This is KJOK at your Seamheads anchor desk, reporting “almost live” from the SABR 40 Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. SABR 40 is the 40th annual convention of the Society for American Baseball Research, which brings together authors, teachers, researchers and baseball fans for four days of baseball presentations, baseball history, baseball games, baseball road trips, baseball talks, baseball theater, baseball films, baseball discussions – in other words, “total baseball.”
First up, somewhere in the secret, hidden Vendors Room, is Seamheads correspondent Dan Schlossberg, author of “The 300 Club: Have We Seen the Last of Baseball’s 300 Game Winners?” with his impressions of the conference. Take it away Dan!
The local Magnolia chapter, which often draws Pete Van Wieren to its meetings, persuaded the retired voice of the Braves to invite some of his friends. He succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams, forming a "1991 Worst to First" Braves player panel that included Ron Gant, Mark Lemke, Bobby Cox, and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, who managed Triple-A Richmond that year.
It is certainly a rare moment when a sitting manager in a pennant race gets up at O'Dark Hundred to participate in a player panel that starts at 9:30 in the morning. In fact, all five people in that panel had to leave at 10:45 sharp to go to the downtown luncheon honoring 305-game winner Tom Glavine, who was being installed into the Braves Hall of Fame.
That same evening, with most of the SABR 40 crowd in attendance, Glavine's #47 was retired by the Braves in a Turner Field ceremony that turned out to be so moving that the great lefthander's eyes teared up during his talk to the packed ballpark. Most of his victories, though not his 300th, had come in a Braves uniform. A lock for Cooperstown, Glavine won two Cy Youngs and a World Series MVP award during his Atlanta tenure.
The game, delayed 90 minutes at the outset by a violent thunderstorm, was a SABR first: it went into extra innings. The Giants won, 3-2, without benefit of a hit when they tied it up in the ninth or won it in the 11th. They parlayed errors and walks into single runs in both innings.
Another SABR first occurred the next day, when team president John Schuerholz -- Braves general manager during the team's unprecedented string of 14 straight division titles -- was the main speaker at the awards luncheon. Among other things, he admitted making a bad call in trading Adam Wainwright (along with Jason Marquis and Ray King) for J.D. Drew and said Ted Turner was a great team owner -- despite a personality that might have come from Mars.
Not surprisingly, several SABR delegates asked questions about the game Turner managed in 1977, a 2-1 defeat that concluded a 17-game losing streak. Niekro even said Turner asked him during batting practice where he wanted to bat in the lineup. Often called "the Mouth of the South," Turner needed help putting on his baseball stirrups and never did wear baseball shoes, choosing loafers instead!
Other Braves-connected celebrities rubbing elbows with the SABR crowd at the Sheraton Atlanta were Paul Snyder, the club's long-time director of scouting, and Fredi Gonzalez, third-base coach for Cox before the Florida Marlins hired him to manage. Gonzalez is considered the front-runner to succeed the retiring Cox as Atlanta manager after this season.
KJOK: Thanks Dan. Now we head over to the ballroom, where Seamheads correspondent Dennis Pajot has just received his 2010 The Sporting News Baseball Research Award for his book “The Rise of Milwaukee Baseball.” Dennis, give us your summaries of the best presentations in Atlanta.
Dennis: The three presentations I enjoyed the most at the 40th Annual SABR Convention:
The presentation in two parts on the Ball Parks of the Southern Association gave the history of six different city's parks in the Southern Association. I missed one park presentation completely, but the five I did sit in on were informative and very well given. Having an interest in old parks in my home town I listened with thoughts on how these parks were similar and yet much different than those in Milwaukee. The first day David Brewer presented slides and the history to the present day of Rickwood Field. This was followed by a wonderful talk by Clarence Watkins on Memphis' Russwood Field, and then Derby Gisclair's history of Pelican Stadium in New Orleans. The information was so informative and slides gave a very fine visual. Of the second day's presentations I only feel confident to speak on Paul Crater's Ponce De Leon Park talk, having missed all of one and part of the other. This presentation gave a superb overview of locations, parks, construction and history of Atlanta parks. I know it also inspired some SABR members I knew at the conference to find the magnolia tree that once stood in the outfield at the park.
Of the 25 minutes presentations two stood out for me, although all I attended were presented very well.
Robert Fitts’ presentation titled "Babe Ruth, Eiji Sawamura and war" was presented in a way that made you feel part of baseball. Fitts won Honorable Mention for best oral research presentation. Bob started the talk by giving us what the young boy must have felt like standing on the mound in preparation to pitch to Babe Ruth. The story of 17 year old Eiji Sawarmura continued through his strikeout of Ruth. This presentation, of course, gave the life and times of pitching legend Eiji Sawarmura and World War Two. I had a personal interest because I had written a paper on Eiji Sawamura pitching in Milwaukee, with some bare-bones background. (My article is here: http://www.seamheads.com/2009/03/05/almost-an-international-incident-in-milwaukee/) Bob Fitts' talk gave me a fuller view of the young man. This talk was tremendously researched and presented information that would be incredibly hard to find in the USA, and gave a rare insight into the mind of a Japanese player during World War II. I suggest folks look at Fitts' website for additional information: www.RobFitts.com Honestly, you don't have to be a Japanese baseball scholar to get intrigued by the life of Eiji Sawamura.
The other presentation I will talk of was by Mark Stang: "The Barnum of the Bushes: The Life and Times of Chattanooga's Joe Engel". This talk also received Honorable Mention for best oral research presentation. To be honest I had no intention of going to this presentation. I was waiting for the vendors room to open and a very nice lady said come on in and see this great presentation. At first I smiled and kept walking, but then decided I would stop in, sit close to the door for an unnoticed exit. No need. What an entertaining 20 to 25 minutes. Joe Engel was the man I thought a lot of smaller southern and midwestern ball park owners had been, and much more. Promotions, crazy stunts, etc. etc. etc. dotted the landscape. I had heard the story of the 17 year old girl striking out Ruth and Gehrig, but now learn there was a little more to it. For shame, another fix in baseball!!! Mark's presentation was one of those perfect hybrid talks: information and entertainment. Mark said he had information for a book he was to author years ago, but time and other concerns got in the way. Maybe we’ll see a Seamheads article on Mr. Engel in the future?
I am getting a little long, so I will close with words on John Schuerholz's talk at the awards lunch. No need to get into what was said. I can sum up Mr. Schuerholz's time there very quickly, perhaps in two words: VERY CLASSY. He talked well, clearly and intelligently as I would expect. But when he opened the floor to questions, this baseball executive answered all questions without beating all around the bush. And when I say all questions, I mean that. He stood and listened and answered every person in line. A class performance. I am not an Atlanta Braves fan, but Mr. Schuerholz got me a little closer into their fan club.
KJOK: Thanks Dennis. Your Seamheads anchorman was also able to get out from behind the anchor desk and see a few presentations himself:
Bryan Soderholm-Difatte presented “Beyond Bunning and Short rest: A bill of particulars on managerial decisions that caused the Phillies’ epic collapse of 1964.” Soderholm-Difatte focused on decisions made by Gene Mauch in games PRIOR to pitching Bunning and Short on 2-days rest, successfully arguing that it was a series of decisions that cascaded down to the final fateful decision of going almost exclusively with Bunning and Short as starters.
Steve Treder from HardballTimes.com presented “Promise, Reality, and Baseball in the 1960s”, comparing the optimism and the subsequent disappointments of the U.S. in the 1960 decade with the optimism and subsequent disappointments of Major League Baseball. This one reminded me of previous year’s excellent presentations by Anthony Giacalone that have compared baseball with society and popular culture, even including the brisk talking pace to squeeze in all of the fantastic information.
Chris Jaffe, also from HardballTimes, gave a presentation on “Searching for the elusive Sunday pitcher.” Jaffe launched off a comment by Bill James about Ted Lyons being used almost exclusively on Sunday double headers, and if any other teams used pitchers in a similar manner. Jaffe presented some excellent data on double headers and on pitcher usage, with a conclusion that the usage of Ted Lyons was very unique in baseball history.
They’re whispering in my earpiece that our time is up, so let me close by saying there were many, many other fine presentations, and you can find almost all of them at http://convention.sabr.org/archive/sabr40/presentations.