On a classically hot and humid day to celebrate the summer solstice in Chicago, a small but fervent gathering of seamheads came together at the Lisle Library for an afternoon of baseball chatter.
Rich Hansen opened up the meeting with a few announcements, noting that the upcoming schedule for future meetings is still to be determined and that a site has been selected for the 2015 SABR convention that the Emil Rothe chapter is playing host to. That site is expected to be announced at SABR 44 in Houston at the end of July.
After Rich’s announcements, the keynote speaker of the day was introduced. Coming to Chicago all the way from Kansas City, Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, spoke about the history and significance of the Negro Leagues, intertwining a multitude of stories about many of the Negro League’s biggest stars. Noting how intertwined black baseball was with its communities and culture, Mr. Kendrick drew the parallel of the rise and fall of the Negro Leagues with the rise and fall of black-owned businesses. He discussed how the Negro Leagues came into being in 1920, providing players with recognized major league talent, who were kept out of Major League teams by American social conditions at the time, a place to play professional baseball. Noting that the NLBM’s mission is to ultimately help people see that the Negro Leagues were on the same level as the Major Leagues, Bob told many tales about Martin Dihigo, Buck Leonard, John Henry Lloyd, James Thomas “Cool Papa” Bell, Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Satchel Paige, Rube Foster, and, of course, Buck O’Neill and Jackie Robinson, along with a number of others. During his Q+A, Bob Kendrick addressed the gap in the collection of Negro Leagues statistics and observed that baseball today has evolved into a “country club” sport.
Next up came a slightly briefer version of Chris Kamka’s This Day In Baseball report, noting that the meeting was being held on the anniversary of the appearance of the 1st black player in major league history, Ted Lyon’s 250th win, and Carlton Fisk’s breaking of Bob Boone’s game caught record. He also noted about his contribution to an upcoming book celebrating old Comiskey Park.
Brian Bernardoni presented again about Wrigley Field, picking up almost right where he left off at the chapter’s celebration for the venerable ballpark’s centennial. Rather than present any new findings, he posited a number of questions about the ballpark’s history that could be answered by researchers, many of them related to the folklore that surrounds the park. Notable topics include biographies of architect Zachary Taylor Davis and Charles Weeghman, investigation into some of the decisions made by previous owners of the Cubs such as “Did Wrigley only allow ads at the ballpark for his own company’s products only?” and “Why did Wrigley or the Tribune Co. just buy the rooftops when they had the chance?”, and explorations into whether the Federal League should be considered a Major League and Chicago weather in April.
Jessica Jensen closed out the meeting with a lively demonstration on the importance of footwear in the major leagues, reporting that she has yet to find a professional club that ensures its players have properly fitted cleats. The discussion held as much, if not more, interest for attendees with foot issues of their own, as she interactively demonstrated what players should be looking for in a properly fitting shoe. Her company Saberfeet is eager to help new clients avoid foot injuries (e.g. turf toe) that can affect player performance.
The meeting ended early, as a number of scheduled presenters were forced to back out of their commitments at the last minute due to extenuating circumstances. For this author and a few others in attendance, it was a great way to start the countdown clock towards the SABR Convention in Houston.