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SABR in DC: Day Four

Day Four of the SABR Convention

First up: Starbucks. Tea and coffee cake are necessary to get through the morning.
Second: Baseball’s Global Trend in Emergence of China
(Dominican) Player (Non-)Promotion in the Global Baseball Labor Market
Alexander Cartwright — mythologized much?
Awards Banquet Talk by an MLB Lawyer
Negro League Players Panel
The Rise & Fall of Greenlee Field
Grover Cleveland Alexander

Baseball’s Global Trend in Emergence of China
by Ryan Hutzler

Very young presenter (college age?), but not as young as Zak Hudak (high school age), who presented at 9am on Extra Innings, but who I skipped for a tiny bit more sleep and a trip to Starbucks. (Sorry, Zak.)

Baseball and American Culture. Baseball is a powerful clarifying lens through which we can view culture. Very strong connection between American culture and baseball, such that when played in other countries, although it looks similar externally, its intrinsic values and reflections of Dominican, PUetro Rican, Japanese, etc… cultures is quite different.

29.5% of all players were from overseas in 2005, the highest point yet. (Slightly less now.)

Bud Selig has used NBA commissioner’s David Stern as a model for how to make baseball a global game. The NBA earned $50 million from China in 2007, which doubled in 2008.

But it is very challenging to globalize a sport that means exporting a distinctive American culture. People may perceive the spread of baseball as the spread of American cultural hegemony.

MLB must remain sensitive to cultural issues in various countries.

MLB has featured games on foreign soil. 1996, the Mets played the Padres in Monterey, Mexico. There have been opening days in Puerto Rico, Japan, and other places.

Pedro was quite critical of how when MLB played in the Dominican Republic the ticket prices were too high.

MLB spurs youth development programs in other countries in order to build up young fans.

World Baseball Classic was proof of the sound fundamentals and passion of non-American baseball.

First MLB exhibition in China occurred in 2008 between the Dodgers and Padres. They played in a sold out game of 12,000. Even youth coaches in China don’t quite understand all the rules of baseball. MLB portrayed the game as well run, but there were long lines for concessions, and no Chinese officials were present there. If China is going to really grow baseball, the government has to be involved.

MLB hasn’t really laid the foundation. There is a Chinese Baseball Association, and there are 100 years of baseball of China, but not very well spread. In Shanghai, China’s international trade city, they played beginning in the 1860s, and it was the unofficial sport of the army between 1947 and 1949, and they taught throwing a baseball in order to teach grenade throwing. When the Cultural Revolution came, though, baseball was wiped out, with coaches even being killed and jailed for spreading something decadent and Western like baseball.

In 1986 Peter O’Malley constructed “Dodgers Stadium” and in 2002 the China Baseball League was formed with 4 teams, but although they have actually expanded the teams, the season has been shortened to only 29 days which will actually be only 11-14 games! But they have lost much of the Japanese corporate sponsorship they had recently.

Meanwhile, Taiwan has started spending about $37 million per year to build up their baseball program having been beaten by mainland China in both the 2008 Olympics and in the World Baseball Classic.

An escalating battle between mainland and Taiwan could be a good way to keep baseball growing.

“Yao Ming Effect” — MLB hopes that one ascendant star will popularize the sport in the country. The talent pool is very small since there are very few baseball diamonds, and most best athletes are picked to go into other sports. (Bat-drain syndrome)

Wukesong Stadium has been dismantled earlier this year (where the Olympic baseball and the MLB series in 2008). Wasn’t making money and is going to be rebuilt into a shopping mall.

What can MLB do? There are still 1.3 billion people there.

Japan is still the gateway to much of Asia, and will have to be “Asia-fied” to fit in.

Asian baseball is “little ball” not Big Ball, and values team cooperation over individuality.

Will India be the next frontier?

***

Player Promotion in the Global Baseball Labor Market
Major Disparities in the Minor Leagues
Jen McGovern

My love for Dominican baseball came about in 2006. I was working for a coffee shop and I went to visit a Dominican coffee farm. I was living under a mosquito net, and we challenged the local kids to a game of Wiffle Ball. My teammate Patrick hit an absolute bomb, trotting the bases, and the Dominican kids were all yelling at him and angry, and we couldn’t figure out why. When they searched for the ball until it got dark, we realized there would be no more ball. They basically told him “Don’t ever hit a home run again.” The poverty was incredible.

Percentage of foreign born players in the minors is 46.2% right now, but in the majors is only about 28%. Couldn’t get good data about past years and eras, but the question is are the majors going to catch up, or are American players being promoted more selectively?

“Boatload mentality.” You can sign a boatload of Dominican players for what you can get a single American player for.

There tends to be a large monetary investment in American players.

Sparr & Barber in 1994 studied Class A pitchers. They could predict easily which really good and really bad players were promoted or cut, but the marginal players were much harder to get a handle on.

Marginal white players in football were found to be capped much more often than black black players by Kooistra in 1993 study “Promotion of Marginal Players.”

Looking at player debuts from 1997-2001 in the SABR Minor League Baseball Encyclopedia. Before 1997 the birthplace data isn’t good, and after 2001 they may still be in the minors.

Collapsed all the layers of the minors.

Four groups:
US, Canada & Puerto Rico — all eligible for draft, same rules of signing bonuses
Domincan Republic and Venezuela — two countries where high incidence of
Japan, Mexico, & Korea — all have agreements with MLB regarding signing
All other foreign countries

Measured elite versus marginal by using batting average (since minor league database doesn’t give walks, so couldn’t use OPS).

26% of Dominican players never get beyond rookie league.
In all instances of levels where Domincan players washed out, higher percentages of Domincans to Americans.

Even when Dominicans are measured as elite talents, they are still more likely to stop at rookie league.

But looking at the US born player, close to half of them don’t even start in rookie ball, they start in Class A, while over 90% of Dominicans start in rookie ball.

Logistic Regression Model
comparing being released versus being promoted

Summary:
Country of birth is only significant in the rookie league to class A jump. American born players have a huge advantage. And once you get to the middle levels of promotion the bias disappears, and in fact at the higher levels going to Triple A or the majors may have a slight bias toward players who need visas.

At the lowest levels, batting average seems most important, while at higher levels RBIs seem to be more important.

Take two equally talented players, one US born and one Dominican born, and you will still see on the chart that the US born player still has the slight advantage, just the advantage narrows as they go up in the levels of the minors.

Drafted players are more likely to be promoted from the rookie level, wherever they are from.
For players are over-represented at positions with lower batting statistics.

In future research would like to look at the parent team/market, what about the race of the drafted players, explore the role of coaches and mentors in the organization, and analyze pitchers for similar trends.

At the major league level there is no disparity in pay between white, black, foreign-born, etc.

***

Alexander Cartwright: The Life Behind the Baseball Legend
by Monica Nucciarone

At SABR 36 in Seattle Monica had a poster presentation up about Cartwright, and John Thorn and Fred Ivor Campbell came by to look at it. John dropped by to say she gave him too much credit, and Fred said she didn’t give him enough.

All started in 1966 on a family trip to Washington DC, spurred interested in US history, the Gold Rush, and Cartwright became a vehicle for understanding what all the profound developments and changes in American history were in the mid-19th century.

She showed photos of the Knickerbocker scorebook. Cartwright is not in the lineup and the Umpire Signature is blank on the June 19th 1846 game which is the game that mythologically he umpired (the “first” organized game), and in another page, the 20th, he is not there and J. Paulding is the umpire signature.

But March 1st 1849, Cartwright left his family behind to join the Gold Rush. In the 1960s Harold Peterson wrote a Sports Illustrated piece and following book about Cartwright being “Baseball’s Johnny Appleseed.” Supposedly Peterson stopped at all the places Cartwright had stopped on his way.

There is a handwritten journal left by Cartwright, but it has no mention of baseball in it.

There is a typewritten version supposedly a transcript by Cartwright’s grandson, which does mention baseball.

Other travelers that went with the Newark Overland Company do not have any mention of baseball in any of their journals either. Cyrus Currier and Cartwright may have split off from the other wagon train. Currier wrote a very detailed diary, and doesn’t mention baseball.

What about the records of the military posts where Cartwright supposedly taught baseball? Their records did not survive and mostly were not very detailed.

Cartwright did not stay long in California, moving to Honolulu by August. A lot is recorded there about Cartwright’s commercial businesses in Hawaii, but Monica was unable to find any primary sources in Hawaii about Cartwright teaching baseball there. Another recent biography of Cartwright asserts a lot about him and baseball in Hawaii, but seems to rely on Peterson’s book as source.

In 1879 he was a founder of the Honolulu Library and Reading Room, and was involved with the library until his death.

He had three children born in New York who died young, and Cartwright had two sons born in Hawaii. These children went to school in Honolulu and played baseball there. (They went to the school that Obama did, in fact.) Photos of baseball players at Punahou School. In 1873, ALex III (“Ally”) was noted as the “Wangdoodle” team captain.

A 1924 article by a contemporary of Cartwright’s sons said that he was surprised to learn that the senior Cartwright was an old ballplayer. Cartwright apparently told him he hardly recognized the game as it was currently played and had been recently introduced to the Punahou school. That seems to indicate that Cartwright was not the person who introduced baseball to the school or to the island.

Fast forward to the 1930s, and Bruce Cartwright (son) presented a letter to the Hall of Fame “proving” his father’s connection to baseball’s creation. A single sentence in a letter from Cartwright to Charles DeBost, a former Knickerbocker player. If he had more evidence than that, wouldn’t he have presented it? Regardless, Cartwright was inducted into the HOF and his plaque credits him with setting the bases at 90 feet, etc.

***

Bruce Weber on Umpires

While working on my scoresheets for the judging of the presentations, I accidentally lucked into seeing the Umpire & Rules Committee Meeting where Bruce Weber , a NY Times writer since 1986, was the guest speaker.

Weber spent a few years living the life of the umpire, even going through the Jim Evans umpire school, and umpiring a few professional games himself. His new book is called AS THEY SEE ‘EM, on, guess what, umpires.

“Bob Uecker told me a story from his rookie year in 1962, facing Don Drysdale, and Jocko Conlon who was in his last year as an umpire was behind the plate. And Conlon really didn’t like to take any lip from rookies. Uecker said the first pitch was in the opposite batter’s box, but it was called a strike. He then said to Conlon that it wasn’t a strike. And Conlon said ‘So’s the next one.'”

A SABR member of course wrote an email to Bruce within a few days of the book being published that he had looked up on Retrosheet all the times Uecker had faced Drysdale, and Conlon did umpire one of those games, on Opening Day in fact. The only problem with the story is that Conlon was the first base umpire that day.

The book is part sociological study and part participatory journalism in the George Plimpton mode.

Bruce read some very entertaining excerpts from the book and then took questions for a good while.

I was going to ask about the prospects for female umpires reaching the major leagues. But someone else beat me to it. Bruce said MLB hasn’t had to deal with the the prospect of a female umpire and won’t have to for a long time, since right now there are no female umpires in the minor leagues, ever since Rhea Cortesi retired. (She had been promised that the next time there was a Triple A opening she would be promoted; the promised promotion never came.)

I asked an Umpire Panel at SABR in 2002 in Boston (my first convention) if the deck was stacked against female umpires and was told “harrumph not really there are women working their way up now la la la la.” But here we are seven years later and the pipeline is empty. Harrumph indeed.

At the end of the session I discovered an intrepid bookseller had set up in the back of the room to sell the book. Most members of the committee had already read it, so I don’t think they sold a lot, but I snapped one up to have Bruce sign.

***

Then came lunch. I was too cash poor this year to do the fancy awards banquet, so my roomie and I ran off to the nearby food court for a tasty Indian lunch and then came back in time to just stand in the back of the banquet room to hear the speeches. Tom Ruane was flabbergasted to win the Bob Davids Award, as all Bob Davids Awardees should be. (The Bob Davids award is for service to SABR and the winner is not warned in advance.) Many books and research projects from the year were honored, too–I’d say check the SABR website for the complete list. Dallas Green, former MLB pitcher and longtime executive, won the Roland Hemond award for the baseball executive of the year (the one who supports the scouting profession the most). He gave an amusing acceptance speech which included another one of those anecdotes that some SABR person is no doubt checking the details of on Retrosheet right now.

The featured speaker ended up being a lawyer lobbyist for MLB, which is very fitting for a convention in Washington DC. Stan Kasten of the Nationals was supposed to speak, but had to back out, so we had a lawyer lobbyist for MLB, who works for the law firm that has worked for the American League ever since 1920 after the Black Sox scandal, when the league wanted to associate itself with the most morally upstanding, unquestionable associates possible. When the league offices were consolidated under Bud Selig, they moved to representing MLB to Congress. I did not get the fellow’s name or the correct spelling of the law firm’s name–it’s not in the program or on the website.

“I assumed that most of my job would be to protect the anti-trust exemption,” he began, but as it turns out that’s been a very small part of what he’s worked on. He of course was very active in the 2005 steroid hearings in Congress, but has also done things like helped get the visa limits lifted for MLB teams so they can bring in their prospects based on merit not on a quota, restricting airspace over stadiums, the relocation of the Expos to the Washington area, and so on.

It was more interesting than I expected it would be, but I don’t think me recapping much more of what he said will be that interesting to read. So I’ll leave it at that.

***

Negro Leagues Panel
featuring Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, Sam Allen, Pedro Sierra, Henry “Hank” Mason
All were players from the transitional era when the negro leagues fell from 12 vibrant teams to only four as the great talents were drained off to MLB. It was outstanding to have them here at the conference and I hope future conferences will have similar programs.

Sam & Pedro, how did you do against each other.

Sam: First time I faced Pedro I hit a home run off him. The next time I came to bat he said bring the bed with you bc I’m going to lay you down. He was nice enough not to throw at my head but he made me jump rope. All four pitches chased me all over the place and I don’t think I hit another home run off him.

Pedro: I guess I didn’t have that good a control anymore. So I went back to Cuba to practice more… and when I came back he wouldn’t be able to get away from hit.

Please allow me to thank Jackie Robinson for allowing me to reach my dream, and to my father, who stayed by me when my mother died in 1953, and we also need to be thankful to Branch Rickey for his idea to have Jackie Robinson to enter the major league.

Q: Please compare & contrast modern gaem & what you played.

Hank: There’s no comparison. In the negro leagues we invented some things in baseball that guys stole off us but some you dont see anymore. The drag bunt, we invented. But you don’t see the double steal anymore, you don’t steal home anymore.

Mamie: Acutlaly now when I lookat baseball when you say our way of playing baseball and theirs? I don’t see it. We played in corn fields and wherever, and they play on the carpet and still can’t catch the ball. They don’t think. They have know sense of knowing how to play baseball. I don’t think they learn the fundamentals of baseball, becuase if they knew, they wouldn’t do the things they do. The fundamentals of baseball aren’t taught to the children anymore.

Hank: Jackie wasn’t the best player in the negro leagues, but he was the most educated. he had been to UCLA, had been an army officer. It was an economic move. Two negro teams would play in Yankee Stadium and we would raw sixty thousand, while over in Brooklyn they were pulling half that or less. Branch Rickey brought in Jackie Robinson and he started stealing bases and stealing the catcher’s glove and all that, and the stands started filling back up.

Pedro: I was fortunate enough after my years in the negro league when I came back in 1959 I played until 1976 in the big leagues, and the newer generation of baseball players kind of dumbfounded me when I came back to coaching. Baseball is a thinking man’s game. I was surprised that these guys could not think ahead of time which is what we were taught. Think ahead and be prepared. A hard play a difficult play anyone can do it. Dive for a ball you make it or you don’t. But the routine play, you know Ted is a pull hitter yoi play three steps over and you don’t have to dive. The modern player is more interested in how they look than playing the game.

Sam: Baseball has become a rich person’s sport. In the old days, the average family could go to the ballpark. Now, you can’t even see baseball on television unless you get it on cable until Saturday. And a lot of the smaller market ballparks could really use negro leagues players to help fill up their seats. They retired 42 for Jackie Robinson, but they don’t really recognize us, but whenever we do something or go somewhere, the seats start to fill up.

Did any of you play at Griffith Stadium?

Hank: All I can remember is that it was a raggedy stadium. A lot of them were. Crosley Field in Cincinnati, Connie Mack Stadium, County Stadium. Whereas in Miami they had a minor league stadium that was better than any of them. They were raggedy stadiums.

Pedro: Part of my Washington Senators career, when I came in 1959 I came late. Joe Cambria signed me a little late and I was in the FLorida State League for maybe a week and a half and got released. So I came to Washington to live with a relative and work contruction since my father said don’t come back here because who knows what is going to happen. So one night at a nightclub I saw Pedro Ramos and some other guys I knew from winter leagues, and they got me a tryout with the Senators, and I was sent to their Lynchburg rookie league.

Q: Henry, how did you get the nickname The Pistol?

Henry: (laughing & he and Mamie giving each other knowing looks) All I can say is… it wasn’t all because I had a 95 mile per hour fastball.

Q: Who was the best pitcher out of all of you?

Mamie: Me!

Pedro: I didn’t know anything about pitching. I was a position player who couldn’t really field so that was how I ended up a pitcher. And here I come to be a professional ballplayer and I end up with the Indianapolis Clowns, and I say, oh my god, here I am on a team with a clown and a midget and two women! But they were such fine ladies, and Mamie could really pitch. We were like brothers and sisters. I haven’t seen Mamie in like 25 years, and it’s just like we are old friends from before.

Sam: I was used to being a big name player in Norfolk. But I went to the Cincinatti organization. When I arrived in camp and I saw 200 other ballplayers who could play, that created a problem. The D-leagues were mostly down south, and they would put like seven of us all in one field and whittle us down until there was only one left. This guy Bob had told me you call me if you don’t make it. Well I stayed on until it was down to about 60 players, but then it was my time to go. They told me a plane load of Cubans was coming in who could really play. Leo Cardenas and Gonzalez landed with Philadelphia. I ende dup calling Bob and said I need a job. He said come to Jacksonville, FL. It was a $19 ticket and I had only $25 to my name. I get there and met up with the KC Monarchs. I rode from Norfolk to Jacksonville and then from there I had to ride to Charleston. Monarchs were supposed to play an exhibition there but they didn’t have enough players, so that guy said you play for the other team today. So I stole second and hit a home run and the signed me to a contract because they didn’t want me to beat them again. I didn’t actually look at the contract before signing it. What was I going to do? I was in Charleston, South Carolina with only two dollars in my pocket.

Q: Mamie, you just said you were the best pitcher here. You had a winning record. What about the All-American Girls League?

Mamie: You were talking about that all white girls league? I was playing sandlot ball in Virginia and we thought about going over there to try out for a team. A friend of mine and I went over there and tried out, and they looked at us like what do you want here? I didn’t know anything about segregation. I came from South Carolina when it was all black, and I went to a school later that was an all white school where I was the only black but it still hadn’t dawned on me.

We stood around for about 15 minutes, Rita didn’t say anything, I didn’t say anything, and they didn’t say anything. And I turned to Rita and said, you know, I don’t think we’re wanted here. But I’m glad they turned us down. 18 years old and it only just dawned on me that there was racism. Because it was the very next week that man named Tyson came and saw us play in our Sunday league. And he asked me if I wanted to play pro ball, and I said yes. I was on the bus the next day. To know that I was good enough to be with these gentleman made me the proudest thing in the world. And now I can say I’ve done something no other woman in the world has ever done. And I can say to children today just be strong about what you want to do. And you can do anything you want to do. Stay on that track! Play football if that’s what you want to do, but be good at it! Don’t nobody want a slouch.

I believe if I had been a boy I would have made the major leagues. Nyjer Morgan reminds me of me. He is the most aggressive young man that Washington ever had. I hope they don’t send him away like they send everyone else away! As soon as they have something they ship them out!

Q: Hank you seemed like the best pitcher in Schenectady. For three years…

Hank: Yeah. But you know Philly and Boston were the last two teams to integrate. I think I only had one losing season and it was while I was relieving and I got a 3-4 record or something. I think I should have got the call to the majors a lot sooner than I did. And then I didn’t stay veru long. Gene Mauch didn’t like me. I asked to be traded and I was.

Q: A couple of years ago MLB has a “negro league draft.”

Sam: I was disappointed. Because I saw names in there that I had never heard of. I’ll be frank with you. I was happy for some of the players that were drafted, but there were some who were drafted who shouldn’t have been and some who weren’t who should have been.

Pedro: It was great that some recognition was given to Negro League players in that fashion, but maybe they should have double the amount. There’s not that many of us still around. I thought it was going ot happen again, but it didn’t happen. I hope they give the rest of us recognition.

Mamie: Although I was drafted and I was very thankful to be drafted I don’t know how it came about. This young lady called me and said I was drafted and I said thank you. That was about all I can say. I hadn’t heard about it before.

Hank: I have no comment.

***

The Rise and Fall of Greenlee Field
Geri Strecker

Geri teaches English at Ball State, mostly to architects, and so she has some architecture expertise as well as most of a masters degree in history. In her research on the negro leagues and Oscar Charleston she started looking for an architecural archive of Greenlee Field, the $100,000 ballpark that Gus Greenlee built in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, where negro league games were played.

She discovered a treasure trove of photos that baseball researchers had not known about before. I can’t really do much justice to describe the photos she showed, but it was pretty fascinating to see, andshe also told the story of how the city of Pittsburgh, starved for more cheap, easy to develop land for public housing, forced Greenlee to sell the park to them for $50,000. In the end they only paid him $38,000 for a place that cost him $110,000 to build, including the state of the art lights and sound system.

***

Grover Cleveland Alexander
by Steve Steinberg

The final research presentation of the conference!

Steve discovered a great photo of Alexander and was trying to identify the children in a photo with Alexander, one of the few photos of him where he is actually smiling. In 2004 the Phonograph (the name of the local paper in St. Paul, Nebraska, his home town) ran the photo, and eventually they were able to identify every person in the photograph. Steve had hoped some might be alive in their 80s but they were all passed on. He did eventually speak to a niece in her 90s who was 13 year old at the time of the photo although she doesn’t appear in it.

Steve revisited the idea that Alexander’s drinking was a form of self-medicating for his epilepsy, or at least a way to cover up that he was epileptic, since it was more acceptable to be a drunk than an epileptic. In 1909 when he was running to second base he was hit on the temple with the relay throw, and he had double vision and was unconscious for 56 hours. Some players talked about Alex having a seizure while playing with Philadelphia, and there is a first hand interview that talks about one attack during world war I.

He had a very tumultuous relationship with his wife Amy. They met at a dance in 1914 in St. Paul, but they got married, divorced in 1929, back together in 1931 when he was playing with the House of David, many various rough times because of his drinking. They had two sons, both of whom died in infancy. Redivorced him in 1941, then found him many years later in a Bronx VA Hospital, and ended up reconnecting to him but not remarrying him. She was about to move to a town nearer to him near the end, as he had been writing her love letter but proclaiming that he hated St. Paul and did not want to be there. She thought he might come to live with her, but he died only a few hours after writing her a letter signed “love, Alex.” He died in the rooming house where he was living.

Ronald Reagan played him in the film of his life and Amy was paid for being a consultant on the film. She used the money to put up a proper tombstone for him. She lived 30 more years and supposedly was found with a signed World Series baseball by her side.

* * *

All that’s left now is the big finale of the trivia contest. I never have the patience to sit through those things, so I went to the bar for a drink and ended up hobnobbing with a series of folks I had not caught up with yet at the convention. Clearly I need to hit the bar earlier next year. Hm, I still haven’t caught up with Jay Jaffe, and I still havent’ asked Vince Gennaro for the elevator pitch version of his presentation which I missed. When trivia ends maybe I’ll go back down there to console the losers and toast the winners.

By the way, if this hasn’t been enough for you, read some other takes on the convention at other blogs like Jaybird’s Jottings: http://jay.typepad.com/william_jay/2009/08/sabr-convention-friday.html

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

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