If baseball statisticians are gripping their pencils a little tighter this year, it may be because they've heard about the Society for American Baseball Research ( SABR), a group of self-avowed trivialists who refuse to take the record book at face value. SABR was started eight years ago by L. Robert Davids of Washington, D.C., once a regular contributor of statistical findings to The Sporting News, who wanted to get together with a few fans to share his enthusiasm for the game's minutiae. But the organization kept expanding so that today its membership has surpassed 950; the group has published the first record book of outstanding minor league players; and its research has uncovered some errors in the official major league records.
SABR members (including former Washington Senator First Baseman Mickey Vernon, Detroit Tiger broadcaster Ernie Harwell and NBC Came of the Week statistician Alan Roth) pay $15 a year for a bimonthly newsletter, an annual Baseball Research Journal and any other SABR publications. (For membership information, write SABR, P.O. Box 323, Cooperstown, N.Y. 13326.)
SABR's studies are detailed, if somewhat recondite. For example, the 1978 Journal includes a remembrance of the excellent minor league teams of Rocky Mount, N.C., an analysis of the contributions of Canadian players to the major leagues and an article entitled "Clarifying Some of the Records," which shows that Cy Young's 1904 record streak of hitless innings actually reached 25? instead of the 23 claimed.
Other research by members has revealed that Tris Speaker tied Home Run Baker for the 1912 home run title with 10, though Speaker was officially credited with only nine homers and that the 1910 American League batting title probably should have gone to Larry Lajoie, not Ty Cobb.
Clifford Kachline, Baseball Hall of Fame historian and SABR president, pins the blame for such inaccuracies on the oldtime statisticians. "A lot of errors were made back then in counting the totals at the end of the season," he says. "Our members have gone back and tallied each hit, RBI and home run from box score to box score to arrive at their totals." Their work has not gone unnoticed. The most important error the SABR members found—that Babe Ruth had only 2,204 RBIs instead of the 2,209 claimed—has resulted in a change in the official record book. You can look it up.