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SABR in DC: Day Three

Day Three of the SABR convention in Washington, DC.

I am so not used to getting up this early every day. I got in from dinner last night and could barely keep my eyes open while blogging. I conked out earlier than I have in years, two nights in a row. But I’m still sleepy.

Despite this, I was up for the first presentation of the day. Today’s schedule:

Branch Rickey’s Wilberforce Speech
George Michael interviewing Frank Howard and Rick Dempsey
A Framework to Evaluate Managers
Do Pitchers Try Harder to Get Their 20th Win?
Baseball and Early Electro-Acoustic Technology
A Tale of Two Umpires (who were fired for union organizing)
Bus caravan to Camden Yards to see Orioles/Sox

Rickey’s Wilberforce Speech
by Lee Lowenfish

Branch Rickey had turned down a lot of chances to speak after Jackie Robinson’s amazing 1947 season. But when he was invited to the college football banquet in his native Ohio at Wilberforce, a black college, he couldn’t resist. February 16, 1948, 250 people (and a lot of news organizations) gathered to hear Rickey speak.

“I’ve had this Robinson story inside me for a couple of years,” he told the crowd. He praised baseball fans for their acceptance. “The American people are not as concerned with the pigmentation of a first baseman’s skin as with his [incredible skills].”

Rickey told the crowd that he sent Dodgers scouts out with the false story that they were stocking a third negro league and that at his first meeting with Robinson, Jackie had no idea he might be scouted for the Dodgers.

Rickey’s speech went into many controversial territories, including denouncing the baseball owners’ 1946 vote against the promotion of Robinson. He told people that there had been a motion and a vote, but that all records of the vote had been destroyed.

This announcement sent shockwaves all throughout baseball, though, and Rickey was confronted with his words the following week. He backtracked, saying he only mentioned the 1946 opposition in illustration of how much had changed by 1948.

Rickey was a genuine idealist who believed in equal opportunity for all people.

The next conflict came after the Wilberforce controversy had died down, but there was a fight brewing with Larry MacPhail, who had suspended Leo Durocher earlier because of Durocher running off to Mexico to marry actress Loraine Day (whose divorce in the US wasn’t final yet). Shotton had been the manager in 1947 while Durocher was out of baseball, but Rickey was hoping in 1948 that the color-blind Durocher would be Robinson’s manager.

But Durocher was irritated that Robinson came into came overweight. And then he didn’t seem to be able to settle on a lineup once the season began. He shifted Robinson from second back to first, even though they had traded away a player (Stanky) to free up second for Jackie. The Dodgers fell into the basement in the standings.

Something had to change. The wacky change ended up with Durocher moving to manage the Giants, and Shotton returning to the Dodgers. Campanella came up as catcher, moving Gil Hodges to first, and they reached first place, though they fell into third by the end of the season.

By 1949, Don Newcombe would achieve greatness as a pitcher, the Giants finally began to integrate under Durocher, and Robinson came into camp in great shape (Rickey’s Christmas gift to him was a bathroom scale). But Rickey was on his way out the door, still hounded by the unease the Wilberforce speech had stirred up, leaving Brooklyn shortly thereafter.


Player Panel: George Michael Interviews Rick Dempsey and Frank Howard

George Michael was an energetic and humorous emcee for this event. I couldn’t come close to capturing all the anecdotes and stories they told. But here are a few:

“Reggie Jackson was an absolute jerk, let’s make that absolutely clear,” Michael said. “But he had the hots for my wife, Pat. So I got all the interviews I wanted. It was great. But Rick Dempsey, being the upstanding guy he was, told Reggie ‘you know Pat is George Michael’s wife’ and I never got another interview with him again.”

Apparently Dempsey’s parents were a vaudeville actor and a model. They showed a great clip of Dempsey goofing around on the tarp during rain delays, dressing up as Babe Ruth, calling his shot.

Did you hate Earl Weaver?

Dempsey: “I absolutely hated him. While I played for him I hated him. But I never wanted to play for another manager because he made us winners.”

How did Ted Williams have such a great influence on you, Frank Howard?

Howard: “He was an amazing man. You knew he was a baseball icon but you didn’t know how it was going to be to play for him. I was in spring training about three days and Freddy came down and says boss wants to see you. Yeah bush, come in here. He called everybody ‘bush’ for ‘bush league.’ Can you tell me how a guy can hit 44 home runs but only get 48 base on balls. You like that little swifty number one. I said yeah because numbers two three and four are UFOs to me. Unidentified Flying Objects. But he said what would happen if you took two strikes? I found myself laying off a lot of those breaking balls in the first, and I actually had more 2-0 and 3-1 counts to hit in than ever before!”

Why did Jim Palmer drive Early Weaver nuts?

Dempsey: “Jim Palmer was a perfectionist who thought he was never wrong. Palmer wanted to do things his way so they butted heads a lot. They argued and fought like husband and wife on the mound every day. Earl would come out and say you don’t know how to pitch these hitters, and Palmer said Earl the only thing you know about pitching is that you couldn’t hit it. I just went back to the plate at that point.”

What did you learn managing teams that were awful?

Howard: “Well, you learn you’re only as good as your personnel. I had a lot of first and second year players. I had every manager in the league telling me ‘your ballclub sure is fun to play.’ I felt like yeah, of course it is, because you beat me 3-2 every night. But what they meant was that we were a fundamentally sound club who played hardnosed every night. I think the club they have here [in Washington] is a lot like that. They come at you full blast every night.”

Would you have taken steroids if they had them in your day?

Howard: “I never made enough money to have an agent. But if I had, imagine I was hitting 25 home runs a year and making two million dollars a year, and my agent says if you could hit ten more a year you could make ten million dollars. Now you like to think you have the ethics to do the right thing, but I don’t know. In the fifties and sixties we had a lot of heavy drinkers, but through education and personal awareness we cleaned it up. In the seventies and eighties you had a lot of drug problems, but through education and personal awareness we cleaned it up. Baseball will clean this up, too.”

* * *

A Framework for Analysis to Evaluate Managers
Indicators of a Manager’s Impact

Opened with a list of the managers in the 20th century who are in the Hall of Fame. All of them were part of pennant winners. Managers of mediocre teams are lost to history because they lack the winning credentials.

Exiting ways to measure:
1> benchmark accomplishments: how many playoffs won, games won, etc.
(inherently biased to best teams)
2. Record vs. Pythagorean Expected Wins (Total Baseball)
McCarthy = -19.3 from 1936-42, (-23.6 career) Yankees should have won 19 more games than they did. Is McCarthy a bad manager, then?

Three Roles of a Manager:
1. Reposnibile to organize and prep his team for the season & gmes
2. Guide his team through al ong season that ebbs and flows
3. Make right in -game decisions that are situation dependent

This presentation is about #3.

Indicators of impact:
1. improving team’s record by 7 games or more than prev. season
2. improving team’s record in 2nd half of season
3. record in one-run games
4. record after September 1st
5. Record against the Best Teams
6. Record after July 4th and September 1st in games with 1st place at stake.

Coming up with a Manager’s Score — doesn’t factor in any whether they win the World Series or other “achievement scores”

Comparative analysis of the managers’ scores must be done before the score has meaning.

McCarthy (1936-1942) vs. Stengel (1949-1953)
Which manager made more difference to his team?

McCarthy went 701-371 over 7 years, .654, Stengel won 487-280.635 over five years
Both won 5 world Series
Stengel was usually in a tight pennant race at the end of the season, and also played better against the league’s best teams, whereas McCarthy’s teams tended to dominate for the whole season and play indifferently against other great teams.

RElative score comparison reveals that Stengel was the more crucial to his team.

Stengel versus Lopez::
Cleveland Indians 1951-1955, may have had a better team than the Yankees, but Stengel’s Yankees still played better against the best teams and the Yankees played better in September.
Lopez scores 38, to Stengel’s 35.1, but in head to head pennant races, 51, 52, and 55, were all decided in favor of Stengel’s Yankees. Lopez had the better record in one run games, but Stengel had the better record against the best teams.

McCarthy versus Jimmy Dykes
Chicago White Sox 1935-1941

Dykes never finished higher than 3rd place. Winning percentage as a major league manager was under .500. And he called McCarthy a “push button manager.” His only core players in this era were Luke Appling and Lee. But looking at the indicators of impact, one run games and September games, show a much better record than his overall record.

Fairly close overall score comes out, 32.4 for McCarthy vs 29 for Dykes.

Conclusion: If Dykes were manager of the Yankees, Yankees would have won the same six pennants, and Dykes would be in the Hall of Fame, not McCarthy.

* * *

Do Pitchers Try Harder to Get Their 20th Win?

Phil Birnbaum

Isn’t it interesting that more guys have won 20 than 19? How can this be? Bill James at one point asserted that pitchers try harder.

Why could this happen? Five reasons explored here.

1. Do managers give them extra starts in September to give them a bigger chance to get there?
Looking at the numbers there may be a slight bulge, might add .25% (one quarter of a percent) which might account for about ten pitchers total going from 19 to 20.

2. Relief appearances – maybe the 19 win pitchers got a relief win from their manager?
Looking at Retrosheet, 7 since 1940 got one of the September wins in relief. So that’s plus 7 into the 20 win column, 7 out of the 19 win column. ANd there were six 21 game winners with a relief win.

3. Clutch pitching — does the guy try harder? How did the pitcher actually perform with the various numbers of wins?
Look at Team RA (runs against for the team) and win pct. for pitchers with 17-18-19-20-21-22
Only a tiny bit of difference is demonstrated. Phil liked this because it showed that pitchers probably try their hardest all the time and are team players.

It was at this point in the presentation that I got the text message from corwin telling me the news that Manny and Big Papi failed steroid tests in 2003. So I missed one slide of Phil’s presentation.

4. Run support — shows that after getting their 20th win, batters let them down in their tries for 21! A difference of .4 runs in RA per game demonstrated — equivalent to replacing the DH with a pitcher. The result is about 15 pitchers who were stuck at 20 rather than going on to 21!

5. More Decisions — maybe when the pitcher is going for 20, the manager will leave him in the game longer.

Looks like so! Wins per start from 17 to 22 wins, shows about 11 extra wins have been gained this way. So we have an extra 11 20 game winners and 11 fewer 19 game winners from this effect.

Looking at the totals then…
19 game winners lost 18
20 game winners gained 47
21 game winners lost 13

HOw do you adjust for a manager giving his starter an extra relief appearance to win 20 and then 5 days later he moved to 21 by winning a start? A factor that should have bumped our 20 game winners ended up lowering it again. So let’s adjust to

So now if we back out the extra 37 20-game winners, we should see the bulge in the data disappear. And we do.

So, is it because pitchers reach 20 because they want it to happen? Actually, this shows that it’s mostly that the MANAGERS want it to happen.

* * *

Baseball and Early Electro Acoustic Technology

In the 1920s, clubs wanted to use technology to cut into the “negative” sounds made by spectaotors

1846 at Elysian Fields, supposedly James Whyte Dvais was fined six cents by Alexander Cartwright himself for “inappropriate language.”

Boxing was stigmatized and marginalized, made criminal in some places, so baseball wanted to avoid that, trying to promote themselves as wholesome entertainment for the whole family.

Edison’s Casey at the Bat made a film in 1899
Showed Casey trying to attack the umpire and being restrained by five or six other players
The poem was made so famous by the thousands of perfoemances by vaudevelle actor DeWolf Hopper, and audiences would have been very familiar with it.
The poem ends with the third strike, but the film includes the argument and fighting. The film visualizes the inappropriate actions of the player, but maybe it just caters to the audeince for films who were used to and craved violence and actions. (At the time there were boxing films, cock fighting, but no baseball films.) Edison’s film plays on the expectation for violence in sports films of the time.

1989 National League “Brush Rule”
named after John Brush, future owner of the Giants
“any player using villainously filthy language could be banned for life”
But no one was banned and it was rescinded shortly thereafter.
Many felt the rule was aimed specifically at McGraw’s Orioles.

McGraw of course was one of the most vociferous voices, no single figure better exemplified league efforts to rein in problematic sounds. He not only was ejected 131 times, but also did things like order a deaf-mute pitcher of his to shriek just before throwing the ball. His lack of control was also likely to incite crowds to violence.

McGraw appeared in vaudeville and in movies, contracted in a 1913 experimental talking film. Film was never produced, but then was in One Touch of Nature in 1917.

Three new ways technology changed the ballpark experience:

New sound technologies offering ability to control elements of soundscape without alienating fans. Masking unwanted sounds.

Radio making baseball accessible to anyone who would listen. And by using recreations instead of live broadcast, the teams could control it even more.

PA systems — way to control sounds within the stadium itself and provide fans with game information. Numbers on jerseys weren’t adopted across the board until 1932.

1929 LA Times article talks about how female baseball fans were becoming more knowledgeable and numerous thanks to the radio. (Presumably the ballpark itself was too crass an environment for a lady.)

New sound tech created discourse which emphasized both the benefits for fans and the ability to control any sounds.

Helped to create a modernized soundscape considered suitable for all listeners, making the national pastime even more democratic.

* * *

A Tale of Two Umpires
by Mark Armour

Mark has spent several years researching the life of Joe Cronin, who for more than five decades had his fingerprints all over baseball management.

Two umpires in particular were impacted by Cronin, Al Salerno and Bill Valentine.

Salerno had been a player who hurt his arm in Korea, and who spent only a few years in the minors before coming up to the AL. There were only 20 umpires at the time, and Salerno was the only rookie umpire in 1962. Valentine spent five years in the minors before making it to the bigs.

They both had fairly typical careers, and in 1968 they were once on the same crew headed by Chief Honochick and with Emmett Ashford.

One day they were both on the road working, and Salerno received a phone call from Cronin saying he was incompetent, firing him. He went to tell Valentine this, and Valentine was just hanging up the phone from the same kind of call.

Cal Hubbard was the AL Umpire supervisor and the American League had total control over the umpires.

Shirley Povich, who had known Cronin for decades, he said Cronin took 6-7 years to notice that these guys were incompetent? Seems unlikely…

Basically no one believed Cronin’s story of incompetence, when only four days before their firing both men had attended a union organizing meeting. Cronin expressed shock at this accusation and said if they wanted to unionize, which he said he hadn’t heard about, they ought to just do it.

AL umpires at the time were paid much worse than NL umpires. Both men had been receiving steady pay increases, had never been given any censure before, and they had each been given some high profile assignments.

Within two weeks of their firing, the other 18 AL umpires all joined the NL Umpires Union.

The two aggrieved umpires then filed legal action, suing for $4 million. Cronin decided to try to cut a deal, offering them $20,000 per year in salary and a “retraining period” in the minors. They said no. He then sweetened the pot, offering them $20,000 in back pay and other enticements. Valentine said yes, but Salerno wouldn’t do it. The case went to court.

The National Labor Relations Board ended up ruling that the union activities weren’t proven to be why they were fired and the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal. Valentine went on to become general manager of a minor league team in Little Rock, done quite well for himself, and would often use the line “Thanks to Joe Cronin for getting me into this line of work.” His wife, apparently, still says things sometimes when he screws up saying “Look, Cronin was right, you are incompetent!”

Meanwhile, Salerno in Utica didn’t do so well. “I’m just waiting to crawl in my hole.” He had a heart attack at age 48, then lost his marriage in the 1980s, and after being interviewed by Mark and corresponding with him for some time, passed away in 2007.

* * *

I skipped the second to last presentation of the day to go and finish up judging all the poster presentations, then actually ran out of time to quite finish that (I have two left to do) before I wanted to run off to get on the bus to Baltimore. We were exhorted strongly to start loading at 3:40pm, and that the buses would pull away no later than 4pm sharp. Given our near-miss with the Nationals Park tour, I wanted to be sure I was early, so I skipped the final presentation slot of the day also to go and get on the bus.

Except the buses were not there. They were presumably stuck in horrible traffic, since they didn’t arrive until about 4:10 pm, and by the time our bus pulled out it was 4:20. And then the traffic was horrible.

We might have still made it on time for the first pitch if at 6:45–when we were forced by a policeman from our route to our bus parking lot to go directly past Camden Yards where throngs of people were trying to walk and hundreds of cars were still stuck looking for parking–we had been allowed to just get off the bus there and go inside. But no. There was another twenty minutes of being forced to circle around and around the Ravens stadium and various traffic clogged side streets, our bus driver forlornly showing his parking card to each Orioles employee we came to, only to be pointed off in another direction each time. At 7pm, we reached the distant lot J, which I think we were heading for all along, except that the police would not actually let the bus turn at the street which would have taken us directly there, twenty minutes earlier.

The walk back to Oriole Park at Camden Yards was a lengthy one, ten minutes at least. I think we heard the cheer of the opening pitch while we were crossing yet another parking lot. By the time I entered the stadium on Eutaw Street, it was already a few batters into the bottom of the first, with Jason Varitek at the plate.

I had fun walking up and down Eutaw Street. I won a frisbee from the Maryland State Lottery, and a free drink from Chik-Fil-A. I decided to get food from Boog Powell’s barbecue joint, and they were offering a weekend special of three “sliders” (small size sandwiches), one pork, one turkey, one beef, with cole slaw and baked beans, for $11. It was delicious. Even delightful. I stood in the Flag Court above right field and ate my sandwiches and enjoyed a few innings of the game with my chin on the top of the padded wall.

Eventually I decided to make my way to my seat, which was in the upper deck. I ended up buying a container of ice cream treats (Edy’s Bits?) that were basically like miniature Klondike Bars. So yummy and it took me like twenty minutes to eat them. Om nom nom nom.

The game featured no fewer than five lead changes, many as the result of home runs for either the Orioles or the Red Sox. Mainly it was a beautiful night at the ballpark, with a gorgeous sunset, the aftermath of torrential thunderstorms that had soaked the area around 4pm and then moved off to leave the skies streaked with orange and magenta clouds and low humidity. The Red Sox won and Papelbon got the save. I was pleased to have seen John Smoltz pitch in his career, even if he did nearly give up three home runs in one inning — one which luckily bounced just short of the tall scoreboard in right, and one which was robbed in deep center by an incredible catch by Jacoby Ellsbury.

Which reminds me to turn on ESPN and see the replay of it. I’ll post this now and turn on the gigantic HD tv in my hotel room now…!

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