Yesterday was “Super Saturday” in SABRland, with eight regional chapters scheduled to hold Hot Stove League meetings. Not sure how such a thing came to be, but it sure does help with the waiting for the Super Bowl.
These member gatherings (non-members are always welcomed) are called meetings but they’re more like a mini-convention. I attended the one put on by the Bob Davids (Baltimore-Washington) Chapter held at the Sheraton Hotel in Columbia, Maryland. They’re the granddaddy chapter, counting 35 annuals now. Attendance was about 115 this time, close to last year’s figure but short of the 140 in 2006 and 150 in 2005.
The informal get together was the usual great stuff, catching up with friends and colleagues, trivia, browsing the tables where regional baseball publishers sold their books, a raffle, catered lunch and the featured guests and research presentations.
Reprising his role of many times before, Dave Vincent emceed the event. He gave a brief history of the chapter’s meetings. The first few were held in member’s houses before larger turnouts dictated a change to a library and then hotels.
We've had some superb guest speakers in past years, but as far as gravitas, the law of averages caught up this time. We were supposed to hear from Marshall Purnell, one of the architects for the new Nationals ballpark. That would have been great.
If the chapter gave out a Rookie of the Year award for speakers, Nicole Sherry, head groundskeeper for the Orioles, would have been the winner. The irony is the forethought I and the others might have had. Grass growing? Watering? Laying down the lime? Let's hope she's not slated for after lunch.
Well, not to worry. Young and passionate, she stole the show with a witty presentation that kept the audience chuckling over her anecdotal stories. She showed photos that detailed her job at Camden Yards. The pressure is tremendous to have the field in immaculate condition and every little brown spot gets scrutinized. Fitting right in with the audience, she spoke of her love for the traditional mowing at Camden. She said the Nationals outfield will probably feature the curly W.
Brent Gambill, a producer for XM Satellite Radio, touched on the various programs for their Baseball Channel. Baseball Beat, the show he produces, focuses on writers, announcers and celebrities. They prefer to not interview players due to their canned answers and shying away from controversy.
Mark Pankin, a long-time familiar face at SABR gatherings and conventions and someone who has devoted a lot of time to studying Markov Models (don't ask, don't tell), (and a Tigers fan!) gave a sabermetric presentation on Pirates' manager Bobby Bragen and his unconventional lineups in 1956. Mark's presentation is detailed at his website. He did a good job of not getting too technical and he always looks like someone who loves his work.
Cort Vitty, one of the nicest gentleman I have ever met, pinch-hit for a no-show and gave a nice summary of his bio on Goose Goslin. Goslin admitted at the end of his career that he could have been even better if he had taken his life and health more seriously.
Steve Walker is writing a book on the ’69 Senators with a working title of Moonstruck Over Washington. His presentation included sound clips of interviews with some of the team’s players. The Senators of that time gave me some early baseball thrills so I am looking forward to his book and will pass along the info.
As is sometimes the case, there wasn’t necessarily an overall theme to this regional. But I did have an interesting thought towards the end. There were a couple of new faces and I thought to myself, what were their expectations? Were they surprised there was just one sabermetric presentation?
These SABR get togethers are much like the organization itself. One part is the romantic research, such as Steve’s book on his childhood team. Two is the number crunching Mark did and the insight it provided. Three is the inside-the-current-game stuff as told by Sherry and Gambill. Four is the biographical look as told by Cort.
As mentioned before, this meeting did not feature as many heavy hitters as in the past. But I’d say most, if not all, walked away feeling they got their $25 worth.
It was small ball, but it was baseball, the game we love.