Monday, January 31, 2011

Ted Williams Chapter SABR Day Recap

My wife and I attended yesterday's Ted Williams Chapter SABR meeting.  It was, as always, a great forum and there was a lively discussion.  The meeting started at 0900 and ran until at least 1300; she and I had to leave to relieve our baby sitter, otherwise we would have stayed for the entire program.

John Ingham gave a talk on an article he recently wrote about the 1967 Pirates.  The 1966 Pittsburgh team finished 22 games over .500 and 3 games behind the Dodgers for the NL title.  Many pundits thought all the Pirates needed was improvement at third and in the rotation, which they thought they achieved through trade in the off-season, most notably by acquiring Maury Wills from Los Angeles.

That 1967 edition didn't fare nearly as well as expected, finishing at .500, 20 1/2 games behind the Cardinals.  Mr. Ingham went on to say the team was reported by contemporary press as 'wracked with dissention' in the clubhouse, which likely contributed to their poor performance on the field, and what he thought contributed to that dissention.  I will not give away his thoughts - the article is under consideration for publication at NINE, a journal of baseball history and culture published by the University of Nebraska Press - but I will tell you his thesis centers around three large personalities.  Roberto Clemente, Wills, and manager Harry 'The Hat' Walker.  It was quite interesting.

On an unrelated subject, I finally got some insight why Joe Morgan was traded from Houston to Cincinnati (Walker landed as manager there after being fired by Pittsburgh during the 1967 season), and I look at the famous Juan Marichal/Johnny Roseboro brawl in a new way.

Next we heard from David Nuffer, a Ernest Hemingway buff.  One might wonder what place a Hemingway discussion has in a baseball forum.  Aside from this being a learned group (yes, shameless intellectual promotion there), Hemingway was a bit of a baseball fan.  According to Nuffer, he played baseball in high school, and while living in Cuba built a makeshift baseball field on his estate for the local boys to use.  In fact, one of those boys became his majordomo, and eventually published a memoir of those days titled Hemingway's Cuban Son.

Nuffer is a man of some local fame; apparently he held up signs behind the first base dugout back in the Jack Murphy days.  He is a character, pulling out a card which had a herald piece on it, and saying after it finished "I need a proper introduction."  I would have liked to have known him when he was younger and not wheelchair bound.

Anyway he talked about The Old Man and The Sea, one of Hemingway's great works.  In the pages of that novel there are 7 references to baseball, and embedded in those passages are 9 references to Joe DiMaggio - 'the Great Dimaggio', as the old man calls him.  Finally he concluded by reading from the only poem Hemingway is known to have written, called 'The Opening Game' (1912).  A great presentation; it was worth making the drive to Petco just to hear him speak.

After the break, Geoff Young took the podium, yes Geoff Young of Ducksnorts fame.  Now I am a fairly frequent reader of Ducksnorts, but to show you how out of it I have been these past months I did not know he was speaking at this meeting before he stepped to the mike.  It also took me a minute to realize who he was.  Geoff summarized his research of great pitchers duels of of the last 90 years, which he had previously published over at The Hardball Times last fall.  Geoff's defined a great pitchers duel as a game where both starters posted a Game Score (as invented by Bill James) of 95 or higher.

There have been six such games, but none since 24 Sept 1971.  Ironically, that last game involved the Padres, and took place in old San Diego Stadium.  As luck would have it, one of the 32 people in attendance at our meeting was also at that particular game.  So we got the benefit of hearing about it from a historical/research perspective, and from an eyewitness perspective.  Cool.

It was icing on the cake I was able to meet Geoff at this event.  I would have liked to talked longer but for the time crunch we were under.  Also, I have to admit to placing foot in mouth; a question was asked why there were no such duels since 1971, and I attempted to add on by saying a 95 game score would require a perfect game with 15 strikeouts.  Actually a 9-inning perfect game with 6 K's would get a 95 game score.  Math is hard.

Next Padres VP and Assistant General Manager Jason McLeod came down to talk to us.  The Padres have been wonderfully accommodating to our requests that someone in the front office talk to us.  Paul DePodesta, Josh Stein, and Chris Long have all made appearances at our January meeting to talk a little baseball and give us some insight into how they do their jobs (so if you haven't circled the Saturday of the week before the Super Bowl on your calendar, do so).

McLeod gave a brief introduction on his history in the game:  Played HS ball, drafted by the Astros, got an internship with the Padres in community relations, ended up in the Padres scouting department, then off to Boston, now back.  He then spent the next 40 minutes or so answering questions.  Some highlights:

  • It's relatively easy to evaluate a player's talent, and develop some idea of what he will become.  It's far, far harder to determine if the kid has it mentally.  By mentally, he meant how will he handle adversity, the sudden riches, being away from home for an extended period of time, and so on.  Interviewing prospects at home is a much bigger part of scouting than I thought.
  • He considers the amateur draft the most important day of the year, because teams choose who they bring into the organization.  Having a bad draft can set a franchise back two, three, or several years.  Look at Pittsburgh.
  • Jason gave his thoughts on the Karsten Whitson debacle (well, what would you call it?).  He basically confirmed what we've heard - the team had an agreement with the family before the draft, and that evening the family stated there was no agreement and the price had gone up.
  • He talked about the Winter Development Program the Padres did this season.  First time this franchise has done something like it; it's something he learned from Boston.  Nineteen of the team's top prospects spent 10 days in San Diego, receiving some on-field instruction but mostly educational topics.  Like how to mentally approach the game, what it means to be a Padre, that sort of thing.  McLeod rattled off a who's who of Padres that came to speak to these kids - Dave Roberts, Mark Loretta, Dave Winfield, Trevor Hoffman, Tony Gwynn.
  • When asked about foreign players and scouting them, he had some funny comments about the Japanese posting system.  But he did talk briefly about India, Europe, and China as areas of the world teams are looking to for baseball talent.
  • San Diego has the top baseball facility in the Dominican Republic.
  • He was asked if any studies had been done between pitchers of today, and those workhorses of yester-year, using MRIs to image shoulders and see what made the old timers so durable.  He was intrigued by the question.  He did say most ML pitchers have structural damage in their shoulder simply from throwing a baseball over and over again (even if their mechanics are perfect, they will damage their shoulders).
  • San Diego will get Pick #9A (compensation for Whitson) this year, so the 10th pick.  They will also get 3 compensation picks (loss of 3 Type B free agents). So, they have 5 of the first 60 picks.  A golden opportunity to restock the farm system.
  • He was also asked about knuckleballers (how to evaluate), how he would use Red flamethrower Aroldis Chapman (preferred starter, but thought Cincinnati did it right last year), Khalil Greene (out of baseball, no signs he's returning), gave an update on some of the Dominican Republic facility graduates (and he plugged the Lake Elsinore team for 2011 - thinks it will be exciting), discussed Mat Latos' endurance, AND brought along his 2 Boston World Series rings.
  • Oh yeah, he answered my question about the Boras effect in the minor league draft (not seeing it yet, but everyone knows what Boras' technique is, and you never hear about the kids who turn down the big money on his advice and then are never heard from again).
It was great to have the chance to speak with Jason McLeod, and one can only hope we have a chance to do that again.

The meeting had to speed up at this point.  James D. Smith III gave a presentation on 3 umpires, Honest John Kelly, Chet Chadbourne, and Emmet Ashford, summarizing their lives and work in baseball.  Mr. Smith is a college professor and gave a very polished presentation.  Finally the Chapter presented the results of its "Umpires at Work" project.  Seven members of the Chapter, and SABR President Andy McCue, spent the evening of 10 Sept 2010 watching only the umpires while attending a baseball game.  Bob Hicks gave a short power point presentation on what they learned during the night, and what he took away from the project.  The team observed the crew, then had a chance to meet with two of the umpires, Phil Cuzzi was one of the two, the next morning over breakfast and ask questions.  I would have liked to stay and hear the whole thing, but as David Kinney stepped to the microphone we ducked out to head home.

It was a great morning of baseball and well worth the experience for those who attended.  I hope you caught a small glimpse of that morning from this summary.  Don Norcross of the SD U-T was at the meeting at least through Mr. McLeod's talk; he had not posted a story on the meeting as of 2100 Sunday night, but perhaps he will write about it too.


  1. Mike,

    Thanks for the longer review and for Geoff at Ducksnorts for throwing everyone this way. Sounds like McLeod gave a nice talk, it seems the new staff is more willing to engage in meaningful conversation than the old staff was. KT always talked a lot and the rumor mill was full, but the content always seemed suspect.

    Did he mention their budget or anything else about international signings? Does having the best facility in the Dominican make them more likely to continue putting money into bonuses for latin players?

  2. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for the comment! In answer to your questions:

    - There was no discussion about the Padres budget for 2011. The audience didn't ask the question and Mr. McLeod didn't volunteer any information.

    - No specific international signings were brought up, nor any players the Padres might be interested in. His Japanese posting comments lampooned himself/the Boston organization for the $50M+ they paid just to negotiate with Dice-K.

    - Although not specifically addressed on Saturday, I suspect the Padres will not let their state-of-the-art facilities in the Dominican go to waste. McLeod seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the players in the Padres system today who graduated from the academy, so I believe that success will mean the team remains willing to spend money for good Latin players - be it via salary or bonus.

  3. Thanks for the mention of Khalil ... I was wondering if there was any chance he'd come back ...