SABR As a Religion (Part One)

The Society For American Baseball Research (SABR) turned forty this week, meaning that SABR is much younger than the average age of its members. I joined SABR this year for the first time, mainly so I wouldn’t feel too bad about crashing the convention in Long Beach. I wanted to meet (drink) with some of the baseball writers I had been reading for the past two decades in hopes that I would be inspired to start blogging about baseball again.

One of the first informal discussions I was part of in the hotel lobby was about what SABR offered to its members. I had been a SABR member for about four days at that point, so I mostly just nodded during the discussion. Chris Dial, a guy I have respected greatly for many years because of his work on defensive metrics and his humor on Baseball Think Factory, succintly nailed what SABR offers to people — a religion.

Baseball is indeed a religion (hence the name of this blog). It might not save our mortal soul, but it offers spiritual growth. Most importantly, it is enduring, meaning we can embrace it anytime we want. However, baseball, like God/Buddha/the Great Pumpkin, is often too large of an entity to offer intimate experiences, which is where church communities fill a need. SABR offers a lasting church for the baseball religious.

All baseball fraternities are churches, but all baseball fraternities are not enduring. The Jackalopes might have ben the greatest baseball fraternity of all time, but they faded away meekly before they even had time to brilliantly burn out. The DSEC was a unique collection of souls, but it fell apart after Lee’s death. SABR endures when one of its members passes.

Dial mentioned that the SABR membership dues were tithes its members paid to feel good about their church. We pay our money, thankful we are part of that church — a church that will be there next year, and the next, and the next… The Jackalopes paid their tithes with blood and parts of their soul; the DSEC paid with their livers. Compared to that, SABR’s tithes are dirt cheap, although the liver takes at hit at the yearly convention.

Part of re-starting my baseball writing journey has been reminiscing about the past. I was fortunate to have some great runs with great groups of people. One common aspect of each reflection is that I thought those groups would last forever. They didn’t. Sure, we remain friends, but those fraternities are broken. SABR is too large and strong to be broken by distance or death.

One epiphany I had at SABR 41 was how similar the new group of guys I was hanging with was to the old groups (SABR doesn’t have a Miles, but there is only one Miles). I guess that isn’t surprising — baseball is the common denominator. While SABR will probably never match the ferocity of the Jackalopes or the genuine affection of the DSEC, I could immediately tell I could hang with these guys for a long time, which is what religion boils down to anyway. Saving one’s soul from eternal hellfire is secondary in even the most puritan church; sense of community is why people drag their asses out of bed to go to services.

Cocktail hour is calling, so I am going to cut this short for now. However, this is something I feel strongly about, so I will return to it in the near future.

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