SABR 41: Recapping the Long Beach Convention

LONG BEACH — Here’s a compilation of recaps from SABR 41 this week:

We drank, cracked jokes about each other, and argued about stuff like the Negro Leagues and Major League Equivalencies in what I’d more or less describe as a perfect few hours. It’s tough to beat baseball, beer, friends, and 75-degree weather from a 14th-floor balcony overlooking California and the night was such a perfect representation of why I come to SABR conventions that it had me quoting Snoop Dogg on Twitter after finally going to my room at 4:15 a.m.

Heard notorious sports agent Scott Boras address (and actually charm) a packed ballroom of baseball fans and media about his early playing days. Heard a presentation called Fielder Jones, the Offensive Efficiency Paradox of His Hitless Wonders, and How They Stunned the Cubs in the 1906 World Series By Playing Against Type. Heard a convincing talk by Daryl Grigsby about how opposition to integration hurt the Washington Senators during the 1940s and ’50s. Enjoyed an hour-long media panel with Sean Forman, creator of Baseball Reference, Dave Cameron of Fan Graphs, Bill Squadron of Bloomberg Sports and Russ Stanton of the Los Angeles Times about how we willl get our baseball information in 10 years. Browsed through a vendor room that featured a table selling programs and scorecards from the old Pacific Coast League, along with a fabulous collection of small press baseball books I’d never seen, with titles like A History of Double Headers, Death at the Ballpark: A Comprehensive Study of Game-Related Fatalities, and Hard-Luck Harvey Haddix.

And that was all before dinnertime.

Afterwards I took in a superlative FanGraphs panel moderated by author/bloggers Jonah Keri, Rob Neyer, and Carson Cistulli that featured, among others, Rich Lederer of Baseball Analysts, who was largely responsible for Bert Blyleven making the Hall of Fame. The event lasted three hours but was so engrossing it felt like one.

Polman also wrote a separate recap for

The overall quality of the presentations really was very good. It might be the best group I’ve seen at a SABR convention so far. With one exception that shall remain nameless, I really liked them. Treder and Giacalone gave a great tag-team presentation on the 1965 NL pennant race, Mark Pankin (one of the men behind Retrosheet) gave a nice talk about whether the lack of lights hurt the Cubs for decades, Phil Birnbaum gave a great talk on home field advantage, and Adrian Burgos, Jr. gave an illuminating talk on Hall of Famer Alex Pompez.

Herm Krabbenhoft can prove one of major-league baseball’s longest standing records is wrong. … Like a prosecutor, he can walk a jury of his baseball-loving peers through physical and circumstantial proof and lead them to his conclusion: The American League’s single-season RBI record should not belong solely to Lou Gehrig, but rather should be shared with Hank Greenberg.

Managing editor of SABR’s The National Pastime publication, which was released during the SABR 41 convention, wrote a live blog for each day of the convention. She included quick transcripts of the panel discussions and Scott Boras’ keynote speech.

On Sunday, after breakfast, I got to hear former Dodgers Tommy Davis and Al Ferrara (who also was an original member of the Padres) tell stories. They grew up in Brooklyn together (the sense of place East Coast folks seem to feel is something I’ve always envied a bit) and were a treat. Ferrara talked about the differences between the Dodgers and the Padres at that time (hint: one organization had more money than the other) and mentioned his appearances in such fine films as Dracula’s Dog, Mansion of the Doomed, and Riot on Sunset Strip.

Ferrara also had nice things to say about his manager in San Diego, the late Preston Gomez. And he shared a fun anecdote about his third base coach on that same team, the late Sparky Anderson. While playing under Anderson in Cincinnati, Ferrara misplayed a fly ball to left field and Anderson stared him down as he returned to the dugout after the inning. Ferrara, who had been acquired from the Padres for the immortal Angel Bravo, quipped to his skipper: “What did you want for Bravo, Willie Mays?”

I could have listened to those two talk all day.

At this week’s convention, present-day medical issues were also explored with candor. Serving on a panel Wednesday night were Ned Bergert, former Angels head trainer, Neal ElAttrache, the Dodgers’ team physician and Dr. Kevin Wilk of Champions Sports. Their panel was moderated by Will Carroll of … ElAttrache was curious about the audience’s view on PRP and performance-enhancing drugs.

“That’s something I do need to be concerned about because I take care of people of all ages and what kind of effect is that going to have, socially, on the young athletes that we take care of,” he said.

“Because, believe me, I see high school kids and junior high school kids that are dabbling in steroids and HGH [human growth hormone]. It’s amazing what happens. And their parents know it. Including girls, by the way, especially girls.

“Girls’ soccer is rife with anabolic steroid use. It’s amazing.”

The Society of American Baseball Research is in the midst of their 41st gathering and by all accounts it has been an excellent exercise of baseball thought. FanGraphs presented a panel at the conference on Thursday night, and this totally unbiased opinion had the night at around the “pretty sweet” level.

Coming together on the first squaretable were Rich Lederer of Baseball Analysts (or “the first stathead to induct someone into the Hall of Fame” as moderator Jonah Keri put it), Sam Miller of the Orange County Register, Eric Stephen of True Blue LA and Jon Weisman of Dodger Talk.

Scott Boras’ success as an agent has made him feared, resented or loathed by many fans of the game. But in a long keynote speech at the annual conference for the Society for American Baseball Research today, Boras stressed his love for the game as his motivation for representing players.

“Baseball gave me a platform,” he said at the Long Beach Hilton. “It gave me something in life I still to this day consider the greatest of privileges. I wake up in the morning, run along the ocean go watch a day game in Anaheim, go watch a night game in Dodger Stadium, go home and talk to my sons who play baseball, and lay my head on the table and thank God for everything.”

After the [keynote] speech, I talked with Scott Boras and asked him about two of his star clients – we’ll start first with Bryce Harper, the 18 year old phenom who’s considered by many scouts and seasoned baseball experts to be the top prospect in all of Major League Baseball. He’s moving up fast in the minors – he was hitting .314 in single A ball with 14 HRs and 46 RBI – but will soon be playing for the Washington Nationals – perhaps as early as next year. Here’s the transcript of my one-on-one interview with Scott Boras.

I have to give my fellow attendees, the staff and the leadership a sold A+. SABR is an open, friendly, sharing group. No matter where you sat down – lunch, the hotel bar, any meeting room, at the two baseball games we took in – you fell into conversation and it was always about baseball. What a treat to be among about 400 strangers (well 398, I knew one or two from the AFL outings) all of whom like baseball, knew baseball and were willing to swap baseball stories. The slogan could be, “There are No Strangers at a SABR Event.” The First Time Attendee sticker got me a lot of “welcome to SABR” greetings and that was cool too. People care about this organization — a strong sign of health.

I was invited by Cameron to participate in FanGraphs Live in the main ballroom on Thursday night. … [Jonah] Keri introduced me as “the first stathead to induct someone into the Hall of Fame.” … The moderators and members of the audience asked me about the Angels and Dodgers, Bert Blyleven, the Hall of Fame, Jered Weaver, and Bryce Harper, among other topics. Cameron reminded me that I mentioned my disgust about the Vernon Wells signing more than once (or was it three times?). Of note, on the night before the Angels called up Mike Trout, I suggested that the team would have been better off locking him up for ten years rather than giving even more money to Wells for a shorter period. My son Joe, who attended the event along with my son-in-law Joel and brother Tom, informed me bright and early the following morning that the Angels promoted Trout from Double-A to the majors. I went to the Angels-Mariners game that evening and saw the 19-year-old prospect’s MLB debut. He went 0-for-3 at the plate but made an outstanding running catch at the warning track in right-center field to record the final out in the top of the ninth inning.

Here are some other recaps from local media outlets who were at SABR 41:

Hope to see you all in Minneapolis for SABR 42 next summer!

For more stories from SABR 41, click here.

— Jacob Pomrenke

Originally published: July 14, 2011. Last Updated: July 27, 2020.