Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What should SABR's new baseball card committee do?

Not gonna lie to you Marge, it's exciting to see the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) add a card-specific history committee.
It's not clear what spurred the group's creation, but their charter includes interesting goals. Here are their 3 "high points" and some personal thoughts of my own.

1. Encourage more interactive knowledge sharing about the history and importance of baseball cards as a representation of the game itself. This research will help document the link between the baseball card industry and the game's popularity.

Cards tell you a ton about the spread of baseball both geographically and culturally. According to Mint Condition, 19th century kids got hooked on tobacco baseball cards in advance of actual smoking. Pictures of sports stars, bathing beauties, and adventurers took collectors to worlds far beyond the everyday, so I can understand the attraction. (TV had a similar effect 50 years later and effectively forced the MLB into nationwide expansion.) I think the triune distractions of baseball, advertising, and picture cards grew together, inseparably.

2. Research the history of the relationship between statistics and baseball cards. (i.e. when baseball cards starting publishing RBI, Stolen Bases, etc.)

This seems a lot drier, since it's more certain when card makers added specific stats for the 1st time. I suppose it's still useful to compile an authoritative reference.

3. Provide a forum for discussion on the following aspects of the baseball card industry:
I.    Memorable, important and famous series designs
II.  The late 80s, early 90s influx of new card sets and limited edition inserts, and their effect on the hobby's health
III. Documentation on all of the major card companies and important figures in the evolution of the baseball card industry
IV.  Research into the evolution of the game as viewed through the lens of baseball cards (batting gloves, player/managers, the DH, record-setting achievements, the steroids era, etc.)

Some of these are clear-but, others completely open to interpretation. Everyone knows the first guy to bat as DH was Yankee Ron Blomberg, right?

1974 Topps #117, Ron Blomberg

But wait, not so fast! Blomberg's the first to appear as a DH on the field, not to be tagged DH in a Topps set.

1974 Topps #55, Frank Robinson

That's right, another first for big Frank. And is that a "I'm just talking 'bout Shaft!" expression or what?

What kind of things do you think the history committee should research or write about?


Chris Stufflestreet said...

How things change...

I was a SABR member 5 years ago, and the few times I mentioned baseball cards there I picked up on a feeling that many of the members there would "tsk, tsk" whenever I brought them up. In a way, I felt like the guy sitting at a formal dinner, asking which fork I was supposed to use.

I may consider joining again to help with the new committee. Spike, if you're still a SABR member, do you know who's active with that committee?

Matthew Glidden said...

Interesting...and I can believe the attitude. Haven't been a SABR member before, but am considering it given the new committee.

According to SABR forum posts, Tim Ponisciak and Michael Eisner are co-chairs of the committee. Are those names you know?

sruchris said...

I'm a SABR member (I've actually visited the SABR office a few years ago and met some of the staff) and Chris S. is right. Baseball cards aren't normally a topic of discussion amongst SABR members.

I'm not sure how successful the new card committee will become. On a related note, I'm one of a few folks who operate baseballcardpedia.com which could be a valuable resource to SABR.

Matthew Glidden said...

Since it's National show week, we should keep ears to the ground for any discussion.

Chris (either), do you know of any SABR member gatherings this week?

Matthew Glidden said...

HA! Good SABR joke.

Perhaps researching old leagues is a lead-in for cards and memorabilia. There are certainly sets from those early days, if usually rare and expensive. Depends if SABR's interested in uniforms, design, and culture, as well as the various stats...