Five hitters who may have missed .400 due to their ballparks

Posted: 20th August 2014 by Graham Womack in MLB

According to Joe DiMaggio’s biography, the Yankee Clipper once was almost traded for Ted Williams. The thinking behind the proposed trade was that each icon would benefit from playing in the other’s home park. There may be something to this with DiMaggio whose offensive production was 8 percent better at Fenway Park than the original Yankee Stadium. Williams is another story. In 1941 when he became the most recent player to hit .400, Williams batted .428 at home. A different ballpark may have cost him. The stat converter on Baseball-Reference.com has Williams hitting .373, for instance, with the Boston Braves.

Not every hitter in baseball history has had Williams’ good fortune with his home park. Here are five men who may have hit .400 if they’d played in more hitters-friendly stadiums in years they approached history:

1. Tony Gwynn, 1994 and ’97: It’s nice Gwynn played his entire career– preps, college, and majors– in San Diego, but he paid a price for his loyalty. Playing for the Padres may have cost Gwynn .400 twice. There’s 1994 where Gwynn hit .394, the closest anyone’s come to .400 since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941. In the majority of parks in the American League, where teams averaged 5.23 runs, the converter projects Gwynn hitting around .420 in 1994. Gwynn would have topped .400 again in 1997 had he played for the Rockies. Playing home games that season at Coors Field, he’d have hit .414.

2. Rod Carew, 1977: Carew’s .388 for Minnesota converts to .400 in a number of other parks in 1977. One that stands out: Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta where Carew is projected to have hit .413 with 265 hits. Granted, he would have been on a team that finished 61-101, scored 678 runs and, for one inglorious game, featured owner Ted Turner as manager. Carew would have also had to contend with the pressures of playing every game before a national audience on TBS. Still, I can’t help but wonder what he might have accomplished in one of the great hitter’s parks of its day. And it’s worth noting that the Braves became a contender by the early ’80s. Maybe with Carew in town, that could have happened sooner.

3. George Brett, 1980: Brett hit .390 for the Royals, flirting with .400 for much of the second half and being above the mark as late as September 19. The stat converter has Brett finishing above .400 in 1980 for the Red Sox, Twins, Indians, Tigers, Mariners and Blue Jays. The converter, of course, isn’t infallible. We can rule out Seattle or Toronto, each recent expansion clubs at the time that barely topped 600 runs. The Twins seem unlikely as well, given their 666 runs and 86 OPS+ as a team. A .400 hitter needs a lively offense; the 1941 Red Sox, for one, scored 865 runs.

It’s counter-intuitive to take Brett away from a juggernaut like the 1980 Royals, who lost in the World Series. But Brett may have stood a better chance at .400 that season with Boston or Detroit. The converter has him topping .408 for either team. I like Brett’s chances in Boston most. Detroit scored more runs that season (830 to 757) and each team had a fine hitting park, though the Red Sox lineup gets the edge for star-power: Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, Carlton Fisk and more. With Brett substituting for 38-year-old Tony Perez at first base, perhaps Boston would have fared better than its 83-77, fifth-place finish in the American League East.

4. Jeff Bagwell, 1994: The Red Sox famously traded Boston native Bagwell while he was in the minors for aging reliever Larry Andersen, with the belief Bagwell wouldn’t beat out Scott Cooper at third base. Next to Babe Ruth for “No, No Nanette,” it’s maybe the worst trade in Red Sox history. Here’s Bagwell’s slash if he’d played his home games in ’94 at Fenway Park rather than the cavernous Astrodome: .401/.486/.811, to go with 44 home runs and 143 RBIs. (Favorite Bagwell stat from ’94? He hit better at home than on the road, .373 to .362. It’s one of the more underrated seasons in baseball history.)

5. Barry Bonds, 2002: When all is said and done, there is no finer use for the stat converter than seeing the kind of cartoonish numbers Bonds would have produced for the Colorado Rockies. There’s the 87 homers the converter projects him hitting for Colorado in 2001 or the 50-50 season he just misses out on in 1996. Then there’s the matter of the .370 batting average (with the is-this-real-life 268 OPS+) that Bonds offered while leading the Giants to the 2002 World Series. Playing for the Rockies instead in 2002, Bonds would have hit .401 with 53 homers and 133 RBIs.

Honorable mentions

Derek Jeter, 1999: Every time I see a mention of the stat converter from a major outlet, it’s generally to punch in numbers players would have offered on the 2000 Colorado Rockies. The ’99 Rockies actually offers slightly higher converted numbers, though I doubt this is widely understood. Take Jeter, who hit .349 for the Yankees in ’99. Playing for the Rockies instead, Jeter’s average rises to .391.

Ichiro Suzuki, 2004: The best season of Suzuki’s career had him batting .372 and breaking George Sisler’s hits record for the Mariners. Safeco Field may have short-changed Suzuki, though. The stat converter has the best contact hitter of his era hitting .398 with, get ready for it, 292 hits in 797 plate appearances for the Rangers in 2004. Alex Rodriguez’s preseason trade to the Yankees would quickly have become a distant memory.

Chipper Jones, 2008: Jones led the National League with a .364 batting average at 36, reminiscent of when 38-year-old Ted Williams hit an AL-best .388 in 1957. Playing at Fenway Park instead of Turner Field in 2008, Jones would nearly have matched the Splendid Splinter. The stat converter has Jones hitting .385, though I suspect the chance to serve as designated hitter on a regular basis might have pushed his average higher.

Joe Mauer, 2009: According to the stat converter, Mauer’s .365 batting average in his MVP season with the Twins becomes .386 for the Yankees.

Parsing the DH era

Posted: 18th August 2014 by Graham Womack in MLB

In my post Sunday on run totals throughout baseball history, I noted a common myth: that the adoption of the designated hitter rule in 1973 jump-started baseball’s offensive era. In truth, run totals didn’t peak until the mid-1990s. That’s been lost on a number of prominent writers who rationalize the inflated ERA totals of any pitcher from the 1970s or later. Just Google “Jack Morris DH era.”

One irksome thing to a baseball historian like me is that sportswriters often treat the so-called DH era as one continuous stretch. What people call the DH era is more like three eras:

1) 1973-92, where American League teams averaged 4.41 runs, while NL teams averaged 4.12. Historically, the AL average was 0.9 percent higher than the average of 4.37 runs from the league’s founding in 1901 through 1972. The increase may have seemed more dramatic at the time, as AL teams had flat-lined at 3.88 runs a game from 1963 through 1972, after the Baseball Rules Committee changed the strike zone.

2) 1994-2009, where AL teams averaged 4.99 runs, while NL teams averaged 4.65. Whatever the reason or reasons, some seismic shift occurred in baseball in the early ’90s, leading to the highest sustained scoring levels in the circuit since the 1930s.

3) The past five seasons, where AL teams have averaged 4.39 runs, while National League teams have averaged 4.14. The current AL scoring rate is slightly below the all-time league scoring average through nearly 114 seasons of 4.5 runs per game.

Has it been harder to pitch in the American League since the DH was the instituted? Almost certainly. Overall, run totals in the American League have been roughly 6.5 percent higher than they have been in the National League since 1973. In all the years before that both leagues were in existence, AL teams enjoyed just a two percent advantage in scoring. So there’s been some boost with the DH, which seems reasonable given that pitchers have been replaced in batting lineups with the likes of Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz.

That said, I think the important thing is not treating all pitchers from the DH era the same. Morris’s 3.90 ERA and Mike Mussina’s 3.68 ERA are two radically different numbers, for one. In the years Morris pitched, 1977 through 1994, American League teams averaged 4.5 runs per game. During Mussina’s career, 1991-2008, the AL average was 4.91 runs. Looked at another way, Morris’s ERA was 13.3 percent better than league average while Mussina’s was 25.1 percent better.

I noted something along these lines yesterday on Twitter and someone replied that Mussina is among the most underrated players all-time. I agree. With a better understanding of run totals from Mussina’s era, maybe this can change.

Run totals throughout baseball history

Posted: 17th August 2014 by Graham Womack in MLB

It started out as a simple question, one I’ve had since reading in The Book that teams scored just under five runs per game from 1999 through 2002 and that generalized run expectancy totals could be gleaned based on that. Many have treated The Book as the definitive tome for sabermetrics since its publication in 2007. Candidly, I was a little irked by its use of run totals from such a peak era of baseball history to suggest normative conditions. It couldn’t be right to suggest teams all through history have averaged five runs a game. Could it?

With the help of Baseball-Reference.com and a willingness to kill a few hours making a spreadsheet, such questions can easily be answered. Going through 139 seasons of data, I found the answer to my question: through baseball history, teams have averaged 4.53 runs per game. There’s more worth saying here, granted. A more detailed, though still admittedly cursory look at what I discovered in my research follows below.

I. Wild West: Before the formation of the American League in 1901

Year Games Runs Average
1876 520 3066 5.9
1877 360 2040 5.67
1878 368 1904 5.17
1879 642 3409 5.31
1880 680 3191 4.69
1881 672 3425 5.1
1882 1144 6092 5.33
1883 1570 9030 5.75
1884 3088 16742 5.42
1885 1780 9292 5.22
1886 2104 11512 5.47
1887 2116 13417 6.34
1888 2184 10628 4.87
1889 2180 12986 5.96
1890 3216 19330 6.01
1891 2218 12635 5.7
1892 1842 9388 5.1
1893 1570 10315 6.57
1894 1598 11796 7.38
1895 1598 10514 6.58
1896 1584 9560 6.04
1897 1622 9536 5.88
1898 1842 9129 4.96
1899 1846 9672 5.24
1900 1138 5932 5.21
1876-1900 totals: 39482 224541 5.69


There isn’t much sense in comparing run totals before the formation of the American League in 1901 to today. Baseball in the 19th century was nothing like it is today. Leagues came and went, like the Union Association of 1884 or the Player’s League of 1890 or so many other circuits that no casual fan has ever heard of. Rules that modern fans may take for granted, such as the distance from the pitcher’s mound to home plate or the right of pitchers to not have their pitches called by opposing batters (seriously, this happened), were established through trial and error in these early seasons.

Don’t get me wrong, though, the run totals in baseball over the first 25 years after the National League was established in 1876 are a lot of fun. Baseball will never see anything like it again. There will never be another season like 1894, where the average team topped seven runs a game, all of baseball hit .309, and the Phillies boasted an all-.400 outfield and still finished fourth. There will never be another pitcher like Jack Wadsworth having a lifetime 6.85 ERA that’s just 5 percent worse than the MLB average for the years he played. The offensive boon of the 1920s/’30s and the steroid years have nothing on this wacky era.

II. Formation of the American League and the first Deadball Era

Year Games Runs Average
1901 2220 11073 4.99
1902 2234 9897 4.43
1903 2228 9888 4.44
1904 2498 9302 3.72
1905 2474 9635 3.89
1906 2456 8873 3.61
1907 2466 8690 3.52
1908 2488 8417 3.38
1909 2482 8797 3.54
1910 2498 9577 3.83
1911 2474 11160 4.51
1912 2464 11165 4.53
1913 2468 9961 4.04
1914 3760 14531 3.86
1915 3728 14213 3.81
1916 2494 8889 3.56
1917 2494 8949 3.59
1918 2032 7382 3.63
1919 2236 8668 3.88
1901-19 totals: 48194 189067 3.92


I wasn’t sure how to group these seasons together. While this time period more or less constitutes the Deadball Era, depending on who is consulted, these 19 seasons are more representative as a patchwork of a few sub-eras.

There’s 1901-03 where run totals are noticeably higher, primarily the result of two things, I’m guessing: 1) Foul tips not being called strikes in both leagues until 1903; and 2) A bit of chaos the first few seasons after the formation of the American League in 1901. These were years players jumped leagues irrespective of contracts, rosters sometimes being raided. The two leagues made peace in 1903, and run totals plummeted the following year.

With the exception of 1911 and 1912, Deadball Era scoring levels remained fairly constant from 1904 through 1919. Not counting 1911-12, teams scored an average of 3.72 runs per game 1904-19. We can exclude 1911 and 1912 as the ball wasn’t dead during those years. As noted in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, both leagues used a cork-centered ball during these years, causing offense to spike. Emerging use of the emery ball in 1913 restored the advantage to pitchers.

III. A Golden Age for offense

Year Games Runs Average
1920 2468 10761 4.36
1921 2458 11928 4.85
1922 2476 12057 4.87
1923 2466 11871 4.81
1924 2462 11716 4.76
1925 2456 12593 5.13
1926 2468 11443 4.64
1927 2472 11746 4.75
1928 2462 11650 4.73
1929 2458 12749 5.19
1930 2468 13695 5.55
1931 2472 11891 4.81
1932 2466 12114 4.91
1933 2452 10989 4.48
1934 2446 11999 4.91
1935 2456 12026 4.9
1936 2476 12846 5.19
1937 2478 12070 4.87
1938 2446 11969 4.89
1939 2462 11876 4.82
1940 2472 11568 4.68
1941 2488 11168 4.49
1920-41 totals: 54228 262725 4.84


A number of changes happened in baseball around 1920. Eight members of the Chicago White Sox threw the 1919 World Series, leaving baseball scrambling with its first public relations crisis. Then Babe Ruth started hitting more homers than any player before him, attracting more fans than ever at the same time. In the midst, Ray Chapman became the first  major leaguer killed by a pitched ball. For these and perhaps other reasons, Major League Baseball banned the spitball and emery ball in 1921, as noted by Bill James; MLB also elected to keep cleaner balls in play that could be more easily seen by hitters and would be less likely to lose shape late in games.

This led to the first great offensive age of the modern era for baseball, 22 glorious seasons that offered some of the highest RBI totals and batting averages that will ever be seen. There’s a reason Rogers Hornsby’s .424 clip and Hack Wilson’s 191 RBIs have stood as record since these years. While run totals occasionally dipped, such as when less-lively balls were introduced in 1933, scoring stayed high until the majority of big leaguers went to war. I like this kind of baseball, if I’m being candid. It’s a wonder to me there hasn’t been more of it in the modern era.

IV. Second Deadball Era: World War II

Year Games Runs Average
1942 2448 9995 4.08
1943 2476 9687 3.91
1944 2484 10351 4.17
1945 2460 10286 4.18
1942-45 totals: 9868 40319 4.09


Although I haven’t seen it formally recognized as such, I consider World War II the third Deadball Era in baseball’s history, together with the early 20th century and mid-1960s. The run totals are certainly more or less in-line. Like the earliest Deadball Era, this one primarily owed itself to the balls in use. As noted in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract:

During wartime, the quality of baseballs used was inferior, as there was something in regular baseballs that was needed to make explosives or O.D. green paint or something, and the balls manufactured were rather lifeless.

I was tempted to group 1946 in as part of the war years as scoring didn’t rebound until 1947. I doubt the caliber of balls was inferior in 1946; I just have this theory that long breaks tend to favor pitchers and that it took hitters a year or so to get back to form after the war ended. Some didn’t recover, such as Cecil Travis, never the same player after four years of combat service. The popular story on Travis was that he suffered frostbite at the Battle of the Bulge. His New York Times obituary quoted him saying the real reason he declined was he lost his timing as a hitter.

V. Post-war years, before strike zone change in January 1963

Year Games Runs Average
1946 2484 9953 4.01
1947 2486 10827 4.36
1948 2474 11327 4.58
1949 2480 11425 4.61
1950 2476 12013 4.85
1951 2478 11268 4.55
1952 2478 10349 4.18
1953 2480 11426 4.61
1954 2474 10827 4.38
1955 2468 11068 4.48
1956 2478 11031 4.45
1957 2470 10636 4.31
1958 2470 10578 4.28
1959 2476 10853 4.38
1960 2472 10664 4.31
1961 2860 12942 4.53
1962 3242 14461 4.46
1946-62 totals: 43246 191648 4.43


One of the things I find most interesting about these years is that run totals didn’t change that much, on average, while otherwise baseball was changing tremendously. The majors were integrated. Teams began to relocate for the first time in half a century and four expansion clubs were added. Transcontinental air travel and night games became commonplace. Despite all this, scoring levels remained reasonably constant most of these 17 seasons never quite returning to the stratospheric highs of the ’20s and ’30s or dipping to Deadball levels.

Run totals for this period, 4.43 runs per game were as close to the average for baseball history, 4.53 runs per game of any of the periods listed here. I assume the balance between hitting and pitching was also as close as it’s been for any sustained period. It was certainly better than it is now.

VI. Third Deadball Era: After strike zone change in January 1963

Year Games Runs Average
1963 3238 12780 3.95
1964 3252 13124 4.04
1965 3246 12946 3.99
1966 3230 12900 3.99
1967 3240 12210 3.77
1968 3250 11109 3.42
1963-68 totals: 19456 75069 3.86


Sandy Koufax entered spring training in 1961 boasting a 36-40 lifetime record with a 4.10 ERA. He had nearly as many strikeouts for innings pitched at that point of his career, though the young lefty was also averaging more than five walks every nine innings. Famously, Koufax’s catcher Norm Sherry told him to throw less hard, and Koufax proceeded to go 32-20 with a 3.11 ERA over the next two seasons.

Then, on January 26, 1963, as recounted by Bill James in the historical abstract, the Baseball Rules Committee expanded the strike zone, stating that it went from the shoulders to the bottom of the knee. Now blessed as well with the best pitcher’s park of the 1960s, Dodgers Stadium, Koufax went on one of the finest runs a pitcher’s ever had. Over the ensuing four seasons before his arm gave out, Koufax went 97-27 with a 1.86 ERA (with an unreal 1.97 cumulative FIP), three Cy Young awards, and a National League MVP.

VII. End of an era? After pitching mound was lowered

Year Games Runs Average
1969 3892 15850 4.07
1970 3888 16880 4.34
1971 3876 15073 3.89
1972 3718 13706 3.69
1969-72 totals: 15374 61509 4


Following the offensive nadir that was 1968, when teams averaged their lowest runs per game in 60 years, Major League Baseball lowered the mound from 15 inches to 10 inches. They did it to help hitters, ostensibly, though it didn’t cause run totals to change that much. In fact, certain pitchers got better while others continued to dominate. There are perhaps a few reasons the lower mound didn’t produce the desired effect.

First, as Jim Bouton wrote during spring training in 1969 in Ball Four:

[Seattle Pilots teammate] Mike Marshall is a righthanded pitcher who was 15-9 in the Tiger organization last season. He’s got a master’s degree from Michigan State. He majored in phys. ed, with a minor in mathematics. He’s a cocky kid with a subtle sense of humor. He’s been telling everybody that the new lower mound, which was supposed to help the hitters, actually shortens the distance the pitcher has to throw the ball. Has to do with the hypotenuse of a right triangle decreasing as either side of the triangle decreases. Therefore, says Marshall, any psychological advantage the hitters gain if the pitcher doesn’t stand tall out there will be offset by the pitchers knowing that they are now closer to the plate.

I recently interviewed former Houston Astros pitcher Larry Dierker, who enjoyed a career year in ’69, going 20-13 with a 2.33 ERA and 8.6 WAR. Assuming the lower mound favored hitters, I asked Dierker how he compensated. He told me he hadn’t even noticed. Dierker said:

What I noticed, when I’m on any mound, is whether it feels comfortable or not. But my arm position was around three-quarters, and I think the higher, steeper mound is really the mound that gives a tall, straight overhand pitcher like Jim Palmer a better advantage. Randy Johnson, when he was with us, the Phillies for some reason or another– I know it wasn’t legal– they had a high, steep mound just like they used to have in Dodger Stadium, and that was the only game that he didn’t pitch well for us. He was complaining about the mound from the first inning on. But he was kind of low three-quarters with his arm position, and I think he preferred a little bit more gentle slope.

Jim Palmer, for his part, averaged 19 wins and a 2.47 ERA from 1969 through 1972, twice finishing in the top five for American League Cy Young voting.

VIII. First 20 seasons after the implementation of the DH

Year Games Runs Average
1973 3886 16376 4.21
1974 3890 16046 4.12
1975 3868 16295 4.21
1976 3878 15492 3.99
1977 4206 18803 4.47
1978 4204 17251 4.1
1979 4198 18713 4.46
1980 4210 18053 4.29
1981 2788 11147 4
1982 4214 18110 4.3
1983 4218 18170 4.31
1984 4210 17921 4.26
1985 4206 18216 4.33
1986 4206 18545 4.41
1987 4210 19883 4.72
1988 4200 17380 4.14
1989 4212 17405 4.13
1990 4210 17919 4.26
1991 4208 18127 4.31
1992 4212 17341 4.12
1973-92 totals: 81434 347193 4.26


There’s this myth veteran sportswriters repeat around Hall of Fame voting time that the implementation of the designated hitter rule in 1973 created a greater offensive era. The myth is used to justify Jack Morris’s 3.90 ERA, among other things. The next time someone trots out the myth, please, show them the chart above. Maybe tell them also that for the years Morris pitched in the majors, 1977 through 1994, teams scored an average of 4.34 runs a game. (So we’re clear, I don’t take much issue with Morris being a future Veterans Committee selection for the Hall of Fame; I just am leery of hyperbole.)

With the exception of a few outlying seasons, notably 1987 where a rabbit ball may have been in use, run totals after the 1960s didn’t rise to major heights until the mid-1990s. Scoring rose slightly, granted, but was below the average for baseball history of 4.53 runs per game. The 1970s and ’80s weren’t an era that favored offense. It was more or less average, with pitchers enjoying a slight edge and small ball an oft-used strategy of the day. The sooner this is better understood, the more that players like Dwight Evans, Dave Parker, and Dale Murphy may get recognition from Cooperstown.

IX. The offensive explosion

Year Games Runs Average
1993 4538 20864 4.6
1994 3200 15752 4.92
1995 4034 19554 4.85
1996 4534 22831 5.04
1997 4532 21604 4.77
1998 4864 23297 4.79
1999 4856 24691 5.08
2000 4858 24971 5.14
2001 4858 23199 4.78
2002 4852 22408 4.62
2003 4860 22978 4.73
2004 4856 23376 4.81
2005 4862 22325 4.59
2006 4858 23599 4.86
2007 4862 23322 4.8
2008 4856 22585 4.65
2009 4860 22419 4.61
1993-2009 totals: 79140 379775 4.8


There still isn’t consensus about what caused run totals to increase so much in the mid-1990s and early-2000s, and I don’t know if there will ever be. It’s a controversial, polarizing subject, and I don’t know if all the variables from the era will ever fully come to light. The common suggested culprits for the spike in offense, I think, are steroids, expansion, weaker pitching and a livelier ball. It’s somewhat of a cop-out, I’ll admit, to say I suspect that a combination of these and other factors engendered the greatest offensive era in baseball since the 1930s. Strictly speaking, though, there’s no quick explanation for the era. There generally isn’t in baseball history. I’m reminded of the Oscar Wilde quote, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

X. What’s going on?

Year Games Runs Average
2010 4860 21308 4.38
2011 4858 20808 4.28
2012 4860 21017 4.32
2013 4862 20255 4.17
2014 3676 15037 4.09
2010-14 totals: 23116 98425 4.26


Something’s been happening in baseball over the past five seasons, causing run totals to trend down. I don’t know what the reason is, but we’re clearly in an age for pitchers. It’s why Clayton Kershaw is having the best season of any hurler in 15 years, why Felix Hernandez, Adam Wainwright and others aren’t far off. We’re heading toward the fourth Deadball Era if this trend doesn’t reverse. And if that happens, fans can bet on more rule changes from Major League Baseball to liven the game.

Editor’s note: I’m pleased to introduce a new Friday column here, “From the archive.” I recently re-upped my subscription to newspapers.com, a paid archive service. I’m the kind of person who can kill several hours combing through old newspapers. (Seriously, it’s fun for me.) As a writer, I’m also always in search of information beyond what’s quickly available on the web.

I both enjoy and value newspapers.com as its database goes back as far as the 1700s, with a range of big-name and defunct papers, both from big cities and rural areas. It’s great for re-discovering forgotten stories or players.

I’ll aim each week to highlight at least one interesting piece that I come across. Please feel free to email research suggestions to thewomack@gmail.com.

__________________________________________

Found on Newspapers.com

Why this story sticks out: Television revenues have revolutionized baseball, and sports in general, transforming a modestly-profitable enterprise into a multi-billion dollar industry. Many teams have aligned themselves with cable networks with great success, teams like the New York Yankees whose relationship with the YES Network is a major reason the franchise is valued at $2.5 billion today. It’s also forced many fans to purchase cable packages to see games.

It makes the story above seem quaint, humorous even. But, in 1964, the Yankees selling for $11.2 million (about $86 million in 2014 dollars) in a hastily-brokered deal to the Columbia Broadcasting System created no small amount of controversy. It  stirred renewed questions about baseball’s informal exemption from anti-trust laws and irked a number of baseball owners from the era.

“Those big companies can lose a half-million dollars in baseball without feeling it,” former Yankees co-owner Larry MacPhail said in the story, an Associated Press piece that ran August 16, 1964 in the Kansas City Star and elsewhere. “It’s unfair to other owners.”

CBS for its part denied anything untoward, saying in a statement quoted in the article, “Pay television was in no way a motivating consideration in our decision to invest in the New York Yankees.”

Given all the that changes paid television has wrought in baseball since 1964, I’ll call a rat on that quote. I think this sale foretold a lot to come over the next 50 years.

__________________________________________

UPDATE: Longtime reader Vinnie, who grew up a Yankee fan emailed me shortly after I published this post. With Vinnie’s permission, I’m sharing his email:

As best I recall, the purchase did nothing to effect the free broadcast of the Yankee games on, I believe, WOR in NYC and on the station I picked up the weekend and holiday feeds from. If anything, the purchase instead of putting new life into the team, signaled the end of the dynasty and almost a distant, hands off, benign neglect by general partner mike burke that insured mediocrity until the boss bought the team from them.
To begin with, CBS had no business owning a team. They had no idea how the business worked and no idea of any kind of a business plan or model to follow. The great Yankees had either retired, grown old and suffered injuries, and were reduced to hollow shells. (See Tom Tresh and Joe Pepitone) The farm system with the exception of a Roy White, a Bobby Murcer, was supplying such as Roger Repoz, Jerry Kenney, Jake Gibbs, Steve Whitaker, and yes; even Bobby Cox. Trades brought in Bill Robinson and Charlie Smith. The draft had cut off their ability to sign the best young talent and left them a shambles, with no direction and no one who had any knowledge of baseball running the team.
There was no special tv deals and I don’t think that even crossed anyone’s mind. If there was a plan for pay tv, with the product on the field, no one would have watched and no sponsors would have bought air time.

The most underrated player of each decade: Recent years

Posted: 14th August 2014 by Graham Womack in MLB

Today marks the final installment, for now, of my series about the most underrated baseball player of each decade. (When I know more about 19th century baseball than the cursory amount that I do, I’ll write something. My thought, by the way, is that many 19th century ballplayers are underrated and that we’re just re-discovering them via Baseball Reference.)

We’ve looked over the past few days at the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s and the 1900s, ’10s, and ’20s.

Now, let’s turn our attention to an era still settling.

1990-99:  Barry Bonds

It sounds crazy, I know, to suggest a player who won three National League MVPs and eight Gold Gloves in a decade was anything but one of the most celebrated players of it. I should clarify.

This project has primarily been about identifying players who look underrated in the historic rear view. Bonds qualifies here because the steroid-addled caricature he created for himself in his final seasons obscures everything he was before. Now, when anyone mentions Bonds, it’s to marvel over the freakish stats he offered from 2001 through 2004 or, conversely, to denounce his Hall of Fame candidacy. (In the interest of full disclosure, I figure in the former group.)

I’d like to see more focus on what Bonds did over his first 13 seasons, 1986 through 1998, before it’s generally assumed he began taking steroids. Heck, make it 1990 through 1998. In those seasons alone, Bonds accomplished more than many players in Cooperstown: those three MVPs, 76.1 Wins Above Replacement and 112 defensive runs saved (second-best in baseball for those years behind, get this, Sammy Sosa.) Bonds packaged this with averages from 1990-98 of 36 home runs, 36 steals and a .305/.438/.600 slash. It’s not the best peak in baseball history, but it also isn’t far off.

Honorable mention: Craig Biggio, who will be lambasted as one of the worst defensive Hall of Famers when his 3,000 hits get him enshrined. Biggio cost his team 100 defensive runs lifetime which will rank worst among Hall of Famers, at least until someone like Dick Allen, Derek Jeter or Gary Sheffield goes in. Thing is, Biggio was a valuable fielder during the ’90s. He cost the Astros one defensive run for the decade while providing offense that surely totaled more aggregate value than a slick-gloved infielder with no bat.

_______________________________________________________

2000-09: Scott Rolen

Seemingly every baseball generation has its underrated third basemen. Graig Nettles and Darrell Evans came up in yesterday’s post. There’s also Buddy Bell, Ron Santo, Ken Boyer and a range of other third basemen who hit respectably and offered superb, if under-appreciated, defensive value. It’s tough for a third baseman if they don’t have Mike Schmidt’s power, George Brett’s batting average, or Brooks Robinson’s highlight reel glove. The best they can generally hope for is a belated nod from the Veterans Committee.

The two third basemen in recent years who’ve seemed poised to join Nettles, Evans and company in underrated purgatory are Adrian Beltre and Scott Rolen. Beltre’s lucky. He’ll likely get into Cooperstown on the writers ballot, thanks to a late career renaissance with the Rangers that has pushed him near 3,000 hits and a .300 lifetime batting average. I wonder if Rolen might be in the same boat if he’d spent more time at the Ballpark in Arlington; his slash in just 34 plate appearances there is .419/.471/.742.

Regardless, Rolen has borderline Hall of Fame numbers for a third baseman and quietly did much of it the first decade of the 2000s. Among Rolen’s accolades from 2000 through 2009: 48.3 WAR, 127 defensive runs saved and a .285/.368/.497 slash. In spite of it all, Rolen will be lucky to top 15 percent his first time on the writers ballot.

Honorable mention: Bobby Abreu, who fell just short of a .300/.400/.500 slash for the first decade of the 2000s. Abreu’s quietly wrapping up his career as we speak, his best years a distant memory. He reminds me a bit of Reggie Smith, another eternally underrated outfielder. If there’s any indication from Smith’s showing on the Hall of Fame ballot– 0.7 percent of the vote in 1988, one of the weaker ballots in recent memory– Abreu doesn’t have much to look forward to in five years.

_______________________________________________________

2010-now: Jason Heyward

Heyward turned 25 on August 9, and to a frustrated Braves fan, their right fielder has struggled since finishing runner-up in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2010. There’s the .261 lifetime batting average and the ever-fluctuating power numbers, including a .386 slugging percentage this season. Thus far, Heyward has mostly seemed to offer tantalizing glimpses of what he might become. He certainly has gone all-but-unrewarded since that first season, save for a Gold Glove two years ago.

Look past Heyward’s garish traditional stats, though, and a brightly talented player emerges, one who’s averaged All Star-level WAR since the beginning of his career. His 5.5 WAR this season is seventh-best in the majors. Heyward’s 96 defensive runs saved are also best in baseball, by a wide margin, over the past five seasons. I assume Heyward’s best years are in front of him. I also count him as one of the few players 25 and under who already has a shot at Cooperstown.

Honorable mention: “Anyone who plays for the A’s,” my girlfriend said after I told her about this project. I’ll zero in on Oakland’s bullpen past closer Sean Doolittle. Featuring obscure castoffs and salvage projects like Dan Otero and Eric O’Flaherty, A’s relievers have a collective 2.85 ERA and 1.07 WHIP this season. Like Oakland’s more celebrated starting rotation, there’s tremendous depth in the bullpen (plus a couple of talented relievers on the 40-man roster who could get September call-ups.) It’s just a challenge for any non-A’s fan to name one of these guys.

_______________________________________________________

Missed the first three parts of this series? Get caught up: 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s | 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s | 1900s, ’10s, and ’20s

The most underrated player of each decade: Mid-late 20th century

Posted: 13th August 2014 by Graham Womack in MLB

1960-69: Mickey Mantle

I’ll go out on the proverbial limb and say Mickey Mantle is the most underrated all-time great in baseball history.

The traditional narrative gives the Commerce Comet credit as an elite player through 1964, denigrating his alcohol and injury-plagued seasons that followed while the Yankees began a historic decline. Thing is, the Yankees’ refusal to feature black players until 1955 had them heading for trouble long before they tumbled to the bottom of the American League; and Mantle remained one of the best hitters in baseball while his team began to lose, offering a 149 OPS+ over 1,928 plate appearances his final four seasons.

Adjusted stats are important for paying Mantle his due. The end of his career coincided with the greatest renaissance for pitchers since the Deadball Era, with teams averaging 3.8 runs a game Mantle’s final four seasons. Mantle also played in Yankee Stadium. As Jane Leavy’s superb Mantle biography pointed out, the most famous switch hitter in baseball history was noticeably better from the right side of the plate. Old Yankee Stadium, prior to its renovations in the 1970s, did right-handed hitters few favors.

Could Mantle have rehabbed injuries better and boozed less? Sure. But in a better ballpark and hitter’s era, his final raw numbers would have impressed more.

Honorable mention: Frank Howard, one of several ’60s hitters who might be in the Hall of Fame had they played in a more favorable era for hitters

_______________________________________________________

1970-79: Graig Nettles

Nettles lasted four years on the Hall of Fame ballot, peaking at 8.3 percent of the vote in his first year, 1994. Now, he’s staked out a long-term spot in my annual project on the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame, finishing an average of 37th each year. I doubt Nettles will get in Cooperstown anytime soon, given his 390 lifetime homers, .248 batting average and two Gold Gloves. It’s just not a sexy enough candidacy for the Veterans Committee, which relies on traditional stats over sabermetrics to make its assessment.

If defensive sabermetrics ever become a thing that could push a player into the Hall of Fame, though, Nettles might make a good test case. Nettles saved 158 runs in the ’70s, the fourth-highest total in a decade behind Brooks Robinson in the ’60s, Mark Belanger in the ’70s, and Ozzie Smith in the ’80s. Unlike Belanger and Smith, Nettles didn’t give the runs back on offense either, averaging 25 homers, 83 RBIs and a 114 OPS+, a vital member of the Yankees during their Bronx Zoo glory years.

Honorable mention: Paul Blair, maybe the best defensive outfielder in baseball for the first half of the ’70s. Blair won six consecutive Gold Gloves from 1970 through 1975, saving 97 runs and amassing 10.8 defensive WAR, each best in baseball for outfielders. With Orioles teammates Brooks Robinson, Mark Belanger and Bobby Grich, Blair might have been part of the best defense in baseball history.

_______________________________________________________

1980-89: Dwight Evans

In February 2012, godfather of baseball stats Bill James wrote an open letter for Grantland arguing Dwight Evans’ case for the Hall of Fame. Calling Evans “one of the most underrated players in baseball history” James wrote:

Dwight Evans is the very unusual player who had all of his best years in his thirties. About 40 percent of baseball players have all of their best years in their twenties; about 55 percent have some of their best years in their twenties and some in their thirties. Less than 5 percent have all of their best years in their thirties. Dwight Evans is that unusual case: someone who had all of his best years in his thirties, after the public image of him as a .270 hitter with 20-homer type power was set in stone.

While James is slightly off, given that Evans racked up a career high 6.7 WAR, led the American League in homers and finished third in MVP voting at age 29 in 1981, he otherwise makes a good point. From 1982 through 1989, Evans offered a .280/.385/.496 slash while turning in just shy of 30 home runs and 100 RBIs per season. Aside from Roger Clemens and Wade Boggs, Evans is the biggest reason the Red Sox averaged 85 wins a season in those years, twice making the playoffs.

Were this better understood or had Evans matched teammate Jim Rice’s production in the 1970s, they might have gone in Cooperstown together. As it stands, I’ve no doubt many in the sabermetric would swap Evans in for Rice if given the chance.

Honorable mention: Darrell, the other Evans who got better with age during the 1980s

Tomorrow: ’90s and first decade of 2000s

The most underrated player of each decade: Middle 20th century

Posted: 12th August 2014 by Graham Womack in MLB

1930-39: Lefty Grove

When Pedro Martinez debuts on the writers ballot for the Hall of Fame in a few months, a lot will be made of how thoroughly he dominated in arguably the greatest era for hitters in baseball history. He’s not the first of his kind, though. What Pedro was to the 1990s, Lefty Grove was to the ’30s.

In the most bereft decade for pitchers of the modern era, Grove stood far and away alone. No ’30s pitcher approached Grove’s 78.3 Wins Above Replacement for the decade, with just 10 other hurlers topping even 30 WAR. Meanwhile, Grove went 199-76 with a 2.91 ERA , leading the American League in ERA and ERA+ seven seasons. He thrived in a decade where teams averaged 4.9 runs a game, nearly a run higher than what teams average today.

Grove battled arm ailments throughout the decade, blowing out his arm in 1934 and transforming from power pitcher to junkballer thereafter. He was hospitalized after complaining of another dead arm in 1938, with one newspaper proclaiming “Lefty Grove Is Nearly Through As Sox Hurler.” He went 15-4 with an AL-best 2.54 ERA and 185 ERA+ the following year.

Honorable mention: Zeke Bonura, who’d be better remembered if he hadn’t been a first baseman during the most star-packed decade for the position. Bonura may have deserved more opportunity. After he left the majors, Bonura hit .367 over 1,375 more at-bats in the minors

_______________________________________________________

1940-49: Luke Appling

As Derek Jeter nears his final game, I’m reminded of another ageless wonder. Luke Appling forged a Hall of Fame career over 20 seasons with the Chicago White Sox, retiring in 1950 at 43. At one point, he’d played the most games of any shortstop. His longevity was so pronounced that he famously homered in an old-timers game when he was 75.

Appling logged 40.9 WAR in the 1940s, eighth-best among position players that decade. Beyond draft age, Appling played through much of World War II (though he missed the 1944 season serving, with his wife saying the war would be over in two weeks since he’d never held a job outside baseball for longer.)

That said, Appling kept going strong after the war ended, hitting .308 from 1946 through 1949. He’s the oldest player with at least 5 WAR in a season, courtesy of his 1949 campaign when he was good for 5.1 WAR at 42. Among Appling’s most unusual stats that year: five triples, a .439 on-base percentage and 121 walks over just 24 strikeouts. Somehow, he didn’t make the All Star team.

The Associated Press noted on July 21, 1949 that Appling was 20 games from breaking Rabbit Maranville’s record for most games at shortstop. “I don’t see how anything will keep me from that record,” said Appling, who would set the mark, since surpassed, on August 9. “I don’t plan to stub my toe [or] anything like that and I’m not superstitious about black cats crossing my path. Course my ankle hurts and my back still aches– they always do– but that baling wire will hold me up.”

Honorable mention: Elbie Fletcher, who averaged 94 walks and a .404 on-base percentage for the decade, long before anyone valued either stat

_______________________________________________________

1950-59: Minnie Minoso

Minoso’s become something of a curiosity for his eternal reappearances in baseball since he first retired in 1964. There were the brief stints with the White Sox in 1976 and 1980 that delayed his Hall of Fame eligibility. He also played in the Mexican Leagues in the late ’60s and early ’70s and had promotional independent league at-bats in 1997 and 2003. Prior to all this, however, Minoso was one of the best players of the 1950s, hitting .306 with 47.2 WAR.

While the more prominent debate on the best outfielder of the 1950s revolved around Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Duke Snider, Minoso offered consistent All Star caliber production for the White Sox and Indians. He made six All Star teams during the decade and finished fourth in voting three times for American League Most Valuable Player. Oddly, he also led the league in hit-by-pitches every season of the ’50s except 1955, helping him to a .400 OBP those years.

Minoso is well-celebrated in the sabermetric community, one of 32 players to rank all four years for my annual project on the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame. The 88-year-old is one of the last living Negro League greats as well, with Negro League Baseball Museum president Dr. Bob Kendrick calling repeatedly in recent years for Minoso’s enshrinement. It’d be great to see Cooperstown get to this while Minoso is still living.

Honorable mentions: Billy Pierce, a favorite pitcher of sabermetricians; Luis Aparicio, who deserves at least some of the credit generally given to Maury Wills for re-popularizing the stolen base

_______________________________________________________

Tomorrow: ’60s, ’70s, ’80s

The most underrated player of each decade: Early 20th century

Posted: 11th August 2014 by Graham Womack in MLB

1900-09: George Davis

Anytime someone says there can’t be any worthy Hall of Fame candidates remaining after several decades of voting, point them to George Davis. The Veterans Committee more or less exists to honor players like Davis, notable in their time but forgotten by baseball history. The committee gave Davis a plaque in 1998 after Bill James devoted a chapter to him in Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?

Davis was winding down his career by the early 20th century with younger stars like Honus Wagner and Christy Mathewson garnering more attention. Nonetheless, Davis finished strong. His 41.8 WAR for the decade, spanning his 11th to 20th seasons, ranked sixth-best among position players then. He may have been the best bat on the Hitless Wonder 1906 Chicago White Sox. He also saved 91 defensive runs, fourth-best for the decade, while playing every infield position between two teams.

Honorable mention: Iron Man Joe McGinnity, who deserved many more years in the majors than he got

_______________________________________________________

10329v1910-19: Art Fletcher

Fletcher ranks as a historical curiosity, one of a small number of players who got votes in several early Hall of Fame elections but never built momentum toward enshrinement. If Gold Gloves had existed in the 1910s, Art Fletcher’s Hall candidacy may have received more support.

In a decade where slipshod defense was the norm, Fletcher’s 133 defensive runs saved and 25.1 defensive Wins Above Replacement were by far best in baseball. The longtime New York Giants shortstop led the National League in dWAR four times and was second twice more. He provided with the bat as well, hitting .277 with a 102 OPS+ for the decade and helping the Giants win four pennants.

Honorable mention: George McBride, another Deadball Era defensive great no casual fan has heard of

_______________________________________________________

rogershornsby-featured1920-29: Rogers Hornsby

Ty Cobb was famously resentful of Babe Ruth obscuring his star. Hornsby has better cause for grievance. While the Georgia Peach was fading by the 1920s, the Rajah totaled 93.1 WAR, second-best in a decade for a modern position player. The only problem for Hornsby was that Ruth was even better in the 1920s with 102.3 WAR.

To be clear, no one’s ever done what Ruth did in those years, out-homering entire teams and forever transforming baseball while becoming the sport’s first marketing star. Even in the absence of Ruth, Hornsby wouldn’t have changed the game. He wasn’t that kind of player or man. He just would have been in a class completely his own.

As it stands, Hornsby’s accolades as the second-best player of the 1920s mesmerize. His stats for the decade are a sea of black ink on Baseball-Reference.com: seven batting titles, two Triple Crowns, and National League highs for OPS+ nine of ten seasons. Hornsby hit .382 for the 1920s (.390, if his pedestrian 1926 season is omitted) and famously batted .402 from 1921 through 1925. Somehow, his abrasive personality led to him playing for four teams through the course of the decade.

Honorable mention: Urban Shocker, who might be in the Hall of Fame if his career and life hadn’t ended at 37 due to a congenital heart condition

Coming tomorrow: The 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.

Five memorable pitching appearances by position players

Posted: 6th August 2014 by Graham Womack in MLB

Adam Dunn’s stint as a relief pitcher on Tuesday night got me thinking. The Chicago White Sox slugger, who pitched the last inning of a 16-0 loss to the Texas Rangers, is far from the first position player called to the mound.

Here are five memorable appearances:

1. Babe Ruth, October 1, 1933: As is lore, the Bambino debuted as an ace pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, becoming a full-time outfielder in mid-1918. (Ruth, of course, was a fine hitter from the beginning, amassing 5.6 WAR and a 150 OPS+ in 407 plate appearances in his first four seasons.) As a promotional stunt, Ruth pitched five more times, winning all five games after joining the New York Yankees in 1920. His final start, which came up in conversation with John Thorn at SABR last week, came on the last day of the 1933 season. Ruth pitched a complete game victory in front of 25,000 at Yankee Stadium and provided the deciding run on a solo homer over Boston. Something worth at least a tangential note? The game only took an hour and 38 minutes.

2. Matty Alou, August 26, 1965: Alou struck out future Pittsburgh Pirates teammate Willie Stargell twice while pitching two scoreless innings of an 8-0 loss for the San Francisco Giants. “I just threw him slow curve, slow curve,” Alou was quoted as saying in his SABR bio. “And I know I would get him out again if I faced him.” Ever one of the under-appreciated players of his era, Alou of course never pitched again.

3. Jose Oquendo, May 14, 1988: Position players of the recent era generally pitch when the bullpen is exhausted, either in blowouts or extra inning games. Oquendo fared decently in the latter scenario, though he took the loss for his efforts. (On a side note, it’s exceedingly rare for modern position players to earn a decision, making Chris Davis’s victory for the Baltimore Orioles in 2012 all the more special.) Oquendo, a longtime Cardinals infielder, went to the mound in the 16th inning of a five-hour and 40-minute marathon against the Atlanta Braves, after seven St. Louis pitchers had come and gone. Oquendo pitched the final four innings and threw 65 pitches, perhaps the most ever by a position player. He allowed four hits, two runs and six walks, his high point perhaps coming when he struck out Ken Griffey Sr.

4. Manny Alexander, April 19, 1996: It’s common for position players to have control problems pitching. Jose Canseco threw 12 strikes and 21 balls in his infamous relief appearance for Texas in 1993. Alexander makes Canseco look like Greg Maddux. Baltimore manager Davey Johnson summoned his utility man in the eighth inning with Texas leading 17-7. Entering with the bases loaded, Alexander walked in three straight runs then allowed a sacrifice fly. After walking the next batter, he allowed a grand slam. The score now 26-7, Alexander got the next batter to ground out and the inning mercifully ended. Alexander finished the game, and his pitching career, with a 67.50 ERA. He hadn’t asked to pitch. “I hate this,” he told the Baltimore Sun afterward.

5. Wade Boggs, August 10, 1999: Like a lot of aging position players, from Jimmie Foxx and Ben Chapman during World War II to his contemporaries Dave Concepcion, Gary Gaetti, and Mark Grace, Boggs took his turn on the hill. And like Chapman, Foxx and Gaetti, Boggs pitched for two teams, appearing first for the Yankees in 1997. Two years later, the future Hall of Famer closed out Tampa’s 17-1 loss to Baltimore by allowing three hits and a run over 1.1 innings. Boggs’ control wasn’t bad, 13 strikes in 21 pitches. The 41-year-old even struck out Delino DeShields looking.

Honorable mention: Former Atlanta Braves All Star Jeff Francoeur, currently extending his run as a perennial sabermetric punchline by pitching for the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas.

My first SABR convention: What took so long?

Posted: 4th August 2014 by Graham Womack in SABR

SABR logoI joined the Society for American Baseball Research in 2010, and for the next few years, I faced the same annual disappointment.

Each year, I’d hear of the national SABR convention months in advance, with the understanding I probably wouldn’t be able to afford the trip or justify going if I somehow came up with the money.

A SABR convention costs about $1,000 to attend between registration, airfare and lodging, and as a freelance writer who gets rent paid as a delivery driver, it’s rare I have an extra grand. When I do, other matters often need my attention. Don’t get me wrong, I love SABR and baseball history and getting together with others to obsess over it. Attending a SABR convention has just heretofore been a luxury beyond my reach.

This year was different, though. I’ve had better luck than expected selling freelance pieces, and after checks started arriving, I decided to finally splurge on a SABR convention. While the expense seemed risky, I didn’t want to pass another year at home reading about the convention on Twitter and wondering why I couldn’t have just, I don’t know, panhandled for the necessary funds or sold a kidney. So I bit the bullet and bought a plane ticket to Houston this past week. I’m so glad I did.

As I write this, I’m two days removed from returning from one of the best baseball experiences of my life. Among the highlights for me:

  • Grabbing dinner the first night of the convention with veteran author and official Major League Baseball historian John Thorn. I’ve corresponded with John a few years because of my writing and have interviewed him several times. I count John as one of my heroes, among the handful of people I know of able to make a living writing about baseball history. He knows it well. I could write a post in itself about what it was like to sit in the hotel restaurant a few hours with John, his son, and another person who works in baseball, slowly making our way through dinner and talking baseball history. The best part? John picked up the check. Welcome to SABR, kid.
  • Meeting many interesting people I’ve known through writing and who, like John, were accessible and welcoming at the convention. These people include: Sean Forman, founder of Baseball-Reference.com; Rob Neyer, who’s written online about baseball more than probably anyone; Mark Simon, researcher and writer for ESPN.com (and a repository of trivia– on the last night of the convention, Mark recited the last out of every World Series since 1950); Joe Dimino, who oversees the Hall of Merit; Sean Lahman, a baseball database pioneer; Matt Mitchell, who I enjoy talking stats with on Twitter; Cecilia Tan, a SABR editor; and Jacob Pomrenke who runs SABR’s website.
  • Meeting new friends such as Anthony Rescan, a college student who attended the conference on a scholarship from SABR. Making quick friends with people like Anthony wasn’t particularly difficult, even if unlike Anthony, the average attendee at a SABR convention is a 60-year-old dude. Everyone ultimately comes to a convention for more or less the same reason, blessed with the same encyclopedic wealth of baseball knowledge that generally otherwise places one far beyond societal norms. For a few glorious days each year, we find each other.
  • Taking in some interesting panels and research presentations on everything from Houston-area baseball history to a college panel that Roger Clemens spoke on after receiving assurances he would be asked no questions related to steroids. I got to interview panelists Bob Watson, Larry Dierker, Jimmy Wynn, and Jose Cruz. Even getting turned down by Clemens offered some entertainment. Clemens brushed me off after his panel saying he needed to get going; a few minutes later, Jacob and I spotted him demonstrating his pitching motion to other convention attendees, doing something that looked like leg kicks.
  • Live tweeting the finals of the SABR trivia contest, a formidable challenge to even the most seasoned of baseball history enthusiasts. Sample question: Name the seven players to win four National League batting titles. For some reason, people beyond the convention were fascinated as I and a few others tweeted out the trivia questions. I may even start doing this on my own regularly.
  • Connecting with multiple book publishers. I’m getting the itch to write a book, and attending the convention may help make this dream a reality.

Like a European vacation, I didn’t do my trip perfectly and I came back with ideas for what I want to do differently next time. Chief among my missteps, I didn’t stay in the convention hotel, opting for cheaper digs two miles away that I returned to late each night via taxi. I also didn’t get to any baseball games while I was in town, and I left the convention a day before it ended to work Sunday, missing a private pregame session for convention attendees at Minute Maid Park on Saturday afternoon.

That said, I have no regrets for how everything played out and am probably sold on attending SABR conventions for the foreseeable future. It was a great investment, probably worth more than what I paid. I’m bummed I have to wait a year to go again.