Skip to content

June 27, 2008: SABR Day Two, Part 2

Back from the ballpark where the Indians pulled off a nice 6-0 shutout of their in-state rival Reds, C.C. Sabathia pitched 8 innings, 4 hits, 11 strikeouts, 2 walks. His only rough inning was the first when with 2 men on Grady Sizemore saved Sabathia’s sizable bacon by making a sickl leaping over-the-shoulder catch that had him land almost Spiderman-like with his spikes buried in the padded wall. After that, he cruised. And then the game was toppe off my a rather impressive fireworks show. Perhaps the single show I’ve seen with the highest explosions per second ratio. It was very nice, but a constant barrage of color and noise.

Now, when I left off today, in the mile of the day, I was running to try to catch a presentation on the “Mitchell 89.” That is, a study of the 89 players named in the Mitchell report and looking at whether taking performance enhancing drugs actually enhanced their performance. The study was undertaken by four researchers, Pat Kilgo, Jeff Switchenko, Brian Schmotzer, and Paul Weiss.

Among the fascinating facts their study seemed to uncover is the fact that players taking steroids appeared to enhance their offensive statistics by a factor of 12%, but if you cut Barry Bonds from the study, the effect is lessened to 7 percent. Still significant, but he was a big skew factor. Also, they found that the players reported to have taken HGH did NOT show any improvement in performance–in fact some measures were slightly negative. (This doesn’t mean HGH is harmful to performance, more likely that the guys taking it were doing it to try to recover from injury, and the effect of the injury is seen in the numbers.)

Andy Andres, a SABR member and a college professor who teaches both physiology and baseball statistics at Tufts, Harvard, and B.U. has posited from his studies that steroids ought to give between a 5% and 10% increase in offensive statistics, and that HGH ought not to, and interestingly this seems to bear it out. Further study is needed, but it was an interesting analysis.

Earlier, I was describing the beautiful Cleveland Public Library, was I not? They have an outstanding baseball photograph collection, which they ad a lot of on display to coincide with the SABR convention, and also some rare books and a collection of scrapbooks and memorabilia — great stuff. In the “Treasure Room” they had a bunch of the things on display that could actually be touched and looked through with care, including Henry Chadwick’s 1878 Our Boys Base Ball Rules for 1878 book, and The “Bull” Durham Baseball Guide 1910, which listed itself as “Published Annually by the Baseball Publishing Company, 2 Park Square, Boston.” They also had a selection of early novels mentioning baseball, including reference to Jane Austen’s 1798 book Northanger Abbey, which I JUST referenced in the Baseball Early Bird newsletter last week!

Not related to baseball, but equally fascinating to me were the exhibits in the library of Miniature Books (define as books from half inch by half inch in size up to 2″ x “3). The first well known one was made in 1475, just 20 year after Gutenberg’s Bible, the Officiam Beatae Virginis Maria. In WWI, a Scottish publisher produced a one-inch Koran that was issued to Muslim Allied soldiers in a metal locket case that included a magnifying glass. The other exhibit that caught me was one on Conlangs, or Constructed Languages, including not only Esperanto, but Elvish and Klingon. Folks I know tangentially, like Suzette Haden Elgin, whose Laadan language and “Linguistics and Science Fiction” newsletter are very familiar to me, fascinating to see. And fascinating to be reminded of the highly brainy and very geeky world I come from in science fiction/fantasy that is totally parallel to the one I know through SABR.

Next, a historical presentation by a SABR member from Japan, Yoichi Nagata. He presented on the Tokyo Giants’ north American tour of 1935, in which they barnstormed all over the western USA, plus a little Mexico and Canada. With pro baseball set to take off in Japan, the Giants (who were given that nickname by Lefty O’Doul, one f their major supporters in the USA), wanted to come to acquire American baseball skills.

Nagata was drawn to researching this tour because all records of the tour that were in Japan were lost during World War II. He had to used 102 local newspapers from all over North America to recreate all he results of the tour. He was able to recover 82 box scores and in the end, they had 104 games, only 31 losses and one tie, playing 74 different teams on the 118 day tour.

Among the facts I fond surprising, were that the Giants tam included one Russian-born player whose parents had fled the Bolsheviks to Japan when he was 3 years old, and one American citizen, a Nisei born in Hawaii.

During the tour they played 16 games against Nisei teams, going 14-2.

They also exhibited certain behaviors that charmed American fans, such as bowing to the umpires and forming a player “huddle” between innings. They also wore Chinese number characters on their backs. All three of these things, though, weer not usual for Japanese baseball–all were suggested by Lefty O’Doul as marketing ploys, and photographs featuring bowing, the huddle, and the numbers were sent out in press kits to all the newspapers.

In the end, the tour was not a financial success, but the team did acquire American baseball skills, so was considered an overall success, and thus was professional baseball launched in Japan the following season.

I’m amazed at the significance of this event culturally, and that Nagata was forced to come to the US to study it because of the devastation of the war.

The final research presentation of the day was Vince Gennaro’s talk on Free Agent Salaries. If you have not read Gennaro’s book Diamond Dollars, I recommend it. He explains in that book, among other things, why it is so key for the Yankees and Red Sox to spend as much on players as they do, and other factors that affect financial decisions in the game.

Here e described coming up with a model for predicting a player’s fee agent worth, adjusted for premiums of position (pitchers get paid more, middle infielders less), injury history (more durable player got a premium, injury-prone ones a discount), age, player quality, marquee value, and other factors. His study was only looking at the 2007 free agent class, but he is working on an expanded version that will cover 5 years and about 600 free agents to see if it holds up. By his model, Kaz Matsui is overpaid (valued around $3M, paid around $5M) while Cliff Floyd is getting $3M but is valued around $4.9M. He also noted that three guys who did not get jobs this season still carried value: Mike Piazza around 3.5 million, and interestingly, Barry Bonds $12.2 million. Barry says he’s been blacklisted. Has he?

Edit: Gennaro won the award for best presentation at the conference!

The final thing I saw before going off to the ballpark was Rick Wilber read from his new book published by McFarland & Company, entitled My Father’s Game. Rick is the son of major leaguer Del Wilber, but I know him as a science fiction writer. He and I and Eric Van (who runs the Readercon convention and works for the Red Sox) are about the only three people I know who crossover between the two sub-cultures.

Rick read some moving passages from his book, which deals with his perfect childhood as the son of a ballplayer, and his not-so-perfect adulthood where he was his father’s caregiver in the last stage of his life. I bought the book, and also Dorothy Seymour Mills’ book, A Woman’s Work: Writing Baseball History with Harold Seymour. Dorothy was Harold’s wife, and his major collaborator, though in the early years of his fame as a pioneer in baseball research, her contributions were not acknowledged. In those days, women were not allowed in the press box. You get the idea. Thankfully, Dorothy is well-recognized now!

That’s it for today. It’s one in the morning, and the first session I want to see tomorrow is at 9am, so I had better get to sleep.

Sorry again about all the typos. I’m writing this on the television web access thing in my room and it’s very hard to edit (or even see).

(Did you enjoy reading this blog entry? Please consider buying me a hot dog.)

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.