SABR Day 2014

It’s been a cold, snowy winter for baseball fans in Chicago and Milwaukee. Besides having the shovel snow just about every other day (or so it has seemed), Chicago fans wonder if there is any reason to get excited for this year after last year’s dismal performances on both sides of town. 90 miles north, Brewer fans wonder what a now-infamous left fielder will do after spending the last 65 games on unpaid leave. For 40 or so of these fans, a trip to the Brat Stop in Kenosha was in order despite the bitter winds howling off Lake Michigan.

For the 3rd time, the Ken Keltner Badger State and Emil Rothe chapters of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) held a joint meeting on the nationally-organized SABR Day in America. Kenosha, the unofficial dividing line between Chicago and Milwaukee fan bases, once again played host for an outstanding day of baseball chatter and camaraderie.

The day started with Rich Schabowski, representing the Wisconsin chapter, recalled the dead ballplayers and chapter members since last year’s meeting, most famously Andy Pafko. A moment of silence was held for their remembrance.

David Malamut, representing the Chicago chapter, announced that the there were 4 autographed books up for silent auction during the meeting. He also announced the next chapter meeting would be a celebration of Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary. More information can be found here as it becomes available. Rich Hansen, chapter chair for the Emil Rothe chapter, noted a few of the potential speakers for this meeting as well as making a note of the fact that Chicago will be hosting the 2015 SABR Convention. Greg Wolf then announced that the SABR BioProject’s 1957 Milwaukee Braves book was at the publisher and likely to be put to press this year. Greg Hoffman also announced that 3-4 more biographies were needed for the 1929 Chicago Cubs book. An announcement was also made about the benefits of joining the Old Time Ballplayers Association of Wisconsin, which includes the perk of exclusive half-price dates for tickets to Brewers games at Miller Park. Visit www.oldtimeballplayers.com for more info.

After all the announcements were made and congratulations sent up for the 6 inductees in the 2014 class for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, it was time for the first speaker. Jake McGhee is the general manager of the newest team in the Northwoods League, the Kenosha Kingfish. He introduced what the team would be doing in its first year of existence in the 18-team summer collegiate wood bat league, and highlighted the improvements made to Simmons Field in Kenosha. Jake also highlighted the league’s MLB alumni, including Chris Sale and Max Scherzer, and the emphasis on fun and affordability.

Next up was a speaker that’s becoming a staple at Chicago SABR meetings, Christopher Kamka of Comcast Sports Net Chicago. He provided his special brand of meanderings through baseball trivia, including: an all-time team of ballplayers who has shortened Polish names, facts about Eddie Stanky (“The Brat”) to honor the meeting locale, and a few of his This Day in Baseball notes. He has posted these and many more interesting tidbits of information on his Twitter feed, which is a must follow for any Chicago sports fan.

The last featured guest was the play-by-play announcer for the Kane County Cougars, Wayne Randazzo. Lamenting the lack of interesting stories from the Cougars (due to, as he noted, how well-run they are), he shared many tales from his days as the lead announcer for the Mobile Bay Bears. One of his tales centered around Hank Aaron, in which the owner of the Bay Bears had his childhood home relocated from its original location to a lot across from the ballpark and turned into a childhood museum. Yet, despite being the city that has produced the most baseball Hall of Famers per capita, the team did not manage to sell out the ballpark on the day when Hank and many of his high-ranking friends in baseball were in town for the dedication of this museum. After this, it was time for lunch.

The post-lunch session featured 3 research presentations. Matt Dennewitz demonstrated the functions and capabilities of his site in development, Saber Archive. His objective is to preserve the text from sabermetric research posted online and make it easily searchable. He hopes to have the site live soon. (I will discuss the site more once it is live.) Dennis Pajot highlighted the differences in the rules of baseball in 1902 as compared to the modern rulebook, including discretionary foul strikes, uncredited pinch-runners, and the arbitrary assignment of wins and losses for pitcher records. Lastly, Bob Buege highlighted the life and career of Jim Thorpe, including his stint with John McGraw’s NY Giants.

It was a fantastic day, and a reminder that pitchers and catchers report in less than a month. Hallelujah!

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