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The baseball trivia championship
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Forsyth County News
Which player hit a home run in all three games of the 1969 National League Championship Series, the only league championship series games he played?

That’s just one of the posers that popped up in the baseball trivia contest held at the 39th annual convention of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) over the weekend.

Therefore, this wasn’t just any old run-of-the-mill baseball trivia contest. This was the Queen Mother of baseball trivia.

SABR was established in Cooperstown, N.Y. in 1971. Its mission is “to foster the study of baseball past and present and to provide an outlet for educational, historical and research information about the game.”

According to SABR’s web site, the society now counts more than 6,700 members, “including many prominent writers, officials and former players worldwide. There is no test a person must pass to become active. All that’s asked of the members is that they have an interest in baseball research, statistics, or history.”

The four-day convention featured 42 half-hour presentations. Another 47 had to be rejected due to lack of space. No wonder the convention is so popular; SABR is now the recognized authority for baseball history and statistics. The term “sabermetrics” is part of the lexicon, used to describe the process of utilizing statistical analysis to evaluate players.

The earliest guru of sabermetrics, Bill James, is now employed by the Red Sox. In all, 28 of the 30 major league teams employ full-time sabermetricians.

Clearly the convention highlight, the trivia contest drew over 100 contestants. The quizmaster this year was Scott Brandon. In his spare time, he runs a marketing firm near Seattle. Brandon happily shared his thoughts on concocting worthy trivia questions with Alan Schwarz of the New York Times.

“There should be a ‘wow’ factor with the answer,” said Brandon. “The answer should be unsuspected or grab you. If it is truly trivial, like who was the third leading hitter on the 1947 Pirates, that’s not a good question.

“I can do tough all day. It has to be interesting and deceptively difficult.”

Schwarz offered a prime example: who was the first St. Louis Brown to hit two home runs in a single game? That question was the favorite of the legendary Al Blumkin, a 66-year-old former computer systems manager for the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

“My best moment was in 1991 in New York,” Blumkin told Schwarz, recalling that question about the Browns. “I knew it wouldn’t be something simple, like George Sisler. It was Branch Rickey. I got a standing ovation!”

Blumkin won another year “because I knew that Jimmie Foxx hit seven home runs in his last season for the Philadelphia Phillies” he told Schwarz.

Schwarz’ Times convention column also noted an interesting question from this year’s semifinals: Which five pitchers have more than 3,000 strikeouts and fewer than 1,000 walks? That one certainly satisfies Brandon’s criteria.

Oddly, four of the five pitched in this decade; only Ferguson Jenkins did not. Two others pitched on the Red Sox 2004 World Series winners: Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez. The last two pitched on the Braves 1995 Series winners: Greg Maddux and John Smoltz.

Believe it or not, some semifinalists actually knew the three players who appeared in games when they were older than the sitting President of the United States. Dan Brouthers and Jim O’Rourke were both older than Theodore Roosevelt in 1904, and Satchel Paige was older than Lyndon Johnson in 1965. Sorry, Minnie Minoso fans.

Fortunately, for those feeling inadequate, Schwarz included questions that stumped the experts, such as: the first pitcher to surrender a post-season home run to Reggie Jackson (Jon Matlack) and the person with the most triples not in the Hall of Fame (Ed Konetchy. Of course.)
The finals pitted Michael Caragliano, a radio engineer from Flushing, N.Y., against Cliff Blau, a retired accountant from White Plains, N.Y., thus cementing New York as the official breeding ground of baseball trivia experts.

The competition proved fierce. Caragliano knew the name of the catcher when Eddie Gaedel came to the plate. Blau knew Biz Mackey played for the 1924 Hilldale Daisies. Ultimately, Caragliano won when Blau identified George Weiss as the former owner of the Hartford team of the Eastern League, when, in fact, it was New Haven.

“I’m stunned that anyone could know more baseball trivia than Blau,” wrote Chris Jaffe on “He served as one of the key proofreaders for my book, Evaluating Baseball’s Managers. Most memorably, he noted I misspelled the last name of Roarin’ Bill Hassamaer. Who had ever even heard of Roarin’ Bill, let alone could correct the spelling of his name?”

If you’re interested in testing your skill against the best, a dozen posers from the contest have been posted on the New York Times Bats Blog.

But before you go, how about the answer to today’s leadoff question?

If you answered Henry Aaron, well done!