I finally made it to a SABR convention, and was it ever worth the wait. This year’s convention took place in Long Beach, which meant that I could attend with relative ease (having to catch a plane is usually a deal-breaker for me, but a two-hour drive is no problem).
The festivities began on Wednesday, but I didn’t head up there until Thursday. The original plan had me commuting from San Diego every day. On arriving at the hotel, I quickly changed that plan on account of it sucked.
I booked a room, picked up my convention badge, and wandered into the annual business meeting. I missed Scott Boras’ keynote address that preceded the business meeting, but a video is available. Also, one of the many fine folks I met at the convention — Mike Luery — cornered Boras for a one-on-one interview, which he is posting in installments at his blog (first one focuses on Washington Nationals uberprospect Bryce Harper).
After enjoying lunch and drinks with the Baseball Think Factory crowd (see Aaron Gleeman’s excellent recap for a list of names), I listened to a panel of distinguished speakers (Dave Cameron of FanGraphs, Sean Forman of Baseball-Reference, and others) discuss the future of baseball media coverage. Ever-increasing accessibility was the primary focus.
At the panel’s conclusion, I hob-nobbed with Sam Miller (Orange County Register), Gleeman, Colin Wyers (my esteemed colleague at Baseball Prospectus), Forman, and MLB.com’s Corey Schwartz. I also met a fellow named Jeff Polman, who… well, I’ll let him explain:
The Bragging Rights League is a fictional baseball replay “blogella,” told in 22 weekly chapters posted every Sunday. What if history were flopped on its end, and a team of 1941 white stars were inserted into the thriving, all-black major league for a hotly contested 60-game season? Would Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Bob Feller be able to hold their own against the likes of Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston and Satchel Paige? And what might happen to the players off the field? Heck, let’s find out.
On Thursday evening, FanGraphs did its thing for three hours, which felt more like one hour. There was a panel on the local teams that featured Miller, Rich Lederer (Baseball Analysts), Eric Stephen (True Blue LA), and Jon Weisman (Dodger Thoughts). The estimable Jonah Keri moderated. As you might imagine, much of the discussion centered on the McCourt fiasco, although the panel did discuss the Angels as well… mostly Miller noting that catcher Jeff Mathis can’t hit.
There was a third panel, but I forget what it was. Afterward, I chatted with Polman, Eno Sarris (FanGraphs), Cistuli, and Ryan Kaltenbach. Then the festivities spilled over to the hotel lobby bar, where I hung out with Stephen and one of his readers.
We talked ’70s and ’80s Dodgers (I am a full-fledged Padres fan now, but I cannot betray my roots) for much of the night, with me lamenting Tommy Lasorda’s decision to start Dave Goltz over Fernando Valenzuela in the one-game playoff against Houston in 1980. But Rick Monday’s 1981 homer against Montreal’s Steve Rogers healed all wounds (although we were careful not to mention this to Keri). We agreed that Steve Garvey’s number should be retired by no one.
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On Friday, I caught Bill Staples Jr.’s fascinating presentation on the Japanese-American Nisei Leagues. It focused on the efforts in the ’20s and ’30s of Kenichi Zenimura, about whom Staples has written a book. Staples also mentioned a movie called American Pastime (starring, among others, Gary Cole of Office Space fame) that I now must see.
Steve Treder (Hardball Times) and Anthony Giacalone did a tag-team presentation chronicling the 1965 National League pennant race. Treder covered the Giants, while Giacalone covered the Dodgers. Good stuff…
After chatting with Lederer and Keri, I headed back to San Diego. Other convention attendees visited Dodger Stadium to watch the hometown club beat our beloved and woeful Padres. Wyers wasn’t impressed with the venue, which comes as no surprise since it hasn’t been a pleasant place to watch a ballgame in decades.
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I booked a room for Saturday night and this time brought Mrs. Ducksnorts with me. She hung out at the Long Beach Aquarium and Queen Mary while I got my geek on.
The next panel attempted to answer the question of whether veterans get preferential treatment from umpires in terms of balls and strikes called. There is evidence that they do. Among the many tidbits shared in this panel was the surprising fact that Padres catcher Rob Johnson got more strikes — as identified by PITCHf/x — called balls (11.4%) than any other player in MLB in 2009-2010 (min. 700 pitches). Who says the men in blue aren’t sympathetic?
David W. Smith (Retrosheet) then discussed starting pitcher usage over the years. Among many other things, he noted that stability in a pitching staff doesn’t correlate with quality. For example, the 1962 Mets and 1971 Orioles were about the same in terms of stability, but radically different in terms of quality.
Gennaro then presented his new Starting Pitcher Rating System. Not everyone was impressed with his efforts, but it’s a work in process that I found interesting. (Read more about it and the other Saturday panels here.)
Lunch. Beer. Chatter.
Saturday concluded with a GM panel that featured current Padres GM Jed Hoyer, as well as former Dodgers GMs Fred Claire and Dan Evans. Claire had the best stories, which makes sense given the amount of time he has spent in baseball. He talked about negotiations with Fernando Valenzuela, the differences between working for the O’Malleys and FOX News Corp (heh), and the regrettable decision to trade Pedro Martinez to Montreal.
Hoyer noted the challenges of operating a small-market team and insisted (as do I) that lack of funds cannot be used as an excuse for failing to field a competitive team. I chatted with Hoyer briefly after the panel. I would tell you a great story if I had one, but really, this is just gratuitous name dropping.
Then busloads of attendees trekked over to Angels Stadium for baseball (THT’s Chris Jaffe will tell you all about it, and more). Mrs. Ducksnorts and I skipped that, instead enjoying a lovely dinner.
After the game, we all met in the hotel lobby bar for more beer (you are sensing a theme, no?). Then there was a poker tournament. I watched and drank beer, but did not play. That broke up around 3 a.m. or thereabouts.
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On Sunday, after breakfast, I got to hear former Dodgers Tommy Davis and Al Ferrara (who also was an original member of the Padres) tell stories. They grew up in Brooklyn together (the sense of place East Coast folks seem to feel is something I’ve always envied a bit) and were a treat. Ferrara talked about the differences between the Dodgers and the Padres at that time (hint: one organization had more money than the other) and mentioned his appearances in such fine films as Dracula’s Dog, Mansion of the Doomed, and Riot on Sunset Strip.
Ferrara also had nice things to say about his manager in San Diego, the late Preston Gomez. And he shared a fun anecdote about his third base coach on that same team, the late Sparky Anderson. While playing under Anderson in Cincinnati, Ferrara misplayed a fly ball to left field and Anderson stared him down as he returned to the dugout after the inning. Ferrara, who had been acquired from the Padres for the immortal Angel Bravo, quipped to his skipper: “What did you want for Bravo, Willie Mays?”
I could have listened to those two talk all day. The video of their panel is well worth watching.
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This has dragged on long enough, but I must say one more thing. I had an absolute blast at SABR41. The presentations and panels were informative and entertaining, the conversations stimulating. If the convention comes to a town near you (it’ll be in Minnesota in 2012, Philadelphia in 2013), by all means attend.
Failing that, at least consider joining SABR. The organization is run by volunteers who are passionate about the game and their research. The work done by SABR over the years has advanced our knowledge and understanding of the world’s greatest sport in ways too numerous to count, and continues to do so today. These fine folks deserve your support.