Monday, January 28, 2008

The San Diego SABR meeting - Part 1

With the most exciting news out of St Louis being the signing of Todd Wellemeyer to a one-year deal, I turn to last Saturday's Society of American Baseball research meeting - at the PETCO Park Community Room.

I have a lot of information to put out, so to avoid making this an uncomfortably long post (both for you as the reader to slug through at work, and for me to type, as well as organize a coherent thought), I'm going to break the post into 3 parts: one tonight, one tomorrow, and one Wednesday. So sit back, relax, and hopefully learn something. Because I did this weekend.

The keynote speaker was, of course, Paul DePodesta. Mrs. Rant and I actually made it to the meeting 10 minutes early - no small feat, considering we have 2 small children and had to drop them off at the sitter. Amazingly we were able to get everyone up, showered, and out of the house by 0810. This feat was not without a small price: Mrs Rant didn't get breakfast, and I got to change shirts twice courtesy of my precision bombing youngest. He's a crack shot with the spit.

Anyway, despite some initial anxiety about being left at the sitter, my sons perserved - considering the sitter was their Grandparents, and they can get away with pretty much anything (as well as be stuffed with all sorts of sugary goodies). Off we go!

After listening to DePodesta speak for about 5 minutes, it's easy to see how he got the GM slot with the Dodgers. He has an easy going manner, an engaging personality, is funny without forcing it, and communicates very well with his audience. I'm going to cover the Q&A period over the next two posts; in all, he answered over two dozen questions from the audience on a wide variety of topics, from general baseball interest to specific moves the Padres have made recently. Paul started speaking about 0930 and spent almost 2 hours with us. I'm quite sure if our chapter president hadn't cut the session short, we'd have peppered him with questions all afternoon - and he'd have answered them. Well worth the price of admission (which was free, BTW).

The Community Room at PETCO faces Park Boulevard. To get to it, you would walk past the main entrance, past the ticket office, past the group ticket office, and the last sliding glass window you come to is the room. Typically it appears to be used as an employee lounge. The Padres provide free beverages to their employees, and this room serves as kind of a warehouse for that purpose. They graciously allowed us to utilize this service; let me say their coffee maker is first rate - and the coffee isn't bad, either.

After Paul spoke we had a presentation by Tammy Lechner, 'photojournalist/author', and her book Our Team, Our Dream: A Cub Fan's Journey into Baseball's Greatest Romance. How was it? Imagine your least favorite Aunt, the one who lives alone with 27 cats, inviting you over to see her latest vacation photos. It was that bad. She faced the screen and scrolled through the slides. And mumbled. Frankly the funniest moment was when the Mrs challenged her by questioning whether Cardinals/Cubs is really a rivalry, since it's so one-sided. Caught Tammy completely off guard, generated several chuckles from members, and irritated the 2 Cub fans in the room. High comedy. Never got a straight answer, either.

I should mention, at these meetings those who present on recently published books also bring copies of their book to sell. Needless to say we didn't pick up Tammy's book.

After a short break to splash some water on our collective faces, we had a trivia contest. One of the members put together a list of questions, 14 for this meeting, and we see who can answer the most. Here are the questions from Saturday:

Note: All questions involve the Cubs, A's, or Babe Dahlgren

1. Who managed the A's before Art Howe?
2. Who is the last Cub to pitch a no-hitter?
3. Who was the next regular Yankee 1B after Babe Dahlgren? (His MLB career lasted one year)
4. Who played for the Padres in 2005 and the Cubs in 2006?
5. Who is the only Athletic 1B to win a Gold Glove?
6. What pitcher was a member of both the 1984 Cubs and 1988 A's?
7. Who is the only catcher to lead both leagues in bases on balls?
8. Who was the first Cubs player to amass 425 total bases in a season?
9. Babe Dahlgren twice led the league in games played; once for an AL team and once for an NL team. Name the teams.
10. What pitcher who was denied a start in the World Series due to an earthquake won the Cy Young Award the next year?
11. Of the Barry Zito-Tim Hudson-Mark Mulder A's trio, whose major league pitching debut came the earliest?
12. What Hall of Famer retired after the 1994 and unretired in 1996?
13. What pitcher holds the record for balks in a season?
14. Who is the last Cub to win a batting title?

Take a crack at those. I will post the answers tomorrow.

Why did all the questions all involve Dahlgren, Cubs, and A's? It matched the pedigree of our 3 presenters for the meeting.

Now at the last meeting, I tied with one other guy for the most answered, but lost the prize (A DVD of World Series games, I forget for what team) on the coin flip. This time no such bad luck. My prize: Sports Illustrated from September 23, 1985. Ozzie Smith graced the cover of that issue - and signed it. Very cool.

(there would be a photo here of the cover, but my camera is on the fritz).

Lastly, we had a presentation from Matt Dahlgren, grandson of Babe Dahlgren, on his new book, Rumor in Town. This was also worth hearing about. Visit the website for more information, but suffice it to say Dahlgren was one of the better defensive first basemen of his generation. He came up with the Red Sox in 1935, was purchased by the Yankees prior to the 1937 season, and was a vital cog in the 1937-1939 World Series Champion Yankee teams. He had his best offensive year as a Yankee in 1940, but was sold outright to the Boston Braves before the 1941 season. Boston was the second worst team in the NL in 1940; only the hapless Phillies kept them out of the cellar. Odd, right?

From there an odyssey of trades, releases, and the like followed: sold to the Cubs during the 1941 season, then sold to the Browns (who returned him to Chicago) and later the Dodgers during the 1942 season, traded to the Phillies before the 1943 season (where he was an All-Star), and traded to Pittsburgh before the 1944 season. He was finally sold to the Browns again before 1946 (who kept him this time), but hurt his shoulder diving for a line drive early in the season; it would be his last at the Major League level.

Why did he go from being on a champion team to being shuttled around like a lot of baggage? Because of a rumor he smoked marijuana. How did the rumor get started? You'd need to read the book to find out.

Now I am not stumping for Matt Dahlgren to increase his book sales; he has no idea I'm writing this, and I have not and will not receive any compensation for this review. The story, however, is compelling - from describing the power a rumor has to destroy someone's reputation to the extraordinary character it takes for a man (or a woman for that matter) to fight the rumor as long as it persists. I'm looking forward to reading the full story.

The meeting broke up around 1300. We headed back to rescue Mrs Rant's parents from our two energetic boys.

If you have a chance to attend one of these meetings, I would highly encourage it - it's a great forum for folks like us, who love the game of baseball, to get together and discuss the game of baseball, as well as see what research is being done out there. Virtually every part of the country has a SABR chapter. Check out the society's home page for more details.

Tomorrow we'll post the first 14 questions posed to (and answered by) Paul DePodesta.

1 comment:

Cardinal70 said...

Those are some really tough questions. I know the first baseman/GG question is McGwire, but that's about it.