by David Hughes
We didn’t have a hot stove around which to gather and discuss the latest signings, to rehash the 2014 playoffs, to voice our hopes for the 2015 versions of the Nationals and the Orioles, or to complain about the nasty cold in the Great Outdoors. So the second floor ballroom at the Holiday Inn in Rosslyn served as a substitute. More than 150 chapter members and guests gathered there on Saturday, January 31, 2015, for the 44th Annual Meeting of the Bob Davids Chapter, SABR’s first chapter.
Mark Pattison called the session to order at about 9:30 a.m. The first matter on the docket was the business portion of the meeting (the elections of three officers). Nominations had closed prior to the meeting. Running unopposed were David Raglin (Vice-President—2-year term) and Barry Sparks (At-Large Board Member—2-Year Term), and the membership elected them on a voice vote.
The election for Treasurer (also a 2-year term) was contested. The two candidates, challenger Gary Levy and incumbent David Paulson, each gave short presentations in support of their candidacy, followed by a secret ballot conducted using paper ballots. Dave Paulson was reelected as The Treasurer.
On the program, Dave Smith batted leadoff with a presentation that dealt with answers to questions and issues that he and his colleagues at Retrosheet (http://www.retrosheet.org/) had developed themselves or fielded from media during the 2014 season. Here are a few of the tidbits. For instance, you know that Tony La Russa guided his teams to three World Series titles, six league championships and twelve division titles in 33 seasons (2,728-2,365, .536). But did you know that La Russa’s managerial record by month was incredibly consistent, with winning percentages of .520 or better in each of the months of March through October? We learned that only four pitchers (Derek Lowe, A.J. Burnett, Dan Haren, and Barry Zito) have wins against all 30 current teams. Dave also discussed the phenomenon of the series held from May 2-4, 2014, in which all of the starters for the Tigers collected a hit in each game of the three-game series against the Royals in Kansas City. Not only was that unusual on its face; checking back to 1950, there had been no other cases of this happening. Finally, we’ve all heard that games are often decided if a team is leading after seven innings, but were you aware of how often that has proved to be the case? Dave disclosed that in 2014, it was true 92% of the time. It was no surprise that the Royals led the way with a record of 72-1 (98.6%). But even the relatively hapless Astros “worst” record was 57-11 (83.8%). The A’s were the best when trailing after seven innings (13-55, 19.1%), while the Dodgers were the worst (1-53, 1.8%).
After Dave had wrapped up, next to the microphone was John Eisenberg, a Baltimore sportswriter and author of “From 33rd Street to Camden Yards: An Oral History of the Baltimore Orioles.” John related his long experience covering the Orioles, especially during the winning days of Earl Weaver and the club that dominated the A.L. East from the 1970s to the early 1980s. He also described the lengthy process he implemented to gather his exhaustive oral history of the team.
Our next speaker was Michael Hand, President and Chief Marketing Officer, MiLB Enterprises. Michael delivered an informal and highly energetic presentation about the joys and challenges of marketing in the affiliated minor leagues. Michael indicated that MLB’s new commissioner Rob Manfred intends to treat the 160 teams in the affiliated minor leagues as “brothers.” MiLB had attendance of 41 million in 2014, and 74% of Americans live within 30 miles of a minor league park. In other words, it’s big business.
After lunch, matters took on a local flavor as we heard the latest on the Washington Nationals from Adam Cromie, Assistant General Manager and Director, Baseball Operations for the Washington Nationals. Adam brought with him two of his front office lieutenants. The combined age of these three executives was 87 years. The three fielded questions from the membership on a number of Nationals-related subjects for the better part of 45 minutes. The outlook for the team is bright, but all three cautioned that winning the World Series in any given year is a very hard thing to do. What the Nationals are aiming for is sustained success over time.
Phil Hochberg followed with a discussion of Jewish ball players who had played professionally in Washington. Phil mentioned in passing that 10% of the Jews who have appeared in MLB had played in Washington. Yet Phil noted that sometimes names might make things confusing. While current Nationals Jordan Zimmermann and Ryan Zimmerman are not Jewish, Elliott Maddox of the 1971 Senators is Jewish (and also African-American). Phil discussed the “Clown Prince of Baseball,” Al Schacht, who had a career record of 14-10 in the 1919, 1920, and 1921 seasons, all with the Senators. Barney Pelty, Syd Cohen, Moe Berg, Mike Epstein, Richie Scheinblum, and more recently, Jason Marquis all were among the many Jews that wore the Washington uniform. However, Charles Solomon “Buddy” Myer, who played the bulk of his career in Washington and was named to Esquire magazine’s all-time Jewish team, was not Jewish. Buddy told a local newspaper reporter late in life that he had just never gotten around to correcting that mistake.
Turning to a sabermetric topic, next up was Richard Thurston, who gave a detailed presentation on “The Strike Zone Squeeze” of the later 1940s and early 1950s. Prior to 1948, historically in the American League there were on average of 3 – 4 walks per game per team. In the period 1948 through 1950, the walk rate rose to 4 – 4.5 walks per game per team. Richard analyzed the possible causes for this increase and discussed the results of his study. Outlier pitchers accounted for about 14% of the change. Richard concluded that outlier hitters accounted for another 19%. There were also teams that walked an increased number of batters, and those outliers accounted for another 9%. Richard also concluded that new players in the league (including those who were returning from the military) accounted for another 14% of the change. Incredibly, one umpire — Eddie Hurley — accounted for 7% of the change. One of the driving forces may have been iron-fisted A.L. President Will Harridge. Harridge was the ultimate authority over the 15 A.L. umpires (only 8 teams in the league at the time) and was interested in increasing offense in order to increase the length of games. Why? To increase radio and in-stadium advertising revenue and concession sales, among other things. Richard concluded that there were a number of possible reasons that the trend ended after 1950: the rising Yankee dynasty; an increased level of offense that didn’t depend on walks; the advent of TV; franchise relocation; and the fact that Ted Williams was back in the military (taking a substantial number of walks with him).
Phil Wood (sports radio and television personality and a SABR member since 1975) and his radio partner Mike Wallace (former major league pitcher and co-host of The Mid-Atlantic Sports Report and Nats Talk) followed up with their observations on topics as diverse as pitching to Frank Howard and what the Nationals and Padres might do to avoid having Trea Turner (the proverbial PTBNL in the deal that sent Steven Souza to Tampa Bay) stagnate in the minor leagues during the first three months of 2015.
Jack Greenhouse, a young man who is a cousin of SABR our own Dave Paulson, spoke at length about his career as a college pitcher at Central Connecticut State University and, thereafter, pitching professionally in Australia. Disappointed in being overlooked by MLB in the amateur draft, Jack resolved to keep pursuing his chosen profession as a left-handed pitcher. That led to his playing this year in Australia’s equivalent of the minor leagues. Jack’s perseverance and determination to continue his career in international baseball will take him to Les Boucaniers de La Rochelle, in France this coming season.
David Hubler discussed the Senators and the 1944 Pennant Race, largely in the context of baseball during World War II. His talk also delved into the travails of the Senators under Ossie Bluege, a team that went from a promising 84-win second-place finish in 1943, to a disappointing 64-win last-place collapse in 1944, with attendance that was still 4th in the American League. In the meantime the Grays, originally based in Pittsburgh, had adopted Griffith Stadium as their home away from home and won the Negro National League pennant and Negro League World Series in 1944. David is co-author of the upcoming book, entitled “The Nats and the Grays: How Baseball in the Nation’s Capital Survived WWII and Changed the Game Forever.”
The finale of a great day was a baseball trivia contest in which each table became a “team” for purposes of answering 25 questions in ten minutes. After tallying the results, five participants at the winning table had another ten minutes to answer six multi-part questions. The ultimate winner was the day’s first presenter, David Smith. He received The Grand Prize: a baseball wallet, matching those given to the invited speakers. You see the questions and answers that made up this year’s contest here and here.