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SABR 42: Day 1 Morning Research Presentations

SABR42 Research Presentations: Day One, morning

Saw four sessions this morning:
-Herm Krabbenhoft on correcting the AL RBI records
-Steven Glassman on how the Hall of Fame selection process has changed
-Tom Harney on how the development of baseball since 1895 in Taiwan related to their national pride and politics
-Rob Fitts on the 1934 Japan tour of Babe Ruth, Moe Berg, and the All American team.

Herm Krabbenhoft:
Herm has presented on this topic before. His last two contributions to the Baseball Research Journal have been the partial results of his research to determine the actual number of RBIs that Lou Gehrig and Hank Greenberg had in their careers.

So, “How Many Career RBIs did Gehrig Actually Have?” In trying to answer this question, Herm has ascertained the complete details for EVERY run scored in every game Gehrig played in. That’s over 13,000 runs.

Herm uses four steps to try to answer the question:
1) Compare the RBI stats in unproofed Retrosheet play by plays with RBI stats in the official day by day records. This took care of about 60% of the cases where it’s right.
2) Get RBI stats from newspaper accounts for the games with no Retrosheet play-by-plays and compare with the day by day records.
3) Resolve the discrepancies. To do this, Herm has traveled around the country to various newspaper archives trying to get as many game accounts as possible to settle the question of “what happened” in the games where there is a discrepancy.
4) (missed this, but I think it’s “do the math”)

In the Fall BRJ Herm presented the data for the first half of Gehrig’s career. As of 2012, Elias’s record book hasn’t changed to reflect what Herm presented, but Retrosheet and Pete Palmer have incorporated the changes. Herm has now completed the entirety of Gehrig’s career, and is presenting it now.

Most of the errors are just simple goof ups. Of course, some are in the player’s favor, some are against. Sometimes the official scorer botches the decision or appears not to know the RBI rules.

Herm then went through a year by year description on the major discrepancies and what their sources were (scorer error, typo, etc.) Some are clear because the number of RBIs reported for a game was obviously incorrect. Often the RBI was simply credited to the wrong player.

Herm believes the actual career total for Gehrig should be 1,995 RBIs. The Elias Sports Bureau has changed their total number at various points in their history but they won’t say why. They currently show 1,994.

Now, we have some other burning questions relating to RBIs and Elias. Elias is now saying A-Rod will be the first American League player to top 2000 RBIs… he only needs 73 more. But how can you just leave out Babe Ruth? The Little Red Book of Baseball has him listed with 2197 RBIs. Elias says it only counts since 1920. Elias has chosen to ignore or not count 1914-1919. itself shows Ruth having 2201 RBIs. What is going on here? And will it “count” if Alex Rodriguez gets to 2000?

Cue ominous music and stay tuned to the blogosphere to see what happens there.

* * * *

Steven Glassman: “Thank You For Your (non)Support”

Steven presented basically the history of the Hall of Fame balloting process, especially as concerned the formation of the screening process of who gets on the ballot in the first place.

Since the1962 screening process approved:
1879 players have appeared on the ballot
72 have receive 75% of the vote
265 have failed to receive a vote

Point of this presentation isn’t to advocate for any particular player, but to talk about the evolution of eligibility rules for players who receive less than 5% of the vote.

The final paper changed from the abstract because upon further research it turned out of the five guys who were listed as having no votes when they appeared on the ballot (Charlie Gehringer, Gabby Hartnett, Eddie Lopat, Virgil Trucks, and Lloyd Waner) actually had the following situations:
Gehringer and Hartnett received one vote each, Eddie Lopat, Lloyd Waner, and Virgil Trucks were not on the ballot at all in their first year.

In 1936 there was no screening process, and no rules for players with less than 5% of the vote.

1954: first year of 5 year waiting period
1955 final year current players were on ballot
1962 players must have been active during a 20 year period pror to election
1992 ineligible/banned players could not appear on ballot (“Pete Rose rule”)

In 1958 the ballot was 10 blanks spaces with a list of 400 eligible players attached. As a result MANY players received no votes at all.

More ballot issues and problems ensued, ineligible players, too man on the ballot, underqualified players on the ballot. The BBWAA writers really needed a screening process or committee. Detailed some of the ballot problems:

1960 ballot — 160 players received votes (More than 3 times the 1954 ballot)

1962: 40 of the 50 first time players failed to get any votes at all

1966 Ballot: four ineligible players, some who were retired for more than 20 years

Special election of 1967 (before 1967 elections were held in even numbered years 1958-1966)

Beginning in 1968, annual ballot began, and the screening process began. Screening committee had problem though and was stopped, then restarted again in 1980. Five percent rule changed, then changed again, and has remained there.

Original committee was six writers.

One oddity: Jose Rijo retired in 1995, received one vote in 2001, then made a comeback and retired again, In 2008 did not receive any votes.

Generally looking at Bill James black/gray ink HOF measures, it appears the screening committee and the writers have been getting it right.

* * * *

Joh Harney: Taiwan Youth Baseball 1920-1968

This historical session was presented by John Harney, who was originally from Limerick Ireland, which meant he had a lovely accent to listen to, in addition to having a fascinating subject.

Taiwan has won 17 Little League World Series titles, including in 1969 which was the first time a Taiwan team entered, and then won 9 of the next 12 titles. Youth baseball is central to Taiwanese culture: the 500 yuan note has the Little league team on the back of it. But this presentation goes back to looking at the roots of baseball in Taiwan.

Taiwan was a colony of Japan until WWII and free democracy didn’t take root until 1980s–for most of the 20th century you had ta colonial situation where there were two groups: those with the power and those being exploited. Looking at colonial situations like Taiwan, we tend to think of two things happening, either the sport being used like a propaganda tool to appease the oppressed people, or the opposite: the other is that the sport is being used as a place for national pride and a rallying cry for internal nationalism against the colonizer.

But Taiwan is sort of an exception to this.
In 1895 the Japanese took over after a brutal war. Taiwan at the time was sort of a wild west of China, known only for exporting sugar and infectious diseases. Upon taking over Taiwan, Japanese Imperial society was revamping their education system and the brought that to Taiwan. Gym class, physical education, was a big part of it. Calisthenics, martial arts, etc. This was a big change for people living in a Chinese society, where people were focused on things like: “my son is indoors reading and learning the Confucian principles of poetry.” Running around and sweating wasn’t something that was done. But the Japanese had become Westernized and they further exported this idea of physical fitness.

Baseball was not part of this physical education program, but it arrived shortly thereafter with young professionals in the sugar industry. Many of the young men who came as teachers, as well, all played the game. The first games were all Japanese against the Japanese.

The first record of the Taiwanese playing is 1919. Then in the 1920s it took off.

Up until the 1920s, the Japanese kept the Taiwanese at arm’s length, “co-existence” instead of integration. But then in the 1920s, Tokyo decreed more integration. Another big thing at the time were baseball tours. Waseda University would send their team to Chicago and places like that to play. In 1917 they first visit Taiwan. At first it was small, but by the mid-1920s it was a huge event. The Mainichi Shinbun (Daily News) team barnstormed as well, and the Herbert Harrison Hunter barnstormers arrival in 1921. They were supposed to be on tour in Japan, but there was some kind of dispute (probably over money) and they ended up in Taiwan and made a huge impact.

Nenggao Baseball 1921-1925 — the aboriginal Taiwanese (not Japanese and not Han/Mainland Chinese), closer to Malaysians/filipinos. Formed as a barnstorming outfit in 1921, toured Taiwan in 1923, and then in 1925 was the first to go the “other direction” and tour Japan. Quite a good team, they won 4 and lost 4 in Japan, but never got away from the “novelty” of their ethnic background. Even inside Taiwan they were discussed almost like a “foreign” team.

Kano Baseball 1931 — Multi-ethnic team, with Taiwanese, Japanese, and aboriginal Taiwanese. These high schoolers became quite prominent and did something no other outside team had done, they were finalists at the Koshien High School tournament in Japan, which is HUGE today and was quite a significant sporting event then as well. A big big deal. There was heavy ideological analysis of the team in Japan at the time: “look at how harmonious our colonial society has become.” Unfortunately, it didn’t last: they didn’t keep the multi-ethnic concept going even as a propaganda concern.

The Maple Leaf Victory 1968 — Baseball persisted in post-war Taiwan. At this point, the Japanese are hated. And the Taiwan government is of course very very anti-Communist. The new government did not see baseball as a threat, though. And they were trying to build connections to the USA, and the last thing you’d do is trash the American national pastime. This team rises up and is propagandized as a capitalist enterprise, is sent abroad to play the team that won the LLWS the year before (of course completely different players by then) and won, so got to say they beat the “world champions.”

(question from the audience about age calculation in Little League teams)
Taiwan did have some fast and loose age calculation and Dr. Yu talks about it as a great shame. But they won so much because they were very good at creating “super teams” pulling the best players from all school districts.

* * * *

Robert Fitts: The Untold Story of the 1934 Tour of Japan

Robert is a complete expert on this subject, and has published articles on the topic, not to mention the full book BONZAI BABE RUTH which goes into much more detail that he did in this presentation. And I couldn’t come close to noting down the complex and intriguing picture he painted of the 1934 All Star tour of Japan and the threat of war and bloody coup going on in Japan at the time. I direct you to Rob’s book for the full story, and here are just some of the anecdotes he wove into the story:

He set the scene with a short film clip and photos to describe an assassination attempt on the president of the Yomiuri newspapers, (Shiriki–spelling?) in which a man named Nagasaki used a samurai sword to try to kill him for defiling the memory of the emperor for allowing Babe Ruth to play in the stadium named for him.

Fitts then goes on to describe the group of players who came to play in 1934, all former All Stars except for one: a backup catcher named Moe Berg. Ruth and his teammates stayed for a month, played 18 games in 12 cities, but war was brewing. There was growing democracy, and closer ties with the West, but nationalism was also on the rise, and assassinations of liberal leaders and the free press grew frequent. Nationalists wanted to increase military might and colonize their neighbors so that Japan could take its place alongside the other powers of the world. Even as the tour was going on, a group known as the Young Officers were plotting a military coup. During the tour there would be bloodshed and coup attempts.

The 1934 tour was meant to be a publicity stunt for the Yomiuri Shinbun. President Shiriki thought Babe Ruth and company would be just the ticket. Yomiuri was already increasing its circulation by covering more entertainment.

The fans were entranced by Ruth, and one enterprising man who worked in a textile factory sat as close as possible to Ruth so that he could memorize his face, and create a textile pattern for Babe Ruth underwear. He became rich.

Meanwhile there was paranoia and decrees made against espionage. Even Babe Ruth himself was searched for cameras. But somehow this didn’t stop Moe Berg.

Unlike his 1932 World Series home run, this time there was no doubt that with the bases loaded and a 3-0 count, Ruth called his shot, and hit a home run out of the stadium where it shattered clay roof tiles on a nearby building. One of the enduring images of the tour is of Ruth playing first base with an umbrella. They played one game in the rain as it was the only game scheduled for southern Japan. When the team arrived, they found there were no outfield bleachers, and there were fans sitting in a foot of water where they had been waiting for 1-2 hours. Ruth took one look at that and said if they can sit in that, I can play baseball in it.

On December 2nd they Americans departed amid much fanfare. Afterward Shiriki kept the All Nippon team together and launched the Japanese professional baseball league, renaming the team the Yomiuri Giants. They would dominate the league for years. And after the war in 1946 Lefty O’Doul came back to Japan, had remained friends with Shiriki, and helped him to rebuild baseball in Japan.

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


  1. Dvd Avins wrote:

    Thanks so much for this coverage. I wish I could be there, but not this year. The Taiwan panel is fascinating to me.

    (I missed Minneapolis and Arisia and you missed Tempe. I hope we stop not meeting like this.)

    Thursday, June 28, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Permalink
  2. Cecilia Tan wrote:

    Heh. Maybe in March in Phoenix for the Analytics Conference? And then SABR #43 will be in Philadelphia…

    Sunday, July 1, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

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