"Knowin' all about baseball is just about as profitable as bein'
a good whittler."
- Frank McKinney Hubbard
THE late Indianapolis newspaper humorist might not get much of
an argument, even from the people determined to know all about
Well, not from most of them, anyway.
But profitability aside, there is an active band of folks who
are bent on leaving no stone unturned in their quest to find out
everything there is to know about the national pastime. They call
themselves SABR, an ungainly acronym that stands for the Society
for American Baseball Research.
Never heard of it, you say? You're not alone. The organization
has been around for 22 years, but, says executive director Morris
Eckhouse: "There are still, to my mind, too many baseball fans who
don't know anything about SABR. We're not an exclusive club."
SABR is not an arm of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown,
N.Y. Nor does it have anything to do with the Office of the
Commissioner (what's left of it). There is no gleaming research
complex anywhere for professional scholars to pore over faded box
scores. The closest it comes even to having a national headquarters
is Eckhouse's office in Cleveland, a city that's been struggling
for decades to return to its former baseball glory.
None of this deters the 6,200 or so SABR members, who pay from
$35 to $50 a year to belong - whether they actually conduct any
baseball research or not. And, according to Mr. Eckhouse, at any
given time only 10 to 20 percent of the membership does.
Ah, but what research! SABR divides itself into 14 committees,
based on areas of interest - from statistical analysis, to
ballparks, to women in baseball. One of the more popular committees
focuses on the game's 19th-century years. An area receiving a lot
of attention recently is the old Negro leagues.
"It's a hobby for the vast majority of members," Eckhouse says.
"We try not to take it any more seriously than it should be taken."
But, he quickly adds, "We have some work that I think measures up
to the highest standards of historical research."
The society and its members churn out reams of published
material: a monthly newsletter, biographies, literary criticism,
annual journals, a "how to" manual on conducting research, books,
magazine and newspaper articles, and letters to the editor. Local
chapters regularly provide speakers for courses in baseball history
at colleges and universities.
How deeply are SABR members into the subject? A highlight of
their annual convention in June in San Diego is a baseball trivia
contest that lasts two days. No aspect of the game, it seems, is
too obscure. Some members collect data on spring-training "phenoms"
who never made it to the major leagues. One Los Angeles SABR member
is looking for information on the 1943-44 US Army 10th Infantry
Regiment team. A Virginian wants accurate fielding records on the
eight games that George McBride played at shortstop
for the 1905 Pittsburgh Pirates. Still another member hopes to
find original magazine ads for offbeat baseball products. …