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SABR42: Day Two afternoon presentations

I saw five research presentations yesterday, one before lunch and four after, before it was time to walk over to the ballpark. On the slate:

Steve Steinberg: on the crazy end to the 1908 season for the Giants
Alan Nathan: what have we learned about bats (aluminum/wood) in 10 years
Mark Armour: on the history of artificial turf
Benjamin Wiggins: on DNA testing of prospects by MLB teams
Bryan Soderholm-Difatte: on just how much effect did the 1951 Giants spying help them?

Steve Steinberg: Four Days in October 1908

I was glad to see this presentation by Steinberg, who always has fascinating stuff, since I missed his presentation yesterday when he pinch-hit for a presenter who couldn’t make it.

Official description: “The end of the 1908 National League season is remembered for two events: the famous Merkle game of September 23 and the Giants-Cubs game of October 8 that determined the pennant winner. Steinberg will discuss events between those games, especially the now-forgotten four days before that final game, October 4-7, when the baseball world followed events in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Boston. He will show why this famous season was even more dramatic than remembered, and will raise additional possibilities of foul play in the Deadball Era, though positive conclusions and proof remain elusive.”

The very real possibility of a three-way tie in the National League at the end of the 1908 season made it reminiscent of the crazy way that the 2011 season ended. On October 4th the Pirates played at Chicago, and since the outcome of the game had implications for the Giants’s hopes, special efforts were made to keep them informed. At the Polo Grounds they charged 25 cents admission to see the real-time recreation of the game on huge leaderboards like the ones outside the newspaper buildings. The game was so hotly followed you used to call the operator and ask to be connected to the newspaper to get the score. Instead, the telegraph operators just sent the scores to the operators so they could just read the score and not shut the switchboards down with traffic.

Hugh Fullerton described the game in the New York American as “One of the most desperate and determined games in the history of baseball.” (Reminds me of the Twins/Tigers one-game playoff game at the Metrodome.)

On October 5, then, came Game 1 of the Giant versus the Doves (Fred Dovey’s Boston Braves). The Boston Journal described it as “a very punk game of baseball.” Steve went on to describe the ways in which it seemed like the Doves perhaps didn’t put their whole hearts into beating the Giants… Like the third inning, when the Giants scored twice, and in which Bresnahan had a bad leg and was limping, described in the papers as “waddling” to the plate… somehow beat out an infield hit. In the seventh a Keystone Kops maneuver at third allowed a runner to go home. Et cetera. In the end the Giants won, 8-1.

The backdrop was that on the same day the National League held the meeting to decide what to do about the Merkle game. It was ruled a “play over” not a playoff, all the talk was about the playoff then, and not about the remaining two games against the Doves. Did people assume the Giants would win or that the Doves were throwing the games?

The Giants ended up winning all three games against the Braves/Doves. Two days after, Doves manager Joe Kelley accused BIll Dahlen and George Browne with laying down. Kelley was fired and never managed again in the big leagues

* * * *

Alan Nathan: What Have We Learned from a Decade of Bat Research?

Official description: “In the nearly 40 years since they were first introduced, aluminum bats have evolved into superb hitting instruments that, left unregulated, can significantly outperform wood bats. Indeed, they have the potential of upsetting the delicate balance between pitcher and batter that is at the heart of the game itself. Nathan will focus on the decade of scientific research that led the NCAA Baseball Research Panel (on which he has sat since 2001) and to the creation of the BBCOR standard for non-wood bats that was adopted by the NCAA in 2011 and the National Federation of High Schools in 2012.”

Alan’s talks involving physics and baseball are always fascinating, so I definitely didn’t want to miss this one. I saw a presentation on the topic at my first SABR convention back in 2002 so it was fascinating to see what advances have been made.

Alan opened by introducing the audience to COR: Coefficient of Restitution. That’s a facy term for how “bouncy” a ball is .A Superball has a much higher COR than a baseball. A baseball when dropped from a certain height tends to only bounce up to one quarter of that height.

Really what needs to be measured, though, is BBCOR, which is the combined COR of the bat AND the ball. Because bats have some COR, too. The COR is highest on the “sweet spot” of the bat.

What makes aluminum bats so different from wood ones is that because they are hollow, you have a trampoline effect. The walls of the bat compress and bounce back. Less energy is going into compressing the ball, less energy is lost, and there is more bounce. The ball is launched farther as a result.

In addition to BBCOR, they looked into the weight of the bat. Traditionally weight has been thought of as one of the principle attributes of a bat that hitters use.

It turns out it’s not the actual weight of the bat that matters, but the “swing weight” or MOI (moment of inertia). The swing weight is larger when the weight is concentrated in the barrel of the bat. It’s also larger for wood than for aluminum.

The higher swing weight means more weight in the barrel, also means a higher collision efficiency, but a higher swing weight also means lower bat speed and therefore lower BBS (ball-bat speed). These two competing effects cancel out somewhat, and these offsetting factors leave the BBCOR as the primary factor of how the bat performs. Only in the past ten years has this been realized/accepted.

In fact, the common wisdom that by corking a bat and making it lighter and therefore increasing bat speed will send the ball farther (over the fence) is wrong. Corking the bat increases the speed but decreases the collision efficiency, so you actually LOSE ability to hit the ball farther.

ASIDE: it takes some time before the handle begins to move after the ball impact and by the time the reflective wave goes back to the barrel the ball has already left. Therefore nothing relating to the handle at the point of impacts actually affects the flight of the ball. Not the knob, not the grip of the batter, etc… In fact, the bat could be let go just before the impact and it would still send the ball just as far. “I have been saying this for ten years,” Alan said. “And finally this year I have PROOF.” He showed video then of Todd Frazier’s ‘no hands’ home run, where Frazier let go of the bat and still hit a home run.

The New NCAA Standard
BBCOR is the surrogate for BBS in the new standard. Since swing weight mostly doesn’t matter, the question was where to “draw the line.” THey settled on a BBCOR of 0.500, which is just barely above wood (0.490).

Alan then showed video from Washington State University where all the NCAA bats are tested, of various tests being run.

Science works! The result of ~10% reduction in max BBCOR resulted in a factor of 2 reduction in HR, which was what was predicted.

Now, how about dealing with composite bats? BBCOR on these improves with use: the more you hit with it, the more the epoxy loosens and the more trampoline effect you get. (“accelerated break-in” or ABI) The NCAA doesn’t really have a way to deal with this.

In conclusion, we know much more than we did 10 years ago about how to characterize, measure, and regulate the performance of aluminum bats. And the new NCAA rules seem to work.

* * * *

Mark Armour: Artificial Turf

Mark presented a coherent and highly amusing history of artificial turf in baseball, and how when it came along, for a while it looked like it would be only a matter of time before all real grass was eliminated. Which did not happen.

The Astrodome opened in early 1965 to rave reviews from the fans, writers and players. Players hoped that the game would improve in the indoors, with no shadows, no wind, no mud, and the grass was perfectly grown on a local form. The grass was in sunlight shining through the glass panels. But glare off the skylights caused many fly balls to be lost in the sun. The ceiling was quickly painted off-white and the grass began to die. The Astros ended up playing games on spray-painted dirt.

Monsanto had built a field in Rhode Island with “chem grass” so by 1966 they installed it in the Astrodome and AstroTurf was born

The boom in construction at that time was driven by football, Atl, STL, Oakland, they used real grass, but by the end of the decade many college fields like Alabama and Arkansas, all the Pacific NW, were all turf, and then the Eagles put it in Franklin Field in 1969.

The 1968 All Star game in Houston was billed as “Monsanto meets Ron Santo.” The game was 1-0 and the only run scored on a double play. Harmon Killbrew tore his hamstring stretching at first base and people said it was because of the turf. But you’ll see: it was on dirt.

Gayle Sayers was the biggest sports injury of the year — football — played on a muddy Wrigley Field. At the time Philip Wrigley was said that Wrigley itself would be changing to artificial turf within a few years… despite this being the same owner who wouldn’t install LIGHTS at Wrigley Field! That’s how pervasive and accepted fake turf was.

White Sox park put in a fake infield. The players seemed to like it. Around this time Monsanto placed many ads that looked exactly like newspaper stories, claiming it didn’t cause injuries and didn’t get wet. The fake headlines were things like “Lombardi finds AstroTurf ‘Ideal’ at Franklin Field” and featured prominent sports figures in the local areas like Luis Aparicio, etc.

Candlestick in 1970 in prep for the 49ers move put in turf. Cardinals added it a few days later in their 4-year-old park, and were the first park to use just the dirt cutouts at the bases, not full base paths. Three Rivers in 1970 was turfed with Tartan Turf the first competitor to AstroTurf, made by 3M. That year was the first all turf world series.

AstroTurf was soon used for door mats, around swimming pools, golf tees, etc. Royals Stadium added it in 1973.

in 1976 would come the first retreat from turf, when Bill Veeck renamed the park Comiskey Park and held a party where fans could come and take a piece of the old turf away with their own hands. How odd it was that the maverick owners liked grass, but the conservative ones liked turf?

The march toward more turf continued, though:
1977 Olympic Stadium and Exhibition Stadium.
1982 Metrodome
1989 Skydome — was a huge hit with fans and writers
1990 Florida Suncoast Dome — built around the same time as Skydome to try to get an expansion team, by the time the Rays came in 1998 it was already a dinosaur…

Then in 1992 the first of the “retro” ballparks came along, Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Suddenly the trend reversed, people remembered that they liked grass, and suddenly everyone “needed” their own Camden Yards in order to compete. Since then, 22 new parks have opened, and not a single one would even suggest they use a synthetic surface. But for about 30 years, reaching a high of 38% of all baseball games were being played on synthetic fields.

The Age of Turf: 1970-1993
nearly all the significant teams played on turf
23 or 24 postseasons included turf
15 of 24 World Series had a turf field and four times both were on turf
12 champions
iconic teams
iconic players including George Brett and Kirby Puckett

KC Royals:
22 years on turf, 22 years on grass so far
Their grass teams have zero postseasons, a .431 winning percentage, and no home field advantage.
Their turf teams? 7 postseasons, .528 winning percentage, with .582 home and .476 road.

Football was over 50% on turf for a long time, had a decline around the same time as baseball, and is now going up again. Field Turf and other turf-like things are becoming more the norm. These newer forms of fake turf are super common in school fields, Japanese baseball, etc… but the public wants retro baseball parks, real grass, and manual scoreboards.

Turf was not ready in 1966. It might be ready now where the feel is like grass, but the traditionalists have now dug in.

* * * *

Benjamin Wiggins: From the Diamond to the Helix

Wiggins is from the Department of American Studies at the University of Minnesota, and it was his first time presenting for SABR. He was surprised by how many people showed up to hear his talk, since at most academic conferences he said he usually addresses like five people.

Here he was dissecting the moral and legal implications of DNA testing being done by MLB and major league teams of prospects in the Dominican Republic. This issue came to light in the 2009 story in the New York Times by Michael Schmidt and Alan Schwarz (

On July 2, Baseball America reported that the Yankees had signed a Dominican prospect, Damian Arrendondo, 16 years old, for $850,000. On July 16th, however, Sports Illustrated reported that the Yankees had rescinded the deal upon learning that Arrendondo wasn’t who he claimed he was, nor was he 16.

As Wiggins put it, “the story remained stranded in the Caribbean for two days” but “it had all the elements” that make a story interesting to the media, including fraud and the Yankees. A few days after the deal was rescinded, a front page article by Michael Schmidt and Alan Schwarz appeared about how MLB teams were combating the rampant identity fraud with DNA testing. (See link above to visit story.)

The story quoted an anonymous scouting director who said if susceptibility to injury could be tested he thought people would do that and that was where it was headed. “DNA contains a host of info about future diseases that future employers might be interested in.” But doing so might be a violation of federal law that went into effect in November 2009 that prohibits employers from testing employees.

Many sports and law blogs wrote after the NY times story, but each was quite similar, where ethicists say testing was bad but that employers needed to protect themselves against fraud. Plus the tests were taking place outside the US so US law might not apply. Lou Gehrig becomes an obligatory mention in these articles. The repetitive nature of these articles became apparent.

One that was different: Cleveland beat writer Antony Castrovince wrote about an identity fraud case. John Mirabelli (scouting director for the Indians) came out and said if a family wanted to pass on a voluntary test, they’d pass on the player. So really, how “voluntary” are the tests? Anyone who refuses them is considered guilty.

“Individual TEAMS have been conducting DNA tests for a few years and the league’s department of investigations has been doing it for the past year.” — Anonymous MLB official

This anonymous quote brings up two main questions. 1) What is the difference between the TEAMS doing the testing and MLB itself testing? 2) What is the department of investigations?

Two landmark reforms acted as a catalysts for the current situation with MLB in Latin America, in which there is so much identity fraud. First, the minimum signing age of 17 was set, and second, teams then started establishing baseball academies to have a direct line to the youngest talents. (Wiggins recommended the book How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game from which he quoted: “The DR became baseball wild west. They feared if they waited until 17, they would lose them to their competitors.”) We know now that Miguel Tejada committed age fraud. Teams began losing trust in their prospects and even their own employees.

Then after 9/11/01 immigration rules tightened, and facing the first real scrutiny from immigration, age and identity scandals were suddenly federal cases. Whole families and neighborhoods were paid off to try to defraud teams. The Mitchell Report had recommended that a department of investigations should be established. Moral panic about steroids spurred MLB to found the 2008 “internal affairs”-style department of investigations that deals with cleaning up the corruption in scouting and signing.

But should the teams themselves be testing? There are some cases that relate to this:

In 2005, Eddy Curry fought with the Chicago Bulls (see They offered him $20 million for severance if he should test positive for a genetic test for heart problem. He refused the test and was traded to a NY team where the law prohibited the team from even asking about a test.

Then came a law case with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad testing their workers for genetic bias. ( BNSF had many workers complaining of carpal tunnel syndrome after a new hydraulic wrench came into use. BNSF began taking blood tests from workers and without telling them what they were testing for, firing those who showed a possible genetic predisposition to develop the condition. A worker whose wife was a nurse became suspicious of the amount of blood they took and began investigating. The railroad was slapped down for doing so under provisions of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).

But this led to a federal DNA privacy and anti-discrimination law in 2008 which took effect in 2009, limiting the ability of employers to test their employees’ DNA.

The other story in the NY Times on the issue, also by Alan Schwarz, was “A Future in Baseball, Hinging on DNA” about prospect Miguel Sano being tested by MLB’s department of investigation. (

Wiggins stated that although this testing does create the possibility of some family drama if it exposes unexpected paternity problems, it’s good that it’s MLB’s central office doing it, using their own staff and former law enforcement personnel, and not anyone connected with an individual club. The department provides to the clubs a basic report as to whether a player passes verification of age and paternity.

The problem is that the news story states the Pirates themselves tested the player also. Is this a violation of the law? Or not, since it took place outside the United States? It would appear MLB teams continue to test even after passage of 2009 law. News stories often conflate MLB with the individual clubs. Promises of reform have gone unfulfilled. The Rangers recently tested Jairo Beras.

(then puts up list of diseases that can strike in baseball-age individuals, including of course Lou Gehrig’s disease)

We have corporations like “Gonidio” popping up who do genetic testing. They claim to be able to test muscle fiber weakness and sports performance, and predispositions to genetic diseases. The English Premiere League just collected materials from players and sent them to Gonidio.

1. MLB’s department of Investigations must handle all DNA paternity tests, not the clubs.
2. MLB must establish harsh penalties for clubs who request genetic information from their players.
3. MLB must suspend players and penalize agents who share information about genetic “fitness” with teams.

* * * *

Bryan Soderholm-Difatte: How Much Did the Giants Cheaters Prosper?

Bryan began his talk with a recap of how the spy signals traveled from the man with the telescope to the Giants batters in 1951, as documented in Joshua Prager’s book “The Echoing Green” and initial Wall Street Journal article.

What follows here is a fraction of Bryan’s well made points, very nearly verbatim, but he talked quickly and had a lot of ground to cover. I believe that you’ll soon be seeing a full paper on this subject by him in the Baseball Research Journal, however (and I should know).

Without those signals, would there have been no Miracle on Coogan’s Buff? Would there be no Bobby Thompson home run? For that matter, would Leo Desrochers have made it into the Hall of Fame, when much of his legacy is built on that 1951 season?

So what happens when Hank Schenz says to Leo towrd the end of July, when they’re eight games out, “here’s what I did with the Cubs, and I still have the telescope.” Leo must’ve listened. Prager writes in the book that some players said they’d prefer to rely on their own instinct, but most bought in to Leo’s plan.

Funnily enough, scoring runs was not the Giants’ problem at that point. They were #2 to Brooklyn in run-scoring. They were also #2 in runs allowed. Their real problem was they gave up too many.

After installation of the buzzer system, Ewell Blackwell was the first victim. Didn’t make it out of the first inning. Was he just having a bad day? Maybe. But if Leo had any doubts about whether the spy operation worked, this probably set them to rest.

Note that more than half of the games left to play were on the road — TEN more — and they didn’t have a spy there. They won 26 of those games. Also note, 18 of their last 21 games were on the road. They went 14-4 on the road in September (20-5 overall).

The Giants actually hit more home runs before the spying versus after, but league-wide HRs were down. (Then showed a graph that the Giants had FEWER big innings than other NL teams after the spy.) After July 20, they had more blowouts on the road than at home, but 2 of the 3 were against the Dodgers. They also actually had fewer CFB wins than other teams, but during that one key homestand they had 4 of them.

Thompson was in a slump and then went on a tear after July 20, but on the road he actually hit for better power. Eddie Stanky on the other hand hit much better at home…
Whitey Lockman hit 6 homers after July 20 all at home, but he was supposedly one who didn’t want to see any signs.
Bon Mueller actually dropped from .315 to .250 but he hit more home runs, “something brought out the Babe in him.” — 5 HR in 2 consecutive games, only ever done by HOFs before.

During that run, they also fixed their problem of giving up too many runs, and ended up giving up the fewest runs!

So how much advantage was it? In a neutral context it would be a marginal advantage. But in the context of the tight pennant race, a marginal difference is not an insignificant one. If just one single win more occurred as a result of the buzzer system, that changes everything, because even just one win fewer would have meant an early winter.

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