SABR 40: Impressions of a First-Time Attendee
Thanks to my years hanging out at Baseball Think Factory, I
have been aware of SABR for quite a while, and have given consideration to
joining. I had planned to attend the convention in St. Louis, then the one in
Cleveland. However, at the time of SABR 37 (St. Louis), my wife was four
months pregnant, and I had a long list of home improvements that needed to be
completed as soon as possible. And when SABR 38 rolled around (Cleveland), I
had a six month old. So neither of those worked out as planned. Nor did SABR
39 in Washington DC…
But, as SABR 40 approached, a couple of things pushed me to
finally join up. First, it was going to be in Atlanta, which is where I live.
So I could sleep at home, keeping my two and a half year old son from being
completely unhappy that I was gone. And second, there was now a Baseball Think
Factory chapter of SABR. This meant that I wouldn’t just be joining up with
whoever happened to be in the Atlanta chapter; I would be able to join up with
friends I already had.
I should point out here that it turned out that “whoever
happened to be in the Atlanta chapter” was a pretty great bunch of people, who
I have had a lot of fun hanging out with. Our meetings are pretty informal affairs
– really, just some guys (not that women wouldn’t be welcome, I just haven’t
seen any at our meetings yet) hanging out and talking about baseball. If
you’re in the Atlanta area, come on and join!
Anyway, at the first official meeting of the SABR chapter
(in the hotel bar, 12:01 AM Sunday morning of the convention – the now official
meeting time), I volunteered to write up my experience as a first time
attendee. I was already planning to do this, so it was hardly a big deal.
Simply put, I had a great time at SABR. There were more
research presentations than I had time to see. There were more panels than I
had time to see. I barely even looked at the research posters, and didn’t
spend much time in the vendors’ room either. And lunch was a horribly rushed
affair every day, trying to squeeze it in between all that.
The twin highlights had to be the Worst-to-First panel and
the John Schuerholz luncheon. From what I’ve heard, even those who aren’t
long-time Braves fans really enjoyed those. Of course, I am a long-time Braves
fan, so for me, it was practically a dream come true. (If I’d gotten there
earlier, and had time to get autographs, it would have been a dream come true.
But I just made it in time…) Hearing Pete Van Wieren’s voice again made me long
for the days when he announced the games. And he put his years of announcing
to good use, keeping the panel moving briskly and keeping all the members (Phil
Niekro, Mark Lemke, Bobby Cox, and Ron Gant) involved. (As mentioned elsewhere
on the internet, it was more of a “history of the Atlanta Braves” than just
worst-to-first, but that was not a problem.) Schuerholz was a good speaker,
and I appreciated his candor as he answered questions from the audience. The
answers tended to be blunt and honest, not really what you expect from an
active baseball executive.
I absolutely loved the two day presentation on the ballparks
of the Southern Association. I love minor league baseball, and old ballparks,
so that was right up my alley. All six of the presenters did their own thing,
which made it far more interesting to me than if they had followed some set
format. The biggest disappointment about this presentation was that all but
two of the parks are no longer in existence.
There was a tremendous presentation on new technologies in
baseball. There’s about to be real information on defensive abilities… And I
think TrackMan is going to be the next revolution for players, as big a deal as
The research presentations were also enjoyable. I didn’t
enjoy all of them that I attended, but then, how could you? The highlights, in
no particular order:
There was a fascinating story about Hamtramck Stadium, one of the
last existing stadiums from the Negro National League, which was long though
destroyed. Apparently, Gary Gillette found out that wasn’t actually true.
J.C. Bradbury did a presentation about the effects of high pitch
count outings. I thought that it was quite interesting, and hope that he
follows up with more research (and hopefully more presentations). There’s a
lot more research to be done there. (IMO, most of what’s been done about pitch
counts so far falls more in the realm of assertion than research.)
Chris Jaffe had a neat presentation kicked off by a Bill James
line about Ted Lyons being a “Sunday pitcher”. Chris decided to look for more.
Steve Treder’s presentation explored the similarity in the story
arcs that MLB and society as a whole went through during the 1960’s. It was
different, and a lot of fun.
Larry Granillo went with a much lighter subject. He read every
single Peanuts comic strip, and worked out the baseball statistics for Charlie
Brown and the gang. It was light-hearted, and a lot of fun, and even got him a
(misspelled) mention in the Atlanta
Perhaps the most amazing thing to me was that fully 10% of the Peanuts strips
ever done were about baseball. Who knew?
Of all the research presentations I attended, though, I think I
liked John Knox’s best. He explored the fielding prowess of pitchers; a
relatively unexplored area. I think the thing I liked best about it was that
he came up with an unexpected result – unexpected even by him.
Oh, and there was a baseball game in there too, featuring
the retirement of Tom Glavine’s number. It would have been a better game if
the Braves had remembered how to field and pitch in the late innings, but it
was fun none the less.
And the reason it was fun was also the best part of the
convention: Spending a whole lot of time with other people who love baseball.
I’m rather shy by nature. But I spent the whole time I was there talking to
people I had never seen before (and may never see again, who knows?). It’s
easy to do when you know, before you open your mouth, that you are going to
have plenty to talk about. At the luncheon, people at my table reminisced
about games they’d seen, players they’d seen, and so on. It was great fun.
While I was volunteering at the check-in desk (and no one was checking in), we
chatted about this that and the other. (Since we were all local volunteers,
there was a lot of Braves in that – as well as this and the other.) When I ate
lunch in the hotel café one day, a random attendee sat down across from me, and
we talked baseball for 20 minutes. It was like that all weekend long.
Of course, I spent a good bit of time with the other BTF
members. Some of them I had met in real life before. Even more, I had not.
Would I do it again? Oh, yes I would. I’ve managed to move
from “probably not” to “tentatively yes” for SABR 41 in Los Angeles next
summer. And Minneapolis in 2012 is almost definitely a yes already.
What lessons did I learn? First, it’s a lot easier on you
if you stay at the hotel. Especially since things tend to go late into the
night. Second, I think I’ll pack some snacks next year, because I might have
to skip lunch. Third and most importantly, don’t try to keep up with Dial at
the bar. Discretion is the better part of valor.
By the way, there are a lot of other good recaps on the
internet, so check them out:
Jaffe at The Hardball Times http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/recap-sabr-40-atlanta/
Gleeman at his own web site http://aarongleeman.com/2010/08/10/2010-sabr-convention-recap/
Gleeman at NBCSports.com http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/sabr-conventions-new-technologies-in-baseball-panel-is-exciting-glimpse-into-future-of-analysis.php
Tan has a whole series of excellent posts on SABR 40 http://www.whyilikebaseball.com/2010/08/sabr-40-awards-and-john-schuerholz-speech/