Baseball Research Journal 1979 edited by Bob Davids: a review

The 1979 BRJ (which is available online) contains one fairly famous sabermetric essay, a great biography of Fred Pfeffer, a fairly long Larry Gerlach essay exploring indicators of umpire greatness, the usual handful of game accounts, a look at Cy Young’s last few major league games, and maps of a couple notable rivalries. This isn’t an exceptionally strong issue, but there are articles to interest most any baseball fan.

The rivalries are described in Emil Rothe’s “History of the Chicago City Series,” which covers nearly fifty years, and George Wiley’s fairly detailed retelling of the contests between the excellent Yankee and Athletics teams from 1927 to 1932. These are necessarily quite different treatments.

There’s quite a bit of minor league material. Bill Weiss presented a few pages about Jimmy Claxton, a negro who played for the Oakland PCL team in 1916. Joseph Overfield offered a commentary on Buffalo’s hitter-friendly Offermann Stadium. Bob Hoie traced the brief and interesting history of the all-negro Southwest International League team that called Riverside, Ensenada, and Porterville home over the course of the 1952 season; the team (and the league) failed on August 1. Robert Cole had fun researching the now-abandoned practice of players advertising for positions in TSN, and the related practice of teams recruiting players by the same method. Harry Jebsen contributed a delightful piece on the 1888 Dallas Hams, who won titles in two less-than-stable leagues. The issue ends with Vern Luse’s look at the 1903 Hudson River League.

Larry Gerlach’s piece used three methods–length of career, number of post-season series (and games) worked, and number of all-star game appearances–as indicators of the abilities and reputations of big league umpires. While he didn’t draw any firm conclusions, he did make some effort to put his lists into a useful context. This was a good, and necessary, preliminary project supporting Larry’s later work.

This issue contains three essays which might be called sabermetric. The famous article is Barry Codell’s “The Base-Out Percentage: Baseball’s Newest Yardstick” which seems to have been the first published essay to argue that TB/Outs is a useful indicator of offensive effectiveness. Every history of baseball analysis mentions Codell. His calculation is enough like the stat Thomas Boswell later popularized as Total Average that they can be used interchangeably. Two points: Although most people who care recognize that BOP (TA) has value, few use it as their primary analytical tool. And so many people have independently devised BOP-like methods that Codell’s primacy claim is certainly publication, not discovery.

The other more-or-less sabermetric articles are Bill Schroeder’s “Baseball’s Leading Outfielders,” which didn’t quite discover Total Chances (or TC/Game). And John Schwartz, who helped Schroeder with his research, looked at “New Measures for Pitchers”–he normalized all the usual pitching counter statistics by Batters Faced by Pitcher. Like BOP, this method yields useful information, but baseball research practice has largely gone elsewhere.

As usual, a substantial number of essays in this BRJ can be characterized as a list with explanatory paragraphs. These include Bob McConnell on switch hitters, Ronald Liebman on hitting streaks, Stan Grosshandler on no-hit catchers, Ted DiTullio on long-service performers as players-umps-managers-coaches, Eddie Gold on Wrigley homers, Tom Joswick on players who lead their league in a “major category” while playing for a cellar dweller, Ray Gonzalez on players who homered off Walter Johnson, and Larry Amman & Bob Davids on brothers who played major league baseball.

Paul Doherty’s look at Cy Young’s last few games with the Boston NL team after Cleveland released him was very good, as was John Holway’s look at Louis Santop and Pete Palmer’s piece on Rube Waddell’s rookie season. Arthur Ahrens’ portrait of Fred Pfeffer (Cap Anson’s second baseman) was perhaps the finest piece in this edition of the journal. Al Kermish’s always-interesting Researcher’s Notebook included a piece about how he and Tom Hufford identified 1912 Senator player Lefty Schegg (actually Gilbert Eugene Price), and Harold Dellinger gave his account of tracking down the identity of 1884 Kansas City UA player Matthew Porter (rather than Henry Porter, as he’d previously been mis-identified).

All in all a decent issue, but not a compelling one.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

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