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June 25, 2008: At SABR in Cleveland

Well, here I am in Cleveland! Apologies in advance for typos in this report. My trusty Macintosh laptop, which has, shall we say, high mileage on it, finally went kaput on the way here. I am forced to post this via he wacky WebTV thing in my room. I’s keyboard is horrible, I can barely see the TV screen, and it shows me maybe a tenth of the page?

But we persevere.

My flight last night flew right over the Indians’ home ballpark, which I still think of as Jacobs Field, but which has been renamed Progressive. I’m not actually expecting much about Cleveland to be very “progressive,” but well, let’s face it, I am an East Coast liberal, and my peer group when finding out I was going to Cleveland was full of jokes like “I think they have running water and electricity there now.” And Internet, I was assured! I feel a bit like I am riding a horse and buggy using WebTV….

Anyway, yes, they have electricity. The lights of the ballpark could be sen when we were still miles away, the distinctive “toothbrush” style lightstands making it look sort of like a kid’s birthday cake from a distance. Or perhaps a crown of some kind, though it does not look like this year the Indians will be capturing that.

Went to four fascinating research presentations today. Jim Odenkirk presented a very enjoyable recap of the years when the “rivalry” was between the Indian and Yankees, not just the Red Sox and Yankees. He used some attendance figures and such to prove that the Indians/Yankees rivalry from the 1940s and 1950s was every bit as hot and exciting as Red Sox/Yankees. I’m not so sure about that, as the rivalry between the cities of NY and Boston pre-dates the existence of professional baseball, and even when NL ball first came to the Northeast Corridor, supporters of the tams would waves signs rooting for them from the train platforms all along Connecticut (which has always had to divide loyalties);. But it was a very enjoyable reminscence of what was a very unique era in baseball. Mr. Odenkirk lived through it, and even was paid $3 per ride to drive a busload of 40 kids to ballgames on weekend afternoons, where owner Bill Veeck gave away thousands of tickets to children.

I unfortunately had to miss most of the talk on the decline of the inside the park home run by Ron Selter. I was on the phone to a friend who works at the Apple Store, and I was buying my replacement computer. I did hear his conclusions though, which were basically:

-outfielders are bigger/faster/stringer now days
-there are fewer bunts & hit & run plays
-smoother field result in fewer bad bounces
-better gloves
-smaller outfields

Anne Aronson gave a nice presentation on Women’s Baseball in Australia. Interestingly, one of the reasons they have significant womens baseball recreation programs there is because baseball is not a hugely popular sport, the state baseball federations there sponsored women’s baseball as a way of promoting the game to more people–why limit yourself to half he population? It also helps that the majority of sports played are organized through sports clubs. You pay your membership in a club, and that club will sponsor a whole menu of teams including T-ball for the kids, multiple men’s and women’s teams, and more. Since club membership and participation are largely family-oriented, when baseball was introduced, there were already plenty of women, including mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, etc… who weer ready to give it a try. They also lack the “baseball is for boys, softball is for girls” weirdness that rules American attitudes.

The best presentation I went to though, which truly fascinated me, was Geri Strecker’s talk about wartime baseball in the Philippines. The USA took over the Philippines in 1898 and by 1902 they had a professional quality ballpark. Early filipino newspapers show photos of native Ingorot tribesmen as the “G-String Basebal Team” (because that was pretty much all they wore.) By 1913 the All-Filipino team was touring the US and Japan in more traditional baseball uniforms.

The professional Manila Baseball League incorporated in 1909 and players got shares of the profits of about $45 – $60 per month. I imagine not only was that a fair it of money back then, but in the Philippines especially. Heck, that’s probably a good salary there NOW.

The playing season went from Thanksgiving to July 4th, to avoid typhoon season. They once had a rain delay that lasted 3 weeks for an All-Star Game because 3 typhoons came one after the other.

Her research centers around the 24th Infantry, an all black company serving in Batangas. The Manila League had four teams, the All-Filipino team, made up of native filipinos of many ethnicities, the Manila team, made up mostly of US citizens in the Philippines, the Army, and the Marines. But the Marines pulled out of the Philippines in mid-season. At the halfway point, the 24th infantry were invited to join the league, making the league integrated for a time. There were protests, though, and the experiment only lasted for that half-season.

Interesting to note that many of the presenters are women. The presentations are chosen based on blind abstracts, so the committee does not know the gender of the people they pick. It’s interesting that although general SABR membership runs about 4% female, it would appear that a greater number of them are doing presentable research than among the male population. I hypothesize that women who join SABR are more likely to do so BECAUSE they are motivated to do research, and not as content to just sit back and enjoy SABR as a passive experience, which is how I think some guys do.

Brain is full now, so must rest and then dinner with baseball writer/editor friends.

I’m not sure if I’ll post again! Depends on how painful this WEBTV continues to be.

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