Forgive the cheeky headline. The truth is, while it was regarded as a geek’s organization when it was founded several decades ago, the Society For American Baseball Research has made it very, very cool to be a stat geek. Their metrics and ideas have taken over baseball (and sports generally), helping to bring athletics worldwide into the modern era.
The geeky reputation comes from a deep-seated passion that leads men to wear shirts denouncing the DH rule, or to argue loudly about the comparative fielding prowess of two short stops from the 1920s—but that passion has taken a more studious form, as well. The heart of SABR 41, which is going on at the Hilton in Downtown Long Beach through Sunday evening, is the thirty research presentations that SABR members are giving.
Each presenter spent the better part of a year researching the minute details of whatever their subject of choice is. That research culminates in a 25 minute presentation in which they are given the opportunity to state their case to their peers.
In a Thursday research presentation, Herm Krabbenhoft presented the research he did last year with colleague Trent McCotter. Their goal was to comb through all the material they could find related to the 1931 and 1937 RBI totals of Lou Gehrig and Hank Greenberg. By examining the official box scores, and comparing them with newspaper box scores and articles, and other second-hand accounts, the researchers were actually able to make several corrections to the official boxes, which showed that, in fact, Gehrig and Greenberg should share the crown for most RBIs in a single American League season at 184.
That’s the level of dedication, and intensity, on display in each one of those presentations. Later that day, Steve Steinberg did a presentation on Horace Fogel, a man who could have helped avoid the Black Sox scandal had he not been barred from baseball for suggesting that there could be corruption running loose in the pastime. Other presentations seek to enlighten people on a particular trade, or player, or region. One panel of particular interest locally was entitled Mexican-American Baseball in Los Angeles: A Pictoral History of Baseball From East LA to Dodger Stadium.
Each presentation is so well put together, and so well argued when controversial in subject, that you find yourself wishing you could buy a book with all the presentations collected within. There is a chance to see the weekend’s best, however, if you buy a Sunday ticket for the convention, you can attend the “encore presentations” of the week’s best at 10am. Online registration has closed, but you can register in person at the Hilton in Downtown Long Beach—but if you do, be sure to bring your notebook.