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Thursday, April 17, 2003

Brandishing the SABRs

Chris takes a look at baseball’s Freemasons.

The Society for American Baseball Research, or as it is often called, SABR, is the organization for, oddly enough, individuals researching baseball.  It really is much more than that: it is an organization for learning about others’ research and an opportunity to provide peer review on a wide variety of topics.


SABR was formed in Cooperstown in 1971 by 16 men who thought such an organization should exist ’ one to help people produce and publish baseball research (Okay, that’s mostly clipped from the inside cover of one of the publications).  While baseball may not have been born in Cooperstown, SABR was.  Now the organization covers the globe and has well over 6000 members.


While the term "sabermetrics" is derived from SABR, statistical analysis is far from SABR’s sole, or even primary, focus.  SABR has committees and publications on nearly every aspect of baseball: Asian Baseball, Ballparks, Records (both kinds), Europe, Bibliography, Biographical, Business (chaired by Doug Pappas), Collegiate, Deadball Era, Latin America, Minors, Negro Leagues, 19th Century, Science, Scouts, Spring Training, Women, Umpires and Rules, and a few other categories.


SABR was recently highlighted in a Rob Neyer column regarding Bill Ford.  That’s the type of thing that most SABRen are involved with ’ researching the history.  This is done by poring over old newspapers and publications on weeekends at your local library, or better, at the Hall of Fame’s library.  SABRen found Ted Williams’ extra walks in 1941, Hack Wilson’s extra RBI in 1930 and discovered that Ty Cobb only had 4,189 hits.  Of course, Ty could have gotten two more, if he wanted to. 


Statistical analysis is a part of SABR ’ and a very good part. I recently received a publication called "The Best of By The Numbers".  The authors included Pete Palmer, Ron Shandler, Tom Ruane, Bill James, Rob Wood, Paul DePodesta, Mat Olkin, Rob Neyer, Jayson Stark and several other fantastic writers that some of you may or may not be familiar with from USENET ’ Harold Brooks and Clifford Blau being two of my favorite.  The SABR-L mailing list, available only to SABR members, contains regular contributions from (among others) Bill James, Clay Davenport, and Mike Emeigh.  Well-known writers like Keith Woolner are members of the organization.


SABR has two other publications for articles: "The National Pastime" (TNP) and "The Baseball Research Journal" (BRJ).  These two publications generally include some statistical analysis and historical articles, some biographical and some nostalgic.  Dayn Perry had a piece on Pedro’s 2000 season published in the 2001 issue of BRJ.  I haven’t received my 2002 BRJ, but Baseball Primer contributors Eric Enders, Vörös McCracken and Rob Wood are all thanked for their assistance in the 2002 TNP Editor’s Note.


SABR has a huge convention every year.  I have yet to attend, but I’m told the convention consists of non-stop baseball talk.  I snuck in plans to attend this year’s convention in Denver (July 10-13) when my wife wasn’t listening the other day.  Maybe this will teach her not to nod in agreement while pretending to listen.  The convention has presentations and discussion panels on all topics ’ Mike Emeigh’s recent series of articles grew out of his presentation at SABR 32 in Boston last summer.  The convention is always scheduled around the local team’s playing schedule.  This season will have Barry Bonds and the Giants in Coors Field followed by the Dodgers coming to town.  This year’s card has Goose Gossage, Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd, Leonard Koppett, Bill James presenting new original research with Rob Neyer, Gary Gillette, Andrew Zimbalist, and Tom Tippett.  There will be Dr. Robert Adair and Baseball Prospectus’ Rany Jazaryli on baseball at altitude.  There is a giant trivia contest.  And, if one so chooses, one can carouse all night arguing baseball with the likes of these guys and regular attendees like Sean Forman, Jim Furtado, Mike Emeigh and who knows who else.  If you can’t make a national convention, chances are that there is a regional chapter of SABR that will be meeting near you; SABR has regional chapters in the US, Canada, and around the glove.


If you come to Baseball Primer to talk and listen to baseball talk, the convention is just the place to go, or so I’m told.  Hopefully, I’ll know in a few months.


There are so many smaller benefits, like small articles similar to those posted here, books published by SABR, the SABR Bulletin, the SABR directory, the local chapter meetings, the mailing list and the members’ website that make it a great resource.


To find out more and possibly join, visit


Chris Dial Posted: April 17, 2003 at 06:00 AM | 20 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

   1. User unknown in local recipient table (Craig B) Posted: April 17, 2003 at 01:58 AM (#610417)
Nice piece, Chris. Thanks.

I am a new SABR member, just joined at the beginning of the year. Already, I am gobsmacked at the quality and quantity of the benefits of membership. It is pricey... the main reason I never joined before was the cost... but if I had known exactly how terrific the membership benefits were, I'd have joined years ago. I heartily encourage anyone and everyone to join.
   2. Mike Emeigh Posted: April 17, 2003 at 01:58 AM (#610419)
TNJ and BRJ are published annually.

-- MWE
   3. Sean Forman Posted: April 17, 2003 at 01:58 AM (#610420)
I'll be attending the convention as well, and if anyone wants to sit in a Primer seating section for the main game, look me up at the convention and give my your ticket chit and I'll get a group of tickets for everyone.

I'm toying with a night out to the Rockpile on another night, but haven't finalized any plans.
   4. Mike Emeigh Posted: April 17, 2003 at 01:58 AM (#610421)
If any of you readers choose to join SABR via the online interface at the Web site, E-mail me a copy of the confirmation message that you receive and I'll put you on SABR-L right away.

-- MWE
   5. CFiJ Posted: April 18, 2003 at 01:58 AM (#610425)
I've been thinking about joining for a while, but have wondered if the benefits (other than the warm fuzzy feeling of supporting SABR) outweigh the costs. How often are TNP & BRJ published?

The value of a SABR membership also depends greatly on how much you put into it. If you join a number of research committees or get actively involved in your local chapter, you'll reap much more benefits (tangible and intangible) than if you just sit back and receive the free newsletters and whatnot. Casual fans can of course join and enjoy SABR, but I'm not sure casual fans really get the most out of it...
   6. Bob T Posted: April 18, 2003 at 01:58 AM (#610427)
I think an overwhelming majority of members of SABR are just "consumers" and not "producers".

The activity of the membership varies a lot by region. The Northeast seems to have the most active membership.

The South, with the exception of Florida, is not exactly a SABR hotbed.

According to the online directory, NY has the most members with 782 followed by California with 744.

Wyoming and Alaska are the tailenders with 5 each.
   7. Chris Dial Posted: April 18, 2003 at 01:58 AM (#610430)
One - Mike Emeigh did a lot to clean up the article before it was sent to the editor (who is Dan Szymborski, who we all thank). I want to thank Mike openly and loudly.

Two - Jonathon - excellent. Couldn't be more appropriate.

Three- Neal, I know. I should be. When I joined I wasn't as involved analytically with baseball in general. I didn't apply myself until about 1997-8. I'll update my interests.

Four - thanks to everyone for the comments.
   8. MGL Posted: April 21, 2003 at 01:58 AM (#610442)
I'm planning on attending for the first time this year. Anyone know what I need to do? Also, I'd like to present a paper (got lots of ideas). What do I need to do for that if it's not too late?
   9. Mike Emeigh Posted: April 21, 2003 at 01:58 AM (#610448)
To register for the SABR convention in Denver, go to the SABR Web site and click on the Convention link - that will take you to the main convention page, which has a convenient link for online registration for the convention and for online registration at the convention hotel as well.

Unfortunately, it is too late to submit a paper for SABR 33; the deadline for research presentation submissions was in mid-March.

-- MWE
   10. MGL Posted: April 21, 2003 at 01:58 AM (#610452)
Thanks, MWE. I second Crack's suggestion! Maybe I'll submit something to them anyway and see what they think...
   11. Mike Emeigh Posted: April 21, 2003 at 01:58 AM (#610453)

SABR is about more than *just* statistical analysis. There are going to be many papers presented on a variety of topics covering the history of baseball - there were more than enough submissions to fill the schedule, and based on the proposals that I saw (I was one of the reviewers) there were more than enough good ones so that some good ones had to be bounced from the schedule as it is. I can't imagine that the research chair could consider any late submission, no matter how good, and be able to justify bouncing someone from the schedule. And yes, there are people studying the history of baseball who do work of a quality that equals or exceeds MGL's analytical work - and I'm not kidding either.

-- MWE
   12. MGL Posted: April 21, 2003 at 01:58 AM (#610456)
MWE, fair enough! Didn't know they had so many submissions. Next year, I'll have to get my act together earlier. But equal or BETTER? Come on!

Just kidding of course. I have no doubt that much of the historical research is of MUCH better quality.

Actually, I was working on some real good research on Coors Field effects, sort of an extension on what I had done a couple of years ago, as well as an in depth analysis of which players would/do benefit from Coors moreso than others, using some of my new "park factor" stuff. I'll put together something and bring it with me and maybe present it over a couple of beers...
   13. Chris Dial Posted: April 23, 2003 at 01:59 AM (#610483)
David and Pssst,
have you guys ever heard of Babe Ruth? That'd be baseball history. What about Ted Williams? Jackie Robinson?

It's not "jerk-ish", David, it's ignorant. Without knowing what the "history" is, you can't possibly appreciate the accomplishments of Bonds and other present day players.

Now, I prefer the statistical edge myself, but baseball history is far from boring - not knowing the history and bragging about it doesn't seem very smart.
   14. Chris Dial Posted: April 23, 2003 at 01:59 AM (#610505)
I listed a lot of the different committees in the article. You might not be interested in all of it, but it is an important part of baseball. There is *plenty* of stats stuff for everyone.

The history that is listed is things like (from the latest TN) biographical stories that you may not be interested in - the integration of the Senators - Hank Aaron in 1952 - Don and Thornton Lee - Lance Richbourg (written by Lance Jr.).

But you might be interested in them - you just don't know it. Ever play Diamond Mind or Strat in a old-timer league? These stories paint the picture for you -

Ever read "Ball Four" by Jim Bouton? Take a story out of that book. It's like that.

It's not un-PC. You may not like it. I'm suggesting you don't like it because you don't know it. In your original post, you said in HS you didn't like world history, but do now. Why? You learned more about it? That's how baseball history is. I see you writing Base Ball, as if to imply it is all pre-1900 research. That's not even close. There are things like day-by-day looks at the Big Red Machine.

And always post under your own name - it's the right thing to do. :-)
   15. Patriot Posted: April 23, 2003 at 01:59 AM (#610509)
I don't see why David suggesting that he's thinks baseball history is boring would cause anyone to get bent out of shape. Heck, the former executive director of SABR(although maybe that's part of the reason why he's former) said that he found stat analysis boring.

Seriously, a lot of the stuff in the SABR publications on history, particularly in The National Pastime, is IMO fluff. A lot of it is personal, about the minor leagues, etc. Is it baseball history? No doubt. Do some people like it? Sure. Obviously I find enough things that interest me in the organization to be a member. But I don't see why it would offend anyone if I suggest that "June Peppas and the All-American League"(about the women's league), "Nine Baseball Scrapbooks"(about a guy who put together scrapbooks for ex-players) and "A Very Special Evening"(about a guy who was on a tv show with Mickey Mantle when he was 9), all articles from the 02 TNP, are not my cup of tea. After all, there's plenty of people who frown on linear weights and Pythagenport.
   16. Chris Dial Posted: April 23, 2003 at 01:59 AM (#610511)
I'm not bent out of shape, although, being familiar with David's work and knowledge, I was annoyed and disappointed - I'm saying learn about it first.

Whle some articles might not thrill you (just like here), there are others that are interesting that are history. David said "History of Baseball? Ho-hum." when there is a ton - well, most of it, that he would find interesting if he found out more about it.

Of course, I'm not suggesting all of it is gripping - I'm saying all of it is *not* boring. (Nor most of it).
   17. tangotiger Posted: April 23, 2003 at 01:59 AM (#610514)
I think what is interesting is that
1 - SABR is at Colorado
2 - We talk about the effect Coors has on players all the time
3 - MGL is pursuing research to that effect

Seems to me a match made in heaven, even if the deadline passed. I think editor-in-chiefs always have a chance to move a story off the front page when warranted. The deadlines are never set in stone.

In any case, if SABR won't present MGL's findings, he can publish them at Primer, and maybe at the local Denver paper, if they are interested.

And I agree. MGL is a superstar. I'm sure he knows it, too ;)
   18. Chris Dial Posted: April 24, 2003 at 01:59 AM (#610516)
There is a sitting panel on Coors effect with Robert Adair and Rany Jazaryli (at least). It will be a subject of focus.
   19. Tracy Posted: April 24, 2003 at 01:59 AM (#610518)
"Seems to me a match made in heaven, even if the deadline passed. I think editor-in-chiefs always have a chance to move a story off the front page when warranted. The deadlines are never set in stone."

So, the SABR33 organizers should rearrange their entire lineup becuase two or three people, who think the sun rises and sets on their research, and to my knowledge, have never posted on SABR-L or contributed to any SABR publication, want them to?

Give me a break.
   20. tangotiger Posted: April 28, 2003 at 02:00 AM (#610585)
Neal, it sounds like your processes are excellent, and it should satisfy everyone. Hard to do, but good job.

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