it’s no question who I am going to root for. It’s just visceral.
CG. So the World Series last year kind of made your day because the Orioles don’t look like they are headed that way for a long time?
DBB. I had always hoped the Orioles and the Giants would play in the World Series and we could have a completely Orange and Black World Series.
TL. From your objective perspective what are the two local teams doing right and…?
DBB. Let’s work at it from the other end. I have never seen two teams so linked by bad ownership. Both teams could do a lot more to promote baseball and enhance themselves in the community. Washington has the advantage of having one of the best newspapers in the country and some of the best and most observant baseball writers like Tom Boswell and Dave Sheinin. But Baltimore tends to let their senior sports writers go as soon as they achieve any experience.
TL/CG. Chip and I are both SABR members and hope to be more active in the local chapters in the near future.
DBB. We are going to hold your feet to the fire on that. We would certainly like to hear more about how Seamheads works and how podcasting works.
TL/CG. Sounds like a plan. Â Thanks for coming on the show.