SABR convention opens in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH — Baseball, unlike most sports, is numbers driven.

Digits such as 715, 56 and 511 are just three of the many that, just by their very mention, are recognized by baseball purists for their history. Acronyms like ERA, WAR and WHIP are commonplace in discussions about the game — in print and broadcast media.

Walk through any baseball park — major or minor — and you’re sure to stumble upon a conversation where the topic is a stat, a record, a memory from the game’s nearly 150-year history.

Those fans are just the ones the folks at the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) covet. The organization, founded in 1971, is a bastion of history, numbers and study — baseball is its lifeblood.

Hundreds of SABR members will flock to Pittsburgh this week for “SABR 48,” the organization’s annual convention. From today through Sunday, the Steel City, for the first time since 1995, will be the hub of discussions about the game’s many facets and nuances.

“We’re really excited,” SABR chief executive officer Marc Appleman said last week from his Phoenix headquarters. “Pittsburgh is one of our strongest chapters and it’s a great baseball city.”

Each major league city has a SABR chapter and, all told, there are about 6,000 members worldwide, including many in the Ohio Valley.

As its name suggests, research is at the heart of SABR’s mission. Through panel discussions, presentations and the like, SABR members (which include baseball officials, broadcasters, writers, former players and fans) meet formally and informally throughout the year to simply talk baseball.

“The last few years we’ve gotten a lot of younger members,” Appleman said. “We have a lot of baseball fans who are passionate about the game.”

The recent rise of analytics in the game has spurred interest in SABR amongst younger fans, Appleman noted. So much that the organization started an annual analytics conference. The seventh annual event took place in March in Phoenix and featured many prominent baseball names and broadcasters.

As for this week’s convention, it will certainly have a Pittsburgh feel. Many members of of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization are slated to speak, as are former Bucco players.

Pirates president Frank Coonelly and general manager Neal Huntington are slated to appear, as are broadcasters Joe Block, Greg Brown and Steve Blass. Pirate standouts Grant Jackson and John Candelaria are also slated to speak.

Topics set to be discussed include: official scoring, the life of longtime Steel City journalist Wendell Smith, Branch Rickey and Roberto Clemente.

Attendees will also be taking in Friday’s game at PNC Park between the Pirates at Diamondbacks.

Appleman said part of SABR’s goal is to keep the history of the game alive for future generations.

“One of the things fans love to do is compare teams and players from different generations,” he said. “It’s a great sport to share across generations. Fathers go to games with sons and so on. You’ll often see three generations at the ballpark. I think that’s a great part about sports.”

For more information about SABR and the convention, visit www.sabr.org

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