SABR Day 2011: January
The Larry Dierker
Chapter of SABR (The Society for American Baseball
Research) had a tag-em-all meeting Saturday,
January 29th, from 2-4 PM in celebration of
our National SABR Day gathering at the Houston
Sports Museum inside the Finger Furniture Store
located on the historic site of old Buff Stadium
(1928-1961) on the north side of the Gulf Freeway
at Cullen. Sixty-eight members and guest signed
the reception book and another twenty to thirty
later unregistered show-ups ran the attendance
count close to 100. Those who stayed for the
whole baseball rodeo hardly missed a subject
that had anything to do with the game, and especially
with Houston history of same.
Chapter leader Bob Dorrill spoke
about the importance of National SABR Day as
the one day of the year that all chapters unite
through out the land in a united effort to promote
the purposes of SABR to all persons interested
in the preservation and celebration of baseball's
As General Manager of our vintage
base ball club, The Houston Babies, I received
a beautifully framed team photo of the unforgettable
club itself, thanks to a brief, but forever
appreciated acknowledgment from field Manager
Bob Dorrill. All I can say is thanks. I love
you guys to pieces. - I just wish that you'd
stop going to pieces in the middle of a game.
Maybe this year will be better. Go further -
I really think it will be. Take it one more
foot slide forward: I believe in you, Babies!
This year we are going to scorch the pastures
of Southeast Texas with all the power of our
innate, but, so far, unused playing ability.
In that light, Chapter namesake
Larry Dierker talked about Houston's early professional
start in the 19th century as the Houston Babies.
On a kidding note, Dierker wondered if any city
or town ever began with a more humiliating nickname.
Seriously, he then launched into an interesting
summary of how Houston flowed and ebbed as a
baseball town over the years. He painted a moving
picture of the mind with his account of how
Houston Buffs fans once started out from homes
as far away as five miles away and began their
walks to the ball games played at Buff Stadium,
the park pictured in the mural behind the table
in first featured photo. - By the time these
walking fans reached the ball park, their singular
steps had flowed together into a river of Buff
fans, now converging upon that earlier version
of our baseball heaven.
Jimmy Wynn and Monte Irvin both
talked openly about their playing days in response
to questions from the crowd. Scott Barzilla
of SABR spoke briefly about his new book, "The
Hall of Fame Index," and visitor Dick "Lefty"
O'Neal was also recognized for his book, "Dreaming
of the Majors; Living in the Bush." Those
two gentlemen, along with Jimmy Wynn and SABR's
Bill McCurdy, who recently collaborated on "Toy
Cannon: The Autobiography of Baseball's Jimmy
Wynn," were also on hand after the meeting
to sign copies of their various works.
Former Houston Buff Larry Miggins
told some of his best anecdotal baseball stories.
No one tell 'em quite as well as the old Irishman.
Miggins and Vin Scully attended the same high
school in New York City. While they were there,
Scully predicted that he would be broadcasting
major league games and would be behind the mike
on the date that Miggins broke into the big
leagues with a home run - and that's exactly
what happened. Scully was calling the game for
the Brooklyn Dodgers when Larry Miggins broke
into the big leagues for the St. Lois cardinals
by hitting a home run off Preacher Roe. - How's
that one for A SABR Day spine-chiller?
Ton Kleinworth of SABR designed
and presented a brand new trivia contest called
"Name That Player." SABR's Mack WIlson
then followed Tom with a nice little multiple
choice trivia contest. The winner, Mark Wernick
of SABR, received a Larry Dierker action figure
donated by Mike Acosta of the Houston Astros.
Dave Raymond of SABR and the Houston
Astros radio broadcasting crew gave us a nice
conservative, but optimistic evaluation of the
2011 club. Dave sees the Astros as having a
lot more pop up the middle with the additions
of Cliff Barnes at shortstop and Bill Hall at
second base. Both are hardscrabble infielders
with long ball capacity, but low OBP figures.
Low OBP was a problem last year and needs to
improve, according to both Raymond anyone else
who is paying attention. The pitching is adequate
and we may be only a key player development
breakthrouh away from getting back into the
thick of things.
Greg Lucas of SABR and Fox Sports
followed Raymond with a nice cap on the NL Central
for 2011. According to Greg, the Cards, Brewers,
and Reds are the frontrunners, but the Astros
and Cubs may get back into contention on an
eye-flick. Lucas only discounts the Pirates
due to their bad pitching.
Between the lines of these comments
from Raymond and Lucas, the gentle hum of spring
hope was beginning to germinate - and isn't
that exactly what it's supposed to do this time
As for me, I dove deep into history.
I (Bill McCurdy) offered the challenge that
we need to develop a chapter plan for researching
and accurately writing Houston early baseball
history from 1861 to 1961. That century span
covers the documentable era of time that passed
between the formation of the first Houston Base
Ball Club through the last season of our minor
league Houston Buffs.
Curator Tom Kennedy welcomed one
and all to the beautifully refurbished Houston
Museum of Sports History. Couched on the site
of the still embedded home plate from Buff Stadium
on its original spot, owner Rodney Finger and
the Finger family deserve incredible appreciation
for all they have done and continue to do to
preserve this important artifact marking on
the trail of Houston's baseball history. Now,
if we can only rouse the same effort on the
task of tagging and noting the significance
of earlier venues, where the first Houston Base
Ball Club was formed in a room above J.H. Evans's
store on Market Square in 1861; where the Houston
Base Ball Park existed downtown when our first
professional club took the field here in 1888;
and when and where, for sure, the first game
was played at West End Park on Andrews Street.
I refuse to go in the ground until those facts
are sorted out and published somewhere by someone
who cares about Houston baseball history.
My extra treat was all tied into
the ninety minutes or so that I spent driving
Hall of Famer Monte Irvin to and from the meeting,
between downtown and the west side. I couldn't
begin to share everything we talked about in
the space we have here - and I wouldn't, anyway,
on the grounds that he spoke to me in confidence
on a lot of baseball subjects with opinions
that are his and his alone to divulge in a public
You probably have figured this
one out from hearing him speak: Monte Irvin
is one of the kindest, truest gentleman you
could ever hope to meet. He attributes his long
life to having a wonderful, guiding mother and
a whole lot of luck. When pressed, he will concede
that genes help out too, but he clings pretty
close to the wisdom too that "to become
an older person you first have to survive being
a younger person" and, as far as Monte
is concerned, that's where the luck comes in.
I can share one Monte Irvin Story.
Almost apologetically, I asked Monte about that
1951 steal of home in the first inning of Game
One in the Giants' 5-1 World Series victory
over the Yankees. I realize that I probably
was about the 5,000th fan to ask, but I couldn't
Monte was on third with a triple.
Allie Reynolds and Yogi Berra were the battery
for the Yankees. And Bobby Thomson, a right-handed
batter, as you well better know by now, was
at the plate. All of a sudden, Monte breaks
for the plate. He is stealing home, and he does
so successfully, sliding under Berra's tag for
the Giants' second run in the first stanza on
one of the too few days the '51 Series went
the Giants' way,
"When did you know for sure
you were going to try that steal of home?"
"I pretty much knew it going
in," Monte says. "I had stolen home
five or six times during the season and I also
was quite familiar with that slow deliberate
delivery style of Allie Reynolds. Reynolds threw
hard to make up for the slow delivery, but he
usually threw high, which was what he was doing
in that moment with our batter, Bobby Thomson.
I knew I had a good chance of making it. I also
had talked with Leo Durocher prior to the game
and he had given me the green light to try,
if I saw the opportunity. By the time Reynolds
saw what I was doing, he was already in motion
to launch another high, hard one. That didn't
change. The pitch came in high and hard. I came
in low and hard. By the time Yogi can get his
glove down to tag me, I'm safe. Had Allie thrown
it low and hard, he probably would had me. It
didn't work out that way."
Before we arrived back at Monte's
place at the end of the day, he had started
reminiscing about the many Giant teammates that
are now gone. That pretty much is going to happen
when you live as long as Monte has. He turns
92 on February 25th.
I finally blurted out, "Listen,
Monte, you may have gotten this far by being
lucky, but you are here for a reason. And part
of that reason, as I see it, is to help baseball
people remember what's really important about
the game and life itself. We need you to hang
around forever as our role model, our teacher,
and our national treasure."
Monte smiled. "I'll give
it my best shot," he promised.
SABR Day in Houston was a great
day in general. A lucky day for some of us.
And a blessed day for us all.