A Glimpse from A First Time Attendee at the SABR Convention

by on August 8, 2010

This weekend I had the great fortune of attending the Society for American Baseball Research annual convention.SABR40 Convention Graphic | Baseballisms.com SABR40 was hosted by the Magnolia Chapter in the city of Atlanta.  At the time of submitting my registration for the conference, I was living just south of the city and expected to make an easy commute to and from home to partake in the panels and discussions on the agenda.  However since that time, the family has begun a transition to pursue opportunities in New England, so the commute now included a plane flight.  Fortunately, (or not so fortunately) the house is still on the market and I was able to take care of some home maintenance upon my return to Atlanta, while also attending the convention.

My overall impression is that there are many incredibly smart individuals with extraordinary passion driving their pursuit of greater knowledge of the game of baseball. I was in awe of the exquisite detail included in the member presentations, while thoroughly enjoying the exchanges during the panel discussions.

Here are some notes:

My first event was Thursday evening and the panel discussion of Women Baseball Writers held at Charis Books and More in the Little Five Points district of Atlanta. The panel consisted of Dorothy Seymour Mills, Christina Kahrl and Cecilia Tan. Also listed on the panel was Judith Testa who was unable to attend for some reason.  I was looking forward to seeing Judith since I had done a Cover the Bases podcast with her about her biography of Sal Maglie.

  • Cecilia is also a previous guest on the podcast, so it was great to meet her this night and to see her throughout the weekend live blogging on her site WhyILikeBaseball.com. Cecilia read the introduction and a favorite passage of her book The 50 Greatest Games in Yankee History
  • Dorothy Seymour Mills discussed her work with her husband and colleague Harold Seymour, as well as her biography A Woman’s Work and her recent book Chasing Baseball.
  • I was really impressed with Christina Kahrl’s story of building up the Baseball Prospectus from it’s initial beginnings to an essential publication for serious baseball fans.  She has succeeded in collaborating on the annuals inspired by the Bill James Baseball Abstracts.
  • Also getting a chance to tell us about her current work was Stephanie Liscio who is publishing a book titled Integrating Cleveland Baseball.
  • One of the benefits of being in town this weekend was the series with the San Francisco Giants. Tonights ballgame was a big 3-2 win over Tim Lincecum. I also fired up the MLB Package on DirectTV and watched the Padres take one from the Dodgers.

Day two started out with a panel discussion called 1990’s Braves “Worst to First” Era Panel including Phil Niekro, Mark Lemke, Bobby Cox and Ron Gant, moderated by recent Cover the Bases guest Pete Van Wieren. Braves Panel | SABR 40 | Baseballisms.com

  • Sat next to a gentleman who produced a baseball for the Braves panelists to sign.  He mentioned to me that it was from the previous night’s ballgame.  As he told the story, it had bounced off the hands of another fan in front of him and it presented itself softly in front of him.  It was a foul off the bat of Alex Gonzalez who homered two pitches later!
  • To my left was a guy who was admiring my iPad and we discussed how he could use it for work purposes.  Unfortunately the hotel was a complete black hole as far as internet connectivity.  One of the discoveries of this weekend is how much better the AT&T 3G coverage is in Boston than it is in Atlanta.
  • My seat mates and I talked a lot of about the Braves and I was able to relate the importance of Pete Van Wieren to the entire Braves community.  We also discussed autographs and his pursuit of the identity of a former Orioles player whose signature he cannot decipher.
  • One of the best lines of the panel came from Bobby Cox when jokingly discussing umpires said, “I like all umpires .. except for the one in Florida last night!”.  The night before, umpire Bob Davidson had missed a fair / foul call that cost the Florida Marlins a win over the Phillies.

Some other notes:

  • Interesting mashup using Google Earth and Google Maps, placing the Braves 1991 season in visual perspective at Visual-Baseball.com. Check out the clusters around each NL city as the Braves made their way into baseball history. Use the date range sliders to see event descriptions and locations where they took place.
  • Seeing and meeting Ed Achorn, author of Fifty Nine in ’84 was a great pleasure.  His biography of Old Hoss Radbourn has captured the imagination of numerous baseball fans and his presentation was well attended.  As I stated to Ed later in the vendor room, this baseball loving audience was very eager for more details about the game of this era.
  • It was so good to see Dan Fost, the author of Giants Past & Present.  We had a great conversation about how his book has been doing and about his recent travels to the Yogi Berra Museum in New Jersey.  It was also a privilege to meet his Dad, who had come to the convention with him.  He was a real fan as we enthusiastically discussed numerous players with Dan Schlossberg at a nearby table.  Dan is the author of the recently released The 300 Club, and we discussed scheduling his own appearance on the podcast.
  • I peaked in at the conclusion of the  Awards Luncheon keynote address by John Schuerholz, President of the Atlanta Braves.  Schuerholz was his usual smooth communicator as he took questions from the audience about the unprecedented Braves playoff run.  A lasting image for me will come from the moment milling about after final remarks,  a gentleman with a large cigar walked past me with the jovial greeting .. “Have a good day fella!”.  I recognized him as the former Braves Director of Player Development Paul Snyder.  Snyder is credited with major contributions to the roster that went on to 14 consecutive playoff appearances.
  • It is no wonder that the New York Mets and Houston Colt 45’s (Astros) struggled during their early existence, after seeing the presentation done by Eric Thompson.  The expansion draft rules created by the National League office, and the loopholes that allowed for incredible roster juggling, left a list of mostly undesirable veterans and dubious prospects for the taking.

One of the most interesting panels of the weekend was called New Technologies in Baseball.  The panel was moderated by Alan Nathan and included presentations using the PITCH f/x, HITf/x and the new and exciting FIELDf/x video analysis, a presentation on TrackMan radar technologies, and presentations on analysis using the data collected.

  • Getting reliable fielding data for analysis was called the current “holy grail” of baseball statisticians.  The FIELDf/x system installed at ATT&T Park for the San Francisco Giants is a beta system attempting to capture video imagery for deeper insights.
  • We saw some great PITCHf/x graphic analysis of Dustin Pedria’s hot and cold zones. If you are facing him you may want to go with high and tight!
  • TrackMan, from a Denmark based company, uses Doppler Radar technologies developed for tracking missiles to capture among other things, spin rates and trajectory of pitches.
  • Alan Nathan showed his interesting analysis of “Carry” on a ball hit at all major league parks, and as expected Coors Field had the most carry, while he had audience members scratching their heads as to why Cleveland would be the least in 2009.  Turns out there was a season of unusual wind impacting ball flight.   He also presented an amazing chart pinpointing the accuracy of Mariano Rivera hitting the corners time after time.
  • Park Normalized Carry | Alan Nathan | SABR 40 | Baseballisms.comJosh Kalk, Baseball Operations Analyst for the Tampa Bay Rays had the audience riveted to his demonstration of the “Red Dot” seen by hitters on incoming sliders and described by Reggie Jackson during this NPR Interview.  Josh took a baseball attached to a power drill, and fired up a perfectly presented red dot as the seams rotated on the spin axis of the baseball.  It was a great demonstration right up to the point when the ball flew off the drill!
  • Sat beside a guy named Ray from Virginia who was in awe as I was at the brilliance of these technologists, statisticians and physicists who are doing some incredible work with the information that is being captured by this advanced technology.

In all it was a great event, and I know that I missed numerous activities that would have added to the enjoyment, and there were some attendees that I wanted to connect with but just could not get together.  I would have liked to have attended the First Timers gathering on Wednesday night, but I was not aware of it prior to making my travel arrangements.  Some other observations:

  • Many baseball fans are conversing regularly via Twitter, but may not use their given name as their handle. As a way to identify attendees in the future, it would be great to include Twitter information as part of the attendee directory and name tags.  There might be someone who you have conversed with on line sitting right beside you!
  • It was very frustrating to have zero connectivity during the presentations.  Assistance with WiFi would be helpful.
  • The vendor room was slightly off the beaten path.  I know that this is a function of the hotel layout, but my impression was that the traffic was very light for the book authors.

See you in Los Angeles in 2011!

  • http://twitter.com/ceciliatan Cecilia Tan

    Dan, now you know why I am hooked and never miss a SABR national convention!

    There was no 3G or phone signal in the basement of the hotel where we were, but there was a Wifi router in each room that was set up for free use for SABR attendees. I think this was the first year they did anything like that and it was a boon for me being able to post blog entries throughout the day instead of having to wait and post it all at the end of the day from my room. hopefully they'll do that every year now!

  • http://www.dorothyjanemills.com Dorothy Seymour Mills

    Glad to learn that you enjoyed the parts of the SABR convention that you were able to get to, Joe. It's different every year, but it always gives us a lot of pleasure to share our work and re-connect with colleagues and fans. See you next year in California!
    Dorothy Seymour Mills

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