Marc Appleman, executive director of the Society for American Baseball Research, has always been passionate about baseball.
“I fell in love with the game through my dad,” Appleman says. “He was and still is a big baseball and Yankees fan and is very knowledgeable about the game. I also became a big Yankee fan and passed my passion for the game on to my two sons (Michael, 25, and Drew, 22). I loved to play baseball as a kid growing up in New York City.”
Appleman turned his passion for sports into a career, and over the past 33 years it has led him on an adventurous career in sports media. He began his career as a sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times and covered the San Diego Padres for the San Diego County Edition of the LA Times. He has held senior positions with ESPN, AOL, Fox Sports, The Active Network and SI For Kids.
Appleman even shares his love of the game in a book called Dad, Are You Pumped? A Father-Son Baseball Odyssey, in which he and his 12-year-old son Michael hit the highway on an amazing baseball road trip to celebrate Michael’s bar mitzvah. Over two weeks they cover two countries, eight states and 3,000 miles. The father-son team attend eight games in six stadiums and visit the baseball, hockey and pro football halls of fame.
Appleman moved to Arizona in August 2011 from Westport, CT, when SABR relocated its headquarters to Phoenix. He explained it was an ideal fit as his older son already lived here and his younger son was attending USC in Los Angeles.
“Needless to say Arizona is a hot spot both for the inviting wintery weather as well as being the capital of the country for baseball,” he says with a grin.
SABR was launched in August 1971 in Cooperstown, NY, by L. Robert Davids, who was a sportswriter and baseball researcher. He gathered a group of 15 other baseball researchers at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and created a new organization, one devoted solely to the statistics and analytics of baseball. Forty years later SABR membership boasts more than 6,000 people globally.
When he became executive director, one of Appleman’s goals was to revitalize the organization, make it more diverse, and provide appeal to both genders and all age groups.
“We’ve gone down a positive new direction for SABR by increasing the size of community, creating the analytics conference and finding a younger demographic. One of the best parts of my job is creating new opportunities for people to learn and to grow an organization. In every job I have ever had, I’m most thrilled by being able to create and generate new ideas and activities, and to do so with baseball, which is such fun and something I have such an enormous passion for, just hits it out of the ballpark!”
Since Appleman has taken the lead in the organization, for each of the past four years SABR has hosted an event in Phoenix called the SABR Analytics Conference, where the top minds of the baseball analytic community discuss, debate and share ways to analyze baseball.
However, Appleman says, “While the event is filled with many major and minor league baseball officials, broadcasters and writers, as well as numerous former players, anyone interested in baseball can attend. While the original purpose of SABR was to band together baseball historians, statisticians and researchers, it is not necessary to be a researcher to become a member or enjoy the conference.”
A fellow Jewish baseball professional, Arizona Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall, is a big fan of the conference. Hall’s children – Logan, Hayden and Kylie – all became b’nai mitzvah at Temple Solel, where their mother, Amy, served on the board.
“We are thrilled the conference is here in the Valley,” says Hall. “This is the Western Mecca of baseball with spring training, Major and Minor League Baseball, fall ball, instructional league and college teams, so it makes sense. We have taken full advantage of the location by sending as many attendees and participants as possible.”
One of the aspects of the conference that Appleman is most excited about is the networking options the conference provides to students from around the country.
“Each year there is the Diamond Dollars Case Competition, where teams of four to five undergraduates, graduate and professional school students from colleges and universities across the country compete against each other by preparing an analysis and presentation of a baseball operations decision. They need to figure out a solution similar to the type of decision a team’s GM and staff would be faced with over the course of a season,” Appleman says.
The students then present their analysis and recommendations to a panel of judges, which includes Major League Baseball front office executives. In this way, students from universities including Arizona State, NYU, Syracuse and Stanford are able to interact with leaders in the industry and acquire internships and jobs.
Hall finds much value in the event. “While SABR is a tremendous resource for historical analysis, statistics and research, it more importantly provides a common platform for all lovers of our great game. SABR has been invaluable in bringing people together to celebrate baseball in unique ways. It continues to grow in prominence and can be credited for thousands of new jobs and organizational directions.”