2020 SABR Day: Louisville

Tad Myre

The Pee Wee Reese Chapter held its SABR Day meeting on Saturday, January 25, 2020 at the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory (LSMF) and a good time was had by all. As it always so generously does, LSMF provided the Chapter with its spacious second floor meeting room along with treats for attendees. Terecia Helm of LSMF welcomed attendees and announced that the Museum was donating a to-be-personalized Louisville Slugger bat certificate as well as four LSMF tour passes. New Chapter leader Tad Myre then introduced Chapter Treasurer Ken Draut to give a quick financial report.

Ken took us all through the financials (to summarize, we’re holding our own). Then, to our delight and to the surprise of Harry Rothgerber, our longtime fearless leader, he presented Harry with the Pee Wee Reese Chapter’s coveted “Home Plate Award,” making him only the fifth recipient of our highest honor. To a standing ovation, Harry rose and offered some predictably self-deprecating remarks. There is not enough room in this report to summarize all that Harry has done for the Chapter over the years; suffice to say that most of us would have a hard time imagining where the Chapter would be without him.

That’s a sobering thought for Mr. Myre (i.e., me), who kept things moving by telling the quick anecdote of one particular Louisville Slugger, which he held in his hand. Long ago, Tad’s brother-in-law, Dan Stewart, worked with Jack Hillerich to redesign the signature bat logo. After some back and forth, the undeniably correct decision was made to retain the famous oval (though some tweaks were made within it). For that effort, Mr. Hillerich gave Dan a Pee Wee Reese bat commemorating the famous Louisvillian’s election to the Hall of Fame in 1984. That year also coincided with the Hillerich & Bradsby Company’s 100-year anniversary, with “One Hundred Years” and “1884-1984” also engraved on the barrel. After concluding the quick tale, Tad placed the bat in better hands by handing it over to Harry, his predecessor (and friend) and longtime Dodger and Pee Wee Reese fan. A big hand for Harry, both here at the Chapter and across all of SABR.

Greg Gajus

Our first speaker was Greg Gajus, co-author of the book Baseball Revolutionaries: How the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings Rocked the Country and Made Baseball Famous. The book has been well-received, as indicated by the following blurb ("Delightful! Text and illustrations do the great story of the 1869 Red Stockings proud. Forget the legend and learn the real story of the team that made baseball famous." - John Thorn, Official Historian of Major League Baseball.)

Having received a copy from Greg ahead of the meeting, I was deep into it by SABR Day, and can attest to the truth of Mr. Thorn’s observations. It is not just a baseball book; it’s a history book that captures post-Civil War times as well as antecedents of the game destined to become our National Pastime, in no small part due to the marauding success of the Red Stockings over 150 years ago. The authors adopt a framework applied to good effect by Bill James and Rob Neyer in their use of a generous number of side-story panels, many of which were researched and written by Mr. Gajus.

Doffing his Reds hat and wearing a shirt emblazoned with the book’s front cover photograph, Greg regaled us with the story of this remarkable team, offered up with the affable delivery of a storyteller in love with the sport. You can (and should) find this book on Amazon.com. For his early-morning drive down I-71 and his entertaining presentation, Greg received a gift certificate to the Slugger Museum Gift Shop. At the end of Greg’s presentation, Ms. Helm informed the group that all attendees would be treated to a free Museum and Factory tour after our meeting concluded. Terecia, who is a baseball fan in her own right, also handled the critically important task of making sure we never ran out of coffee.

Chris Betsch

Next up was our member Chris Betsch. Chris has been researching an early Twentieth Century baseball player by the name of John Dodge. While we all know the tragic story of Ray Chapman, few have heard of Dodge, who was also killed by a pitched ball, this time while playing in the minor leagues (the twenty-seven year old was trying to make his way back to the major leagues). Dodge’s parents were living in Louisville at the time of his death, so they had him interred in Louisville’s famous Cave Hill Cemetery. https://www.cavehillcemetery.com/. Dodge lies next to his parents but in an unmarked grave. Chris gave us a good portrait of this ballplayer’s short life, and you should look for his (first-time author) John Dodge SABR bio any time now.

Chris also brought a couple of his friends along, something we always welcome.

Next up was Jack Sullivan’s famous Trivia Quiz. Unfortunately (for us, but maybe not so much for him), Jack was in Phoenix and could not attend, but he made up for it by sending us a doozy of a quiz. Jack’s questions covered the gamut: statistics, awards, nicknames, quotes, pictures, birthplaces, a couple of his beloved Bosox references, it was one of those classic quizzes that can frustrate because some of the answers feel like they are right there within reach.

Jack always gives a player’s season statistics and then asks who it is and what year it was compiled. Here was his latest:

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

585

146

208

35

6

56*

191*

.356

.454

.723

1.177

Most baseball fans will identify this season as Hack Wilson’s famous one, although fewer can guess the year (it was 1930). Harry Rothgerber pointed out that the still-standing season RBI record was originally 190 until SABR researchers spotted an overlooked ribbie, putting Hack’s record just that much more out of reach. Hack Wilson was a heavy drinker, and I recited the story of the time manager Joe McCarthy gathered the team around and proceeded to drop a live worm into a class of gin. After the worm quickly curled up and died, McCarthy turned to Wilson and said, “Hack, what’s that tell you?” Wilson’s response: “It tells you that if you have worms, pound the gin!” Bob Sawyer then chimed in with a sportswriter’s quote that Hack Wilson looked like a keg of beer and usually had about that much in him. Admittedly, one or both of these may be embellished, but the grand tradition of baseball storytelling allows for that.

Bob’s brother Charlie Sawyer won the contest, nailing 20 out of the 30 questions, and for that received the personalized bat certificate.

We then discussed a project that has come together as a result of Chris Betsch’s aforementioned visits to Cave Hill Cemetery in pursuit of the John Dodge story. In addition to Pete “the Gladiator” Browning and John Dodge, over twenty professional baseball players are buried there. As he will do, Harry Rothgerber drew from his vast store of knowledge and told me about a project that former Chapter head (and fellow Home Plate Award honoree) Bob Bailey worked on many years back. Bob, who no longer lives in Louisville, was happy to provide us with a large list of players, sportswriters, managers, umpires, owners, etc. who are buried in Louisville and in other locations throughout Kentucky. Bob ended up compiling a book entitled “Baseball Burial Sites” which I promptly bought off of Amazon.com. After that, I met with the Executive Director of the Cave Hill Cemetery Foundation, a very engaging Michael Higgs, who expressed interest in working with us to develop a baseball-themed tour at the Cemetery. (If you want to see something cool, download the Cave Hill app and check out the stories behind many of Cave Hills “inhabitants”(?), including Browning’s).

We are now also exploring the feasibility of a baseball-themed Louisville tour that would include a visit to the Slugger Museum, a cemetery tour, a pregame trip to Slugger Field, and then, to close things out, a Bats game. Harry, Mike Zanone and Jon Borie offered to volunteer in this effort. Chris Betsch and I have also discussed raising money so that John Dodge has finally has a marker right there next to his parents.

We finished the meeting with our traditional “everybody-wins” drawing for the right to select a book or other item from the “SABR table”, which was stocked compliments of Mr. Rothgerber, with the help of “stevedores” Andy and Ken Draut.

A couple of final notes. Congratulations once again to Harry Rothgerber for the Home Plate Award. Long overdue; never any doubt. Thanks to Ken Draut and Ryan Schroer (and of course, Harry) for their behind-the-scenes work. Without that, the meeting would have been at best a mess. Thanks to Teresa Cooper, Terecia Helm, Alex Shepard, Andrea Davis and other folks at the Museum for their continuing support of our Chapter. If you’re a local and haven’t been, or are ever passing through Louisville, a visit to the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory is a must and a blast. https://www.sluggermuseum.com/ The gift shop is also one of the coolest.

We were thrilled to have a larger than normal crowd this year and always welcome guests and out-of-towners. I had a nice chat with Dan Schroer, who came down from Columbus, Indiana, with son Ryan. Chris Rainey made the trip over from Oxford, Ohio. Chris has written more than a few SABR bios (and other works). It was fun getting to talk to him a little bit and we hope he returns. His offer of assistance to Chris and me is greatly appreciated and one I expect to take him up on in connection with my Ron Hunt bio. Our old friend Alex Mayer travelled down from Newport to attend the meeting and also donated a trove of baseball books for future giveaways. Alex was our faithful contact with the Louisville Bats, but has now moved on up to the Reds, where he’s just getting going. We promised to stay in touch for a SABR junket to a Reds game (my preference would be a Reds-Cardinals game). The refortified Reds look to be a contender this year if their pitching staff can keep the ball in the park. It was good seeing Lexingtonians Michael Burnley and Woody Coyle, as well as Roger Snell, who came over from Frankfort. We did not see some of our regulars from Bowling Green this year, but hope to make up for it when we head down for a meeting and Hot Rods game on April 10. It was a pleasure also to meet new SABR member (and Bowling Green native) Trey Huntsman, donning a Dodger cap and recently employed at the Slugger Museum.

Chris Krebs

Speaking of Bowling Green, our member Chris Krebs has formed the company StatisticHouse, which will focus on the next generation of AI based sports simulations, advanced sports analytics and digital sports assets. As one example, its Pro Baseball Simulation allows for the monetization of players, teams and leagues, and is secured by the latest in blockchain technology. Chris has launched the company’s first podcast, which can be found right at statistichouse.com/podcast. Check it out. Chris is a business world-traveler, and consequently we’ve missed him the last couple of opportunities, but we’re hoping he’ll be around in April to tell us about this new company (and I’m hoping he can explain to me the meaning of “blockchain technology”).

The SABR annual meeting is in easy-to-get-to Baltimore this year. If you haven’t been to this convention, it’s a great trip, chock full of baseball, yet there’s also plenty of time to do other things with family or friends. And if you’ve never been to Camden Yards, it’s time. Also: be sure and renew your membership if it’s that time of year for you.

Pitchers and catchers report shortly and, as with every spring training since the dawn of time, hope will soon officially spring eternal. In the meantime, stay healthy, stay safe, and see you on the flip flop.

— Tad Myre