M Kates: 12 SABR Conventions, Part II

TOUR DE SABR: TWELVE SABR CONVENTIONS ROLLED INTO ONE

(Part II: 2008 to 2017)

By Maxwell Kates

Maxwell Kates in Los Angeles

When we left off, we listened to a Louie DiPalma doppelganger spar with the Commissioner of baseball, relived the unlikely pennant drive of the 1977 Chicago White Sox, watched the Cincinnati Reds play in Ohio while standing in Kentucky, sang along with Jim Bouton, and lived to tell the tale of an ‘inhuman rain delay’ in St. Louis. On to Part II…

SABR 38 – Cleveland 2008 – The Vendor’s Room

Cleveland had one of the more memorable vendors’ rooms of the conventions I attended. Doak Ewing from Chicago sold audio cassettes of baseball broadcasts while Dick Miller from Cincinnati sold vintage baseball books, many of which were autographed. Meanwhile, Andy Rubin of Baltimore Chop offered a more contemporary selection of books. Different publishers had tables as well, including Maple Street Press, who had released “Sock It To ‘Em, Tigers” about the 1968 World Series champions the previous winter.

Noticeably absent from the vendor’s room was Bob Koehler. The retired teacher from Wisconsin was a mainstay at vendors’ rooms in the past. His collection included yearbooks, media guides, team publications, along with other books. If you bought something from Bob, he would tell you to “Give it a good home!”

Bob’s table was symbolically empty. He had died the previous April, age 67.

SABR 38: Bob Koehler

SABR 39 – Washington 2009 – Secular Pursuits

One of the advantages of changing cities every year is the opportunity to visit local tourist attractions that have nothing to do with baseball. I call these “secular pursuits” in the context of a SABR convention. In Washington, there were many opportunities to explore beyond the friendly confines of the J.W. Marriott Hotel. On Thursday evening, I took a walk on the Mall where young actors were re-enacting a Civil War battle in full regalia. On Saturday, my friend Bill Levenson and I went to the Smithsonian Zoo (we saw pandas) and to FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland to watch Paul McCartney perform in concert.

After the convention was over, Rick Schabowski from Milwaukee and I did our own walking tour of the Mall, stopping at several monuments including Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. It was a humid day, as Washington in August tends to be, and by 4:00 we realized that we had not eaten lunch. That’s when we stumbled upon Loeb’s Deli. They were about to close for the day but after we told them of our excursion in the Washington heat, they agreed to make us each a sandwich.

The next morning, the first words out of Rick’s mouth were “Loeb’s! Loeb’s!”

SABR 39: Nationals Game

SABR 41 – Los Angeles 2011 – Local Baseball History

The host committee of the SABR convention in Los Angeles organized a fantastic tour of five erstwhile baseball sites scattered all across the Southland. A quintet of Angelenos led by Al Parnis prepared history lessons on the five stadiums, each of them taught on location.

We departed the Long Beach Hilton at the crack of dawn Saturday for an industrial park in suburban Vernon, California. There was a time when Maier Park stood here. It was the home of the Vernon Tigers of the Pacific Coast League from 1909 to 1925. One of the Tigers’ investors was Buster Keaton. Next stop was the site of Wrigley Field, now a city park where a Mexican-American festival was in progress. Both the Angels of the Pacific Coast League and the American League called Wrigley home. Baseball is still played on a sandlot in the park but the magnificent edifice that Steve Bilko built is gone.

SABR 41: Ballpark Tour

After Wrigley, we travelled to the site of Washington Park, located in a parking lot around the corner from the Los Angeles Coliseum. From 1958 to 1961, the Dodgers called this Summer Olympics stadium home while the park at Chavez Ravine was under construction. The last stop of the morning was Gilmore Field, home of the Hollywood Stars from 1939 to 1957. After the ballpark was razed, CBS built its Television City on site. Among the televisions shows to have been filmed here, “All in the Family” and “The Price is Right.” Both Canter’s Deli and the Farmer’s Market were only steps away, keeping in mind that nobody in Los Angeles walks.

At one stage of the tour, Danny Kaye’s “The D-O-D-G-E-R-S Song” played over the loudspeaker on the bus. Three SABR members who shall remain nameless memorized every word, singing it at the top of their lungs. At another stage, it was announced that a rookie went 0-for-3 in his big league debut for the Angels the night before. His name, Mike Trout.

SABR 44 – Houston 2014 – Intangibles

What to write about Houston, knowing that a good complement of The Pecan Park Eagle’s readership attended this particular convention? That’s where intangibles come in. These are the events at any convention that could never have been planned and that you will never see in a program.

About a month before the convention, I attended a screening of “Deli Man” in Toronto. The film chronicled the decline of the delicatessen as a culinary genre. It also focused on the life and career of David ‘Ziggy’ Gruber, a New Yorker who moved to Houston to open a delicatessen called Kenny and Ziggy’s. I e-mailed a longtime friend in Houston about the proximity of the delicatessen from the Royal Sonesta Hotel where the convention took place. His name is Mark Wernick. Considering that Mark and I share a similar ethnocultural background, it stands to reason that we both grew up in delis. Here is my recollection of the conversation that ensued.

SABR 44: Mark Wernick

Me: Wonder how expensive a cab ride it would be to travel to Kenny and Ziggy’s from the hotel?

Mark: Well you know, Houston’s a big place. In fact, all of Israel could fit inside Harris County. Could be an expensive trip just for a sandwich.”

Me: Do you think it would be $100.00?

Mark: Could be. And then you’d have to get back. Tell you what. Why don’t you give me the $100.00 and I’ll drive you there from the convention.

I had a feeling this was Mark’s sense of humour at work. On my first day of the convention, I went for a walk around the hotel looking for a place to eat. Good thing I didn’t take Mark up on his offer – Kenny and Ziggy’s was located right behind the hotel!

Hold on, I have to include one more story because it’s Houston. My cab ride back to IAH was shared with Damian Begley from the New York chapter of SABR. Damian regaled us with stories about the broadcast industry in the Big Apple while discussing his favourite songs growing up in the 1960s. With his Bronx affectation and his Irish brogue, we could have been listening to Regis Philbin!

SABR 44: Damian Begley

SABR 46 – Miami 2016 – Meeting Childhood Heroes

The centre piece of the 2016 convention in Miami was a feature at Marlins Park. Hours before the game between the Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals, SABR hosted “A Day at the Ballpark” with Barry Bloom. Guests of the program included Don Mattingly, Barry Bonds, Andre Dawson, and stadium engineer Claude Delorme. Also as part of the afternoon, Marlins broadcaster Eduardo Perez interviewed his father, Tony Perez.

Growing up a Montreal Expos fan in Ottawa, Andre Dawson was one of my favourite players. I still remember the game I attended on Father’s Day versus the Cubs. With two runners on and nobody out, the Hawk strode to the plate. My own father advised me to “watch this guy – he’s the best player in baseball.” He cranked the first pitch he saw past the centre field bleachers for a three run home run.

Barry (Bloom, not Bonds) advised me that since the players were on the field and we were in the stands, our chances to meet them were slim. Still, I had an idea. I got on the first bus to the ballpark and sat as close to the front as possible. When Dawson was finished his interview, I scribbled something on my business card and gave it to a stadium attendant. My instructions were to give the card with my scribbles to Dawson. When Dawson asked the attendant who gave him the card, he pointed in my direction. The ordinarily taciturn Dawson looked at me, offered an energetic thumbs up, and smiled.

SABR 46: Andre Dawson

POSTSCRIPT

Why go to SABR conventions? To recap, here are eleven reasons:

  1. Keynote Speeches (SABR 31 – Milwaukee 2001)
  2. Research Presentations (SABR 32 – Boston 2002)
  3. Baseball Games (SABR 34 – Cincinnati 2004)
  4. Lasting Friendships (SABR 35 – Toronto 2005)
  5. Player Panels (SABR 36 – Seattle 2006)
  6. Ballpark Tours (SABR 37 – St. Louis 2007)
  7. The Vendor’s Room (SABR 38 – Cleveland 2008)
  8. Secular Tourism (SABR 39 – Washington 2009)
  9. Local Baseball History (SABR 41 – Los Angeles 2011)
  10. Intangibles (SABR 44 – Houston 2014)
  11. Meeting Childhood Heroes (SABR 46 – Miami 2016)

Now it’s time to bring it all home, saving New York City for last.

SABR 47 – New York 2017 – Bringing It All Home

SABR 47: New York

One of the main speakers at the 2017 SABR convention was once again Jim Bouton. The author of “Ball Four” and other baseball books had an entire panel in his honour. Moderated by John Thorn, the panel also included authors Marty Appel, Mark Armour, Mitchell Nathanson, and Bouton’s wife, Paula Kurman. That day, Tyler Kepner wrote in his New York Times column that Bouton had been suffering from a rare form of dementia for the previous five years. Part of the objective of the panel was to raise awareness for the illness.

By now, SABR was in its fourth year of insisting that questions at panels are submitted on cue cards. I submitted a question that did not pass this selection process. After the presentation was over, I went to Bouton, determined to ask him my question. As it were, hundreds of SABR members had the same idea I did, mobbing the Yankees old timer with autograph requests (and there was no car window for him to slam). It was obvious to anyone watching the scenario that it was overwhelming for Bouton.

Fortunately, I had a strategy. Before the panel, I spent enough time talking to Paula so that she would recognize me in a crowd of SABR bulldogs. When she spotted me, she pointed and bellowed, “Excuse me, everyone, this gentleman was next.” You don’t tug the mask off the old Lone Ranger and you don’t mess around with Paula. . I approached Bouton to inform him that “Larry sends his regards. Some friends and I had dinner with him last February in Houston.” I didn’t mention any last names, only identifying the person as ‘Larry.’ Then I asked Bouton if he remembered “the song.” Without skipping a beat, he went right to business.

“Harry Walker is the one who manages this crew

He doesn’t like it when we eat and fight and…something else

But when we win our game each day

What…on earth…can Harry say?

It makes a fellow proud to be an Astro!”

SABR 47: Jim Bouton

To “all yinz” who attend SABR 48, have a great time in the ‘Burgh. You won’t see me there but for those of you living in the Houston area, don’t be surprised to see me closer to home before calendar year 2018 draws to a close.

 

********************

finis.

job well done.

the pecan park eagle.

 

********************

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Responses to “M Kates: 12 SABR Conventions, Part II”

  1. maxwell1901 Says:

    Bill, thank you for publishing my article. For those of you who want to get a glimpse of the Ballpark Tour in Los Angeles, this video covers a lot of the same places we saw.

  2. Mark W. Says:

    Very funny Maxwell! You definitely should broaden your creative writing repertoire to include even more fiction. It was $100 one-way, $175 round-trip.

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