Editor’s note: This is the prepared text of Vince Gennaro’s President’s Report from the SABR 43 Annual Business Meeting on August 1, 2013, in Philadelphia. The Diamond Report is a series of monthly messages, written by SABR President Vince Gennaro and Executive Director Marc Appleman, to keep SABR members better informed about the Society’s direction and progress. The Diamond Report archives are collected at SABR.org/diamondreport. To learn more about becoming a SABR member, visit SABR.org/join.
August 1, 2013
By Vince Gennaro
Every leadership challenge begins with the question, “Who are we?”
Knowing “who we are” is a pre-requisite to leading us forward. In the simplest terms, our future course emanates from a combination of our identity — who we are — and adapts that identity to the ever-changing environment around us. The two together define “who we want to become.”
- Audio: Listen to Vince Gennaro’s President’s Report from the 2013 SABR 43 Annual Business Meeting (10:30; 9.3 MB)
At our core, SABR’s identity can be summed up in two words: research and community.
Our research is all about uncovering, documenting, dissecting and analyzing the past, present and future of baseball.
Our interests are diverse. Our sandbox spans four centuries, the 18th to the 21st. The topics range from the eternal search for the true origins of the game, to correcting the historical record for Lou Gehrig’s RBI total in 1928, to developing predictive models of how Mike Trout’s skills will age over the next 20 years, and everything in between.
While there may appear to be little overlap in these examples, there is unmistakably a common theme — they expand our insights and contribute to the body of knowledge of the great game of baseball, for which we all share a passion.
This passion for baseball — as a game, as a sport, and as an American institution — is the foundation of our “community.” The opportunity to share our experiences, our passion and our baseball knowledge with like-minded people is what draws us together.
So with a strong sense of who we are, a lot of our work over the last couple of years — mine, Marc Appleman’s and the Board’s — has been adapting to our changing environment. The developments we’ve had to cope with are our aging membership base (which has been well documented), dramatic changes in the publishing world, and operating our Society amidst a deep recession, to mention just a few. Each of these have serious implications for our financial well-being, as well as how we fulfill our mission.
In many ways, our last year has been a positive turning point for SABR — as a research organization, in terms of our role in the broader baseball community, and from a financial perspective.
As a research organization we continue to step up our game.
- We are now up to 2,500 bios in our BioProject — one of SABR’s flagship initiatives.
- We’ve launched our Digital Library by publishing nine new books this year in electronic form … all of which are free to our members.
- We’ve used our Conferences to unveil and discuss the latest research — the Ivor-Campbell 19th Century, SABR Analytics and the Jerry Malloy Negro League Conference and this National Convention — have all become must-attend events.
- We’re particularly excited about a new acquisition of a prized research asset. We recently acquired the treasured The Sporting News player contract cards, which document important facts about major and minor league players. We are currently developing plans for these cards and Marc Appleman will keep our membership posted on our plans for this important research asset.
A defining moment that exemplifies our changing role in the baseball world is our newly formed relationship with Rawlings Sporting Goods.
Rawlings was looking to incorporate a statistical component into their iconic Gold Glove Award, as a supplement to their long-standing managers and coaches voting system.
It was clear to Rawlings that SABR was the perfect partner … in much the same way it has become clear to the Baseball Hall of Fame, MLB.com, and the 25 major league teams that sent representatives to this year’s SABR Analytics Conference.
Rawlings viewed SABR as a recognized authority in baseball analytics, an independent and objective third party with no commercial interest in defensive metrics.
So we assembled a committee of experts in fielding analytics, and are in the process of defining the SABR Defensive Index — an aggregation of existing measures into one overall Index. The SABR Defensive Index — the SDI — will become an integral component of the Gold Glove Award criteria, beginning this season. There will be more details on this important initiative in the coming weeks.
Playing this role of facilitator — an independent, objective third party — is a new role that suits SABR well. It’s an excellent way to leverage our credibility and expertise and fulfill the leadership role we have earned within baseball.
For the last several years, Marc Appleman and I have been sharing SABR’s vision, accomplishments and rich resources with those in the media, MLB, the Hall of Fame, and suppliers to the baseball industry.
SABR has been universally embraced as a serious and dedicated research body, with knowledgeable members who volunteer their time and energy to deepen our collective understanding about all aspects of the baseball. Being connected to the baseball infrastructure allows our work to be seen and heard by people who care most about it — those whose life and life’s work is baseball.
The Rawlings partnership is the result of the respect that SABR commands. A well-deserved respect that has been earned over 43 years, through the outstanding work of many of you and your predecessors.
The final area I’d like to touch on is the way we successfully re-engineered SABR’s financial model. We’ve had to deal with the changes I mentioned earlier — flat to declining membership dues, radical changes in the publishing market, a severe recession — all while the costs of operating SABR continue to rise. These challenges resulted in several consecutive years of operating losses.
Just like the aging pitcher, who loses a few miles per hour off his fastball, we had to adapt … we needed to learn how to be “pitchers,” not just throwers.
Our version of not relying on “overpowering stuff” was to not rely so heavily on membership dues for our revenues. We’ve worked hard to focus on alternative sources of revenue.
The good news is over the last five years, membership dues went from 60 percent down to 41 percent of our total revenues, while we have shifted our revenue base more toward Conferences and Licensing income.
The bottom line is, despite a decline in membership (and dues) from our peak years, we have still grown revenues substantially … and while expenses have also grown, I’m happy to say that we are back to projecting a financial surplus this year from our on-going operations.
I’ve just recapped a few of the highlights of the last year, so now let me remind you where we are headed. There are four things that describe the path SABR is on:
- We’re focused on being a productive, vibrant research body dedicated to expanding our knowledge and appreciation of baseball.
- We want to be a strong community, who collaborates and shares our research and passion for baseball with one another.
- We want to be an integral, relevant and respected member of the broader “community” — the baseball world. We want to contribute to the institution of baseball, while maintaining our independence and objectivity.
- Finally, we want to be a financially sound organization with a business model that allows us to make investments in research assets and community tools to ensure the next generation of baseball researchers can flourish within SABR, the way we have.
All and all, it’s been an outstanding year for SABR, but we still have a lot of work to do, including finishing the year strong on all fronts. In order to deliver the financial performance we project, we’ll need to maintain the level of members’ donations that we’ve had in recent years.
I want you to know how much SABR appreciates and relies on your donations as an important part of our revenue base. So, thank you for your financial support, as well as the time and energy you give to SABR.
Your research projects, expertise and in many cases, personal reputations all add up to allow SABR to be the organization we are today. Let’s make the next 12 months even more successful than the stellar year we’ve just completed.
Vince Gennaro was elected as SABR’s President in 2011. He is also the author of “Diamond Dollars: The Economics of Winning in Baseball”, a consultant to Major League teams, and appears regularly on MLB Network. Read his blog, “Diamond Dollars”, at vincegennaro.mlblogs.com.
Originally published: August 12, 2013. Last Updated: April 16, 2020.