I waited a week to write about my attendance at my first Society of American Baseball Research conference because I wanted to absorb what others had written so as to find out how much of an outlier I am. I am an outlier in some respects but, overall, I am in the herd. It was good.
First, why have I never been before? The answer is I don’t know. I have attended several meetings of my chapter here in South Florida – lovingly overseen by Sam Zygna. I went to the last two (first two, actually) Arizona Fall League events – smoothly operated by Rodney Johnson. So, I am a natural to be one of those guys with ribbons that say 5, 10 and even 20 years affixed to their badges. Instead I got one that said First Time Attendee.
I would have gone last year – I was all signed up and had the hotel booked, etc. – but the Bank of China and a paid gig intervened so I spent the time allotted for the conference in Beijing instead of Atlanta.
But, I got to Long Beach this year and overall it was the right place to be. You have to approach a conference like this across three axes – the people, the content and the structure. I give them A+, A+ and a Gentleman’s C.
I have to give my fellow attendees, the staff and the leadership a sold A+. SABR is an open, friendly, sharing group. No matter where you sat down – lunch, the hotel bar, any meeting room, at the two baseball games we took in – you fell into conversation and it was always about baseball. What a treat to be among about 400 strangers (well 398, I knew one or two from the AFL outings) all of whom like baseball, knew baseball and were willing to swap baseball stories. The slogan could be, “There are No Strangers at a SABR Event.”
The First Time Attendee sticker got me a lot of “welcome to SABR” greetings and that was cool too. People care about this organization — a strong sign of health.
Another top score. I took in 4 or 5 presentations each day and 4 of the 5 panels. Now, normally I am not a good listener but I had reviewed presentation proposals and I did serve on the judging committee so, in part, I felt obligated.
Yes, there was one presentation – no reason to call it out – that fell far short; there were at least two where the presents read, looking down the entire time (including one that has been highly rated elsewhere); and more than a few spent more time looking at the screen than at the audience but heck, the research was good; the stories were solid; and no one expected professional orators.
I gave very high marks to Daryl Grigsby’s compelling presentation on the cost to Washington of refusing to sign black players. His demographic analysis was undeniable even if he did not take Northern Virginia into account and he personalized it well. We will never stop visualizing alternate history and his proposed Senator lineup that included Homestead Grays in among the Mickey Vernon’s of the hapless Nats was worth the price of admission.
Vince Gennaro’s work on creating a Starting Pitcher Rating System fascinated me. Admittedly a work in progress, Vince’s grasp on the essentials was well worth my time and clearly expressed the thought he has put into the process. There are some behavioral aspects to rating pitchers – managerial propensity to use a Quick Hook, for example – so no set of metrics will be perfect. But, we were there for ideas and Vince’s were solid.
The panel presentations were terrific and I give high marks to the moderators all of whom obviously had spent time thinking through the subjects and preparing the starter questions. And, high marks to the audience because the question/answer sessions contained a minimum of bloviating and a maximum of well-thought-out, relevant input. Full Disclosure: I popped up a couple of times.
The poster presentations suffered from a jury-riggged presentation venue, but here again, it was clear that dedicated people had spent a good deal of time working out what they wanted to demonstrate.
The panel I missed and would like to have not missed was the closing player panel. I would have liked to have seen my high school classmate Al Ferrara (Lafayette, 1956) and reminded him that Bob Aspromonte was elected Class Athlete and he still owed me $5. It was a newbie mistake – I arrived one day too early and left one day too early. Had I better understood the program I might have stayed for the last day.
Not that great. If you give a blank sheet of paper to program committees in eight different cities, you will get eight different structures. And, being the new guy, I have no idea what is traditional, what reflects the culture of an organization, what is locally-driven, and what was new this year. But, there are some things that I might have done differently.
My headline is that the event is over programmed.
For example, I might have allowed for lunch and dinner breaks. Of course, there was the awards luncheon and ballpark food at the two games but Thursday was nonstop. In order to get lunch, I had to miss a highly-touted and well-reviewed presentation by Steve Steinberg on Horace Fogel and his 1912 era whistle blowing. If you were a zealot of the committee meetings (I was not) dinner was tricky as well, with the meetings ending at 6:30 and the FanGraphs event starting at 7:00.
There was a lot of late-night gobbling at the bar and that is not great for the health of members of an organization whose median age is 59.
There was a nice first timer’s event on Wednesday night, but I missed a broader opening reception – often a staple of other conferences that I have attended over the years. I did not see one of my AFL pals until late on the third day and the absence of an updated registration list meant that I did not know that I was the only member of my chapter present.
There were some backstage issues, some of which were noticeable to those of us in the seats, but this was the year the office moved to Phoenix and the staff was new so those glitches were understandable and overlookable.
About Next Year
If the Lord is willing and the creeks don’t rise, I will be in Minneapolis next year for SABR 42. I guess that is the bottom line. I might even think through a presentation topic.