Posts Tagged ‘TOUR DE SABR’


March 3, 2018


(Part I: 2001 to 2007)

By Maxwell Kates

SABR 48 Is Going to Pittsburgh in 2018.
Rick Reuschel wore #48 for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1980s.

It happens every summer. Several hundred people dressed in baseball caps, jerseys and Hawaiian shirts invade a hotel in a major league city for four or five days when the home team is in town. Their professions, backgrounds, and areas of interest may vary but they all are united by one common ground – devotion to research the history and statistics of their favourite sport. This phenomenon is, of course, the annual SABR convention.

Since its humble beginnings, when it drew 16 charter members to Cooperstown in 1971, the convention has grown to a delegation of over 800 last summer at the Grand Central Hyatt in New York. The 2018 SABR convention, or SABR 48, is set to take place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from June 20 to 24. The highlights include a Pirates game, the ‘Day at the Ballpark’ feature, and, no doubt, some focus on Roberto Clemente. Perhaps some Pecan Park Eagle subscribers plan to attend. What are you to expect at a SABR convention? What you are about to read are a series of highlights, one from each of the twelve conventions I attended. The end result will give the impression of one composite SABR convention. Part II will appear sometime in April, but for now, here is Part I, beginning in Milwaukee in 2001 and continuing through St. Louis in 2007:

Column author Maxwell Kates and Rick Schabowski at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, 2007.
– Photo by R. Buege

SABR 31 – Milwaukee 2001 – Keynote Addresses

My first convention was SABR 31 held in Milwaukee back in July 2001. Since it was the first, everything stood out – the presentations, the vendor’s room, games in both Milwaukee and Chicago, and the trivia contests. The keynote address in Milwaukee was delivered by an automobile dealer named Allan Huber Selig. The owner of the Brewers was in his ninth year moonlighting as the commissioner of baseball. The Basic Agreement was set to expire at the end of 2001 and the impending labour situation was the focus of many questions that followed Selig’s speech. He deflected every question asking by not providing a straight answer.

Finally, a diminutive man wearing a bowler hat and rainbow suspenders raced into the banquet hall looking very much like Danny DeVito on “Taxi.” Screaming at the top of his lungs, he asked “Hey Bud! Is Pete Rose gonna get in the Hall of Fame?”

Bud Selig speaks at SABR 31 in Milwaukee, 2001
– Photo by T. Zocco

“I don’t know,” Selig answered, “ask Larry Dierker.”

SABR 32 – Boston 2002 – Research Presentations

What would SABR conventions be without research presentations? Some of the presentations I attended in Boston included the following:

“The 1987 Showdown Series” by Mayo Smith Society members David Raglin and Mark Pattison, “Changing Trends in Hall of Fame Voting” by Bill Gilbert, “Songs of Baseball” by Jeff Campbell (featuring “Ichiro” to the tune of “Figaro”), and “Early Italian Major Leaguers from San Francisco” by Larry Baldassaro.

Baldassaro, a Massachusetts native who taught Italian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, included his lecture as the basis for a chapter in “Beyond DiMaggio,” which he wrote in 2011.

SABR 32, Larry Baldassaro: In 2011, nine years after he spoke about Italian American players from San Francisco, his magnum opus entitled “Beyond DiMaggio” became available for sale.
– Photo by M. Kates

Most memorable for me was Don Zminda’s “South Side Hit Men,” a slide show about the 1977 Chicago White Sox. On a shoestring budget, the Sox under Bill Veeck contended for most of the season despite menial fielding and pedestrian pitching. Don gave an encore presentation at the SABR convention last summer in New York for the 40th anniversary of the South Side Hitmen.

SABR 34 – Cincinnati 2004 – Baseball Games

SABR members sat in the right field ‘sun deck’ at Great American Ballpark as the hometown Cincinnati Reds hosted the St. Louis Cardinals on July 16, 2004. Paul Wilson was the starting pitcher for the Reds, facing Houston native Woody Williams for the Cardinals. It was Barry Larkin’s retirement year and he was penciled in as the starting shortstop. The Reds took a 4-0 lead when Wily Mo Pena hit a three run homer in the bottom of the 1st. St. Louis chipped away, scoring their first run in the 4th when Albert Pujols reached home on an RBI double by Jim Edmonds. An RBI single by Pujols made the score 4-2. An insurance run, a solo homer by Jason LaRue was insufficient to stave off the Redbirds. A three-run homer in the 8th by Marlon Anderson made the score 7-5 for the Cardinals.

In the bottom of the 9th, with Jason LaRue batting, I can recall speaking to Mark Rhoads, a high school student from Connecticut, who had given a research paper on 1860s baseball in the Nutmeg State. Next thing I knew, LaRue cracked the ball which appeared to have taken a trajectory aimed straight at our heads. I said “Never mind that, Mark, watch this.” A sure home run ended its improbable journey when Jim Edmonds leaped over the fence to snag the ball squarely in his glove. Sports Center had its highlight that evening and I saw it with my own eyes.

Caption #1: “Diamond Jim” Edmonds makes a phenomenal catch in right field in Cincinnati, July 16, 2004.
Caption #2: Jim Edmunds, doing again what he so often did to break the hearts of Cardinal foes and their fans.

The next day, after Marvin Miller spoke, a few innings remained in the Reds game. So I went to watch…from a vantage point on the Roebling Bridge. As both riverbanks of the Ohio are claimed by Kentucky, I was technically watching a baseball game played in one state while standing in another.

SABR 35 – Toronto 2005 – Lasting Friendships

For a convention hosted by my adopted hometown, what actually stands out was meeting a new friend who traveled from the Golden State. His name was Paul Hirsch and he was a journalist by trade who ran his own public relations firm. Born in Brooklyn in 1957 and raised in Orange County, Paul and his family lived in Danville, California, about an hour east of Oakland. Paul grew up a Dodgers fan and in 1974, worked as a batboy for the California Angels. Seeing Paul became a highlight of every convention and one winter, I even went to visit him in California. He and I attended a San Jose Sharks’ hockey game with his two children. Paul owned a baseball outfit for every club and wore the colours of the home team at each game he attended. He and I attended games together in Seattle, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and in his own backyard, Anaheim. He fiercely believed that Walter O’Malley did what was right for his family by moving the Dodgers from Brooklyn and argued accordingly an article he wrote for in the 2011 SABR convention magazine.

Sadly, Paul lost his battle with cancer in San Diego in 2014, age 56.

Paul Hirsch, Rick Schabowski, and Maxwell Kates in the lobby of the JW Marriott Hotel in Washington, July 31, 2009.

SABR 36 – Seattle 2006 – Player Panel

One of the highlights of any SABR convention is the opportunity to ask retired players about their careers while listening to them relive stories both on and off the field. At the 2006 convention in Seattle, Jim Caple moderated a panel featuring four members of the ill-fated 1969 Pilots. After they moved to Milwaukee, the Pilots were forever immortalized when one of their players, Jim Bouton, wrote his tell-all diary of the 1969 season entitled “Ball Four.” Exceptionally controversial when published, it was the only baseball book named to the New York Public Library’s “Books of the Century Selection” some thirty years later.

Joining Bouton on the podium were the intellectually inclined outfielder Steve Hovley, enigmatic relief pitcher Mike Marshall, and veteran backup catcher Jim Pagliaroni. Pags and Marshall were both native Michiganders. As a Detroit Tigers fan, naturally I asked what inspiration they had on each player’s career. This was long before cue cards became the norm at SABR conventions.

Pitchers Mike Marshall and Jim Bouton were teammates on both the Pilots and also briefly in 1970, each were  on the roster of the Astros.

One young girl asked Bouton if he could sing “the song.” She didn’t identify which song she had in mind, just “the song.” Bouton knew exactly which one. It was a parody of Tom Lehrer’s “Proud to be a Soldier” whose lyrics were included in “Ball Four.”   With Bill’s permission, I’d like to conclude my memories of Seattle by reciting a bowdlerized version of its final stanza:

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

Then what on earth can Harry say?

It makes a fellow proud to be an Astro!


Ask Larry Dierker about that one, too. He wrote “Proud to Be An Astro”!

SABR 37 – St. Louis 2007 – Ballpark Tours

Although New York wasn’t one of them, many conventions included in their curriculum a tour of the home ballpark. The first day of the 2007 convention in St. Louis featured a tour of the Busch Stadium. Opened one season prior, the new venue already hosted a World Championship when the Cardinals defeated the Tigers the previous October.

We toured the concourse, went on the field, and sat in the Cardinals dugout. The Busch Stadium tour also included a visit to the International Bowling Hall of Fame next door. Those who wanted to bowl could take advantage of a free game included in the admission.

While in the dugout, someone asked the question, “What happens when it rains at Busch Stadium?” The woman leading the tour answered, “Don’t worry, it never rains at our games.”

Busch Stadium III, SABR Group Game, St. Louis, 2007.
Top of the fifth, two out, and the skies opened.

Oh no?

But if it didn’t, where’s the sketch?

Tune in next month to finish the sketch.

– Maxwell Kates

Independent Contributor


The Pecan Park Eagle





Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle