Friday, June 27, 2008

"Whack Jobs"

The SABR Convention is not making a good impression on Rob Oller, a reporter from my hometown Columbus Dispatch:
Good thing baseball moves at the speed of a shuffle. Otherwise, the 80-year-olds in shorts and knee-high black socks who follow the game couldn't keep up.

And to think that those old-timers in their flat-brimmed Philadelphia Athletics and Boston Braves hats were no less fashionable than many of the seamheads who filled the meeting rooms of a downtown hotel yesterday for the 38th Society for American Baseball Research convention.

Is there some kind of law that says baseball stat geeks must have bone-white legs and carry their suitcase-sized spiral-bound notebooks the way a snooty maitre d' carries dinner menus? Normally one to use a pint-sized notepad, I switched to a jumbo size just to fit in. When in Rome ...

It would be easy to stereotype and make fun of the SABR attendees, very easy, and to avoid doing so would be a disservice to those who appreciate the powers of (obvious) observation. But there also is something almost endearing about these people -- "whack jobs" as one hotel employee whispered to me -- who are so passionate about baseball that they spend up to 20 hours per week researching the history of the game.

That last line is about a charitable as Oller gets. I'm not going to defend the geekiness of it all -- it is pretty extreme -- but he obviously wasn't as interested in writing a piece about SABR as he was in trafficking in the most obvious of stereotypes. There are doctors and lawyers and teachers and all manner of people here who don't fit Oller's descriptions, and it would have been nice if he had taken a moment to talk to one of us.

Wait, he actually did take a moment yesterday, when I recognized him and told him that I was a fan of his writing (which is true, though maybe not to the degree to which I made it seem when I introduced myself). He was kind enough in return. When I saw him, he was standing about 15 feet outside of the room in which the poster presentations were displayed, writing in his notebook.

Seems like that's about as close to the story as his predispositions would allow.


Anonymous said...

It's about as mature as the mainstream media stating that bloggers all live in their parents' basement.

Ron Rollins said...

I wish my parents had a basement. Then I wouldn't have to pay rent.

kehrsam said...

I've been to SABR events and they don't even begin to compare with what one sees at a high-level chess tournament. At least SABR has well-adjusted geeks.

Kyle Eliason said...

Most of it is demographic. The people wearing sport coats tailored out of fabric taken from old drapes and couches or wearing shorts with high black socks were almost exclusively beyond the age of retirement.

Keep lowering the threshold of age and things get better. Chris Dial was mocked by the under-40 crowd (and David Smith) at the hotel bar late Saturday night for wearing Crocs. I hid my pasty white legs under a seersucker.

How many other conferences with an average age as high as SABR's come off as hip? The replacement hip owning segment of SABR doesn't strike me as any less with it as the rest of their generation nowadays. And that a scholarly research society appeals to an older group of people also fails to register as news worthy to me.