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SABR 41: Day one research presentations

I saw five research presentations today at SABR 41 (there were six slots, but I missed one of them while chatting with people, go figure…). I took notes, but am only presenting the gist of each one here. Some of them will have more extensive versions published in SABR publications and other publications in the future.

Herm Krabbenhoft
& Trent McCotter
“Most Runs Batted In: By an Individual Player — During a Single Season — In the American League”

Don’t let this dry title fool you; this presentation is a bombshell. And first thing in the morning on the first day of the convention, too!

I don’t think Trent was here, and Herm gave the presentation. Herm is an old pro at these SABR presentations, and beyond that he is a maniacal researcher. Which is excellent, because his near-obsessive attention to detail may have uncovered one of the most significant errors in the official MLB record books. Herm laid out the details of the RBI records kept for the 1931 Yankees and the 1937 Tigers. He found several games lacking accurate records. In the Tigers alone, 7 players had their records affected, including Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Rudy York, Marv Owen, some that year by as many as +3 or -2. The records were transmitted to the leagues each night by hand-writing the results in a ledger and errors could be introduced. Herm then took us play by play through a specific game in 1937 for which multiple newspaper stories existed (along with newspaper box scores) that attributed one RBI to Greenberg, one to York. However the official day-to-day record of the league records zero for Greenberg, three for York, and seven total for the game when other box scores have only six. There were nine such “RBI-error games” recorded in that year. If this is correct, then Greenberg would have a total of 184 RBI for the year.

Meanwhile in 1931, there are 9 such games for the 1931 Yankees, which if taken into account, would give Lou Gehrig 184 RBI for that season. Thus Greenberg and Gehrig should be considered tied for the record for the most RBI in a single season.

One audience member exclaimed during questions, “This undermines everything in the official record!” Yes, yes it does. Another audience member asked, “Has any of this been accepted?” By the powers that be, MLB, Elias, etc?

Herm’s answer: “Elias has not accepted any of this. I spoke to Seymour [Siwoff] this morning [of the Elias Sports Bureau, specifically asking him about correcting the RBI record for York, but also for Greenberg.] And here’s a close to verbatim version of what he said to me: ‘We can’t do this. It’s an embarrassment for us. We didn’t do it, Howe [News Bureau] did it. Do what you want, it’s a free country, good luck.’ He made a business decision. I can’t blame him.”

Quite a bombshell, eh? Herm is writing up some more extensive research on correcting RBI records for the upcoming Baseball Research Journal, which I am editing for SABR. His research travels trying to track down play by play data for all the questionable games have taken him from the Detroit Public Library, to the New York Public Library, to Widener Library at Harvard University, and beyond.

STEVE STEINBERG, “Organized Baseball Circles the Wagons & Silences The Whistleblower”

Steve presented on the largely forgotten figure of Horace Fogel, who was a significant figure in early 1900s baseball who was drummed out and blacklisted after speaking out against corruption in the game. Among other things, he was a sportswriter, team owner of the Phillies, scout for the Indiana Hoosiers (1887), manager of the Giants (1902, pre McGraw), and even president of the Atlantic League. As Steve put it, “If there was a guy who knew there the bodies were buried, this was the guy.”

Nowadays it’s fashionable to question whether other World Series’ besides the 1919 one were fixed. But in Fogel’s day, leveling the accusations he did got him banned from baseball. The owners and even the other baseball writers and newspapers went on a campaign to silence him. Even though Steve provided numerous examples of other people claiming corruption in the press, none did it for as long and as loudly as Fogel. F. C. Lane, the editor of MLB’s Baseball Magazine, described Fogel as “anarchistic” and a “fanatic.” His accusations were considered dangerous and destabilizing the game, tearing it down, etc… Once he was drummed out, Fogel teamed up with Billy Voltz of the Voltz news bureau to sell a syndicated “inside baseball” column to newspapers around the country. The BBWAA went on a campaign to ensure that no newspaper would pick up his column. Steve could only find a single small paper in Pennsylvania whose editor also included an editorial excoriating Fogel’s critics.

It wasn’t until after the Black Sox scandal broke that anyone began to listen to Fogel again. In October 1920 he complained loudly and bitterly of how the Giants were always given the advantage (by umpires etc) over the Phillies and how the corruption ruined the game. After he popped off, an actual article appeared in the New York Herald, the headline of which read: “$150,000 Offered Phillies, Dooin Charges in 1908.”

Toolson’s Secrets: A Close Call for the Baseball Antitrust Exemption

I missed the very beginning of this presentation, but Ross Davies won the award for best presentation at the convention last year, and so I definitely wanted to try to make it to his slot. This was on the 1953 Supreme Court case that challenged baseball’s antitrust exemption. Toolson had brought the charge based not on the Sherman Antitrust Act, but on the 1914 Clayton Act which allowed private citizens to challenge a monopoly and not just the government.

Back in 1922, the ruling was that baseball was not interstate commerce, but local commerce, and congress and the supreme court did not regulate local commerce, therefore it wasn’t that baseball wasn’t a monopoly but that it was outside their purview. However after the New Deal in the 1930s the perception of what was and wasn’t interstate commerce began to change. By 1953 when the Toolson case comes up, plenty of people were seeing MLB as interstate commerce. Not only was there much more travel, but also farm teams and farm systems reaching across multiple states, etc.

Ross then went through justice by justice to examine each man’s thoughts about labor issues, antitrust, and baseball to show that Toolson actually had a decent shot to win the case, even though in the end he didn’t. Ross’s research is impressive, including personal letters, diary entries, and other information including later decisions handed down by the same justices, one of whom was still on the court when the Curt Flood case came around.

Ross also gave a “Curt Flood versus Rehnquist” Bobblehead Doll to an audience member who correctly identified Rehnquist in a photo from his days as a clerk for one of the Toolson justices. All in all, an illuminating and informative presentation.

Scouting the Americas for Latino Giants: Alex Pompez and a “Latino” Approach to Talent Acquisition

This presentation was based on Burgos’s recent book on Alex Pompez, who was the owner of the New York Cuban Giants. After the color line came down in major league baseball, the Negro League faded, and the Giants hired Pompez to help develop their talent, both from the Negro Leagues and from Latin America. “You can argue that Alex Pompez was the most influential man in opening the pipeline from the Dominican Republic TWICE,” Burgos said, “first into the negro leagues and then in to the major leagues. He may not have invented the ‘latino; approach, he certainly perfected it.”

The latino approach included not only using his network of contacts in Latin American to locate talent, but mentoring the young players when they arrived in the US. He could tell families of young prospects that the Giants were the place to sign because any team can give you money, but only the Giants had someone who spoke Spanish (Pompez) who would act as caretaker for their boy. In spring training Pompez would give not only language lessons but culture lessons. In the days of segregation they needed to be taught how to act, and how to get alone in the racially charged USA the way they had not had to in other countries.

The 1954 Giants are a great example of the diversity that Pompez led to the Giants, including Willie Mays, Monte Irvin, Hank Thompson, Ruben Gomez, Ramon Monzant.

and Ricardo Santillan
“Mexican American Baseball in Los Angeles: A Pictorial History of Baseball from East LA to Dodger Stadium”

Balderrama told the story of the Latino Baseball History Project, which is also detailed in the convention publication ENDLESS SUMMER. One of his classes did a historical project to document baseball in Mexican American communities in southern California. It then caught on with the Baseball Reliquary, and now it’s a permanent exhibition at a local university. The project documents how for generations baseball has been central to the communities of Mexican Americans. The importance of the Nine Pena Brothers (whose father and grandfather played baseball and the family was on Ripley’s Believe it Or Not), the winningest team in Mexican American baseball: Los Chorizeros, and the ways that Sunday baseball after church provided an opportunity for community building and for politicians to meet the community. He showed a DVD of photos and video of several still-living players and their relatives doing interviews.

Tonight is the event, which I probably won’t blog, since I would assume those folks will have plenty of coverage at their own site!

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