Ex-Braves manager Bobby Bragan: 1917-2010

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Before my time, but worthy of note. Bragan managed the Braves in both Milwaukee and Atlanta, and managed the Pirates and Indians in the mid-to-late 50s.  He didn’t manage long and he was never at the helm of any transcendent teams. He was probably best remembered for the time that, while managing, he walked on the field sipping a soft drink through a straw, discussing the play in question with the umpires and offering each a taste of his drink.

So why do I think he’s worthy of note?  From something the brilliant baseball historian Steve Treder said over at Baseball Think Factory earlier this afternoon:

Bragan was an ardent anti-integrationist, one of the most vocal members of the 1947 Dodgers opposed to Jackie Robinson’s presence on the team. But once the season unfolded, and he observed what Robinson went through and how he handled it, Bragan began to greatly admire Robinson, and he saw that he’d been wrong all along, that what he’d been taught to believe was nonsense. Bragan became a vocal champion of integration.

It takes a big person to be that self-aware, and to grow that way. May he rest in peace.

I’m often accused of being a moral relativist. And yeah, maybe I am too forgiving about a lot of things.  But I just can’t shake the notion that people should not be defined by their worst moments.

Bragan, like a lot of young men of his vintage, probably said and did a lot of stupid things before and immediately after becoming Jackie Robinson’s teammate in 1947.  But by all accounts he learned and he grew, and he leaves a body of work that, while perhaps not worthy of sainthood, no doubt brought more good than harm to this world.

I think that’s something worth thinking about the next time some athlete acts out or gets arrested or tests positive for some drug.  We notice the worst moments. But we shouldn’t let them define people.

Must-Click Link: Sherri Nichols, Sabermetic Pioneer

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If you are old enough and lame enough as I am, you may have lurked around on sabermetic message boards in the 1990s. If you did, you may have heard of Sherri Nichols, who back in the day, was a significant contributor to the advancement of statistical analysis, particularly defensive analysis.

While it’s probably better that not everyone is as old and nerdy as me, the downside of it is that most people haven’t heard of Nichols and know nothing about her contributions. That changes today with Ben Lindbergh’s excellent analysis of Nichols and her work over at The Ringer, which I recommend that you all read.

The short version: Nichols is the one who planted the seed about on-base percentage being valuable in the mind of Baseball Prospectus Founder Gary Huckabay, back in the late 80s. She’s also the one most responsible for the rise of zone-based defensive metrics in the 1990s, such as Defensive Average, which she created and which served as the basis for other such metrics going forward. She also played a critical role in the development of RetroSheet, which collected almost all extant box score and play-by-play information going back to the turn of the 20th century, thereby making so much of the information available at Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs possible. A key contribution there: making the information free and available to everyone, rather than closing the underlying data off as proprietary and either charging for access or keeping it in-house like some recent data collectors have chosen to do. Ahem.

A larger takeaway than all of Nichols’ contributions is just how loathe the baseball community was to listen to a woman back then. I mean, yeah, they’re still loathe to listen to women now, as indicated by the small number of women who hold jobs in baseball operations departments, but back then it was even worse, as evidenced by Lindbergh’s stories and Nichols’ anecdotes.

A great read and a great history lesson.