Rich’s Ramblings: Road Trip to the SABR Convention

by Rich Klein

I do not get to attend every year, especially when this event runs the same week as the National Sports Collectors Convention but the other highlight of my year is attending the national SABR (Society of American Baseball Research) Convention. The event usually features anywhere from 400-750 attendees who have varying interests in baseball old and new. The most recent get together was in Minneapolis.

In this group, the interest tends to run toward the past and there is a growing perception that SABR as a group needs to nurture and bring in researchers who are following different paths than the originators who specialized in reading old microfilm in dusty old libraries. In all honesty though, without those intrepid historians, much of what is done today would never even have been thought of. Dan Dischley, the founder of the beloved old hobby publication The Trader Speaks was one of the “original 16” members of SABR.

While many of the founders of SABR are no longer with us, the spirit of their research lives on.  A lot of valuable and interesting information has been disseminated by SABR members over the years.  It’s just a group of people who live and breathe baseball, digging into its past and divulging their findings.  Of course, at this convention, I’m always amazed by the high percentage of attendees whose hair is gray, in a male pattern balding condition or both. I always feel so much younger in that group.

Whenever I get together with these old baseball friends, what do we talk about? Of course, we spend our time discussing making a list of our top 1,000 songs of all time!  For those three of you who may be interested, these are my three favorite songs: (5/10/15/20/25/30) Years of Love by the Presidents, Color Him Father by the Winstons and Does your Mama Know about me by Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers. As an FYI, the Taylor song was written by Tommy Chong who you may know better as half of Cheech and Chong.

Some other tidbits, the best exercise for me is walking. So, the first full day I was at the convention, I took the train and went to the Mall of America early in the morning.  There were a couple or reasons I wanted to go to the Mall of America: One was because I figured the walking in a climate controlled setting would be good. Imagine to my shock, that Minneapolis was actually warmer than Dallas while I was up there. The long range forecast said 80’s but I was shocked to get home to hear the pilot announce the temperature and realize it was cooler here than way up north.

The other reason was that I had not been in Minneapolis for a long time. The last time I was at the Mall of America there were five different locations which sold Beckett magazines and hobby stores were all over the mall. In 2012, the only survivor was the Field of Dreams store, which did have a small selection of cards near the counter. I will say their prices were fair high, meaning the prices were a tad high but in that type of retail element were not a complete rip off. The insane prices were saved for a booth at Target Field where I saw such interesting prices as 2012 Topps Heritage packs at $7 and the Topps “Team” sets at $10. Usually those Topps Team sets can be found at places such as Wal Mart or Target for $4.99.

Speaking of cards, I actually even purchased some cards over the weekend. The vendor room, which I panned last year on the SABR-L discussion board was much better as several vendors brought in books or memorabilia to sell along with the specialized publishers that traditionally set up there. Topps also had a table to publicize their new Bowman “knowledge” initiative but every time I went to the vendor area no one was visiting the Topps table. Topps would have been better off, just sending packs of baseball cards to hand out or sell. We at SABR are the wrong audience for those who are into the current Bowman focus, which is prospects and rookie cards.

The funniest part was that I actually did buy some baseball cards there. One vendor had a couple small stacks of cards and to make my purchase round up so I could get another chance at signed HOF baseball, I had to ask to lower all the cards to $1 total which was accepted by the vendor. On a side note, I think it is time for SABR to allow dealers who specialize in baseball cards to set up like they once did. I know for a time that got a tad out of control, but I know in Houston in 2014, I would love to set up a table full of cheap older cards for a new audience to look at.

On Saturday I mentioned to my good friend Cary Smith that I was going back to the mall. As a local, Cary said ‘go walk around Lake Calhoun, its about 3 and 1/2 miles and you’ll enjoy both the breezes and the scenery’. He was, of course, correct on both counts. Although there was a time I was wondering if those three miles were not really six, I did clock in about an hour and was able to catch a bus back to the hotel. And that, my friends, brings up one of the legendary stories of SABR history.

One of the longest-running members in SABR is a man from New York named Ron Liebman. I can not describe him in any way that makes any sort of literary sense other than to see he is… unique. In 2001, I attended the SABR convention in Milwaukee and we took a bus down to Wrigley Field. I noticed where the buses had parked, figured this may be my one real chance to walk around the neighborhood, get a drink or two and go back to the bus. Well I could not get anything to drink but the walk around the area was a ton of fun.

I remember getting on the bus and saying to my friends Mark Kanter and Lynne Goldman that this was a perfect set-up for Ronnie to miss the bus. Well, no more than 30 seconds after that comment, someone came on the bus and asked if anyone had seen Ron Liebman. The timing could not have been better in a movie or TV show. Sure enough Ron missed the bus but was able to gather himself to take the train back to Milwaukee and a cab to the hotel. Right there, that is Ron in a nutshell.

Friday night was the SABR night at Target Field. There is something nice about walking to a ball game. I sat with my good friend Bill Carle, a life-long Royals fan who was thrilled to see his Royals win a game. It is always nice when a person pays attention not only to the stories about the 19th century players of whom we sometimes know very little about but also keeps up with players such as Salvador Perez of whom one of my friends is working on an autograph/memorabilia deal. I figure after talking to him that this became the most expensive consulting trip I will ever take.

OK that is enough ramblings about the SABR convention, some of the highlights and even a few of the low lights. In some future column I’ll tell about the time a T-206 Dick Egan saved me when I had to make a research presentation with two weeks notice and no time to prepare anything.

A couple of other notes:  I recently received my last grouping of cards from Topps in their 2011 Diamond Giveaway. The year before, I was satisfied with the condition of 19 of the 25 cards received while this time, only about six of the 25 cards I unlocked online were considered vg/ex or better. Especially notable was a 1964 Topps Bobby Bolin Semi-hi with writing on the front. Oh well, I had fun and also did get the special commemorative ring which not many collectors won. I’m happy on a personal financial level that Topps did not do this promotion this year as I have no real interest in the coins they are offering.

Also, last year we detailed about the Ripken rookie-filled 1982 Donruss box I received as part of the birthday club I’m a member of in the Freedom Cardboard. This year, was not quite as good. The nice person who runs the board had to cajole people to send their material. So, of course, I ended up with a little more than planned.

The first person sent a mix of 2012 Topps packs while nothing really notable came out, always good times opening packs. The second person stepped up when the gifts were not coming and sent me a 1995 Topps Embossed box and a 1994 Stadium Club 3rd Series Box. I’d like to report I pulled a great player as my first day edition but as a long-suffering Astros fan, James Mouton was not the answer then or today. And today, when I got home there was a package which had nine Heritage packs purchased at Target. And of course, the biggest hit come from those packs as one of the packs contained a “Black” Danny Espinosa numbered to 63.

Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]