Spiel of Dreams: Baseball Researchers Throw a Stats-Fest

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Matt Alexander was the Hank Aaron of pinch runners. Walter Johnson was not only a great pitcher but a very good hitter. And the average major league team once used far fewer relief pitchers than it does now.

Hundreds of baseball fans from across the country gathered in the District on Thursday to dwell on these historical tidbits, among others, at the first full day of events at the 39th annual Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) convention.

There were historians. There were statheads. There were guys wearing T-shirts and caps of teams ranging from the Oakland Athletics to the Kansas City Monarchs.

I have a professional interest, but I'm also a fan, said Gary Land, a history professor from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Mich., who has attended every SABR convention since 1994. I like the biographical stuff, and especially stuff dealing with the cultural dimension of baseball.

Mr. Land credited his SABR membership for helping him gather information for a book of essays: Growing Up With Baseball: How We Loved and Played the Game. He will do his best to glean even more anecdotes from the more than three-dozen presentations on everything from pinch running to the Pittsburgh Crawfords.

There will be 42 presentations in all - SABR had to reject another 47 because of a lack of space - with an equal mixture of historical research and statistical findings. Each of the four days will end with a trivia contest or a bus trip to an area ballgame. In between will be long conversations and healthy debates over everything from the Hall of Fame credentials of Bert Blyleven to the importance of clutch hitting.

The new report of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003 was perhaps the hottest topic Thursday.

SABR was formed in 1971, and over the years acquired a reputation as the go-to organization for the latest in historical and statistical information about the game. Its membership grew as researchers gained mainstream notoriety, and the term sabermetrics is now commonly used to describe an array of baseball statistics.

Fewer than a third of SABR members perform any research. Many who join the group are fans who want to meet other like-minded souls, and who have an interest in baseball history or exploring the intricacies of the modern game.

You think you know a lot, but there's so much about baseball, the history of it, said Louis Kaufman of Mount Pleasant, S.C. All the minor leagues that have come and gone. All of the teams, the story behind Washington and why the Senators left the first time and why they left the second time. A bit of trivia on things you don't know about. .. It's fascinating

Bringing SABR to Washington was the work of Bruce Brown, president of the organization's local chapter, and baseball historian David Vincent, who has worked on coordinating the conventions since 1991 and is also the official scorekeeper of the Washington Nationals. …