SABR Rattling: My Trip to SABR 42

I didn't take a lot of photos on my trip, but I had to snap a pic of the view of Target Field from my seat.

Last week, I hitched up the old wagon and headed out to Minneapolis, Minnesota to attend the yearly convention for the Society of American Baseball Research. I've been a member for a few years now, but aside from SABR Day in January 2011 I'd never been to a SABR event. I was excited to see what my four days of baseball nerd immersion would bring.

The best way to describe it is adult summer camp. Only instead of having to go to pottery class or on a nature hike, you get to hear people talk about baseball. And unlike summer camp, everyone can drink.

Here's a rundown of some of the talks and presentations I attended:

  • Minnesota Twins President Dave St. Peter spoke about many things, but what stayed with me was his explanation for why the Twins' attendance is down when overall MLB attendance is up. "We're bad. We lost 99 games last season."

  • I saw incredible photos and video from the 1934 All-American Tour of Asia, which included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, and Moe Berg. That last name is important, because it's been thought that Berg was a spy during the trip, collecting information to bring back to the US. He used a 16mm camera during the tour, pretty much ignoring the Japanese rule to not do that. I learned that he wasn't a spy during the trip, though his experience in Japan is likely what led him to work for the OSS during WWII.
  • For me, the official scorers panel was my favorite, and by far the most entertaining. The official MLB rulebook is what guides them, but they were honest about how many of their decisions are subjective. When they opened up the floor to questions, a line of elderly men formed, each asking about a scoring decision that had scarred them in some way. The quote of the convention came from Stew Thornley, one of the panelists. "My opinion is the save rule should be called the 'didn't totally shit the bed rule'" Preach, Stew.
  • John Thorn, MLB's Official Historian, gave a great keynote speech about being a nerd. Unfortunately, I missed it. But you can read the speech here.
  • In a presentation about baseball broadcasters entitled "Heroes at the Mike", Harry Kalas was called "the greatest baseball broadcaster that almost no one outside of his local market knows." Harry and Whitey were spoken of quite fondly.
  • Baseball physicist Alan Nathan discussed his extensive research on bats, looking at wood vs. aluminum, handle thickness, bat speed, and whether you even really need to hold on to the handle of the bat when you connect with the ball (you don't). I learned precisely why aluminum bats are superior, and that the type of wood used for a bat makes absolutely no difference at all. (You can learn more about his research here.)
  • The trivia competition was extremely entertaining. The highlight? An elderly gentleman was asked a question to which the answer was Bryce Harper. The gentleman responded "That's a clown question, bro." Those words were even funnier coming out of the mouth of a man who might be as old as my grandfather.

  • I also went to Target Field for the first time. When people say it's gorgeous, they're not lying to you. (My photo above doesn't do it justice.) Plus, the concessions were great. It was a good thing, too, because the Royals/Twins game I saw was a massive snoozefest. The most interesting thing to happen on the field was a speedy fan giving security a workout as he or she zipped around the outfield. Though I did almost see Jonathan Broxton give up a lead, which I like to think is his actual purpose in life. Broxton and the rest of the Royals were actually staying at the same hotel as the convention, which resulted in the match-up of the year, Broxton vs. The Automatic Door, documented by The Common Man over at The Platoon Advantage.

    SABR 43 is in Philadelphia next year, and I highly recommend that you go if you can. (You don't need to be a member of SABR to attend.) The amazing baseball research is absolutely a reason to go, but so is the chance to meet and spend time with other baseball fans who have, like you, decided to come to SABR. Everyone starts at the same basic level of nerdiness -- attending a baseball research convention.

    I heard a lot of "see you next year!" as people were saying goodbye, just like you'd hear at summer camp. SABR 42 was essentially grown-up summer camp for baseball fans. What a fantastic thing.

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