By Mary Groebner
The Northwest Chapter of SABR met on Saturday, February 19, 2011, from noon to 5 p.m. at the Hillsdale Library in Portland. Twenty-five members and guests were in attendance.
Chapter president John Henshell announced that Rick Solomon has agreed to serve as Vice President.
After introductions, member John Simpson made a presentation about his third published book, “The Greatest Game Ever Played in Dixie”. It’s about the Nashville Vols 1908 season and championship game. While working on his book about Edith Pope, John encountered an article written by Grantland Rice about the Vols championship game. Rice’s quote spurred John’s interest and became the title of his third book.
The book begins with the last games of the 1907 season, and continues through the championship game of the 1908 season and beyond, as the last chapter notes what later happened to the players of the Vols. John also discussed the Southern Association, owners, stadiums, and teams within the league. Research included accounts from three local newspapers, the Sporting News and Sporting Life, and interview. John shared many interesting photos from his book.
The Vols played were managed by Bill Bernhard, who John didn’t feel ever got his due. Bernhard was one of the earliest foes of the reserve clause and a close friend of Napoleon Lajoie. The Vols played in a unique ballpark named Sulphur Dell; it was only 265 feet to the RF wall, but the last 40 feet of that rose at an incline and the city dump was on the other side of the wall. The field was reversed in 1927, moving homeplate out to where center field had been, and then finally torn down in 1963. It was extremely hard to play RF, but Doc Wiseman played it so well that one of his nicknames was ”The Goat.”. As part of his research, John was able to locate three of Wiseman’s children and spent eight hours with them, listening to their memories and also sharing stories that he had uncovered during his research. This was a special experience for John and the Wisemans.
John gave brief profiles of many of the players on the 1908 Vols, including Swede Jansing (who played in Aberdeen, WA later in his career), Pryor McElveen, Jake Daubert (who was league MVP in 1913 and an outstanding defensive 1B), Hub Perdue (John’s personal favorite), Harry Bay (known as ‘Deerfoot’ for his speed). We look forward to the biography John is writing about Perdue, and hope that he will favor the chapter with another presentation when that book is out.
Next, member Mike Rice hosted the Mariners Roundtable, a discussion about what we can expect from the 2011 Seattle Mariners. In recent years, Mike’s presentations had been titled ‘The 2009 Seattle Mariners: They Have to Be Better, Don’t They?’ and ‘The 2010 Seattle Mariners: They’re Contenders?’. This year’s presentation continued the theme with ‘The 2011 Seattle Mariners: Some Years It’s Hard to Get Excited’
Mike looked at the Mariners Pythagorean prediction results from 2007-2010. They over-performed in all years but 2008. Mike showed the 2010 ABs, OPS+, and WAR for the projected 2011 team. Few of the players in the potential starting lineup had full seasons of major league ABs last year and few of them would, based on their 2010 WAR, rate as starters (WAR of 5 generally indicates MVP status, 3 generally indicates All-star status, and 2 generally indicates starting lineup status).
On a more upbeat note, Mike looked at how good Felix Hernandez really was last year. Felix had the best performance of any 24 year old pitcher in the American Leagues during the DH era for ERA+, OPS+, WHIP and Win Percentage, and was 4th highest for RSAA. Mike noted that at least once every five starts, Mariners fans do have reason to be excited.
Mike showed Ichiro’s WAR trend line over the past 10 years. Ichiro is a very consistent player with incredible preparation and work ethic.
As always, each attendee predicted how many wins the Mariners would have in 2011; predictions ranged from 56 to 80 with most members predicting between 65 and 73 wins.
Following Mike, Oregon sports journalist — and a recent inductee to the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame — Dwight Jaynes spoke to the chapter. Dwight first spoke about growing up in a baseball family, and how a trip to the Portland Beavers spring training camp in 1959 led to his 3-year stint (’61-’63) as a batboy. As was then typical, he worked his way up in the organization until he was head of Group Sales when the Beavers left Portland. Dwight speculated that no one spent more time in Multnomah/Civic/PGE park than he had, as he never missed home games. He recalled the days of pitchers Sam McDowell and Luis Tiant, and how catcher Buddy Booker kept McDowell in line (and perhaps should have been called up with McDowell). Dwight also recalled the close connection that the Beavers had with their community, such as when around 19K fans showed up for a sudden-death playoff game against Spokane in ’65. The Beavers left Portland in 1973, and during that time, Bing Russell brought the Portland Mavericks to town and showed how to sell baseball. A new AAA Beavers team started in Portland in 1978 and Dwight recalled a glorious 5-year run under owner David Hersh. For a few years, Dwight traveled with the team as a writer which was unique for a AAA ballclub (one of the problems with minor league ball is a lack of media coverage, partially due to the fact that newspapers will not hold the print deadline in order to allow minor league games to complete as they will for major league events). 2010 was the last season for the Portland Beavers, as owner Merritt Paulsen is converting PGE Park into an MLS facility for the Portland Timbers. Dwight noted that Paulsen had tried very hard and was willing to put significant amounts of his own money into finding or building a facility so that the Beavers could stay in the area, but that political realities with Portland largely prevented this from happening.
With respect to media and sports journalism, Dwight noted that he expects that box scores in newspapers will become smaller, as newspapers have largely conceded to online coverage. Coverage is greater with many more folks covering a team, but you have to look for it online. Furthermore, coverage in a newspaper leads you to articles you might not otherwise read, while online coverage only takes you directly to what you are seeking. Dwight recalled the book, ”Percentage Baseball,” and the days when Bill James’ abstracts were barely known, and how surprised he was when he walked into a major bookstore and saw them prominently displayed on a shelf.
Dwight made time for a few questions. One question was whether college sports have bumped out coverage of minor league ball; Dwight responded that newspapers do not have an easy time of trying to decide/predict how much interest there may be in a particular thing and also noted that baseball doesn’t do the greatest job of selling itself to the next generation, noting the uniformity of duration of NFL games while baseball games can go on forever. This is one of the charms of baseball, but it also makes it hard to sell. When asked about memories of when Satchel Paige played for the Beavers, Dwight responded that Paige had only pitched at home twice, but that while he walked slowly and was older, he ”could still bring it” and it would have been impressive to see the younger Satchel Paige perform.
Next, John Henshell led a discussion of chapter business. We discussed the suggestion by member/secretary Mary Groebner to rename the chapter the ”Dave Niehaus Chapter.” Response was mostly strongly in favor, but inconclusive. John showed a draft of a planned chapter survey and asked for feedback and suggestions. Treasurer Tim Herlich distributed notebooks that he had received as a result of the recent collaboration between SABR and Bloomberg Sports.
Member Steve Steinberg, who co-authored the book “1921: The Yankees, the Giants, and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York” with Lyle Spatz, gave a presentation on some of the key figures in baseball and specifically the World Series in 1921. Steinberg noted that Ty Cobb exemplified the Deadball era because Cobb was always doing whatever he could to scratch out a run.
Newspapers portrayed the series as a face-off between Giants manager John McGraw, Yankees manager Miller Huggins, and Babe Ruth. The czar-like McGraw liked to steal but hated to bunt or give up outs. Newspapers at the time sometimes claimed that John McGraw is baseball. Huggins faced a big challenge in managing Ruth, who often socialized with Yankees co-owner Col. Ruppert. Ruth staged a not-so-subtle rebellion against Huggins.
Steve was asked about the 9-game series and whether in researching the book, he and Spatz had found contradicting newspaper accounts. Steve noted that the 1921 series was the last of the 9-game World Series to be played; baseball had experimented with 9-game series in order to benefit from the extra paydays, but it was not sustainable. In researching the book, Steinberg and Spatz sometimes found conflicting stories in the 9-10 newspapers that were covering the series, but they mostly attributed these conflicts either to personal favorites of the writers, or to the fact that viewers of the games at that time only saw a given play a single time and didn’t have the benefit of reviewing it. One questioner wondered what Ruth’s best season was; Steve suggested that Mike Rice analyze whether it was 1920, 1921 or 1923.. Mike later e-mailed the chapter that 1920 was the Babe’s best season. He only played 142 games that year, but had his highest OPS+, OWP, RC/Game, ISO, SEC & BPA0.
Our final activity was a review of the circular trivia quiz. Neal Traven and Mike Rice both aced the quiz. Stormy Winters did well enough to win the Rookie of the Year award. All three members won design-your-own logo caps. The results were accompanied by general baseball talk and additional trivia.
John concluded with a list of baseball people who died during the offseason, and focused on Seattle’s Dave Niehaus and Ron Santo. After the meeting, many of the attendees adjourned to the nearly adjacent Hillsdale Brewery and Public House, the first of the McMenamin’s establishments, to raise a glass in memory of those people, and talk more baseball.