Skip to content
You are here: Home Newsletter Examiner #10 - July 1998 The SABR UK 1998 AGM
The SABR UK 1998 AGM
SABR UK Examiner - Examiner #10 - July 1998
Written by Martin Hoerchner   

The Seventh Annual Society for American Baseball Research UK Annual General Meeting took place at its spiritual home, the Kings of Clerkenwell Public House, on Saturday April 25. That's a mouthful, so I'll just say that the '98 SABR UK AGM was held at the "Kings". I think it was our best meeting yet, not only in the numbers attending, but in the quality of the presentations given.

Hugh Robinson opened the meeting, explaining that we were going to do things backwards. We would have the presentations first, and the Chapter business second. He introduced Graham Winterbone, the Secretary; Patrick Morley, the Chair of the British Baseball Historical Committee; Harvey Sahker, the Assistant Chair of the BBHC; Andy Parkes, the Treasurer; and Martin Hoerchner, the Examiner Editor, who was suffering from the worst non-fatal case of laryngitis in history.

He then introduced Chapter Chairman Mike Ross. Mike started off by reading messages of greeting from Major League Baseball International, who donated two baseball jackets to auction for the Chapter coffers. Then a greeting from Honourary President Norman Macht, and then a message from the big enchilada, SABR President Larry Gerlach, who expressed his regret at being unable attend and his appreciation for SABR UK's accomplishments. Mike then read apologies from SABR UK members scattered around the island.

Clark Griffith (left) and Mike Ross.

Mike then introduced our featured speaker, Clark Griffith, the namesake of his great-uncle and Hall of Fame pitcher, and the son of Calvin Griffith, former owner of the Washington Senators and Minnesota Twins. Clark is an attorney and the Major League representative for the owners in labour negotiations, and was a negotiator in the strikes of 1980 and '81.

That was the subject of his main presentation, the history of labour negotiations in baseball, which he presented with insight and humour. Clark noted that the constant conflict of players vs. owners is as old as the game itself, or at least the professional game, which game into play in 1869. He noted the implementation of the reserve rule in 1879 as a major point of conflict with the players, but one that the owners felt was necessary to avoid plunging the game into chaos. The first counterattack by the players was the formation of the Players' League in 1890, which split baseball attendance three ways and was bound to failure.

The next players' union was the League Protective Players' Association, which lasted from 1900-1902. Clark noted with dismay that his grandfather and namesake was a players' representative in that union. Then the American League was formed, which also had a reserve rule, but the inter-league competition and contract-jumping opened up a new era of freedom for the players on the job market, until the two leagues made peace and agreed to recognise each other's contracts. The Baseball Players' Fraternity was formed in 1912, in reaction to the Ty Cobb strike. It lasted until 1918. During that time the Federal League was formed as a reaction to the reserve rule. The league raided players from the other two leagues, and caused a tremendous uproar when they signed, among others, the great Walter Johnson. When the Federal League sued Major League Baseball for antitrust violation, the case was heard by Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, who delayed the judgement long enough to see the Federal League fold. For this service to baseball he was made commissioner six years later.

Clark Griffith.

In 1915 the Federal League folded, ending with an agreement that two Major League teams be bought by Federal League owners. With all but two teams left out, the Baltimore Feds sued, citing baseball's exemption from the Sherman Anti-Trust Act as illegal. In the Supreme Court, Justice Smyth defended the exemption, stating that a particular baseball game is a unique product and cannot be duplicated, and hence baseball isn't an interstate business.

Then followed a long period of no union activity. Then the American Baseball Guild was formed in 1946, and lasted into the 60's. They came within two votes of striking the 1954 All Star Game. This was the first union to have a player representative on each team.

Then Marvin Miller came on the scene, in 1966, as the head negotatior for the players. Clark cited strikes in 1972, '76, '81, and '85, and mentioned the 1981 strike as the most difficult. The problem was that there was a single issue left unresolved after the 1980 negotiations, and a single issue left no scope for bargaining. Clark predicted that labour turmoil would continue, and that the union would more and more take business decisions that were once the sole realm of management. He restated that the same dynamics exist today that existed from the start of professional baseball.

He then changed tack, and talked for a while about the importance of Jackie Robinson. He said Robinson didn't just integrate baseball, he integrated America. From the Civil War till 1954, no civil rights legislation had been enacted, and "separate but equal" was the law of the land. The significance of Jackie's debut was to open up other avenues for integration.

As a final anecdote, Clark talked about the best game he'd ever seen. It was the final game of the 1953 season, and he was eleven years old. Al Rosen of the Indians and Mickey Vernon of the Senators were locked into a close battle for the batting championship going into the last day. The game took place at Griffith Stadium, and being the owner's son, no doubt Clark had an excellent view of the happenings. Towards the end of the game, it was calculated that Vernon would win the title if he didn't bat again. There were two innings to go, and Vernon was the seventh hitter, so no batter must get on base. In a hilarious account, a couple of players got on base by accident, and then did their best to get picked off. But the final result was that Mickey Vernon of the Senators won the batting title, depriving Al Rosen of the Triple Crown.

Allen Synge.

The next presentation was from Allen Synge, who spoke on "Baseball and Cricket - Cross Currents" about why baseball never made it in Britain and cricket never made it in America. He recounted different proseletyzing tours of cricket teams from the Britain in the 19th century. The full text of Allen's article is printed elsewhere in this journal.

Allan Chell then spoke. This man seems to have the baseball equivalent of a green thumb when it comes to forming baseball teams. After developing Little League teams in South Africa for years, in 1992 he moved to Maidstone, Kent. When he discovered there was no baseball being played there, he started an adult team and a Little League team; now he has two Little League teams and a senior team, with about 50 players. Allan showed us a handsome translucent trophy given to him "for Meritorious Service". An interesting sidelight to his story was that when local cricket coaches found out Allan coached baseball, they recruited him to coach the cricketers how to throw the ball.

John Gaustad, owner of SportsPages bookstore, gave his list of his top ten baseball books. The list was, in no particular order, Thomas Boswell's How Life Imitates the World Series and Why Time Begins on Opening Day, Roger Angell's The Summer Game, George Plimpton's Out of My League, David Halberstam's The Summer of '49, Pat Jordan's A False Spring, Jim Brosnan's The Long Season, Jim Bouton's Ball Four, Robert Coover's The Universal Baseball Association, J. Henry Waugh, Prop and Eliot Asinof's Men On Spikes.

Bill Rubenstein.

Then Bill Rubenstein, Professor of History at the University of Wales, Aberyswyth, spoke about new statistics in baseball. The groundwork was laid by Bill James and Pete Palmer in "Total Baseball". Bill cited the problems with the typical ways we know of evaluating player performance - batting average, runs batted in, and home runs. He said the problems were 1) they were situation-dependent, meaning players from better teams would instrinsically have better stats; 2) they were effected by the player's home ballpark (eg the Coors Field factor for offense and the Astrodome for pitchers); 3) the era the player played in makes a big difference (eg 1930 as an explosion of offense, and 1968 dominated by pitching). He then introduced Bill James' concept of "runs created". The formula, which Bill was unfortunately unable to write on the blackboard because of the disappearance of the chalk, was:

(hits + walks) x total bases / (at bats + walks)

or, more succintly:

(H + W) x TB / (AB + W).

After that, you need to adjust for the home park and era, which is too involved to list here.

Career "runs created" statistics for have calculated for all major league players, and the big surprise here is that Babe Ruth is 30 per cent better than the number two player. We knew he was good, but we didn't know he was that good! After number two, the players are about 1/4 - 1/2 per cent percent below each other, but Ruth is in another league by himself.

He also talked the distance of Ruth's shots. He said there have been eight 500 foot homeruns since 1990. When Pete Palmer read that in one year alone Ruth hit a 500 foot homerun in each park, he decided to investigate it by correlating different newspaper accounts. Pete not only confirmed it, but found 500 foot homeruns by Ruth that no one had ever known about! And, to top it off, Ruth was a great pitcher, too - the best lefthander in the second half of the teens.

After Ruth, the next player according to runs created was Nap Lajoie, followed by Ty Cobb, Willie Mays and Ted Williams. The best recent player is Mike Schmidt, who combined power, average, walks and brilliant defence.

The last speaker was Bernard Day, who was our featured speaker at the last meeting, having discovered the Albert Spalding Cleveland District Trophy. Since the last time he spoke, he has come up with new discoveries, including a fixture list of the 1893 and 1894 Cleveland and South Durham League. He has been concentrating on the Derby district, and has identified the players in the famous photo of the Derby Baseball team, with Sir Francis Ley. He has discovered a baseball belt worn by that team, plus a cap and belt of the Stockton club. He also located a photo of the 1893 Everton Baseball team. Bernard said that the photo shows a flat bat, and hence it was the game known as Welsh baseball that they played.

After that we were served a excellent meal by the Governor, John Eichler. Then, the business part of the meeting took place, which will be reported in Examiner 11. Suffice it to say, as a parting shot, that an excellent time was had by all.