July 12, 2011

2011 SABR Convention Recap

I avoid airplane small talk because an iPod usually beats chatting with strangers and I feel bad for people stuck next to the fat blogger listening to his iPod, but on Wednesday's flight to Los Angeles for some reason I struck up a conversation with a mom and daughter who happened to be from Long Beach, where I was headed for the 41st annual SABR convention. They were baseball fans and seemed genuinely intrigued by the Society for American Baseball Research.

We talked about ballparks in California, they told me Long Beach wasn't a great place to hang out except compared to Oakland, and then the daughter posed a question I've wanted hear my entire life: "Do you want free drinks?" I replied like I would to "do you want to meet Mila Kunis?" and from her purse came a stack of cards good for one drink apiece. They used two on Bloody Marys and, it being a late-morning flight, I used used two on orange juice ... and vodka.

It didn't even dent the stack, so as we exited the plane four hours later they insisted on giving me another handful. And so on the way to an event where I spend five days each year talking baseball and drinking I talked baseball and drank. There are other fantastic things about SABR and the convention, but for me it's mostly an excuse to get together with friends I've made in the online baseball world. My first convention was 2004 and now I can't imagine missing one.

(BTF's power couple, Dial and Giacalone, on a date at Dodger Stadium)

Within seconds of arriving at the hotel I was in the lobby bar catching up with two of my oldest online buddies, Joe Dimino and Chris Dial, whom I originally "met" on the old Baseball Primer site and then actually met at that 2004 convention. Along with Baseball Think Factory regulars Anthony Milazzo and David Peng we drove to The Yardhouse near Staples Center, where The Hardball Times staffer Ben Jacobs and Paramount vice president Bryan Ellenburg joined us.

(From left to right at Dodger Stadium: Gleeman, Dimino, Jacobs)

From there we headed to the Dodgers-Mets game at Dodger Stadium, where the announced attendance was 31,000 and the actual attendance was probably closer to half of that. Dimino, Peng, Jacobs, Milazzo, and I bought $30 tickets for $20 and then almost immediately upgraded to the section where Dial and Ellenburg were sitting, finding five empty seats in their exact row because there were five empty seats in basically every row.

(What "31,000" fans look like in the middle of the first inning)

It was my first game at Dodger Stadium and the experience was underwhelming despite great company and nice seats. Mets fans nearly outnumbered Dodgers fans and the half-empty park had all the excitement of spring training. There was more excitement two nights later when I returned for what was a 1-0 win over the Padres, but the beer was still $11, the seats were still half-empty and not facing home plate, and the parking situation was ridiculous.

(From left to right at Dodger Stadium: Milazzo, McCullough, Daley, Munk, Wyers)

On the way back from Wednesday night's game we stuffed six guys into a car that comfortably sat four, got stuck in that famous Los Angeles traffic I'd heard so much about, and stopped for six-packs because the hotel bar charged $7.50 for beer and closed before midnight. They hate money, apparently, so Dimino, Jacobs, and I took our six-packs upstairs along with BTF regular Mike McCullough, MLB Advanced Media boss Cory Schwartz, and SI.com writer Will Carroll.

(From left to right in the hotel bar: Brewer, McCullough, Jacobs, Jaffe)

By coincidence Carroll's room was right next to my room and had an adjoining door, which we opened in an attempt to create a quasi-suite where a half-dozen guys drinking beer in a hotel room until 3:00 a.m. seemed far more fun than sad. And then because the convention is about beer and baseball, I was up at 8:30 a.m. the next morning to attend SABR's annual business meeting and see keynote speaker Scott Boras.

(From left to right in the hotel bar: Dimino, Young, Kumar)

His speech focused on the transition from minor leaguer to agent and how he built his hugely successful company. I've been critical of Boras, mostly for his hyperbolic hyping of clients and ability to manipulate certain media members, but he showed the type of charm and humor that makes it easy to understand how he's able to talk star players into choosing him and general managers into signing his star players. It also made me want to buy a used car.

(Boras speaking before SABR's annual business meeting)

At one point the lights in the room dimmed and Boras didn't skip a beat, quickly quipping that "SABR is a lot like the Dodgers, they don't pay their bills either." He got big laughs throughout and even discussed the first time he realized how much "managing the media" would help him, which would've gotten the biggest laugh of the entire 45-minute speech had my HardballTalk blogmate Craig Calcaterra been in attendance.

From left to right in the hotel bar: Webber, Gleeman, Reisner, Forman)

Boras' speech and a somewhat sobering business meeting were followed by lunch and beer at Rock Bottom, where I met Colin Wyers of Baseball Prospectus and Geoff Young, whose blog Ducksnorts is one of the few that predates this one. We got back to the convention in time for a baseball media panel featuring Sean Forman of Baseball-Reference.com, Dave Cameron of Fan Graphs, Bill Squadron of Bloomberg Sports, and Russ Stanton of the Los Angeles Times.

(From left to right at the media panel: Squadron, Stanton, Forman, Cameron)

It was an interesting discussion, but my favorite part of the panel came afterward when I met one of my favorite writers, Sam Miller of the Orange County Register, and along with Young we had our own lengthy discussion about the state of baseball writing. That evening Miller was among the panelists at a star-studded Fan Graphs event that also included Rob Neyer, Jonah Keri, Jon Weisman, Rich Lederer, Eno Sarris, Eric Stephen, David Appelman, and Cameron.

(From left to right at Fan Graphs event: Miller, Lederer, Stephen, Weisman)

Great weather and proximity to multiple ballparks were good reasons to hold the convention in California, but the best part of SABR returning to the West Coast for the first time since Seattle in 2006 was the number of great writers attending. Not meeting Keri and only having a couple minutes with Weisman were my main regrets of the convention after a decade reading them, but it was great to finally meet Cameron, Lederer, Stephen, Appelman, Sarris, and Sarris' hair.

(From left to right at Fan Graphs event: Lederer, Cameron, Gennaro, Neyer, Cistulli)

Carson Cistulli stole the show, hilariously moderating a panel and proving he's even funnier in person than in writing, which is quite a feat. It was a wonderful three-hour event made even better by a couple hours hanging out with panelists in the hotel bar afterward. And when the hotel bar closed too early again I went with a smaller group to a dueling-piano bar and closed it down too, stumbling back to the hotel to amusingly find Cameron on his laptop in the lobby.

(Treder and Giacalone, mid-presentation)

I woke up bright and early Friday, narrowly missing the start of a 10:30 co-presentation about the 1965 Dodgers by BTF regular Anthony Giacalone and original The Hardball Times member Steve Treder. Giacalone and Treder are two of my favorite online baseball friends and did a great job, even if the presentation was about a team that beat the Twins in the World Series. Plus, as an added bonus the Dodgers' first baseman in 1965, Wes Parker, was in attendance.

After the presentation a group of 15-20 piled into two cars and a van for lunch at In-N-Out, the famous West Coast hamburger chain where the line was literally out the door at 1:00 p.m. on a Friday. It was well worth the wait, as I graded my burger and fries as amazing but just short of life-changing. From there I hopped in a convertible and drove to The Yardhouse, where we did $393 worth of pregame drinking despite everything being half-off during happy hour.

Back at Dodger Stadium for a Dodgers-Padres game I was fortunate enough to sit by Forman, who along with creating and running the world's greatest website is simply a helluva guy. Alex Reisner was also a lot of fun to talk to and the crazy ninth inning made up for an otherwise nondescript game, the highlight of which was watching the man pictured below snatch a beach ball out of the air and stuff it underneath his seat as his whole body shook from anger.

(President of the Society for American Beachball Rejectors)

We retreated back to the hotel following a 1-0 game, opting against the lobby bar and instead creating our own bar in the bathroom of the room Giacalone was sharing with BTF regular, The Hardball Times writer, and occasional AG.com commenter Chris Jaffe. Based on his convention recap apparently Jaffe wasn't thrilled by that, but their room had a walk-out balcony with an amazing 14th-floor view of the city that comfortably fit a dozen guys and tons of booze.

(SABR's foremost Jack Bauer impersonator performing fellatio on a Dodger Dog)

We drank, cracked jokes about each other, and argued about stuff like the Negro Leagues and Major League Equivalencies in what I'd more or less describe as a perfect few hours. It's tough to beat baseball, beer, friends, and 75-degree weather from a 14th-floor balcony overlooking California and the night was such a perfect representation of why I come to SABR conventions that it had me quoting Snoop Dogg on Twitter after finally going to my room at 4:15 a.m.

(Giacalone's balcony, sans sabermetricians and beer)

I woke up just in time to have lunch Saturday and then went to a Neyer-moderated panel with Padres general manager Jed Hoyer and former Dodgers GMs Fred Claire and Dan Evans. The fun panel was made even better by the Padres no-hitting the Dodgers for 8.2 innings before losing on a walk-off as a blissfully unaware Hoyer kept his phone off. At one point he asked for an update, was told 0-0 in the sixth, and said: "Great, another pillow fight." Little did he know.

(From left to right at the GM panel: Hoyer, Claire, Evans)

From there I went to Angels Stadium for the Angels-Mariners game with my roommate, Jacobs, and Dimino and Vinay Kumar, who convinced me to attend my first SABR convention in 2004 by telling me how much fun they had in 2003. Not only did we see Mike Trout's first career hit and Torii Hunter's two-homer game, I got to hear Wyers utter the phrase "your Rally Monkey is getting in my beer" after his spilled drink started flowing into the row in front of us.

(From left to right at Angels Stadium: Dial, Wyers' dad, Wyers, Jacobs, Gleeman)

We didn't stay for Dierks Bentley's postgame concert, partly because his cowboy hat-wearing fans kind of freaked me out and I'd never heard of him, but mostly because we needed to get back to the hotel for the annual SABR convention poker tournament. Ellenburg brought the chips from his high-stakes home game, Dial talked the hotel manager into opening a ballroom for us at midnight, and we spent the next few hours playing a 15-person tournament.

(SABR convention poker tournament final table)

Actually, to be more accurate we spent the next three hours drinking while occasionally playing poker, although there was a solid group of spectators that grew to include Neyer and, ever so briefly, Mark Armour. I finished out of the money in fifth. Giacalone won the whole tournament after complaining beforehand that he hadn't played since the convention in Toronto five years earlier and the Scotty Nguyen of the SABR convention, Dial, was runner-up.

(Just like the World Series of Poker, we put the money on the table for heads-up play)

As players were knocked out and onlookers smartly concluded that sleeping sounded better than watching us the group gradually got smaller, but when the tournament was over about 10 of us carried what was left of the booze to a third-floor balcony and held an official chapter meeting. Or tried to, at least. I don't remember much aside from refilling my glass of Jameson, but my headache riding a shuttle to the airport in the morning suggested I had a great time.

(My dance partner Saturday night)

Sitting on the flight back to Minnesota, sipping some more orange juice and vodka courtesy of those nice women and their drink tickets, I was already thinking ahead to the 2012 convention and how much fun it was going to be. SABR42 is in Minneapolis, which initially didn't sound all that great to me because part of the reason I love going to conventions so much is traveling to another city and seeing games in other ballparks.

(Left to right: Kumar, Gleeman, McCullough, Brewer, Dial, Jacobs, Dimino, Ellenburg, Milazzo)

However, more than any of that the SABR convention is about hanging out with like-minded friends who love baseball and poker or drinking or just shooting the shit, and my hope is that the event coming to Minnesota means the excellent and ever-growing Twins blogosphere will be well-represented. I'll be there, because I'll never miss another convention, but I'm hoping to see tons of AG.com readers and my fellow Twins bloggers too. You won't regret it, promise.

You have 12 months to clear your calendar and prep your liver. Women of Minnesota, look out.

This week's content is sponsored by the St. Paul band Shoveldance, so please help support AG.com by checking out their new album.

April 22, 2011

Link-O-Rama

• Every cop's fantasy, starring Sofia Vergara.

• Humble bragging is sweeping the nation and the Wall Street Journal talked to the man behind the phenomenon, Harris Wittels, who once upon a time left a comment here. #humblebrag

• I'm not sure what took them so damn long, but better late than never: NFL Network will be replacing Matt Millen and Joe Theisman with Mike Mayock for their Thursday night games.

• Quote of the week: Royals manager Ned Yost on Billy Butler wanting to play first base: "I'd like to be an astronaut."

• This was the same excuse I used for skipping class in college, with the only difference being that no one on the entire campus knew who I was.

Elisha Cuthbert is back on television. I'm unlikely to watch the former Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com's new show, but I am fully committed to looking at any screen caps posted online.

• Friend of AG.com Phil Mackey has been named "best sports talk radio host" in Minnesota by City Pages, which is remarkable considering he didn't have a full-time on-air spot until leaving 1130-KFAN for 1500-ESPN about 18 months ago and might be even better covering the Twins as a beat reporter than he is as the co-host of an afternoon show. Not bad for a stat-head.

• Stat-head setup man? Red Sox reliever Daniel Bard reads Fan Graphs.

• As a white, point guard-playing kid I owned his Sacramento Kings jersey and proudly wore it while attempting ill-advised but fancy passes, so this news makes me feel both sad and old.

David Carr of the New York Times wrote an interesting profile of Michael Klingensmith, who has helped turn the Minneapolis Star Tribune around since taking over as publisher in mid-2008. He's a native Minnesotan and "a serious Twins fan" who utilizes "statistical data to help guide product improvements." And under his watch the newspaper is one of the few in the country on an upswing. Meanwhile, the St. Paul Pioneer Press' website sadly remains nearly unusable.

• As someone who greatly prefers using Tweetdeck to the actual Twitter interface I'm worried about what may happen now that Twitter is in talks to buy Tweetdeck for "around $50 million."

• Marlins left fielder Logan Morrison has become one of my favorite players thanks to his great tweeting.

• Not that you can tell a ton from a 92-second clip, but HBO's upcoming new series Lucky looks pretty good and it's definitely star-studded.

Bonus points for using the World Series of Poker intro jingle.

• Thanks to a government crackdown the online poker world has basically been ruined, leaving tons of people out of work, taking away recreational enjoyment from part-timers like me, and even impacting television programming on numerous channels.

• Now that online poker is banned I feel the same about playing poker as I do about hosting a podcast. I'd really like to do both, but ultimately it takes a backseat to my even stronger desire not to leave the house or invite relative strangers over to my house. Helluva catch-22.

Buster Posey's sister can out-hit your sister.

• My mom's all-time favorite athlete is much better at pistol-whipping than he was at dieting.

• After six weeks of dieting I'm down 40 pounds, which sounds misleadingly great because of how much weight fatsos like me have to shed in the first place. I'm still fat enough that telling someone how much weight I've lost only leads to them thinking: "And you still look this bad?!" I've been counting every calorie and working out an elliptical machine every day, but once my calorie intake loosens up a bit this alcohol-to-calorie chart will be very helpful.

• Up until six weeks ago I was one of the leading donut consumers in the country, yet I had no idea that many (and perhaps even most) people spell it "doughnut." I also had no idea that a "free year's supply of donuts" could cost you $237.

Bill Simmons continues to build an excellent writing staff for his upcoming ESPN-funded site, hiring Bill Barnwell away from Football Outsiders.

Evangeline Lilly is either pregnant or there will soon be a disheveled yet still incredibly great looking blond woman with an Australian accent looking for her son again. Whatever the case, I think we can all agree that the kid's name should be Aaron.

• Following the latest veteran media member to write a really dumb thing about sports, David Matthews of The Good Men Project wonders how long before more of the higher-quality online writers land full-time gigs and how many of them will be forced to quit in search of non-writing jobs that actually pay the bills. I've been fortunate in that respect, but many good writers are not as lucky and having to live on income from AG.com would have forced me to quit long ago.

• After reading this news I'm thinking about suing myself for being paid almost no money from 10 years of blogging here. We'd probably settle out of court.

• Speaking of real life getting in the way of good blogging, Stick and Ball Guy has hung up the keyboard. I enjoyed SBG's community of bloggers and readers so much that it remains the only other blog on which I've ever regularly posted comments and I also enjoyed attending several in-person get-togethers with SBG and friends. He'll be missed, but the community has decided to go on without SBG by starting up a spinoff site that is definitely worth checking out.

• I was surprised to learn that an average of just 22,000 television sets were tuned into each Timberwolves game this season and even more shocked to find out that didn't even rank them among the NBA's least-watched teams.

• I'm not sure $105 million in added risk makes much sense for the Brewers, but Ryan Braun is now signed through 2020.

• I'm excited that Friday Night Lights is back for a final season, although the scene in the first episode where the new guy dribbles and shoots free throws like he's never played the sport before despite supposedly being a basketball star has me re-thinking my love for the first four seasons. It might even keep me from bidding on more than a dozen items in this auction.

Vanessa Hudgens either needs to get much fatter or hire a new public relations person.

• Reds pitcher Mike Leake was arrested for allegedly stealing $60 in shirts from Macy's.

• When the Timberwolves fired Dwane Casey they were 20-20. They are 90-280 since then.

• I saw these guys do a presentation at last year's SABR convention. Very interesting stuff.

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is The Black Keys doing "Heavy Soul" live:

February 11, 2011

Link-O-Rama

• Leave it to The Black Eyed Peas to get the entire country to agree on something.

• This seems sort of unfair. I mean, the poor guy "said thank you and hung up."

• I've never actually appeared in court, whereas Lindsay Lohan is a veteran defendant at this point, but this seems like a bit much.

Little Jerry Seinfeld finally got his revenge.

• I remain highly skeptical, but Michael Rand of the Minneapolis Star Tribune attempted to solve the mystery of Anthony LaPanta's hair.

• I used to have a similar system for finding inserts in certain baseball card packs.

• Rotoworld's annual fantasy baseball draft guide is now available online. I'm "editor-in-chief" and it's a big part of my job, so I'd be grateful if AG.com readers checked it out. You get 1,000 player profiles and projections, a couple dozen strategy articles, customizable cheat sheets, and a whole bunch of other good stuff that adds up to 150,000-plus words of content updated all spring. Buy it, so I don't have to move back to the proverbial parents' basement.

• Speaking of Rotoworld, the entire site underwent a dramatic re-design this week.

• It turns out I know exactly what it feels like to be an award-winning movie star.

• On a related note, being a non-movie star actor doesn't sound like much fun.

Ozzie Guillen watched the Super Bowl while eating a massive bowl of Jell-O. Obviously.

• AG.com reader Andy Ulseth is a local musician who just released his first album and I'm very confident in saying it's legitimately good (as opposed to just "good for someone who reads my blog"). Acoustic singer-songwriter stuff is always right up my alley and Ulseth fits somewhere in the indie-folk or folk-pop realm with a bunch of really enjoyable songs. Check it out.

• I live this cartoon every day on Twitter.

• Along with being a stand-up comedian, podcaster, occasional actor, and the UFC's television analyst Joe Rogan is also enough of a mixed martial artist himself to teach Georges St. Pierre a turning side kick:

That would be sort of like if Bert Blyleven taught Roy Halladay a curveball, except if Blyleven was a really good announcer and had double sleeves of tattoos.

• Speaking of actors teaching kicks to UFC champions, Vitor Belfort can blame Steven Seagal for being on the wrong end of one of the most memorable knockouts in MMA history. Seriously.

Howard Stern's recent appearance on Late Show with David Letterman was fantastic and it produced this picture, which is currently the background on my laptop.

• "Never Not Funny" with Jimmy Pardo and Matt Belknap is such an outstanding podcast that I happily pay for it, but their latest episode featuring Conan O'Brien is available for free.

• Few men could get mocked relentlessly for attending the Super Bowl while sitting in a luxury box and being hand-fed popcorn by their movie star girlfriend, but Alex Rodriguez managed.

• Remember that one-punch goalie fight from last week's Link-O-Rama? I'm not sure whether it increases or decreases the hilarity, but the one punch broke the losing goalie's face.

• This is not a great look for Tim Lincecum. Or anyone, really.

• Without knowing it Ken Rosenthal and Kelly Oxford had an amusing Twitter conversation in my TweetDeck feed.

Peter Gammons quoting me in one of his MLB.com columns made my day/week/month/year.

• I'm a big Norm MacDonald fan and a big High Stakes Poker fan, but I'm skeptical about how good they'll be together. Of course, the biggest issue with the upcoming HSP season probably isn't MacDonald replacing Gabe Kaplan, but rather that all the big-name players sponsored by Full Tilt Poker are no longer allowed on the show.

Jerry Sloan stepped down as Jazz coach after 23 seasons and his replacement is one of the original Timberwolves.

Ricky Rubio continues to struggle in Europe.

• My fellow Party Down fans will love this.

• Here are some highlights from my NBCSports.com blogging this week:

- Dirty little secret: Michael Young simply isn’t all that great
- Phillies' right field job is "a three-man race" that Domonic Brown should win
- Phil Hughes blames inconsistent changeup for second-half fade, but do numbers agree?
- Giants top prospect Brandon Belt likely headed for Triple-A
- Mike Lowell is definitely retired and "hip replacement is most likely inevitable"
- Josh Hamilton and Rangers agree to two-year, $24 million deal
- Mariners sign Vladimir Guerrero's nephew for $400,000
- Yankees sign reliever Luis Ayala to a minor league deal
- Diamondbacks decide against using a humidor at Chase Field

• I've started re-watching The Wire, so in honor of becoming totally obsessed with the show all over again this week's AG.com-approved music video is The Blind Boys of Alabama doing their cover version of "Way Down in the Hole" by Tom Waits: