April 1, 2011
A New Delivery
The last couple of weeks have had me on my seat's edge. The season has arrived, and for all sorts of reasons I've been stoked with anticipation. Admittedly, I already got to enjoy a long trip to the Cactus League, which left me even more interested in the Cubs and Sox in a year that already figures to provide exciting races in every division.
But the other thing that I've been waiting on has been the latest development in my career. The last couple of weeks have been a pregnant pause, at a time when I'm usually busy trying to write up every move I can lay my hands on. But that time has now come to an end.
When ESPN chose David Schoenfield to step into Rob Neyer's shoes at the Sweet Spot, I was genuinely pleased, for what that meant for sabermetrics in general, but also because this was a great guy to put out there, up front—David was johnny-on-the-spot at the foundation of online sports coverage at ESPN.com, back during the wild, wide-open internet of the '90s. He's a canny stathead who understands the challenge of trying to communicate sabermetrics' most useful lessons to a mainstream audience. He was also an early patron of Baseball Prospectus back in the day, and the person those of us on the BP team at the time got to work with on our initial ESPN columns, like writing up the expansion drafts for the Rays and Snakes. It's a case of a good guy, a good job, and a good fit.
However, what followed was even more surprising. Shortly after ESPN selected David, they asked me if I'd be interested in joining ESPN.com's baseball team, working on the editorial side of things as well as playing second fiddle to David on the Sweet Spot. I immediately said yes. However, I also made sure that I would nevertheless be in a position to continue to contribute to BaseballProspectus.com, albeit on a reduced schedule.
I've always been something of the “accidental sportswriter.” Even after helping found Baseball Prospectus, I have considered eventually returning to school for a PhD in history, perhaps in some appropriately obscure field. But the fates seem to find a way of conspiring to keep me from it, as I've moved from an opportunity in sports publishing to the privilege of becoming a BBWAA member—a development I thank John Perrotto above all others for—to this new, latest development. However accidental this chain of events might seem in the broad strokes, I have to confess to a bit of ambition for myself in the face of it, to take advantage of this opportunity and recognize that maybe, just maybe, after 15 years this sports thing really is who and what I am about.
In saying as much, I also recognize how it might come across as ingratitude in the face of an immense debt, both professional and personal. I owe Baseball Prospectus everything I am, and everything I have achieved thus far—far beyond my own good fortune as a result, it is the finest thing I have ever been a part of. “It” is my group of guys, past and present, from the four other members of the original founding five to "sixth Beatle" Dave Pease; to the current crew, most especially Steven Goldman and Kevin Goldstein, and Jay Jaffe and David Laurila but also to my compadres on the editorial crew, old and new, with favorite former intern Steph Bee foremost among them. Confronted with the possibilities of the present, it comes home to me how much it has been my honor to be numbered among the dozens of people who have been here since that first conference call back in December of 1995.
That goes beyond just baseball, of course. My own narrative has not been especially mysterious, and in the early days back in 2003, we didn't have all the answers for how my career would work out, or even if it could work out. But in the face of that unknown, my guys and gals stood up for a teammate, and then as now, it has been a collective act of everyday civic courage that I have never taken for granted. That has come with the occasional sacrifice, such as when one television station invited us to promote the print edition of BP2K10, stating that they'd love to have any of BP's primary contributors “except Christina Kahrl,” to which my guys said thanks, but no thanks. I may have never asked for that kind of support, but it speaks volumes about my immense good fortune that, among my folks here, there was apparently never any other choice.
So I'm going to be moving along to ESPN, contributing to the Sweet Spot, and editing elements of the site, while also still traveling to the ballpark as a member of the BBWAA, developing a few feature articles, and generally joining David Schoenfield, providing sabermetrically informed perspective for the benefit of a wider audience. This action reflects my conviction that the victories of sabermetrics get won to the right side of the proverbial decimal point, but risk losing sight of the actual imperative: the need to focus on everything to the left of that point. Sabermetrics will only become rooted in mainstream baseball coverage through personal action and direct engagement with the mainstream audience. That means that the conversation needs to be expanded to include millions of people, some of whom might need some convincing. ESPN.com wants that element of the game in their wider conversation, and they honor me with the privilege of contributing to it.
That said, I'll also be making continued contributions to BaseballProspectus.com and to the annual. Since I will only be writing here every two weeks, that necessarily means I need to walk away from writing about transactions. After 15 years of moves big and—much more often—small, and trying to use that churn as a vehicle for talking about baseball in general, and the odd archduke now and again, it is time for a change. Happily, with people like Ben Lindbergh and Jay Jaffe and R.J. Anderson, I don't think transactions coverage will suffer in my absence. It will be different than it has been in the last 15 years, but should still be excellent, because it will reflect the quality of the guys already on board. Instead, you can look forward to my writing more generally about sabermetrics and big-picture questions, perhaps the odd historical essay, and whatever else Steven Goldman—or you, the audience—may want of me.
Which brings me to the truly important point as far as my writing about baseball: I am not gone, but I am moving into another incarnation. As Shaw stated, “Progress is impossible without change.” This is not just the shape of things to come, it is quite simply progress: progress for me, progress for Baseball Prospectus, and, if I do not flatter myself overmuch by saying so, hopefully a small part of progress at ESPN.com as well. Glory to us all, that we might make it so.