Very few things can get me up early on a frigid holiday morning. At the top of that short list would be anything baseball-related. So, I stirred early, bundled up, and made my way to the Friends Meeting House in Cambridge. It would be my first SABR Boston Regional Meeting. It’s incredible to be with a group of people who share the same obsession. I’d say it’s a bit like a support group except rather than forcing you to try and wean you from the addiction they enable it. The chair of the Boston chapter, Seamus Kearney, convened the meeting and introduced the new “Research Miniatures” presentations. This format lets members share smaller scale research projects. Today’s five Research Miniatures covered a wide array of topics:
Mike Fields, a student of the sabermetrics course taught at Tufts by Andy Andres, presented “The ‘Moneyball Effect’: Inefficiencies in the Free Agent Market.” He worked with fellow student Zach Kolkin to determine if general managers have are now overpaying for the skills lauded in the book. Comparing the free agent markets of 2000-2001 to 2002-2004, Fields showed that GMs were indeed paying more for on-base percentage for hitters. However, inefficiencies in the market for pitchers still exist as there was not a high correlation between salary and BB/9 or K/9, which were the stated variables expressing control pitchers. Fields also conjectured that front offices who are looking for the next unexploited skill may have devised a more reliable and predictive model for defense and that are beginning to use this metric as a competitive advantage.
Next, Paul Wendt gave a presentation on the rosters of both the National and American League teams of Boston from 1900-1901. He demonstrated that the NL team was one of the most stable teams in the history of professional ball before they were ransacked by the upstart AL team. I had an inkling that in this particular period of baseball history the AL was seen as a minor league in comparison to the NL, but Wendt confirmed that. I only recognized the big names of the lineups; I have a lot more to learn about the deadball era.
After lunch, Kearney gave a little talk on Gardner Day at Fenway. He had chanced upon an odd picture of Ted Williams on a giant chair at a local eatery and decided to unearth the exact circumstances of what brought about such event. He learned that on August 24, 1946, people from Gardner, the self-proclaimed “Furniture Capital of the World,” came out to Fenway en masse for day in their honor. Johnny Pesky delighted the crowd by taking one of the velocipedes (what we now call tricycles) for a spin.
To me, baseball and poetry mesh together like hand in perfectly broken-in glove, an opinion I thought I was alone in holding. Joanne Hulbert proved me wrong, however. Her specialty is deadball era poetry and she was collected over 1,200 poems to date. After her reading of “The Boston Obsession,” a poem she found in which the speaker wended through his day and each person he met responded to his quotidian questions with baseball talk, she shared assorted snippets from journalists of the past. The lyricism and wit of these past writers are things that I wish were in greater abundance today.
The last Research Miniature was Bill Nowlin’s exploration of Charles Dryden’s account of a foul ball mishap. In 1903 in a game against Philadelphia, Dryden described how a foul ball flew into a nearby bean cannery’s whistle, jamming it into a position so that it blew continuously. Workers, thinking that it was a signal that their day was over left the factory. In doing so, a huge vat of beans was left unattended and such a huge amount of pressure that it blew up. The flying foodstuff reached the fans, causing much commotion. “One man went insane,” stated Dryden solemnly. Nowlin scoured articles from every Boston area newspaper for any corraborating details to no avail. It turns out that it was a bit of humor from Dryden, who was honored in 1965 with the J. G. Taylor Spink Award and was known for jests.
The guest speaker was the dynamic and engaging Ray Fagnant, a scout for the Red Sox whose territory encompasses the New England states, New York, and New Jersey. Red Sox fans have a lot to thank this man for; he’s the force behind the signings of Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen. As a former catcher who made it to the minor leagues, bolstered by an MBA in information systems and statistical analysis, and mentored by highly regarded scout Bill Lajoie, he combines all the attributes I would want in someone seeking talent. Fagnant put to rest any notions that there are front office wars between the scouts and the statisticians.
Finally, two authors also presented their new books. Peter Nash talked about Boston’s Royal Rooters, a history of the legendary fan group that helped propel Boston baseball teams to championships. Nash brought with him a portrait of Michael “Nuf Ced” McGreevy that hung in the Third Base pub, the ball thrown by John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald to open Fenway Park in 1912, as well as the baseball that ended the 1912 World Series, which had been absconded by a Royal Rooter from New York Giant right fielder Josh Devore.
A new autobiography of Tris Speaker was dramatized by author Tim Gay. Along with the aid of Seamus, who ably re-enacted Speaker at the dish, Gay recreated the last three games of the 1912 World Series. The subtitle of his book, “rough-and-tumble,” aptly describes baseball of that era. In Gay’s opinion, the Red Sox had purposefully thrown Game 7 and pocketed the proceeds from that illicit interaction because they were bilked of their pay for the games played at the Polo Grounds. The gatherings of the fans, politicians, and players at McGreevy’s bar were not all about fun and games.
It’s a long wait until the next meeting in May 20th, which will feature Bill James. I should make a countdown on this site for that, shouldn’t I?
(In the interest of full disclosure I will mention that I did badly on Mark Kanter’s trivia game during lunch, getting only five correct out of 40. Time to brush up on my MVPs, Cy Youngs, ROTYs, and other bits of knowledge prior to 1980.)