Sunday, June 24, 2018

The SABR Convention

The 48th Annual Convention of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) was held in Pittsburgh this past week, and I had the pleasure of attending this event on Friday and Saturday.  This is the second time I have attended one of these (the other time being in Cincinnati in the early 2000's).  

As a member of the SABR's Pittsburgh chapter, I also spent some of my time working at this one.  My job, if you could call it that, was to serve as a monitor at five different research presentations.  This consists of introducing the speaker, making sure they stick to the time limits, signaling when they had ten, five, and three minutes left, cutting off the Q&A, and getting the room cleared for the next presentation.

Of the five I monitored, the most fun ones were from Paul Ember of Philadelphia, who spoke of three baseball related pieces of art done by Andy Warhol, and Joseph L. Price, a college professor from California who spoke of his travels across the country singing the National Anthem at over 100 professional ball parks.  Very entertaining.

The best part of the convention, however, was not so much the presentations or exhibits, but just getting the chance to meet people and talk with them.  I talked with people from Illinois, California, Wisconsin, New York, Nova Scotia, and Texas and just had a great time shooting the breeze.  I also got to meet some people who previously had been merely names in articles and books - John Thorn, Lee Lowenfish, David Smith, and Mark Armour.  Also, got to meet and spend time with long-time Facebook buddy Al Blumkin from Brooklyn, a terrific guy.

I attended four different panels.  One was a Media panel that featured Lanny Frattare, Steve Blass, Joe Block, and Greg Brown.

Another was held at PNC Park and included talks from Clint Hurdle, Neal Huntington, and Dan Fox.

A Pirates Player Panel about the 1979 World Series champs was monitored by Block and featured John Candelaria and Grant Jackson, and drew an SRO crowd.

The fourth and last panel that I attended was "Branch Rickey: The Pirates Years" and was chaired by Mr. Lowenfish, who has written a acclaimed biography of Rickey.  This panel was to include former Pirate great Dick Groat.  The bad news was that Groat fell ill and was unable to attend.  The even more bad news was that he was replaced by another ex-Pirate of that era whom I am choosing not to name here.  I will just say that the choice made to be Groat's replacement was "unfortunate" and leave it at that.  On the other hand, this was new stuff to probably over ninety percent of the audience, so maybe the crowd loved it.

Like any organization devoted to a single subject matter, SABR and its members are often categorized as a bunch of geeky, stats-obsessed nerds, and that their convention has to be a baseball equivalent of a Star Trek Convention.  Some of those stereotypes are no doubt true, I mean, you should have seen some of the outfits I saw, but all of the attendees are there because of one common trait - they love baseball and its history, and if a few of them still can't get over the fact that the Dodgers left Brooklyn, or that the game has never been the same since Babe Ruth started hitting all those home runs, what's the harm in that? As I said, I had a great time just meeting up with many of my Pittsburgh SABR friends (Jim Haller, Jim Roberts, Alan Steinberg, Ray Queen, Todd Tomasic, and Stephanie Liscio to name a few) and having random conversations with people that I had never met before.  It was fun, and who doesn't like to have fun, right?

I will make a couple of other observations about the organization just using my own "eye test".....
  • The organization's population is older.  There were not a lot of young (ie, under fifty years old) people there.  Now I realize that traveling to another city to attend a convention such as this may be easier for people who are retired, and not working, so perhaps that skews the age demographic of the convention.
  • The organization is overwhelmingly male.  When we attended the convention in Cincy years ago, my wife commented that the best thing about it was that she never had to wait in a line at the Ladies' Room.  Same thing here in Pittsburgh, although I had a sense that there were more women in attendance at SABR48 than there were at the Cincinnati convention.
  • The organization is overwhelmingly Caucasian.  There were approximately 600 people attending this convention, and I can honestly say that I did not see a single non-white face in the crowd.
Again, these are simply non-scientific observations on my part, and perhaps a more detailed breakdown of SABR's Membership data would tell a completely different story, but if my observations are correct or even in the ballpark, what does that tell you about the sustainability of an Organization over the long haul?  

On the other hand, SABR has been around for almost fifty years, so what do I know?


  1. Good post. Glad you enjoyed the convention.

  2. I too enjoyed the convention. Please feel free to check out my blog at The last 3 entries are about SABR 48. I noticed a few African Americans and Asians there. I think SABR needs to some outreach to minority groups.

    1. I agree on the last point Bruce. It could go hand-in-hand with MLB's initiatives in that vein.

  3. It is desirable to have a greater demographic mix at the conventions. Let's not overlook, though, that SABR has been at the forefront of getting overlooked black players greater recognition by the Hall of Fame, likewise for women's contributions in baseball. Interestingly, the awards for both the best oral research presentation and the best poster presentation were given to women this year. I hope this doesn't sound too defensive, but I would hate for anyone's takeaway from the convention to mis-characterize the organization. Anyone with constructive ideas toward outreach will find a positive reception from the SABR board if you take it to them.

  4. Paul Ember here, Thanks for the kind words and for introducing me! You did a great job and put a nervous soul at ease. I plan on updating my own blog with extra Warhol Baseball info periodically: . Also wanted to let you know there was at least one Asian at SABR48 and you met him! My mother is from Thailand, occasionally I even wear a Thai WBC cap to functions.

    1. Paul, thank you so much, and an apology for my not recognizing your diversity, or maybe it's better when things like that are NOT noticed. The one gent above who commented seemed t take offense at my comments, and certainly none was intended. Its as simply my "eyeball test" and certainly not a scientific sampling. Really enjoyed your presentation. I will also check out your blog. Bob