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SABR documenting Minors history01/29/2010 10:00 AM ET
By Benjamin Hill / MLB.com
If you are reading this article, there's a strong chance you agree with the following sentiment:
"Baseball is a year-round activity. There's always something new to read and always something new to learn."
That's how Susan Petrone, publicity and member services manager for the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR), sums up her organization's view of the national pastime. Founded in 1971 by a small group of enthusiasts, SABR (pronounced "saber") has grown into a nationwide organization with nearly 7,000 members. Its mission is "to foster the research, preservation and dissemination of the history and record of baseball."
An example of the society's year-round baseball commitment will occur Saturday, when the first-ever "SABR Day" will take place. Dozens of local chapters across the country are staging events, presenting members and non-members alike with opportunities to talk baseball in the dead of winter.
"This is the first time we've done anything like this," Petrone said. "We have an annual convention every year, but not everyone can afford to attend. The thinking with SABR Day is 'Why not have an event that everyone can get to?'
"There's a misconception that if you're a member of SABR, then you're some sort of gung-ho total baseball nerd. But you don't even have to do research. You can join because you want to attend chapter meetings or because you love our publications. That's fine, too."
That said, many find baseball research to be an addictive pursuit.
"In doing research, one thing leads to another," Petrone said. "It's like when you look up a word in the dictionary and right beside it is another word that's just as fascinating. There are so many great stories and big personalities."
And perhaps no segment of the baseball landscape offers a greater wealth of stories and personalities than the Minor Leagues. Certainly, SABR members are doing their part to preserve and celebrate this vast but oft-overlooked (and underdocumented) segment of American sports history.
John Zajc is SABR's executive director and oversees projects relating to almost every aspect of baseball.
"Sometimes I'm dealing with so many things I can't keep track, but one of the things I'm most happy about right now is the SABR Encyclopedia," he said. "It's a Wiki-based encyclopedia that will include information on every known Major and Minor Leaguer."
It's the "Minor Leaguer" part of the project that makes the SABR Encyclopedia particularly noteworthy, as never in baseball history has this much biographical information been gathered in one place. SABR is hoping to launch the encyclopedia around Opening Day, but Zajc is quick to stress the project will always be something of a work in progress.
"When we do launch it, most of the player pages will be stubs," he said. "But it will always be a living, growing thing, something that can serve as a stepping stone to a larger project. Hopefully, it will inspire someone to write a collection of player bios or attempt to document a specific team's season. This is what we want the public face of SABR to be, with the main idea that we're here to create the best tools possible to share the knowledge of baseball."
While it's easy to be intimidated by the amount of information the SABR Encyclopedia hopes to provide, it's important to remember that each player "stub" represents a story that needs to be told.
"What tugs at the heartstrings is that this project can give voice to everyone, even if it's a guy who only played 10 games," Zajc said. "We want to collect all the information we can, before it disappears."
Providing a snapshot of time, place
SABR members with specific interests in Minor League Baseball can join the aptly named Minor Leagues committee. One of the biggest projects being undertaken by the committee is the Minor Leagues Database, which seeks to document the statistical history of Minor League Baseball. The database, which is (not surprisingly) a work in progress, can be viewed at baseball-reference.com/minors.
Ted Turocy, SABR's data assets coordinator, is overseeing the project.
"What we're doing is providing a broad stroke picture of history," he said. "Like any broad stroke picture, you shouldn't look too closely because then you'll see a lot of gaps. It's a daunting project, but we'll never run out of things to do.
"Whether a particular league or region or era has been well-documented or not can be pretty flukish. In 1912, the South-Central League, which operated in north Texas and south Oklahoma, got really good coverage in the Dallas Morning News. So our work on that season is almost complete."
That work already has paid dividends.
"We got a question recently from a guy asking about his great uncle. His name was Gutierrez and he was a Hispanic who played in Texas in 1912 and '13," Turocy said. "The evidence was there; his name was in the box scores. Yet there doesn't seem to be any mention anywhere of this being odd. That's a very interesting discovery, given the era he played in."
Members of the Minor Leagues committee compile information for SABR publications such as "Minor League Baseball Stars" and "Minor League History Journal." The areas of focus are virtually endless and each provides myriad jumping-off points toward a new research project.
"Some of the main projects that the committee continues to work on include the Catalog of Minor Leagues, the review of 1900-10 Minor League rosters, High Minor League Batting Records, Listing of Major and Minor League Franchises, the Ohio-Pennsylvania League of 1905 and the collection of a Minor League team photo index," wrote Anthony Salazar, a member of the SABR board of directors who also chairs the Latino Baseball committee. "Folks are writing about the 1954 Pacific Coast League, the 1955 International League and even the 2007 United Baseball League. There are more projects that surface from time to time, each as interesting as the next."
Salazar also writes the Minor League committee's "Farm Report," which deals with the business of Minor League Baseball.
"There are always things going on and things to write about," wrote Salazar, a lifelong fan who first became interested in the Minors after attending games in Visalia, Calif. "Finding content was, and still is, never a problem. Major League teams are always partnering with someone new, local Minor League communities are always building or renovating stadiums and teams are always rebranding."
Regardless of the specific area of focus, SABR's main appeal is the community it provides. Poring over old box scores or entering statistics into a database aren't exactly social activities, but ultimately these solitary acts foster a sense of connection. Baseball fans can connect with one another while, on a broader level, working to illuminate the connection between the sport and American culture.
"Since its 1971 inception, SABR has provided a great deal of knowledge to baseball's past, in all realms," Salazar wrote. "Whatever your interest is in baseball, there are surely a dozen other folks interested in the same thing."