Across the country and the globe, Saturday was SABR Day, an opportunity for fans of the game to get together and talk about baseball in anticipation of pitchers and catchers reporting soon.
One of the common misconceptions about the Society for American Baseball Research is that it’s all about sabermetrics and nothing else. While statistical analysis is perhaps the best-known component of the outfit’s organizing ethic, that’s just one element in a group that loves every aspect of the game: history, literature, re-enacting 19th century baseball, memorabilia, majors, minors, foreign leagues and foreign players, scouting, popular culture, trivia, even baseball music and poetry. You name it, if there’s a baseball-related aspect, there are people in SABR who celebrate it and love to share what they know.
Here in Chicago, our local chapter planned a SABR Day get-together with the Wisconsin chapter up in Kenosha. A few of us who live in the city elected to hold a casual get-together at a coffee shop in the Edgewater neighborhood. Fourteen folks showed up, not all of them SABR members. This wasn’t a big deal so much as it was an exercise in a shared source of joy. After four hours of chatter, we could all count it time well spent.
Predictably enough, the Detroit Tigers were a main topic of conversation, helped along by the fact that it seemed like every other person there was a Tigers fan. We gabbed about how Miguel Cabrera's defense at third base might be survivable -- or less so. I noted that Jim Leyland has been willing to punt defense in the corners now and again during his long career as a manager -- Bobby Bonilla at third base with the Pirates and the world champion 1997 Miami Marlins, anyone? This isn’t new territory for the Tigers skipper.
Former SABR president Claudia Perry popped in as well, while author Stu Shea talked about his future plans for a new edition of Wrigley Field: The Unauthorized Biography -- full disclosure, I published this book as Shea's editor back in the day -- while also looking forward to SABR’s coming release of his new history of baseball announcers.
Coffee and conversation was one way to go, but each chapter makes its own way. As noted before, a group of Chicagoland residents trekked up to the Brat Stop in Kenosha. Brats, baseball ... even in January, what do you need, a roadmap? Well, to Kenosha, sure, but could it get better than that? Hudson Belinsky of Halos Daily went to SABR Day in New York City, and got to see a scouts panel moderated by Lee Lowenfish (author of an incomparable biography on Branch Rickey), as well as a panel on the Mets featuring former shortstop and manager Bud Harrelson and Mets statistical analyst Ben Baumer. I'm looking forward to hearing more about how that went. And it isn't like SABR Day is a national holiday, set on one date: Stephanie Liscio of It’s Pronounced "Lajaway" is the president of the Cleveland chapter, and has news on how her gang’s getting together a week later than everyone else. As long as there's baseball chatter involved, you can bet it'll wind up being a good time.
With 34 different events scheduled, there was plenty of opportunity to get together. Could it get much better? Well, of course it could -- we could have actual ballgames to go to. Happily, we’ll soon get those in Florida and Arizona, and not a moment too soon. In the meantime staying warm with the last embers of the Hot Stove league in the company of other folks who love baseball is one of the benefits of basic fandom, and something that on this occasion we can thank SABR for.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.