SABR Day at Nats Park

by David Hughes

On Saturday, June 6, the Bob Davids Chapter met for its annual outing at a major league game, this year at Nationals Park.  The Nationals hosted the Chicago Cubs for an unusual 12:05 P.M. start.  The 70+ in attendance assembled at 9:30 a.m. fSamuel Mondry-Cohenor entry to the park then moved to the Roosevelt conference room for some discussion and to hear from our two guest speakers: Samuel Mondry-Cohen, Director, Baseball Research & Development for the Washington Nationals, and syndicated columnist, author, and life-long suffering Cubs fan, George F. Will.

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, the son of a math teacher, and still well south of 30 years old, Samuel recounted his varied career experiences in organized baseball.  He has been, in order: the visiting team’s batboy in his home town, San Francisco; one of the visiting team’s clubhouse attendants there; an unpaid intern with the Nationals’ front office; a paid intern with the Nationals; a one-person analytics resource within the Nationals’ front office, and, finally the supervisor of a three-person analytics department, also charged with certain other data gathering activities for the Nats.  He reports to Adam Cromie, Nationals Assistant General Manager (also one of our recent speakers).

Samuel answered questions about his experience as a clubhouse guy (the tips could be good), the mechanics of data gathering, some of the analytical challenges that his group faces on a daily basis, and the various internal uses to which the organization puts his group’s work product.  His group had been preoccupied recently in anticipation of the amateur draft (which began June 8), and will then turn its focus toward analysis in anticipation of the July 31 trade deadline.

George’s childhood home was in central Illinois, and he said that like all of his friends at the time he had a choice of becoming a Cubs fan or a CardinalsGeorge Will fan.  Most of his friends chose to be Cardinals fans and they grew up to become “happy adults who are liberals.”  He chose the Cubs and grew up to be “a dyspeptic conservative.”  His Cubs allegiance seems to have led him down some dark baseball alleys.  His Little League team’s sponsor was part of the Mittendorf Funeral Home group.  The team’s primary “color” was black.  George’s playing days ended, as they had for many of us in the room, when the dimensions of the diamond went from 60’x60’ to 90’ x 90’.

As George noted, Cubs history is littered with disappointment and strange historical threads.  Among other things, he referenced the “Bartman game,” and it’s clear that he’s seen too many Cubs disasters for too many seasons.  George recalled that the recently deceased Lennie Merullo (heretofore the last living Cub to have played in the World Series) had once committed four errors in one inning.  Lennie thereafter called his son, born that very day, “Boots.”  George also told of the Wrigley family’s concern about stories of a vendor in the bleachers who was infamous for short-changing fans.  The vendor, one Jack Rubenstein, subsequently left Chicago for Dallas, Texas.  There, under the name “Jack Ruby,” he ran a night club and became notorious for the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald.  One of the Cubs’ spring training forays to Catalina Island was the reason that Ronald Reagan, then a radio voice of the team, ventured to California where he took the screen test that changed history.

George gave his thoughts on numerous topics in response to many questions from the floor.  He described his friendships with Tony La Russa, Buck Showalter, and Larry Lucchino.  He opined on matters such as daily inter-league play (he’s for it), the 162-game schedule (he’s in favor of returning to 154), and Rickey Henderson (he’s very high on George’s list of all-time offensive forces in the game).  George emphasized a comment from Buck Showalter about today’s game: “These are ‘The Good Old Days.’”

After lunch, it was up to Section 306 for the game, which happened to be the MLB debut of the Nationals’ pitcher, Joe Ross, just up from AA to make a spot start (or two) while Doug Fister and Stephen Strasburg are on the DL.  Young Mr. Ross acquitted himself well, at least the first time through the Cubs’ lineup (3 innings, 3 Ks).  He has swing-and-miss stuff as well as an ability to induce ground balls.  But he found out the price that young pitchers pay when they fall behind in the count to MLB hitters, especially while facing them the second time.  The Top of the 4th was a tad uncomfortable for him.  The Top of the 5th was much tougher.  But even so, he had only yielded 3 ER before his pitch count (91) got him out of there after five.  Felipe Rivero followed with three clean innings of relief, but Taylor Hill coughed up an insurance run in the 9th that had some strategic importance.

That’s because the Nationals had done very little until then against a longtime nemesis, Jason Hammel.  Hammel pounded the strike zone all game and while he had given up a lot of fly balls, the Nationals didn’t mount much of an attack.  Wilson Ramos hit a solo home run to give the Nats an early lead, but they didn’t score again until Hammel’s 100th (and last) pitch, an opposite field blast by Bryce Harper to lead off the 9th inning.  But that only brought the score to 4-2, and though the Nats managed to get the tying run to the plate, the Cubs’ bullpen did the job to seal their victory.

Still, a great day at the ball park.