Wyers: SABR and the importance of preserving sabermetric history

From SABR member Colin Wyers at Baseball Prospectus on August 13, 2013:

This was my third year attending the annual convention of the Society for American Baseball Research—in this case, the 43rd such event. It is one of the social highlights of the year for a community that essentially suffered a diaspora at birth—it’s never been easier for baseball researchers to communicate, but every so often it’s vital to actually bring them together under one roof, and SABR is a vital way of doing that.

There are panel discussions, keynotes, presentations, posters, and committee meetings. There are also discussions in hallways and on escalators and in line at cheesesteak vendors and in bars… well, okay, mostly in bars. And those ad hoc interactions are at least as important as the formal events, if not more so. I’ve tried to recap the formal events, at least the ones I found of suitable interest. But it doesn’t really do enough to capture the sense of what the thing is. So let’s talk a bit. I don’t mean so much talk about SABR, although I’ll do that plenty. I mean let’s talk like we’re at the bar, with room to meander and ruminate and think about larger things. Now, obviously, I’m going to be doing most of the talking here to start, but a few of my victims from the hotel bar on Saturday night can tell you that’s pretty typical of being at SABR too.

I think there a lot of people out there who aren’t exactly sure what to make of SABR. There’s the public at large, who equates SABR with sabermetrics, despite the fact that it’s a very small part of the organization’s mission. On the flip side is the larger sabermetric community and its fellow travelers, who often have a hard time seeing how SABR is or could be relevant to the discussion in the Internet age. And there’s the leadership of SABR itself, which is unsure of how to make SABR more relevant to the modern generation of sabermetricians without driving off the current members in the process. And they have to, because SABR faces an existential crisis if it does not—the organization is aged and literally dying, and if younger people are not brought into the fold, eventually it will simply run out of members.


As an organization, SABR has been only loosely connected with the development of sabermetrics; most of the important work in the field has been done without it. In terms of preserving the game’s history, though, few have done the kind of work SABR has done. (Even in terms of preserving the history of sabermetrics itself, SABR’s archive of its “By The Numbers” newsletter is probably the single greatest record of the work of sabermetricians not named James or Palmer prior to the dawn of the Internet era.)

SABR is an organization with deep roots in history that needs to find ways to be relevant to the here-and-now to survive. Sabermetrics is a field that’s very relevant now but that has underdeveloped roots in history, both its own and the history of what it studies. The two could complement each other beautifully. It remains to be seen whether or not they will.

Read the full article here: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=21511

Originally published: August 13, 2013. Last Updated: August 13, 2013.