Monday, November 21, 2005

They Appraise Finer Points of the Diamond

By David Scharfenberg - New York Times
November 20, 2005

Courtesy of the New York Times

IT was in Kansas more than 30 years ago that Bill James, a boiler-room attendant at a Stokely-Van Camp canning plant, took up the cause of debunking some of baseball's conventional wisdom. Taking documents and books to work every day - as a profile in The New Yorker recalled a couple of years ago - Mr. James pored over arcane statistics, eventually proving that starting pitching has no impact on attendance, among other things.

By the fall of 2002, when he accepted a job as senior baseball operations adviser for the Boston Red Sox, he had long since left Van Camp behind and written many books on the sport. Some of his most important ideas - that walks merit high praise - had even begun to penetrate the citadels of professional baseball.

But in a culture that still revered the hunches of tobacco-chewing managers and the whispers of veteran scouts, Mr. James's number-crunching approach to the game, known as sabermetrics, retained a certain outlaw quality. So when he finally strolled into the inner sanctum of the Red Sox, baseball nerds around the world rejoiced.

Some of the loudest cheers came from the ranks of the Society for American Baseball Research, or SABR (pronounced saber), founded in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1971 and now based in Cleveland. In fact, it was in homage to the society that Mr. James, a member, coined the term sabermetrics.

SABR, which says it has 7,000 members in the United States, Canada, Japan and England, provides a home for the sort of person who could spend hours discussing the finer points of the Yankees' finances or reminiscing about the contributions of the center fielder Richie Ashburn to the Philadelphia Phillies' Whiz Kids team of 1950.

This month, 16 members of the Westchester Baseball Discussion Group, an unofficial SABR chapter, gathered around an oval conference table at Greenburgh Town Hall to discuss those very topics.

The attendees, many of them silver-haired retirees, make no claim to the kind of influence wielded by Mr. James and the other founding fathers of sabermetrics. Indeed, several even eschew talk of "win shares," "value over replacement player" and other obscure statistical measures, preferring old yarns about players with nicknames like Pee Wee and Dizzy.

"The image of SABR is a bunch of geeky numbers crunchers," said Clifford Blau, 46, a retired accountant who serves as the group's coordinator. "Most people in SABR are not like that."
Yet whatever the topic, the group's conversation always rises above the idle chatter of the casual fan.

The group formed in 1999, after a meeting in Brooklyn of SABR's New York City Casey Stengel Chapter brought together a handful of Westchester fanatics.

This core group, deciding that it had plenty more to talk about, arranged meetings that, these days, take place the first Thursday of the month. They tend to focus on matters of regional interest: the dearth of doubles on Mickey Mantle's résumé; the baseball legends buried in Westchester (Babe Ruth among them); and, of course, the wound that will not heal - the Brooklyn Dodgers' move to Los Angeles in 1958.

No arcana are too arcane for the group: In the opening moments of the meeting this month, Bob Mayer, 60, a retired J.P. Morgan Chase executive from Putnam Valley, opened a small red suitcase to reveal a series of photographs of the Wallkills, a semipro team that played in Middletown, N.Y., as early as the 1860's.

But the discussion group ventures beyond New York baseball from time to time, inviting authors and former ballplayers to lecture on hardball happenings the world over. On this particular evening, members heard from Fran Zimniuch, a Philadelphia sports author whose most recent book, published this year, is "Richie Ashburn Remembered" (Sports Publishing LLC).

Ashburn, a Hall of Fame member, played 12 seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies before finishing his playing career with the Chicago Cubs and the notoriously awful New York Mets team of 1962. After retirement, he worked as a Phillies radio and television broadcaster for decades; he died in 1997 after a heart attack.

Mr. Zimniuch spoke fluidly of Richie Ashburn's playing days: his .308 career batting average and his famous throw to home plate, on Oct. 1, 1950, that cut down Cal Abrams of the Brooklyn Dodgers and helped the Phillies clinch their first pennant in 35 years.

But the raconteur's favorite tales seemed to revolve around Ashburn's storied, occasionally off-color announcing career. Once during an on-air discussion of his playing days, the author said, Mr. Ashburn noted that he used to take his bat home during a hitting streak and sleep with it. "In fact," Mr. Zimniuch recalled his saying, "I've slept with quite a few old bats in my day."

The author's story drew a few chuckles from the all-male crowd. But the evening's true star was Vince Gennaro, 54, a retired PepsiCo executive from Purchase who joined the discussion group about two years ago. Mr. Gennaro often takes Danielle, his 18-year-old daughter, to the meetings. But as a Fordham University freshman, she was home writing a paper on Major League Baseball's steroid policy that night.

Raised in Wayne, N.J., Mr. Gennaro grew up rooting for the Yankees teams that cut a mighty swath through the baseball universe in the 1950's and early 60's. By the time he reached business school, he had combined his love for the game with a passion for economics, devising a formula to calculate the precise financial value of professional ballplayers. In 1979 that effort won him a short burst of fame in the pages of The Sporting News.

After a brief stint as an owner of the St. Louis Streak, a women's professional basketball team, Mr. Gennaro focused on his corporate career and set his baseball tinkerings aside.

Now, five years into retirement, he has taken up his hobby again, with a vengeance. In fact his work may well turn into a second career. He says he has had preliminary discussions with a handful of major league teams about consulting on potential trades and free-agent acquisitions.
But with a post like the one Mr. James has with the Red Sox still beyond reach, Mr. Gennaro turned his attention to the discussion group this month, offering a lecture with the provocative title "Is Steinbrenner Cheap?"

His lecture, a heady swirl of complex statistical modeling and ambitious revenue projections, made a strong case that the Yankees' principal owner, renowned (and reviled) for his prodigious payroll, could afford to pony up even more for player salaries.

There were questions, of course, about Mr. Gennaro's calculations. Some wanted to know if he had factored in the team's share of revenues from Internet broadcasting. Others wondered if Mr. Gennaro had accounted for the depreciation value of the team's players.

But David Binhak, a more traditional fan who had arrived wearing a hat that read "Edgemont Geezer Game 2004," was in no mood to parse the numbers. He shook his head and flashed a smile at a visitor.

Courtesy of the New York Times

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Dodger Stadium Restoration

In 2006, the Los Angeles Dodgers
will embark upon the second phase
of a multi-year improvement plan
for Dodger Stadium.

This year’s construction project will include replacing the physical seats within the primary seating bowl utilizing the stadium's original color palette; repairing and conducting maintenance on the concrete and structure within the seating bowl area; and introducing a traditional yet modern "box" seat concept within the baseline seating area.

This year's Dodger Stadium restoration project will be completed before Opening Day. Some of the improvements include:
  • 50,000 seats replaced
  • Seating bowl returned to the original color palette: yellow, light orange, turquoise and sky blue
  • Box seating added to baseline area, improving sightlines, adding legroom and introducing a table amenity
  • Pavilion seating returned to original light orange
  • Stadium bowl concrete repaired, resurfaced and refinished

Courtesy of

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Jackie Robinson wins First Rookie of the Year Award

WHEATIES box featuring Jackie Robinson.

On November 14, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first winner of the national BBW Rookie of the Year Award, or the J. Louis Comiskey Memorial Award, as it was called at that time.

The award was named after the White Sox executive, son of Hall of Famer Charles Comiskey. The rookie award was originated in 1940 by the Chicago chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWA).

The national BBWA took over the award in 1947. Originally it was a single award for the Major Leagues, in 1949 they chose to award one player from each of the two leagues.

A 28-year old in only his third professional season, Robinson played first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, a position he had never played before. He led the league in stolen bases and helped the club to their first pennant in six years.

The first African American in the Major Leagues in the 20th Century, his success was earned in spite of racial taunts from fans and players and segregated hotels and restaurants in some of the cities in the league.

Many in America followed Robinson's "great experiment." He drew large crowds in Brooklyn and on the road, was featured on the radio and in national magazines, and was selected as the second most popular American in a national poll (behind Bing Crosby).

Jackie Robinson had been a four-sport star at UCLA and played professional football and basketball before joining the Army in 1942. He played Professional Baseball for one season in the Negro Leagues, with the Kansas City Monarchs, before signing with Brooklyn's Branch Rickey.

He was sent to play in the Minor Leagues with Montreal in 1946 where he led the league in batting and runs scored, and his team won the pennant.

In 1962, Robinson was the first African American to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Courtesy of

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Robinson, Reese Now Together Forever

The bronze statue of Pee Wee Reese (left) and
Jackie Robinson is postioned outside KeySpan Park
in Brooklyn's Coney Island. (Jeff Zelevansky/

By Ben Couch -

NEW YORK -- Just outside the front gate of KeySpan Park, home to the Class A Brooklyn Cyclones, a crowd of 300 people shuffled forward in anticipation, trying to better position themselves for the impending unveiling.

A countdown began from 10 and upon completion, a cloth was whipped away to cheers of Heyyyyyy! With that sharp tug, New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg revealed the Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese Monument, which captures the watershed moment in May 1947 when Reese threw his arm around his new Brooklyn Dodgers teammate on the field in Cincinnati in a show of support for Major League Baseball's first African-American player.

"It's a historic symbol of a wonderful legacy of friendship, of teamwork, of courage -- of a lot of things we hope we will be able to pass on to young people," Rachel Robinson, Jackie's widow, said at the unveiling on Tuesday. "And we hope they will be motivated by it, be inspired by it and think about what it would be like to stand up, dare to challenge the status quo and find a friend there who will come over and support you."

The statue was more than five years in the making, dating back to the administration of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. While the project understandably languished in the aftermath of 9/11, Bloomberg resurrected it and made it happen through private donations via the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City.

Bloomberg served as emcee and led off the speaking slate, before being followed by Rachel Robinson. Robinson said that Reese's gesture was proof that no one who stands up stands alone. Other speakers included Della Britton Baeza, the president and CEO of the Jackie Robinson Foundation; Dorothy and Mark Reese, the widow and son of Pee Wee Reese; and Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn borough president. Also in attendance were Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, Mets general manager Omar Minaya, former Brooklyn Dodgers World Series hero Johnny Podres and Brooklyn native and former Met John Franco, among others. (The Cyclones are the Class A affiliate of the Mets.)

All of the speeches lauded the statue's potential to inspire and educate younger generations. Many referred to last week's passing of Rosa Parks, the matriarch of the Civil Rights movement who in 1955 refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man in Montgomery, Ala.

Mark Reese's impassioned speech utilized Parks' statement that she challenged segregation because "she had endured too much for too long." He said Robinson was someone who endured too much for too long every time he stepped foot on the field, as a symbol and an athlete, which is where his father stepped in -- to help a struggling rookie ballplayer.

Mark Reese continued to tell of how his father dealt with friends, teammates and family members who were opposed to him playing with an African-American, and how easy it would have been to go with the crowd. He closed by speaking about the importance of Rachel Robinson's role in Jackie's story.

One part of that story is now memorialized at the entrance to the stadium that hosts a squadron of aspiring Mets every summer.

"Brooklyn baseball stands for so many things, so many myths, so many feelings and emotions," said Dave Campanaro, the Cyclones' media relations manager. "And we have tried to capture a small part of that, never [looking to] replace the Dodgers -- we never could and we'd never try to -- but I think that it's building a bridge from us to the glory days of the Brooklyn Dodgers," who left for Los Angeles after the 1957 season.

"This is the best way to do it," he added. "Take the two most recognizable, influential faces from that team and incorporate them into the next generation of Brooklyn baseball. It's just a perfect spot for them."

The event drew myriad fans, among them Leonard Flug of Brooklyn, who claims he was a Dodgers fan, "though he knows he doesn't look old enough."

"I thought it was a great idea," he said. "It was long overdue to have something to commemorate the Brooklyn Dodgers."

With both men cast permanently into bronze, color will remain forever irrelevant for the duo, just as it did in life.

"It's a great legacy and the statue completes it," Dorothy Reese said. "I just wish they were here."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
Courtesy of