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How I spent My SABR Vacation III
2006-07-10 09:46
by Mike Carminati

After the two hours for my poster presentation flew by, I then had to worry my 40-minute oral presentation down to 25 minutes, leaving five for questions, and find some lunch in downtown Seattle, a place in which coffee is easier to come by then food.

I headed back to my hotel and noticed a burrito joint named Chez Dave that looked passable. It was one of these places that are yuppified yet still authentic and affordable, a type of place that could not exists in the Northeast, at least not as a burrito joint. Anyway, I grabbed something quick, wolfed it down, and then proceeded the locals by reading through my relief pitching presentation in a low, yet still easily audible voice.

Luckily my edits on the flight had gotten it down to twenty-five minutes. Emboldened, I headed back to the convention, ready to hear someone else present something.

The first I caught was on the years between the Pilots and the Mariners in Seattle and the shenanigans that led to baseball returning to the region. There were cherce tales of Johnny Allen and Charlie O. Finley doing a pas de deux to bring an existing team to Seattle. That all fell through and the AL was compelled to expand to the city due to congressional pressure. After failing to impel the National League to expand as well (to two 13-team circuits) with interleague play and all, the AL was forced to turn to Toronto while the NL turned its back on the entire situation. (I always wondered why the NL had so little involvement in the 1977 expansion draft and the attendant expansion fees accrued.

I also checked out the room in which I would be presenting, the Federal room, which was exactly half the size of the combined Superior-Municipal rooms, the other presentation room. The presenter at the time was discussing the Caribbean tour of the All-American Girls Baseball League, and I uttered the double four-letter word that Jim Bouton's manager in "Ball Four" made famous. Welcome to the marginal room. Oh well.

The next presentation was on how much to pay for the "last piece of the puzzle". It was interesting, yet hardly revelatory. The presenter found that the victories below 69 and above 98 wins are basically meaningless to one's financial bottom line. Getting a player who will help you improve from 60 to 65 wins adds nothing to your financial statement. Neither does getting a player who will help you improve from 100 to 105 wins. This seemed to hold true for all franchises. However, the return on investment for each win between 69 and 98 varied per team. The Yankees produced a great deal for each win over 69, whereas the Braves did not. It seemed like one of my studies which I feel forced to post even though the results aren't that tremendous because of the extensive research involved.

Anyway, Toastermate Bob Timmerman, whom I kept running into in these presentations, reminded me that I should get myself set up in the other room (the lesser room) given that mine was coming up. I went to the Federal room, and listened to a presentation on the death knell of salary arbitration, when I noticed that the presenter was using the type of plastic slides that were popular with lecturers some twenty years ago and that I had not seen since my first job.

I scanned the room and saw no computer, and, given that my presentation was all in PowerPoint, I panicked. I imagined myself describing each of the twenty to thirty-odd graphs—"Here's a pretty one with plenty of colorful lines. Gee, it would great if you could actually see it."

I went back to the reception desk with my concerns and was told to track down the same guy who I had been looking for since 10:00 AM in my quest for Velcro tape. I still haven't found him. I went back to the presentation room and located a dude with a "Staff" shirt. I thought either he was a supporter of pitching in general or this was the guy to help me. I explained my problem and he pointed to an unused laptop next to the podium. I told him I had one last revision on my memory stick, and he said that once the current presenter was done, he would update the document and we would be good to go.

At this point the presenter was taking questions and he decided to go five minutes over while the moderator that was promised via email by my now arch-nemesis, the aforementioned Velcro tape fiend, was nowhere to be seen.

I rushed the podium, had the staff dude update my document, and then tried to wrest the crowd, half of which was wondering while a new group was wondering in, into submission. I whizzed through the presentation, trying not to look anyone in the face for fear of realizing where I was and what I was doing. I kept thinking of Marcia Brady taking her driving test and having to picture the tester in his underwear so that she wouldn't freeze (Ironically, as an adolescent, I pictured Marcia in her underwear).

My opening "joke" actually got laughs, so that helped my get over a hurdle. The staff dude told me after he loaded the file that he would signal me when I was at the halfway point, but I had long since forgotten him. Besides I could never find him in this sea of people. Anyway, I finished up and locked at my watch to find that I was not only on time but had a few minutes for questions.

Aside from an interesting question from Jay Jaffe (regarding incorporating Retrosheet play-by-play data into study to investigate various scenarios in which relievers enter a game mid-inning), I have no idea what else was asked or what I answered. Someone asked about saves and my reliance on the stat even though the definition changed in 1973 (actually, three times between 1973 and 1976). I just remember thinking that I don't use saves for evaluating relievers—I just hope I wasn't too dismissive in my response. Someone else offered that pitchers will eventually be changed every inning, and I said something like unless the rosters double or they clone Brooks Kieschnick, it aint gonna happen.

Finally, my time was up and I could leave the podium. As I walked back to gather my stuff (and to try not to forget my memory stick which was still in the laptop), a small group approached the platform. If I were in a different state of mind, my reaction would have been something like "Cool, groupies!", but I just wanted to get of there before my sweat production approached Albert Brooks in "Broadcast News" proportions.

The first person informed me that the first MacMillan encyclopedia, the 1969 edition, had pitching lines split out by starting and relieving stats but that they had not been updated since and there were of course errors in the data that had since been fixed. This was in response to one of my recommendations, i.e., that baseball should officially register its pitching stats by starter and reliever splits. I thanked him and then tried to vacate the stage for fear that I was stepping on the next presenter's time. I answered a few more questions and left.

Later, someone (Bob?) told me that it was Pete Palmer who first approached me. Pete Palmer?!? The guy had no name tag that I saw, not that I noticed at least in my post-presentation stupor. Dang! I am a moron.

While I was in a frenzy prior to the presentation, I saw John Thorn, the author of "The Relief Pitcher" (which I mention in my presentation), hanging out in the lobby—I must have still been able to read nametags at this stage. I fantasized that he was waiting to see my presentation. I want to approach him and introduce myself, but the then-lack of PC not to mention a small crowd already gathered around him, prevented me from doing so. I didn't see him after the presentation and still am fantasizing that he actually saw it.

After the speech, I spent some time in the lobby speaking with a guy who is trying to build a case for Goose Gossage, who came out among my top three relievers. He asked me to contribute. If I could have anything to do with Goose going into the Hall, that would be the ultimate.

I also talked to Gabe Schechter who gave a poster presentation opining that middle relievers were overvalued and overused. Surprisingly, we were in agreement on a number of issues. My take is that middle relief is now where baseball is attempting to improve—the closer role is pretty much set. He agrees but does not feel that the role is necessary. I guess I see that as besides the point to a certain degree. We could go back to almost every pitcher throwing a complete game almost every time, but look how well the Billy Ball A's did with that. I just feel that it's like tilting against windmills. The relief role has been evolving pretty much since Alexander Cartwright marked off the first field , so I can't really get that upset with the current state given that I know that it's a moving target anyway.

After talking to a few other people, I was spent. I decided to forego the remaining presentations and headed for my hotel to change before an event at the world famous Ebbets Field Flannels. On the way out I met THT's Aaron Gleeman and Ben Jacobs, who were in the process of switching hotels.

Bob and I walked over towards the stadium, where the EFF shop resides. Along the way, we found a lovely little ghetto that sprang up and disappeared within a couple of city blocks. We found on the way home that it was just a block or two away from the gentrified yuppy/touristy area. These small cities are so odd. New York or Philly, I know where to go and where not to go. It makes sense. Again I am an ugly Northeasterner.

When we arrived at EFF, I was surprised at how small the shop was. One or two dozen SABR devotees were milling about in the overcrowded shop. Bob and I commented that the shop had Seattle AC, which means none, but they braved the heat with bowls of free popcorn and pretzels. I spotted a discount rack in the back with jerseys for $25. I picked out two, a Josh Gibson Homestead Greys and a Larry Doby Brooklyn Eagles. They were not subject to the 10% SABR discount that EFF was offering that night, but I didn't care.

When I arrived outside, I found Bob speaking with someone that turned out to by Rob Neyer, not that I would have recognized him. He looked shorter and thinner than I expected. Neyer was heading to a book signing and seemed not to keen on the EFF crowd, not that I really blame him much. It must be hard to be the focus of the geekfest especially when someone is somewhat introverted, as Neyer appeared to be.

At this point it was around 7 PM, but my stomach was still on Eastern time (10 PM). We saw a pub with an awning with faux baseball stitching, and Bob and I headed in that direction. It was F.X. McRory's, which both of us thought was a famous baseball joint but it might just have been the name. We sat in an area with a plethora of large screen TVs most with Mets-Red Sox game and, of course, Seattle AC. We found out later that the rest of the people in our section were also SABR denizens seeking a brief respite.

As was the case throughout the weekend, we sat and exchanged storied with the other SABR-ites. I have to say that it's such a love fest, it's like Woodstock for baseball. The two Red Sox fans weren't too pleased when the bar promptly switched to the M's-D-Backs game, even though the Mets-Sox were tight in the late innings. Finally, Gleeman, Jacobs, and the THT gang arrived as we were about to leave.

Anyway, the burger hit the spot and when headed back on a slightly circuitous but more gentrified route. It was great until we neared the hotels and had to climb the hills that each street then offered. Whether it was the hills or the jetlag (or the impending flu that quickly overwhelmed after the trip), I was beat and decided to call it a night. All in all is was a pretty good birthday.

[To be continued…]

2006-07-10 09:51:33
1.   Bob Timmermann
Pete Palmer doesn't need a name tag.

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