May 16, 2015 - Seattle
Written by Mark Brunke
The Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research held its Spring 2015 meeting on Saturday, May 16, 2015, at the Library Conference Room in the Seattle Pacific University Library. The meeting was once again hosted by SABR member and SPU professor Bill Woodward. The meeting was attended by 37 people.
The meeting opened with a welcome to members and guests from Tip Wonhoff, newly appointed chapter Vice President. Host Bill Woodward then introduced SPU President Bill Martin, JD, EdD. Dr. Martin welcomed SABR to the University for this meeting, but then had to depart for his own baseball related event; his son was involved in a game in Sultan.
Following that, some brief announcements were made. Two new books were recently published by PACNW SABR members Steve Steinberg and Mark Armour. Steve's new book is his second collaboration with Lyle Spatz and is entitled The Colonel and Hug, telling the story of Jacob Ruppert and Miller Huggins. Steve's book is available now for purchase; for more information, please see http://www.stevesteinberg.net/. Mark's new book is also a collaboration with an author he has previously worked with, Dan Levitt, entitled In Pursuit of Pennants: Baseball Operations from Deadball to Moneyball. For more information on Mark's book, please see http://mark-armour.net/.
The first presentation at the meeting was from Ryan Divish, Mariner's beat reporter for the Seattle Times. Ryan had spoken to the chapter last year about the Mariners and it was great to once again get his input on the team. He approached his presentation much like last year's, leaving most of his time for Q and A. Ryan thought the team's fortune may improve if it plays better, or more precisely, the team would be better if the individuals played to their expectations. He pointed out Lloyd McLendon has the team doing extra infield each week and is trying to find ways to have the team gel and focus. Many questions for Ryan concerned some of the underperforming players. Regarding Dustin Ackley, Robinson Cano, Mike Zunino and others, Ryan pointed out a lot of factors can lead to the overall underperformance, and the impact is magnified then upon the team. Overall, he said the normal expectation would be that those underperforming would veer up and those overperforming, like Nelson Cruz, would veer down. Divish also talked about his role doing organization reports for Baseball America, and some of the prospects the Mariners expect to see results from in the next year or two.
The second presentation of the day was from SABR member and Senior Baseball Editor with foxsports.com, Rob Neyer. Rob's presentation was on "Bill Murray's Baseball Summer" and wove a fascinating and unique story. Rob talked about the process of discovering, uncovering, and writing the story, but then also the events themselves. In 1978, the Grays Harbor Loggers, through an incredibly unique turn of events involving the worlds of entertainment and unaffiliated minor league teams, had Bill Murray as part of the team for a short span. The team itself was competitive enough to win the Northwest League that year, and Bill is in Baseball Reference, with his one hit. It's a fascinating story which everyone can read on foxsports.com. Rob brought along Bill's teammate from that year, knuckleball pitcher Tracy Harris, who shared incredible stories and brought along his ring from that championship season. Rob's writing is available at his website, http://robneyer.com/.
The next presentation was from Aren Kaser, Baseball and the Dominican Republic: A Path to the Academies. Aren had first met some SABR members when we had a booth at the 2015 Mariners Fan Fest. He had done his Master's Thesis on the baseball academies in the Dominican Republic, and his research has continued to this day. Aren started off by highlighting some areas of impact Dominican players have had, with more than 600 making the majors since 1950. In the last few years, around 10% of all ball players are from the Dominican Republic, and up to 30% of minor league players. Presently, there are around 83 major leaguers from the Dominican Republic. Aren covered the academy structure, but was really able to shed light on the world of the junior academies, which are those not operated by MLB teams. He noted that in a poor country like the Dominican Republic, baseball accounts for at least 1,200 jobs, and as an example, between 2001-2003, around 1,000 players from there signed MLB offers as prospects for deals totaling $41.5 million. The success rate, though, is that for100 twelve-year-olds in a junior baseball camp, one will get to an MLB academy. From there, it's about 15 to 1 for those who make it to the minor leagues in the US, and again about 15 to 1 for those who get to the US. Around 50 to 80,000 Dominican children are in baseball camps, with the requisite positive but also negative impacts these have had on Dominican society.
Next up was local author and historian Lyle Wilson. Lyle gives presentation to local schools and community groups, and is also the author of an essential text on baseball history in the Pacific Northwest, Sunday Afternoons at Garfield Park: Seattle Black Baseball Teams, 1911-1951. Lyle presented much of the resource material he had collected in crafting that story, and others in a presentation titled A Photographic History of Washington’s African American Baseball Teams. This was a compelling journey through a seldom seen area of PacNW baseball history.
Finally, SABR member Chuck Putnam closed out the meeting with his presentation on The Hit-Walk Combo: The Toughest Hitting Achievement in Major League History. Chuck provided attendees with a great handout detailing those who achieved this unique feat. He also included information on other players who came close to this accomplishment. Only four players in history have so far managed to lead their league in hits and walks in the same season. Can you name them?
The SABR meeting concluded at 5 PM, and many members made their way to Safeco Field. The evening game had Felix Hernandez pitching against the Boston Red Sox in a turn-back-the-clock night, this time featuring the Mariners in the uniform of the 1946 Seattle Steelheads and the Red Sox dressed as the Royal Giants. SABR member Dave Eskenazi has written a great history of the Steelheads, available at http://sportspressnw.com/.
Many PACNW SABR members will be attending the annual convention, SABR 45, in Chicago this year. The next chapter event will be the annual Vancouver meeting, once again at Nat Bailey Park. That meeting will be on August 8, 2015, and all are encouraged to attend. The next Seattle meeting is slated for November following the World Series, with another meeting in January on the weekend of SABR Day. Our next Oregon meeting will be February.
February 14, 2015 - Tualatin
Written by Mark Brunke
The Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research held its annual Oregon meeting on Saturday, February 14, 2015. The meeting location was in the meeting hall of the Living Savior Lutheran Church in Tualatin. 27 SABR members and their guests attended the meeting.
Chapter President Bob Russon started off the meeting with a thank you to the Church leaders for allowing SABR free use of the facility. In addition, Bob had crafted a pleasantly very difficult quiz as an ice breaker. Presentations were given by Brandon Grilc, Larry D'Amato, Dan Schlewitz, Mike Rice and Ray Dahlgren.
The opening presentation was done by Brandon Grilc, who had received a Yoseloff Scholarship from SABR. For those not familiar with the award, please see sabr.org/latest/students-apply-yoseloff-scholarship-attend-sabr-45-chicago). Brandon’s presentation was titled “Stealing Home: How American Society Preserves Major League Baseball Stadiums, Ballparks, and Fields.” Brandon’s presentation was part of his Masters Thesis in historical preservation. He provided a comprehensive overview of the history of the preservation or lack thereof of Major League ballparks. Brandon’s work broke these ballparks down into time periods of their architectural style and identified them as structures that were initially not built to last. According to Brandon, each new phase of development introduced a purging of the majority if not all of the previous styles. He identified of the main reason for the lack of preservation as the absence of a framework for historic preservation within which ballparks could fit.
Brandon’s research tracked the demolition and preservation and identified nine (!) main methods society has preserved ballparks, if not always physically, in memory: memorialization, reuse, reproduction, replication, memorialization of an event or location (Maz in Pittsburgh was an example given), preservation, presentation, dedication in a new context, and reuse in a new structure. Brandon’s presentation was very informative and well thought out. In addition to this work, Brandon is also involved in local efforts in Eugene, Oregon to preserve their WPA-era ballpark (formerly used by the Eugene Emeralds and others).
Our next presentation was from SABR member and longtime baseball scout Larry D’Amato. Larry worked in baseball for 37 years and had great stories about the game. He spent his time with the Pirates, Reds, Yankees, MLB Scouting Bureau, Rangers and, most recently, the Astros. A native of Tualatin, Larry has seen a lot of not just MLB baseball, but Oregon as well. Instead of speaking directly to experiences of scouting in the past, Larry talked about the impact of television money on the draft. He spoke to the way players and their agents have reacted, and how the draft has consequently had to be modified. Larry has been running tryout camps for many years across the US, and said there is a noticeable difference in the high achieving amateur, in the way they approach the financials, as well as things like tryout campus. Regarding agents, one of the stories Larry mentioned was seeing Scott Boras play while at the University of the Pacific.
SABR member Dan Schlewitz has made many contributions to the annual Oregon meetings. For this presentation Dan shared a comprehensive statistical look at Bill James’ Law of Competitive Balance, taking the idea from the 1983 James Abstracts and including information to the present day. In short, the information demonstrates that teams that improve tend to decline the following year, and teams that decline tend to improve the following year. Dan really dug into the numbers, and that was an especially interesting presentation in regards to the prospects for last year’s much improved Seattle Mariners. The research showed that of the 37 teams that had increased win totals by 15-17 games year-over-year, only 9 improved the following season (some had stayed the same, very few, but most declined). It will be interesting to see if the Mariners can but the trend of history and make it 10. One of the key tools Dan used for comparing actual and potential wins was the Pythagorean Win/Loss to show which teams under achieved and over achieved.
That led well into Mike Rice’s annual Presidents Day weekend Portland presentation, the preview of the upcoming Mariners season (parenthetical aside: and review of the off-season, but I was having trouble finding a synonym for review that started with a P). This year Mike started off by giving a solid preview of the measurements he used and what they mean: Pythagorean wins, WAR, slash line. The key theme was to look at the Mariners wins from last year, how they got them, and what are the chances of getting more this coming season. Mike reviewed the current 40 man roster, and looked at the Spring Training non-roster invitees.
One of the main areas Mike focused on was looking at run differential and how that positive from last year may demonstrate how this team has the potential to at least maintain their winning ways (unlike the last two versions of a .500 Mariners). Mike reviewed Cano and of course expectations for Nelson Cruz. He also reviewed Kyle Seager and Mike Zunino, among others. A tantalizing piece of statistics he provided was looking at starting pitchers through age 29 similar to King Felix in IP, Ks, ERA+, and WAR. The only name that came up: the Big Train. At the conclusion of Mike’s presentation there was the annual prediction of Mariner wins. This year there was a range of 65 to 93, with an average of 85.
Before the final presentation, Bob Russon came back to the podium and delivered the answers to the quiz. There was also a reminder from new Chapter Vice President Tip Wonhoff that the next meeting will be May 16, in the conference room of the library at Seattle Pacific University. There is still a need for two presentations. In addition, Rick Solomon announced he has a block of tickets for the May 16 Red Sox game at Safeco (following our Spring meeting at SPU). If you would like to buy a ticket for the group hangout, please reach out to Rick. Also, Neal Traven requested if anyone is interested in reviewing abstracts for SABR45 in Chicago, to please reach out to him. Finally, for anyone going to Chicago, June 24-28, there will be a SABR outing to Wrigley Field and as a special treat; The Baseball Project will be playing at the Convention. The Baseball Project is a supergroup consisting of members of REM, The Dream Syndicate, The Young Fresh Fellows, and others.
The final presentation was from Ray Dahlgren, son of Yankee great Babe Dahlgren. Ellsworth Tenney Dahlgren grew up in San Francisco, learning the game on the fields and sandlots of that great city. San Francisco was a hot bed of talent at that time, with two PCL teams and loads of talent heading to the majors, most famously with brothers named DiMaggio and Waner, but also Lazzeri’s and many more. Ray had great stories of Babe’s time in time in the city growing up, then the minors and finally the years in the majors. Babe was called by many sharp people the best fielding first baseman in the game. Ray also had his own experiences, and shared great stories of the minor leagues and Ted Williams. Ray said Babe got his nickname one day from his mom, when he was called to dinner. Ray’s stories were fantastic, and we thank him for sharing them with us.
Bob Russon closed the meeting out, and as usual, many retired to a local establishment for further discussion and musings upon the great game. The next meeting is an open meeting in Seattle, and all are welcome to attend and bring guests. Please see our chapter website for details. We will be taking in the Red Sox/Mariners game that night.