Detroit to host SABR’s negro leagues convention

The Society for American Baseball Research is the preeminent organization for serious baseball researchers, scholars, and fans.

The Society for American Baseball Research is the preeminent organization for serious baseball researchers, scholars, and fans.

Although the Society for American Baseball Research has been holding conventions since 1971, the 7,000-member organization of researchers, historians, broadcasters, writers, educators, and jersey-wearing stat geeks has never held one of its annual get-togethers in Detroit. On the surface, this seems odd. Not only has professional baseball been played here for seemingly forever (Detroit is one of the few towns to have fielded world championship teams in both the American and National leagues), it is widely considered one of the best sports towns in America, if not THE best.

A SABR gathering would be a nice catch for Detroit fans who enjoy discussing and learning about the game’s rich past. However, organizers have always been less concerned with a city’s baseball pedigree than with finding a geographically convenient venue for its members. And it’s a fact that there are more SABR-ites within a certain radius of places like Boston, New York, Washington, and Chicago.

But if Detroit remains Flyover City in terms of landing the national SABR convention, it has broken its shutout streak with the recent announcement that it has been chosen to host the 2014 Jerry Malloy Negro Leagues Conference. It will be the 17th annual such gathering, which is organized by SABR’s Negro Leagues Committee. Ypsilanti baseball historian and Negro Leagues committee co-chairman Dick Clark, who put together the winning proposal to have Detroit host the conference, says the dates and agenda are still being determined.

“The Tigers will be working with us, so we won’t be able to announce a definite date until the Tigers’ 2014 home schedule is announced,” Clark says. The only certainties are that the event will take place in the summer and that it won’t coincide with the Tigers’ own Negro Leagues weekend. Local athletes, active and retired, are expected to participate, including some former Negro Leaguers from the 1950s and ‘60s. Many of the presentations will involve Detroit-related subjects, such as Turkey Stearnes, the Detroit Stars, and so forth.

Clark gave a rough idea of how the conference will unfold. Thursday is a casual meet-and-greet as attendees from around the country check into the host hotel, which Clark says will be somewhere close to Comerica Park and downtown. Friday and Saturday will be given over to presentations, about six or seven each day. Guests will attend a Tigers game on Friday night and a banquet on Saturday evening. As always, the banquet will feature speakers, awards and scholarship grants, and an auction. Clark says he will moderate an authors panel. The Charles C. Wright Museum is expected to be involved in some fashion, and a side trip to Hamtramck Stadium, one of the country’s few existing Negro Leagues parks, is being planned.

This year’s convention was held in June in Newark, N.J. One of the guests was Pedro Sierra, who pitched for the Detroit Stars and Indianapolis Clowns.

In terms of attendance, the Malloy Conference is not on the scale of the SABR convention, which annually draws in the range of 700-800 people. But it is SABR’s “other” national convention, and the smooth handling of it in Detroit next summer may convince the organization to bring its principal gathering here sometime in the future.

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About Richard Bak

Richard Bak grew up on Detroit's west side doing poor imitations of Dick McAuliffe's batting stance and Denny McLain's leg kick. He is a contributing writer to Hour Detroit magazine and the author of nearly 30 books, including biographies of Ty Cobb and Joe Louis. Bak's most recent books are The Big Jump, the story of Charles Lindbergh and the great New York-to-Paris air race of the 1920s, and Detroitland, a collection of his history pieces. He currently is finishing two more books of history: Soldier of Misfortune: The Execution of Private Eddie Slovik and Its Aftermath (DaCapo) and When Lions Were Kings: The Detroit Lions and the Fabulous Fifties (Wayne State University Press), both of which will be published in 2015.