Do you know that when Nate Colbert drove in 111 runs for the light-hitting San Diego Padres in 1972, he set a major league record? For what? Percentage of a team's runs batted in, by one player in one season: 22.75%. If you were a SABR member, you wouldn't have to ask.
SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, is made up of more than 3,200 baseball nuts who revel in obscure facts and figures—they keep discovering new ones just when it seems the supply has run out.
Until recently an almost secret society whose members shared their esoteric discoveries mainly with each other, SABR has gone public with a handsome new magazine called The National Pastime. You can get it by sending five bucks to SABR, P.O. Box 323, Cooperstown, N.Y. 13326. In it you'll find more than 20 articles, ranging from the purely statistical to the engagingly nostalgic. SABR members write these pieces without pay, even though many of them are professional writers.
For example, in the premier issue that came out in the fall of 1982, there was the story of Marty McHale, the Baseball Caruso, as told by Marty himself in an interview with Lawrence S. Ritter, author of The Glory of Their Times, a book that has become a baseball classic. McHale was a mediocre pitcher for whom baseball was but one of many careers. He was a successful writer, a vaudeville singer who played the Palace when it booked nothing but the best and a stockbroker.
At the other extreme is a piece by Pete Palmer on the relationship between a team's runs scored and allowed and its winning percentage. Because he gets into square roots and x-factors, Palmer lost me fairly early, but devotees of statistics will, no doubt, find the article riveting.
G.H. Fleming contributes a view of the famed Merkle blunder of 1908, told in the words of contemporary sportswriters. It's interesting as an example of rampant hometown journalism and for the way the writers attack Merkle as (to quote one of them) a "boneheaded mutt." In fact, by failing to go from first to second when the winning run was "scoring" from third, Merkle was simply following common practice, as is confirmed by several players who are quoted at the end of the article.
"All the Record Books Are Wrong" by Frank J. Williams is typical of the sort of thing SABR members love. It's a long, meticulously detailed study of the various methods used to determine winning and losing pitchers in the game's early years. The author concludes, not surprisingly, that the won-lost totals of many famous pitchers are inaccurate.
"The Great New York Team of 1927—and It Wasn't the Yankees" by Fred Stein notes that the '27 Giants had seven future Hall of Fame players on board, but still finished third. This leads to an analysis of the importance of sheer numbers of Hall-of-Famers to a team's success. It develops that the best teams generally had fewer immortals than several near-great teams and even a couple of second-division clubs. Do you care? If you're a baseball nut, you probably do, and SABR publications aren't aimed at halfhearted fans.
Besides the articles, the magazine contains a gallery of ancient and rare baseball photos, a cartoon spread and, of course, a quiz (Question: Which park never hosted a no-hit game? Answer: Forbes Field).
SABR intends The National Pastime to be "eventually a quarterly, but for now I guess you'd call it an annual," says Editor John Thorn. Its apparent purpose is to attract members for the society. So, if you wish, you can skip the intermediate $5 step, and send 15 bucks to SABR for a one-year membership. If you do, you'll receive the 1983 edition of the magazine which will come out in the fall, and all the other SABR publications, including the Baseball Research Journal, the members-only annual, which has been SABR's sacred book for more than a decade. The Journal is not as slick as The National Pastime, but it's thicker and all business, filled with articles about players, past and present, famous and obscure, and more records and stats than you knew existed. The supposition is that the invention of the ball, some aeons ago, was followed closely by the invention of the bat, and the ultimate triumph for a SABR member would be to pin down the exact dates of both those events.