In the June 19 L.A. Times sports section, David Wharton put together an item about whether or not baseball needs a makeover. Wharton called on a panel of experts that included documentarian Ken Burns, actor James Denton, writer/director Ron Shelton among others.
If Wharton had waited three weeks, he could have called upon the collected wisdom of SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, which will be holding its 41st annual convention at the Long Beach Hilton from July 6-10. The baseball research group, whose name inspired Bill James to dub a new method of study baseball statistics as "sabermetrics" will be meeting in Southern California for the first time since 1993 (San Diego.) The last L.A. metro area convention was in 1980.
Because of the connection with sabermetrics (coming soon to a theater near you!), the general view of SABR is that it is mostly a group of number crunching geeks who have sucked the joy out of baseball. This would be the BIll Plaschke or Joe Morgan view of the organization.
However, the truth is that it is a group of people who have passion for the game of baseball in many different ways. Some members enjoy the statistical aspects of the game. Others spend countless hours trying to track down biographical information of men who played perhaps one game back in the 1870s. Others are interested in umpires, spring training sites, or the business end of baseball. (People in Los Angeles have become keenly interested in that recently.)
A typical SABR convention consists of a set of research presentations, trips to ballgames at both major and minor league stadiums in the area (the timing of this convention allows trips to both Dodger Stadium and Angels Stadium as well as a trip to Lake Elsinore), a trivia contest that is not for the faint of heart, as well as other activities unique to the area.
This year, there will be a room at the hotel devoted to a series of baseball films, both fictional and documentary. There will also be a bus tour of sites of old baseball stadiums in Los Angeles. One of the stops on that tour will be the Coliseum, where this particular blogger has been entrusted with giving a talk about the site. I hope to write about the trip after its completion. (I also get to be in charge of a bus and get to use the microphone for the PA system, fulfilling a lifelong dream. The first part of the tour will go from Long Beach to Vernon. That is Southern California in all of its scenic beauty!)
Some big names in baseball are going to speak at the convention also. Agent Scott Boras will be giving the keynote speech. Dennis Gilbert, who has been discussed as a possible new owner for the Dodgers, will be speaking at the awards luncheon. Gilbert will be talking mostly about scouts and their importance to the game, one of his favorite causes. There will be a panel of general managers featuring former Dodger GMs Fred Claire and Dan Evans as well as current Padres GM Jed Hoyer. (In case you were wondering, former Dodger GM Paul DePodesta is not a SABR member. Neither is Billy Beane.)
And going back to Wharton's piece on whether or not baseball needs a makeover, what would the members of SABR say? Judging from my experience, you would get about as many different answers as there are members. Then they would point out the mistakes in Ken Burns' "Baseball." And then ask if they can go some place to watch a baseball game. Ultimately, it's the game itself that unites all the members of SABR.