Tuesday, July 04, 2006
SABR 36 -- An Awesome Baseball Nut's Dream Convention in Seattle
SABR 36 in Seattle, held June 28-July 1, was heaven on earth for baseball fans from all over the world. With over 500 members in attendance, it was the most successful convention the organization has ever hosted west of the Mississippi. The Society of American Baseball Research, for those who don’t know, is a group of about 7,000 baseball nuts, or “seam heads” as many people call them, who study the game from every perspective and angle known to man. There are basically two factions within SABR – those who are into the stats and analyze them; and those who are into the history of the game, studying it and chronicling it. I would put myself in the latter category. I hate math – I always got D’s in arithmetic in school and eventually developed a phobia for numbers. On the other hand, ever since I got an “A” in fifth-grade history for my incredible version of a Mesopotamian ziggurat made out of sugar cubes – I have been hooked on studying and interpreting the past. What inspired me to join SABR four years ago was the book by Lawrence Ritter titled, “The Glory of Our Times” in which he interviewed retired baseball players from the 1910’s. When I read their stories, I became enamored with both their history and the way it revolved around the game I love. Upon joining SABR, I immediately jumped onboard the organization's Oral History Committee. Since then I have interviewed over 30 retired players. I love to hear their stories and history. I don’t ask them about specific games and, of course, I try to stay away from stats. I want to know the juicy stuff – who liked to imbibe; their relations with umpires; altering the field or their equipment to gain an advantage; fights they got into on and possibly off the field, stealing signs, bench jockeying – things like that. And most of the time I get candid answers. Overall, SABR 36 was a great experience – just getting to meet fellow baseball fanatics and talking baseball is always a treat. There were so many fascinating people there – I actually met a descendant of Abner Doubleday as well as Bill Rigney's daughter. I can’t wait to attend SABR 37 next year in St. Louis.
Some of the highlights of SABR 36 included:
SAFECO field tour: All I can say is “Wow!” What an awesome park. We got to go in the dugout and other places fans don’t have access to. (See photo) I would recommend this tour to anyone!
Seattle Pilots Reunion: Jim Bouton, Mike Marshall, Jim Pagliaroni and Steve Hovley all played with the Seattle Pilots in 1969 – the only year of their existence. Their anecdotes were funny and the re-telling of great old stories held everyone’s attention for nearly 2 hours!
PCL Reunion: Eddie Basinski, Dick Fitzgerald, Ed Mickelson, Wes Stock and Edo Vanni talked about their remembrances of their experiences playing in the Pacific Coast League. Whether they played for the Portland Beavers, the Seattle Rainiers or the Vancouver Mounties, these guys had great stories about baseball in the PCL, long before MLB invaded the area in 1958.
Research Presentations: From subjects like “Can Additional On-base percentage Be Worth Three Times More Than Additional Slugging Average?” to “The Tragic Tale of Tony Horton”, the research presentations were many and varied. My two personal favorites were “Rube Kroh: The Unsung Hero of ‘Merkle’s Boner’” by Richard Danko and “Do Players Outperform in Their Free-Agent Year?” by Phil Birnbaum.
Meeting Jim Bouton: Jim Bouton, Author of “Ball Four”, was accessible and highly approachable during the whole convention. (Unlike Mike Marshall who refused to sign autographs and seemed putt-offish.) At one point, I told Bouton that his book had changed my life and in my frat days in college I was known as the “cake decorator” (inside joke). He smiled as well as grimaced. “Thanks a lot. I’m meeting some friends for dinner and now I have a great visual to go with it.”
“Just don’t order cake, Jim and you’ll be all right,” I replied.
Judging Presentations: I volunteered as a judge, but there was so much work and effort put into each presentation that I found I was giving everyone perfect scores. So, I didn’t turn in any of my evaluation forms when I realized I was having difficulty being objective. I hope I’m not in trouble.
Oral History Committee Meeting: We were originally supposed to interview Jim Pagliaroni, but he couldn’t guarantee us that he would be there, so in a pinch we got Johnny O’Brien, a former All-American college basketball player and utility player for the Pirates and Braves in the 50’s. His stories were incredibly entertaining. We had wanted to get his twin brother Eddie to come too, but he was out of town. Maybe that was a good thing, too – we hear he’s still unhappy about the things Bouton wrote about him in Ball Four. (He was a coach with the Pilots in 1969 and he and Bouton didn’t get along.)
For more information about SABR, which is a great organization that I highly receommend joining, visit their web site at: www.sabr.org.
(Please note: Rod Nelson from SABR informed me that I could not have met a descendant of Abner Doubleday's at the convention, because none was present, but the person I did meet was probably Alexander Joy Cartwright IV, the great grandson of the true inventor of baseball. Thanks, Rod.)