Highlights from SABR 41
The Society for American Baseball Research held its 41st annual convention at the Long Beach Hilton two weeks ago. I enjoyed SABR 41 as an attendee and panelist, as well as for the opportunity to meet many friends in the baseball community.
Scott Boras was the keynote speaker on Thursday morning. You can listen to his 90-minute speech, which focused on his rise from a minor league baseball player to law school to becoming an attorney and then starting his own firm, known today as the Scott Boras Corporation. He talked about the use of both data and psychology in dealing with players, arbitrators, and front office executives, as well as managing the media.
You can read about and listen to the various panels that took place throughout the convention, including the medical (Dr. Neal ElAttrache, Dr. Kevin Wilk, and Ned Bergert, and moderated by Will Carroll of Sports Illustrated), media (Dave Cameron, Sean Forman, Bill Squadron, and Russ Stanton, and moderated by SABR President Andy McCue), SABR era (John Thorn, John Dewan, Roland Hemond, Wes Parker, and Dennis Gilbert, and moderated by Tom Hufford, one of SABR's 16 founding members), general managers (Jed Hoyer, Fred Claire, and Dan Evans, and moderated by Rob Neyer, the national baseball editor for SB Nation), and player (Tommy Davis and Al Ferrara and moderated by Barry Mednick of SABR's Allan Roth Chapter).
During the SABR era panel, Dewan seconded my nomination of Bill James for the Hall of Fame (see excerpt below). At the end of that discussion, I introduced myself to Mr. Hemond, who was the scouting director for the California Angels when my Dad was the Director of Public Relations and Promotions. The longtime executive will be honored in Cooperstown tomorrow as the second recipient of the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award. After exiting the room, I stopped and listened to Parker, who was outside entertaining a small crowd of SABR attendees (that's me in the middle and Wes on the far left) with stories about his days as a former ballplayer with the Dodgers. I waited patiently and introduced myself as "Rich Lederer, the son of George Lederer." He had nice things to say about Dad, who covered the Dodgers for Parker's first five years in the big leagues.
I was invited by Cameron to participate in FanGraphs Live in the main ballroom on Thursday night. I served on an Angels/Dodgers panel with Sam Miller of the Orange County Register and Baseball Prospectus, Jon Weisman of ESPN/Dodger Thoughts, and Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. that was hosted by Jonah Keri, who writes about baseball for ESPN and FanGraphs and stocks for Investor's Business Daily. Keri introduced me as “the first stathead to induct someone into the Hall of Fame.” I also served on a national baseball panel with Cameron (second from the left in the adjoining photo), Vince Gennaro (middle), and Neyer (sitting on the far right) that was hosted by FanGraphs' Carson Cistulli (standing), who entertained us all.
The moderators and members of the audience asked me about the Angels and Dodgers, Bert Blyleven, the Hall of Fame, Jered Weaver, and Bryce Harper, among other topics. Cameron reminded me that I mentioned my disgust about the Vernon Wells signing more than once (or was it three times?). Of note, on the night before the Angels called up Mike Trout, I suggested that the team would have been better off locking him up for ten years rather than giving even more money to Wells for a shorter period. My son Joe, who attended the event along with my son-in-law Joel and brother Tom, informed me bright and early the following morning that the Angels promoted Trout from Double-A to the majors. I went to the Angels-Mariners game that evening and saw the 19-year-old prospect's MLB debut. He went 0-for-3 at the plate but made an outstanding running catch at the warning track in right-center field to record the final out in the top of the ninth inning.
I was interviewed by MLB Network at the convention the following morning. The half-hour segment was videotaped with the possibility of a portion of it being used on This Week in Baseball and/or for a documentary on the evolution of statistical analysis in baseball that will be narrated by Bob Costas and scheduled to air in the fall.
There were also numerous research presentations on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I listened to The Joe Morgan Trade by Mark Armour, a former Bob Davids Award winner and the most prolific guest columnist for Baseball Analysts. I had lunch at George's Greek Cafe with Mark and Dan Levitt prior to the former's afternoon presentation. Mark and Dan co-authored Paths to Glory and are working on a sequel.
Bob Keisser, a columnist for the Long Beach Press-Telegram, wrote a preview of the convention and a follow-up that was titled "Baseball Nerdery is Celebrated."
Long Beach native Rich Lederer, whose late father George was a Dodgers beat writer for their first 10 years here, created his own Baseball Analysts website several years ago to write about statistical and historical aspects of the game and provide a vehicle for other writers and links to even more.
"It's exciting to be here and meet a lot of people I've gotten to know through their work, and to take part in the process," Lederer said.
He got to participate in the main seminar Friday morning about SABR's impact and was feted for his statistical support of Bert Blyleven, the former Angels pitcher who finally was elected into the Hall of Fame.
"They asked me who I would help get into the Hall of Fame next," Lederer said. "I said 'Bill James' and the whole room exploded, clearly behind that idea. Next to Branch Rickey, he's given us the most information to change the way we think about baseball."
Lederer has a second choice, too - Long Beach native Bobby Grich, the former Wilson High star who had a terrific 17-year career with the Orioles and Angels, hit 224 home runs as a second baseman, had a career on-base percentage of .371 and won four Gold Glove awards.
His numbers are comparable with Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg (16 years, 282 home runs, nine Gold Glove awards) with the notable exception that Grich, the one year he was on the Hall of Fame ballot, received a mere four votes.
"There were a lot of things back then people didn't consider," Lederer said. "Grich played in two pitchers' parks (Memorial Stadium, Angel Stadium), offense was down in the '70s, and there were a lot of things he did that didn't get people's attention then - that he got on base, was a slugger playing second base, and was the best fielder for most of his career.
"I think he's probably one of the 12 greatest second basemen in baseball history."
Of the 3,000 or so attendees at the SABR Convention here, chances are each fancies their own player like Grich, or an opinion on the horror of pitch counts, or some numbers they've jotted down that you'll never get out of a box score. As gatherings of statistical scientists go, everyone in this group can call themselves a power hitter.
Aaron Gleeman, Jeff Polman, Chris Jaffe, Peter Iorizzo, Cecilia Tan, Geoff Young, Lisa Dillman, Eno Sarris, Sam Miller, Mike Leury posted recaps from SABR 41. You can read excerpts here. The site also links to their full stories, as well as to recaps from local media outlets. You can also read some of the top tweets from SABR 41, too.
I met Gleeman, Jaffe, Young, and Miller for the first time in person even though I have corresponded with the first three via email for years, including going all the way back to 2003 in the case of Aaron and Geoff.
SABR 42 will be held in Minneapolis next summer. In the meantime, if you're not a member of this great baseball organization, you should join now. Annual dues are reasonable and entitle you to many benefits, including discounted fees to the national conventions.