The Pacific Northwest chapter of SABR held a chapter meeting on Saturday, November 2, 2013. The meeting location was in the 2nd floor conference room at the Seattle Pacific University Library. As in the past for our meetings at SPU, the meeting was hosted by SABR member and SPU Professor Bill Woodward and his students.
The meeting began with PNW SABR Chapter President Rick Solomon covering chapter business, including the expected January meeting at Safeco Field for SABR Day, the February meeting in Portland on Presidents Day Weekend, and the upcoming Spring meeting, which this year will be in late April. In addition, mention was made of the upcoming visit of Nate Silver to lecture at the UW Graduate School. PNW SABR has a block of reservations, and local SABR members can email Anthony Salazar.
The first guest speaker was a returning guest of the Chapter, Larry Stone, columnist of the Seattle Times. Now a general sports columnist, Larry has been a beat writer on the Seattle Mariners for the last 18 years. Previously, Larry had been a beat writer in the Bay Area on the San Francisco Giants, and before that had started his career in the late 1970s and early 1980s in Yakima, Washington. His first opportunity to cover baseball was for his college paper at UC Berkeley. Other than a brief introduction, Larry spent his time doing a Q and A with SABR members. Questions covered the lack of Black American baseball players in the most recent World Series, the most compelling sports figures Larry had covered in his career, the life of a baseball writer and the future of sports journalism, as well as a number of questions about the Mariners. Larry has moved from being a beat writer to a general columnist, but hopefully he has baseball news to ponder on in the coming year.
In a day that would have made Yakima proud, former Yakima Herald sportswriter Larry Stone was followed by Yakima Valley's own Mel Stottlemyre, who hailed from Mabton High School and Yakima Valley College before signing with the Yankees at the age of 19. Mel was near celebrating his 72nd birthday, so he was given a rousing Happy Birthday. Larry had pointed out that in the early 1980s Yakima was the residence of World Series winning pitching coaches Hub Kittle (1982 Cardinals, and a former 20 game winner of the 1939 Yakima Pippins) and Mel Stottlemyre (1986 Mets).
Mel gave a brief overview of his career. He said he had benefitted as a young pitcher by getting good coaching. At Mabton High School, his coach was Jim Rodgers, and for his year at Yakima Valley College, it was Chuck Brayton. Mel also said he was fortunate to learn from his fellow pitchers, such as Whitey Ford. Regarding his career as a pitcher, Mel said one of the things he was proudest of was that of his 356 games started, he completed 152 of them. Such consistency in completing games would be unheard of today, and Mel commented on that, with his unique background of being both a top American League pitcher for 10 years, and a World Series winning pitching coach. Regarding pitch counts, Mel pointed out an important difference now is that pitchers are only trained to go 7 innings, so you wouldn't expect to see more complete games. Asked about the decline in offense since 2004, and the possibility of rules changes, Mel replied with a smile asking why change the rules against the pitcher, and that its time to let the hitters make the adjustments.
Mel covered many great topics, and was a fantastic speaker. He told the story of being on the mound for one of Gene Michael's hidden ball tricks. It was in the bottom of the ninth with no outs. Mel had given up a single and a pinch runner was brought in. With the score tied, it was a late-inning bunt situation. Mel threw to the shortstop on the bunt, but the runner was safe. According to Mel, Gene never threw the ball back to him. After the play was over, Gene asked the runner to step off the base so he could clean it, and with that tagged the runner out. The Yankees made it out of the ninth and won the game with 3 runs in the top of the next frame, a 10-inning complete game for Stottlemyre. Mel covered many other areas, such as his time with Dwight Gooden, his years with the Yankees and Joe Torre and George Steinbrenner, pitching regimens, and much more.
The next speaker was SABR member Mark Armour, who gave a presentation on Thoughts on the Draft. Mark started with a brief history of the draft and the different ways it has been done since the 1960s, as well as looking at the impact on rosters of drafted players. Mark used WAR and presented the draft as a way of teams drafting future WAR. He said a number to consider is that a team needs to have 34 WAR coming into their team every year to be average. Another thing to consider is that unlike when the draft first started, it is now incredibly rare for a non-International player to make it to a Major League Roster, so combined with international signings, the June draft has become especially important.
Mark broke the draft down for each team into 3-year sections. He then ranked the team performances by the WAR they accumulated in the draft for those 3-year sections. This helped to mitigate the impact of a single down or up year. The rankings were impacted of course by the length of the career and amount of time passed. Several of the top 10 in rankings were from teams drafting in the mid=1980s, including good stretches from the Royals, Red Sox, Astros, Pirates, Indians and Cubs. The top 3 performers were the 1965-67 A's, the 1974-76 Tigers, and in first, the 1966-68 Dodgers. Mark then concluded his presentation with an in-depth look at the Mariner's drafting history, which, in spite of having two of the highest performing draft picks in MLB history, did not manage to have a 3-year stretch of any great significance. Mark's research will be continuing and we look forward to more insights from him on the impact of the draft on rosters.
The next presentation was from another veteran newspaperman, Dan Raley, on his book Pitchers of Beer: The Story of the Seattle Rainiers. Dan had been at the Seattle P-I for 29 years, with 26 of the them being as a sportswriter when the paper closed up. He then moved to Atlanta for work, and returned to the Northwest 2 years ago. Dan relayed to the SABR group his personal relationship with baseball and importance, and gave the group not just a recap of the story in the book, but how it was written. According to Dan, he came across the story at a fortunate time, while there were still members of the Rainiers team and management alive that could be interviewed. The book has been highly reviewed and should be on the bookshelf of any fan of the game in the Northwest.
After a short break, the SABR member Robert Garrett gave a presentation on Roger Craig and Humm Baby Giants. Robert talked about the evolution of the Humm Baby name, and how it developed into a rallying cry for the team. He showed images of various Humm Baby items that had been marketed on t-shirts and such. Robert reviewed how the group of players that made up the Humm Baby team came together under Roger Craig and Al Rosen. Craig was hired in late 1985 and in 1986 the team turned around their performance. By 1987 they had a division title and in 1989 they won a pennant. Robert said the term Humm Baby came from Craig using the term to describe third catcher Brad Gulden and that it "basically meant a player who gave 180%".
What Robert emphasized was that the Giants success at that time had made them a commodity and raised fan interest and expectations. During that same run, the city of San Francisco was not a baseball town due to the success of the 49ers. It was in 1992, as the Giants were experiencing a losing season under Craig after years of success, that the team was all but sold by the Lurie's to interests from St. Petersburg. It was at this time that a group was put together by Peter Magowan to purchase the team and create a long term future for the Giants in San Francisco. However, it is Robert's contention that the success of the Giants under Craig had a big impact on the effort that led to saving the Giants.
The final presentation of the day was from SABR member Tip Wonhoff, and was on Baseball and Climate Change. Tip started off by reviewing a quote from Tim McCarver that had caused some controversy in 2012, "It has not been proven, but I think ultimately it will be proven that the air is thinner now, there have been climactic changes over the last 50 years in the world, and I think that's one of the reasons balls are carrying much better now than I remember." Tip looked at a lot of the research that has been presented on the physics of baseball to show that essentially McCarver is correct, warmer weather makes a baseball carry farther, all other things being equal. Tip first looked at how temperatures impact the game. He reviewed a 2004 study from the University of Massachusetts on temperature effects of more reactive equipment, showing warmer bats and baseballs will travel farther. Next Tip looked at the impact of warmer temperatures on fatigue and injury, relating the story of a player who had died from organ failure due to heat exhaustion. Tip also looked at increased pitcher stresses brought on by temperature changes, citing a study of 50 years of pitching data from Duke University.
Tip then looked at the impact of increased precipitation causing more rain delays, and in the opposite direction, the impact of long droughts on games, field conditions and stadium design. As an example, he looked at Atlanta, which had been in a 5 year drought as of 2012. Finally, Tip looked at the impact of rising sea levels on stadiums located in coastal areas. There are 2 stadiums that will be impacted by sea levels rising by 2020, both of the stadiums in the Bay Area. Tip's overview of the range of impacts climate change demonstrated the many different ways in which environment can impact the game on and off the field, as well as the field itself.
The SABR meeting was then concluded with a thank you to Professor Bill Woodward and his students for hosting the event. The next meeting for Pacific Northwest SABR will be during the SABR Day events nationwide that coincide with MLB team fan fests at the end of January.