Can you name the starting lineup for the 1951 Cleveland Indians — and the starting pitchers?
Is your idea of the perfect family vacation a week spent roaming the halls of the Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, N.Y.?
Do you consider the "Baseball Abstract" perhaps the greatest book ever written?
If you answered "yes" to any or all of those questions, have we got a club for you.
Talkin' Baseball, a Howard County group devoted to talking about — surprise! — baseball, has been holding monthly meetings in the county for the past dozen years. Typically, meetings include a speaker, a trivia quiz and lively discussions on baseball history. But at bottom, the meetings are a way for fans of the National Pastime to get their monthly baseball fix.
"I've been a sports fan all my life — (Washington) Senators, Redskins, Capitals," said Dave Paulson, 79, of Columbia, who helped start the club in 1999. "But baseball is my favorite, by far. All the people who come to these things, baseball is Number One with them."
Talkin' Baseball is an offshoot of the Society for American Baseball Research. SABR, as it is now known, was launched in 1971 in Cooperstown (where else?) by L. Robert Davids as an organization of baseball researchers, historians and statisticians. Forty years later, the group has grown to about 6,000 members worldwide. Some are researchers or historians, but most are just hard-core fans.
SABR has had a local chapter that met annually almost from the organization's start. But that wasn't enough for some members, including Paulson.
"I wanted to get more into baseball," recalled Paulson. "I wanted people to talk baseball with regularly."
In April 1999, Paulson, Skip McAfee, also of Columbia, and a few others began holding monthly meetings, first at the Columbia Borders bookstore, later at Barnes & Noble, and for the past couple of years, at Brighton Gardens, an assisted living facility in Columbia.
Success was not immediate. A few months after its start, only three people showed up for a meeting, and organizers considered disbanding. But gradually, inexorably attendance grew. In the summer of 2000, organizers began having regular speakers, typically baseball authors. Today, the club is firmly established as a haven for baseball lovers of all ages.
Talkin' Baseball's September meeting, held as the 2011 regular season wound down and the playoffs approached, attracted about 20 people, including three women and two young boys whose encyclopedic knowledge dazzled the regulars.
The attendees were dressed casually, most wearing a cap or T-shirt proclaiming their allegiance to one big league team or another, among them the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees, the Chicago Cubs, the Cleveland Indians and, of course, the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles. Most participants were from Howard County, although some came from as far away as Annapolis, Bowie and Gaithersburg.
The planned speaker, Sean Forman, founder of Baseball-Reference.com, couldn't make the meeting because he was trapped in Philadelphia by the weekend's flooding. But after the monthly quiz from McAfee (Question: How many pitchers threw in the Major Leagues in the 2010 season? Answer: 635), announcements about upcoming events and the passing around of an autograph from Nationals' pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg, Paulson got the discussion going with a question about which was the greatest outfield of all time.
From then on, it was 90 or so minutes of talkin' baseball.
People tossed out questions for debate and comment: What Major League team had the nickname of the Bluebirds? What was the only infield in history where every member drove in at least 100 runs? What position has the most representatives in the Hall of Fame?
Each question was discussed, debated and dissected with relish, and when the discussion lagged — or even when it did not — more questions were thrown out: What are the pros and cons of expanding Major League rosters in September? Should a player say he was not hit by a pitch when an umpire rules he was hit? How much baseball history do current ballplayers really know?
At one point, at least three or four separate, animated discussions were taking place. All, needless to say, were about baseball.
'A baseball fix'
After the meeting, participants left with smiles, handshakes and promises to return.
"The people here are very knowledgeable about baseball," said Tom Steich, 67, of Annapolis. "You get into all kinds of discussions. Especially in the winter, this can be sort of a baseball fix."
Pat Clancy, 66, who has been attending Talkin' Baseball meetings for the past year, said many baseball clubs include either statistics junkies or former players who love the game but care little about stats.
"This one is a nice mix," said the Columbia resident. "It's a group of really, really smart, informed people who know the game and have a balance of knowledge and passion."
"It's just a lot of really nice people who know a lot about baseball," agreed Dick Adams, of Ellicott City, who has been attending the meetings regularly for the past 10 years. "I like meeting people who know more than I do. Today I met a 7-year-old boy who knew more than I do."
The 7-year-old he was referring too was Sean Power, an Ellicott City boy who, with his father, was attending his first Talkin' Baseball meeting, and whose baseball knowledge wowed everyone there.
Dad Kevin Power said he gave his son a copy of the "Baseball Abstract" three years ago, and Sean devoured it.
"He just loves baseball, and he loves his Orioles," he said.
But Power was equally impressed by others at the meeting.
"They really know their stuff," he said. "And it's fun to listen to the conversations."
Would he come back?
"Absolutely. It's a great way to spend a Saturday morning."
How about Sean?
"I think it was fun," he said.
Like the others at the meeting, Kevin and Sean Power were delighted to spend a couple of hours in the company of people who shared their unabashed enthusiasm for the National Pastime.
Adams, asked what the meetings meant to him, offered what could be Talkin' Baseball's raison d'etre: "Paraphrasing Ben Franklin, who was referring to beer, baseball is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."
Talkin' Baseball meets at 10 a.m. the second Saturday of every month at Brighton Gardens of Columbia, 7110 Minstrel Way. Everyone is welcome to attend. For more information, call 410-740-1145.