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Baseball researchers gather for SABR convention in Long Beach

It's more than complicated statistics at the SABR convention in Long Beach. Baseball devotees gather to discuss history, media, performance-enhancing drugs and more.

July 08, 2011|By Lisa Dillman
  • Agent Scott Boras chats with Mets Manager Terry Collins before a game at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday.
Agent Scott Boras chats with Mets Manager Terry Collins before a game at… (Kirby Lee / US Presswire )

Deep into the committee meeting, the mood was quickly swinging from scholarly detachment to pointed crankiness in the Pacific Room at the Long Beach Hilton.

Debate over the sanctity of the 1918 World Series has a way of doing that.

So, yes, Cubs outfielder Max Flack did have a bad series as his team lost to the Red Sox in 1918. After conceding that known point, though, an attendee declared that the examination of the games in question "may be one of the worst books ever written." And it had a "tiny little basis for its existence."

Brush-back pitch, SABR style.

This was Thursday, the second day of a five-day convention in Long Beach of the Society for American Baseball Research, a group of historians, researchers and statisticians. Think sabermetrics, a form of objective statistical baseball analysis that brought us stats like VORP, WAR and BABIP, and you get an idea.

SABR held its first meeting when 16 individuals got together at the Hall of Fame library in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1971. They put together a mission statement, elected officers, and among other things wondered how many other baseball devotees wanted to join.

"Everyone put their heads together and the grand total we came up with … was 50," said founding member Tom Hufford.

"Well, we are off."

Membership hit 100 by the end of 1971, and Hufford said there are about 6,100 members now. Organizers said about 400 registered for this convention, a good turnout considering that membership is largely concentrated in the Northeast.

The median age of SABR's mostly male members is 59, Hufford said. Headquarters for the organization this year moved to Phoenix from Cleveland.

"It's much like a historical society in that the age of our members tends to be getting older," he said. "A lot of folks join in the early 20s or 30s and after a year say, 'This is great, but I'm busy at work, getting married and raising a family. In 20 years I'll come back.' We have a lot of that.

"We're not a fan club. A lot of folks have joined over the years thinking it was kind of a fan club and come to meetings and meet some players. That's true, but we do more than that. There is something here for everyone."

This week's panels ranged far and wide: examining the Joe Morgan trade between the Reds and Astros in 1971; the Supreme Court decision in Toolson vs. New York Yankees in 1953; and a media panel exploring where people will get their baseball information a decade from now.

Agent Scott Boras delivered the keynote address Thursday morning and spoke about his first venture into negotiating on behalf of a client, Toronto Blue Jays closer Bill Caudill in 1985.

Boras didn't have a computer to crunch numbers then — just stacks of information all over the house to best evaluate closers.

"There had been a contract in the marketplace — and I know you'll find this shocking, but I thought it was very undervalued — for a reliever named Jeff Reardon," Boras said. "Reardon had almost identical stats to those of Caudill, and he signed a five-year contract for around $3 million."

During his speech, the lights in the ballroom went out briefly: I can see what's going on in L.A. is also true of the SABR convention," Boras joked. "They're not paying their bills either."

He returned to Caudill. Even the players union didn't think Boras was going to prevail, telling him it thought he had no chance of winning the arbitration case.

Driving to the hearing, an anything-but-relaxed Caudill "was in a full sweat," Boras said. "He was perspiring so much his shirt was spotted. I said, 'Appreciate the confidence.'" Before arbitration, Boras ended up negotiating a five-year deal worth $7.5 million, making Caudill the second-highest paid reliever in baseball.

At this week's convention, present-day medical issues were also explored with candor. Serving on a panel Wednesday night were Ned Bergert, former Angels head trainer, Neal ElAttrache, the Dodgers' team physician and Dr. Kevin Wilk of Champions Sports. Their panel was moderated by Will Carroll of SI.com

Focus near the end of their discussion turned to platelet-rich plasma therapy (PRP). In this treatment, a small amount of blood is drawn from the patient and spun in a centrifuge. Then the platelets are injected into an injured area to stimulate tissue repair. PRP is legal in Major League Baseball and the NBA.

ElAttrache was curious about the audience's view on PRP and performance-enhancing drugs.

"That's something I do need to be concerned about because I take care of people of all ages and what kind of effect is that going to have, socially, on the young athletes that we take care of," he said.

"Because, believe me, I see high school kids and junior high school kids that are dabbling in steroids and HGH [human growth hormone]. It's amazing what happens. And their parents know it. Including girls, by the way, especially girls.

"Girls' soccer is rife with anabolic steroid use. It's amazing.

"But I would turn that back to you guys. Does it decrease your appreciation for an athletic performance or appreciation for watching a baseball game or baseball season if you knew that your favorite player or star hitter was performance enhanced by HGH or steroids?"

He asked for a show of hands in the room. It looked as though just about every hand was raised. "There's your answer," ElAttrache said.

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

twitter.com/reallisa

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