Orioles Welcomed SABR 50 Convention to Baltimore

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Friday

Friday morning opened with dueling presentations on the Orioles, so I can only tell you about Moe Drabowsky, famous for striking out 11 in Game 1 of the 1966 World Series as a reliever.  Author David Krell wrote a poem on Drabowsky’s journey after his baby daughter died.  Krell closed by saying that Drawbowsky had a Hall of Fame day because he had an “angel on his shoulder”.

An hour later baseball historian Lee Kluck argued that Harry Dalton should be credited with establishing the Oriole Way.  Dalton was GM from 1966-1971, the height of the Orioles success.  He put the finishing touches on the Frank Robinson trade and promoted Earl Weaver to MLB manager, among other achievements.  Dalton was a mild-mannered and respectful man, so his successful partnership with Weaver is amusing.

At 9:30, lifelong fan Tom Hanrahan had a compelling presentation on the true strength of the 1971 Orioles.  That team is famous for having four 20-game winners: Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, and Pat Dobson.  It obviously takes a lot of good luck for something that extraordinary to happen, and a steady but not exceptional offense was part of it.  Weaver basically used a 14-man roster that season, with the rotation, eight regulars, and a catching platoon.  The bench was quite weak and bullpen close to unnecessary.

Using WAR and win shares, Hanrahan showed how the starting pitchers actually weren’t the most valuable players on the team, and the ones who were did not hold up to the rest of the league.  Compared to the three other playoff teams, the Orioles had the “worst” big three, but the fourth to twelfth most valuable players were way better.  This means, according to Hanrahan, that the ’71 Orioles should be remembered for being one of the most balanced teams in history.

Next up was a panel on Camden Yards with team historian Bill Stetka serving as moderator.  The panel included Orioles Senior Vice President, Administration & Experience Greg Bader, and Joe Spear, founder of Populous, which has built 13 of the past 15 MLB stadiums.  We are celebrating 30 years of OPACY this season, so it was an appropriate time to look back at the ballpark’s construction.  Memorial Stadium had aged poorly by the 1980’s, so much so that the Colts left town.  The infamous overnight departure is what prompted the Orioles to open talks for a baseball-specific park.

Spear, who led the design, said he was “fortunate to have two great clients” in the team and the Maryland Stadium Authority, but “they didn’t always agree with each other.  Governor wanted to be on time, team wanted a perfect, nostalgic, traditional park.”  It seems the team won out.  Bader mentioned a cool nugget that Camden was the fastest stadium to reach 50 million fans (17 seasons).

The very best part of the SABR convention was the women in baseball panel, featuring four women who work for the Orioles.  Jen Grondahl is Senior Vice President, Community Development & Communications and made a fitting moderator.  Nicole Sherry is Director of Field Operations and only the second woman in MLB to be head groundskeeper.  Lisa Tolson is Senior Vice President, Human Resources and has worked for the team for 37 years.  You might already know Eve Rosenbaum, who was recently promoted to Assistant General Manager.

Most of the hour was about their work and not what it is like to be a woman in baseball, though Tolson said that in the ’80’s women could only have “administrative assistant” or “general staff” as a title even if they had bigger roles.  In case you want to be a head groundskeeper one day, then apparently you will need a degree in turf grass science, which was Sherry’s focus.  She started as an intern back in 2001 and has been the head for 17 seasons.

Rosenbaum is a rising star in the industry, and that has been clear for a while.  After playing softball at Harvard, she actually worked in the NFL commissioner’s office focusing on the CBA and mobile apps before moving to baseball.  With the Astros she brought analytics to international scouting, so it is easy to see why Elias brought her along.  She grew up in Bethesda, so it was a “dream come true for me to come home”.  Part of her role is reviewing every game with Brandon Hyde, which I imagine has been much more pleasant this season.  A normal day for her is going to sleep at 1:30 and waking up at 6.  “You have to drink a lot of coffee to get through it.”

After the session I asked her about balancing draft preparation with day-to-day front office planning, and she gave me a very full answer.  Amateur scouts devote their whole time to college and high schoolers, which means they spend the whole spring on the draft.  Rosenbaum and other front office personal start all-day meetings one month before the draft, and sometimes people have to leave to deal with other transactions.  With MLB games going on there is more trust placed on what scouts say (take that, Billy Beane).

Friday afternoon brought the media panel featuring MASN’s Kevin Brown, and legendary Red Sox radio broadcaster Joe Castiglione.  They are at opposite points in their careers, which made for an interesting dynamic.  Brown is in his first year as the main play-by-play man for the Orioles after years calling Syracuse Chiefs games, and he also does college basketball during the winter.  Castiglione is now in his 40th season with the Sox, and the team named the radio booth after him a few months ago.

Kevin said it is “much easier” to do MLB games compared to minor league games because his job only requires calling the game.  In AAA “you’re the PR department” and have lots of other responsibilities throughout the day.  He said there were days he’d sit down at 6:30 with no notes in his scorebook.  “I’m pretty anal about my scorebook…it probably looks to the uninitiated likes the ramblings of the Zodiac Killer.”

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