Baseball Research Journal 1981 edited by Bob Davids: a review

This BRJ edition is available online via the SABR website.

The tenth Baseball Research Journal, published late in 1981, is perhaps a step down from the previous edition, largely because it doesn’t contain any classic research essays. What it does contain is mostly solid research, well presented, on a wide variety of topics.

This edition’s first two articles, Emil Rothe’s “Was the Federal League a Major League?” and Raymond Kush’s “The Building of Wrigley Field” are not really related, but their topics overlap a bit and because they led off the issue I rather expected more Federal League material. Rothe, by the way, gives his question a qualified “Yes” answer. The evidence is mixed, as he shows.

The issue contains two biographical essays built around interviews–Allen Quimby on Red Lucas, and Eugene Murdock on Leroy Parmelee. Jim Riley and John Holway profiled black players Dave Barnhill (a Negro Leaguer) and Jose Mendez (an early 1900s Cuban barnstormer). Robert Cole told about radio broadcaster Al Helfer, who did “Game of the Day” broadcasts on the Liberty and Mutual Networks after the Second World War. The edition’s best profile is of Ray Fisher, written by Dave Proctor, who examines Fisher’s playing career, why he got blacklisted by the Commissioner, and his subsequent life, most prominently as coach at the University of Michigan. The Fisher profile may well be the longest piece ever published in BRJ–but it’s quite excellent. Others profiled include Walter Johnson (by Ron Liebman), Hurricane Hazle (Tom Jozwik), and Ted Lyons (Thomas Karnes)

Sabermetric efforts included William Akins’ attempt to identify the best fielders of the late 1800s and Dallas Adams’ nice attempt to draw the parameters necessary to study the probability of hitting .400. Bill Rubenstein’s useful extension of the Dick Cramer study (in the 1980 BRJ)–Cramer demonstrated increasing major league batting skill over time–identifies a few significant issues (and there’s a response from Cramer at the end). Cliff Frolich and Garry Scott contributed an exploration of “Where Fans Sit to Catch Baseballs”–this study’s weaknesses include some sampling issues and a less-than-fully-explained methodology, but their conclusions seem reasonable. James Skipper’s examination of player nicknames has a sabermetric appearance–tables and numbers–but is all in all unsatisfying, as I quibbled with his definitions and learned less than I’d hoped. The same is true of James Maywar’s examination of strikeout pitchers, which just seemed misguided.

A personal favorite article in this issue is John Pardon’s “A Bizarre Game of Baseball.” Not only was the game played in a predecessor of the Midwest League, it was absolutely preposterous. (Read Pardon’s item here; I’ve quoted it elsewhere for other purposes.) The issue’s other minor league piece describes a Minor League All-Star Game played at Cooperstown in 1939, and discusses why the effort didn’t continue.

There were fewer entries in the List with Explanation category in the 1981 edition. Ray Gonzalez’ “Pitchers Giving Up Home Runs” is a pioneering effort in that direction, and as usual with this author is quite well done. William Akins’ fielding study, mentioned above, fits the list pattern but this list is pretty short. Joseph Donner listed all the major league cycle hitters. Bob Davids’ piece on steals fits the pattern, too. Another short list was James Maywar’s examination of strikeout pitchers, which I dismissed a couple paragraphs ago.

For the record, I found this edition of Al Kermisch’s “Researcher’s Notebook” to be weak. It read more like an assigned piece than actual research notes.

The issue ends with a look at the 1892 season, which (like 1981) was a split season, and examines the parallels, differences, and consequences. I’m guessing this unattributed article was composed by Davids.

All in all this is a fairly strong issue, but there’s nothing really special here.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

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