High and Inside
The Newsletter of the SABR BioProject Committee
April 2016 (Special Sidd Finch Edition), Volume 1, Number 4
- From the Editor
- From the Director
- Advice from the Experts
- Project Profile: Jacob Pomrenke
- Project Poobahs
Bill Nowlin reports that we now have a bio on every member of the Boston American League team from 1901 to 1941, bringing the total bios in the project to more than 3,700.
That’s pretty cool. For more cool stuff, read on.
From the Director
As you likely know, whenever one of SABR’s frequent books of biography is published, we post “stub” biographies of each of the subjects — so instead of reading all about Johnny Bench, you would instead see an advertisement for the book. A year or so after the book is published, we replace the “stub” with the real biography.
Unfortunately, the combination of accelerated book output and the general overworked nature of the SABR staff means that we now have 12 published books for which we have not had time to post bios. That's a lot of bios (maybe 300) but represents just over 18 months of books. The situation is not really sustainable.
The solution is to offload some of the posting of the bios (which is done completely by the SABR office, mostly by Jacob Pomrenke) onto our project. Seems only fair. An effort is being organized along these lines now — stay tuned to this space as we may need help down the road.
In the meantime, we are having another big year even outside the books. The BioProject “year” runs from July 1 to June 30, and we are on pace to shatter our record for biographies. I will provide gory details at our annual meeting in Miami, and also in this space.
One of the things people have begun to notice is that we have *most* prominent players covered now. This is hard to quantify, but when some star player from more than a generation ago has a birthday, his bio is usually available to post to Twitter or Facebook to mark the occasion. We recently posted Sandy Koufax (give it a read), and Jacob commented that he was shocked that we didn’t have Koufax yet. This is understandable.
So who are the most prominent players that are still not posted? George Brett, Tony Gwynn, Greg Maddux, Rickey Henderson. The first three are assigned, but Rickey is still out there. Step right up.
— Mark Armour
I was enjoying a dinner at La Guarida, the paladar (restaurant) featured in the Cuban film Fresca y Chocolate. It was my third visit to Cuba with Kit Krieger and Cubaball. Each visit, we spent time with Sigfredo Barros, the Granma sports writer.
I was chatting with Bill Nowlin, and I think I asked was there a SABR bio on Barros? There was not! But Bill was working on a book project, and at the time thought that Barros might be included ... so I volunteered to write something. And that “something” turned into my first BioProject submission!
I talked a bit with Sigfredo while I was there, and we decided to conduct the interview via email as we would not have more time together. So that was the plan. I thought that I could easily find more info online and put together the piece.
The email interviews went well but were challenging as Barros did not have ready access to email and at one point his computer system went down, so our email interviews extended over many months.
My thought that I would find much more info online was correct, in a way. There were lots of hits when I searched for him, but almost all were in Spanish. And I speak very limited Spanish. The translations weren’t really useful.
I asked Kit Krieger to take a look at an early draft, and he made some great suggestions for further questions for Barros. Peter Bjarkman also made good suggestions for edits.
It was very enjoyable to do the research (limited as I was) and I was surprised how much I enjoyed the actual writing of the bio. I was able to pull together information from the interview with facts I already knew, and resources from the research. I enjoyed writing about someone I know and who trusted me to write his story accurately.
It was challenging working from email interviews. Sigfredo speaks English well, but I often worried that I was doing him a disservice by not being able to talk/write to him in his own language, and that I was missing opportunities for supporting information being unable to translate what I found online.
The best part was getting to know him better. He was very happy with the final bio and I am hoping that he is able to access it and share the link to the SABR Bioproject site.
I read a fair amount of baseball writing and I certainly have a much greater appreciation for those writers who take on the larger effort of writing about players, teams, leagues, and other areas from the storied history of baseball.
If you are new to this effort, it would be well worth your time to read the FAQs on the BioProject site. That was my mistake, not looking at them. It's good information for first-time writers. As we all know, there is an amazing wealth of research resources on the SABR site, and that can be a bit overwhelming when you are just getting started. Also, take some time to review the SABR Style Guide as well. It is thorough and well-done and will be most useful.
I’d recommend that if you are interested in contributing, please do so! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I’m thinking about who/what I might want to try next!
Thank You, BioProject Authors
By Fred Worth
When I first became a SABR member, it was to feed my lifelong enjoyment of baseball statistics. When I was in first grade, I had my mother teach me long division so I would be able to calculate batting averages. While I am still very interested in statistics, a combination of events has changed my primary area of baseball research.
I am a professor of mathematics at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. In 2004, shortly after I joined SABR, I was surfing the web and came across Frank Russo’s “The Deadball Era” website. Dedicated to players who are now “safe at home,” it focuses on necrological information about players, from causes of death to burial sites and other things. I was having a stressful semester so I was open to a brief diversion. Frank’s site provided that for me since it noted that Travis Jackson, Hall of Fame shortstop, was buried in Waldo, Arkansas, a small (very small) town about an hour from us.
My wife and I decided to take a trip to Waldo to visit the grave. Fortunately the cemetery was small since I rather naively thought we’d just show up and look for the grave. We found it fairly quickly and took some pictures. Little did I know where that would lead.
Subsequently, I found out that there were other players buried in the area. I visited those. I travel some for my job so I would find out about burials in the areas where I went on business. Before long, I began planning trips solely to find and document baseball grave sites. I take pictures and record the GPS coordinates of all the graves I visit.
I eventually found out that I was not the only one with this interest. One with whom I became familiar fairly quickly was Stew Thornley. Stew specializes in Hall of Fame graves, folks whose careers are well-known to the average SABR member. But in visiting ALL of the ballplayers I can find, I come upon some about whom I knew nothing. I did not like that.
After I visit a grave, I compile some basic information about the person: statistics, photos, obituaries, etc. The BioProject has provided a really awesome way for me to find out about people, particularly the less well-known players. One of my favorite biographies is Jim Sargent’s bio on Bob Mavis (buried in Alexander, Arkansas), whose entire major league career consisted of a single pinch-running appearance.
The number of graves I have visited has now reached 4,954 graves of players, managers, umpires, scouts, minor leaguers, Negro Leaguers, etc. The photos and information fill 80 photo albums spread around my office. And those of you involved in writing for the BioProject have contributed mightily to this project. I now have biographies for 1,009 of the baseball personalities whose graves I’ve visited. They range from players like Babe Ruth to players like Bob Mavis. They include SABR founder Bob Davids, noted historian Lee Allen, managers like Johnny Keane, and Negro Leaguers like Frank Grant. So let this be my “thank you” to all of you who have contributed to the BioProject.
Guest columnists welcome: Contact Stew.
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Project Profile: Jacob Pomrenke
Jacob Pomrenke is known to all in SABR as the organization’s director of editorial content and as the editor of Scandal on the South Side: The 1919 Chicago White Sox.
Chair of the Black Sox Scandal Committee, Jacob was the major mover in getting biographical sketches of all of the 1919 White Sox, with his name among the bylines. He says he is particularly proud of the Lefty Williams bio since much of his story, especially his early life, had never been told before. “But if I had to pick a favorite among the bios I’ve written, it's John ‘Lefty’ Sullivan, who pitched four games for the 1919 White Sox. I got to interview two of his grandsons, who were a delight to talk with. And even though his MLB career was short, he had a long, interesting life in baseball and a compelling story on and off the field.”
Jacob was born in Baltimore, grew up in Atlanta, and now lives in Phoenix with his wife, Tracy Greer (aka PulHitzHer Prize — her Roller Derby name), and their cats, Nixey Callahan and Bones Ely. He had spent 10 years in journalism, working as a reporter, editor, and designer for newspapers in California and Georgia.
Jacob has caught one foul ball — July 14, 2001 in Atlanta, hit by Cal Ripken, two pitches before Ripken homered in his final at-bat in Atlanta. Six years later Jacob was at the induction ceremony for Ripken and Tony Gwynn at the Hall of Fame. He returned to Cooperstown seven years later to see the Braves’ triumvirate of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Bobby Cox get inducted.
The most memorable game he has attended was Randy Johnson’s perfect game at Turner Field in 2004. “Just a surreal experience.” He was at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia the night Bob Dernier hit a walk-off, inside-the-park home run in the 12th inning, but he and his crew had left early to beat traffic. “Now I cite Bob Dernier as the reason why I never leave a game early.”
Among the challenges he has encountered writing for the BioProject, Jacob says, “Most of my writing tends to be about people who are long-dead, so it can be difficult to find much information about their lives before and after their baseball career. It’s often impossible to find any details about a player’s spouse, for example, and census records only help so much. But that’s what makes it gratifying when you can tell those stories and flesh out the humanity of a person besides what he did on the baseball field. It’s one of my favorite aspects of the BioProject.”
As for advice: “I like to start with the Baseball Hall of Fame Library's player files when I'm doing my research. You never know what interesting nuggets you can find there. The folks in Cooperstown will often e-mail the file to you if you ask nicely. And then when you're done with your research, don't forget to send back any new information you found to the HOF Library so future researchers can use it, too. (I need to get better about following my own advice!)
Fun Fact: “I once dressed up as Saber Boy, complete with OBP top and baseball briefs, for a costume party organized by a local roller derby league.”
Jacob shares his February 23 birthday with Barney Dreyfuss, Phil Haugstad, Elston Howard, Bobby Bonilla, Ron Hunt, Mike Tresh, Peter Fonda, Victor Fleming, George Frideric Handel, Paul Tibbets, Dante “Glue Fingers” Lavelli, W.E.B. Du Bois, John Blow, Phil “Flip” Saunders, and Agnes Smedley.
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Mark Armour (Director)
Rory Costello (Chief Editor)
Jan Finkel (Senior Editor, Emeritus)
Len Levin (Senior Editor)
Warren Corbett (Chief Fact Checker)
Bill Nowlin (Team Projects)
Lyle Spatz (Assignments)
Emily Hawks (Modern Initiative - 1980s/1990s)
Scott Ferkovich (Ballparks Project)
Gregory H. Wolf