SABR’s 45th annual convention ended Saturday with a range of fabulous opportunities for people who sleep, eat, and breathe baseball.
The day began with an instant highlight: a White Sox player panel, moderated by Dan Migala and featuring former White Sox players Ron Kittle, Carlos May, and Mike Huff. The players shared fun anecdotes about their years together in Chicago. Kittle recalled how satisfying it was to crush a home run off the roof of a stadium. Huff shared memories his first career game appearance, as a defensive replacement, and his first at-bat in the bigs, which was a single. Huff also talked about being asked to mentor Michael Jordan when Jordan briefly played in the White Sox organization. Kittle’s great sense of humor added the kinds of jokes and insights only a player could share. For me, it was great seeing Migala moderate another panel. I loved seeing him talk analytics at the SABR Analytics conference last March.
The day was also filled with research presentations, posters, and committee research meetings. Among them, Rick Schabowski presented his research on Disco Demolition Night. This happened between games of a Tigers-White Sox doubleheader in the 1980s. Fans were invited to burn disco records on the field to show how much they disliked that kind of music. But the fire got out of control, forcing a forfeit of the second game. The presentation featured people’s thoughts about the event and recalled the role the police played, not to settle arguments but to stop the field from burning due to disgust with disco!
On a more serious note, Chuck Hildebrandt presented his research on “Little-League” style home runs in major league history. This is when the hitter hits the ball well enough to move around the bases, especially if the outfielders don’t do a good job and leave openings for the batter to keep advancing. To find these, Hildebrandt looked for plays in which two or more errors occurred and the batter scored. He found 240 instances of this occurring in major league history. He used charts to present his information, organized by inning, batter, and year. Clearly, it is a pattern that happens a fair amount and can be both funny and (sometimes) game changers.
Next, Adrian Burgos Jr. went over a history of Cuban ballplayers who played for the White Sox, including those who were trailblazers even before Minnie Minoso and current stars like Alexei Ramirez and Jose Abreu. These players were role models for Cubans. It was especially important that this occurred during a controversial time between the United States and Cuba when there were political tensions. But the love of the sport somehow helped these potential great establish a name on the field and new lives in a country where they could have greater freedom.
To wrap things up, what would be a SABR convention without trivia? Teams battled through rounds of intense trivia from 7:30 p.m. until around 10:30 p.m., competing to see who could buzz in faster and answer increasingly difficult questions. The questions could have been about current players or older ones. They ranged from questions about batting stances to famous sayings, who owned certain records for wins and whose records were later broken by others.
After hours of humorous competition — both on the podium where the contestants were grilled and in the audience where people tried to give their best guesses — a winner was finally crowned. It was a lot of fun for me when I was able to answer some of the questions and also see which of the trivia others who I have gotten to know over the years also knew. People took the questions seriously, but they had a great time joking around as the contest continued.
Here’s a serious shot of MLB writer Barry Bloom and me after perhaps the 200th question:
The 45th SABR National Convention was a huge success, and its location in Chicago will be remembered for a great time in an amazing baseball town. From the trivia to research panels to presentations by historians and stats guys, to the Baseball Project concert, the outstanding convention had tons for participants to enjoy from every angle.
Remember that there are many local, smaller events sponsored by the 69 current SABR chapters that might be a fun way to get to know what SABR is about. And as SABR continues to find ways to attract kids to its baseball mission, think about joining SABR as a student, starting a Sabermetrics Club, or asking for a SABR membership for your school. There are so many ways to get involved in SABR and enjoy the game from different angles.
Have a great start to the summer with lots of good baseball times!
Max Mannis is a special correspondent for sikids.com and a member of SABR. Check out his contributor page to catch up with his past stories on baseball and SABR events.
Photos: SABR, Fred Jewell/AP (Disco Demolition), Max Mannis