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March 2, 2012
The BP Broadside
The Final Broadside
I thought I might begin today’s entry with a fancy introduction involving Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, General Crowder, Pete Rose, a rogue elephant, a malfunctioning burglar alarm, and Richard Nixon, but the appropriate anecdote that draws those elements together escapes me, and instead I will cut right to the chase: Today marks the end of my tenure at Baseball Prospectus.
My first column for Baseball Prospectus appeared on June 20, 2003. Today, almost nine years later, I present my last. With great sadness, but also great excitement for the future, I have resigned as Editor-in-Chief. On March 19, I will undertake a new challenge, joining Bleacher Report as one of two lead baseball writers, contributing both my usual long-form pieces as well as quicker bits in which I get to indulge my inner hit-and-run commentator.
There is so much I want to tell you about my time here, about the many adventures I have had and the people I have known, many of whom you have read and enjoyed, but it’s hard to single out any one story. This “inside” tale from early in my tenure keeps coming to mind. It was approximately July 2005. In those days, BP’s principals had a yearly meeting someplace fun, like Palm Springs, Las Vegas, or Monte Carlo. I believe we stopped doing those because given the lack of entertainment options available at these remote, arid locations, the guys just got too much work done and were overly fatigued from all of their productivity once they got home.
I was merely an “author,” not a board member, so I wasn’t invited to this particular romp. Still, I had business before the committee: I had been nominated to join Christina Kahrl in editing our annual, and I had to audition to win the role. Christina told me that I would be called via speakerphone on Saturday afternoon. At the appointed time, I waited. No call. My tension was rising—I really wanted my chance to impress these guys and had made pages of notes. I waited longer, checking the phone to make sure I hadn’t somehow missed the call despite hovering over it the entire day. I called Christina’s cell. No answer. Day turned to night. Eventually, I slept.
The next morning, still having difficulty waiting, knowing they were in a different time zone and wouldn’t be calling for hours, I attempted to relax by heading off to the local bookstore for a cup of coffee and a good browse. I had just sat down at a table with my java and a couple of magazines when my phone buzzed. I did a spit take and looked at the ID; it was Christina. The dialogue that follows is approximate, the exact words lost to the shifting sands of memory. “Are you ready?”
Swallowing hard, I agreed, then waited until they transferred me to speaker. I imagined them all arrayed around a table: Christina, Nate Silver, Will Carroll, Jonah Keri, Joe Sheehan, Clay Davenport, Keith Woolner, all sitting in judgment of me, glowering, arms folded. I was going to knock their socks off with my ideas for making the book even more successful than it already had been. Clicks. Beeps. Nate speaking at last. “You there, Steve?”
“Yes, sir!” I said in my most confident nervous voice.
“Steve, what is your plan for streamlining the book’s production schedule?”
“Well, I think the first step has to be to set earlier writing deadlines, because—”
I was cut off by a full-throated exclamation of rage, Joe erupting. “What? Are you insane? You can’t—” Multiple shouts. Chairs being pushed away. Objects falling. The speakerphone was jostled, and I could no longer make out what Joe was saying, but he was still shouting. I held the phone away from my ear. “Aaargghle barrgle raggle raggle rah!” There were other voices shouting back, and a crashing sound that might have been furniture toppling. A click. A beep. Christina back on the line now, no longer on speakerphone, close to my ear. “Steve?”
“We’ll have to call you back.” Click.
They never did.
Joe was always adamant that earlier deadlines would mean out-of-date information, hence his outburst. We were actually in agreement about that; I just didn’t get to explain my workaround that day. Somehow, I got the job anyway. Thus began a career in which I contributed as writer or editor to a dozen Baseball Prospectus books, not counting our recently-issued best-of.
The reason I have fixated on this story today is that it exemplifies what I loved best about BP: everyone was focused on quality, on doing the highest-level job that we possibly could, to getting it right. We didn’t always, of course, and we often disagreed on the best way to achieve that goal, but from then until now, present members included, I have never met a group of people who cared so much about upholding a standard, about raising a banner and honoring it. I will take that ethic with me wherever I go.
It is extremely difficult to leave a task at which you have spent so many years and have come to care so much about, as well as colleagues and friends who are not only fine writers but great people as well. I depart feeling that I have not done all I set out to do for BP. Yet, I was 32 then, 41 now. I had one child, now I have two. I had no books, now I have 15. Conversely, I had two eyes, now I have one. More importantly, I am not who I was then, in part because of the experiences I have undergone here.
There is a great story about George Washington, an important one: Late in the Revolutionary War, Congress had not gotten around to paying the soldiers, and some were thinking about turning their guns on the government. That would have been the end of American democracy before it had even gotten started. The General was somehow tipped off and convened a meeting. Here is how James Thomas Flexner described it in his terrific biography of the Father of Our etc, etc:
Washington had come to the end of his prepared speech but his audience did not seem truly moved. He clearly had not achieved his end. He remembered he had brought with him a reassuring letter from a Congressman. He would read it. He pulled the paper from his pocket, and then something seemed to go wrong. The General seemed confused; he stared at the paper helplessly. The officers leaned in, their hearts contracting with anxiety. Washington pulled from his pocket something only his intimates had seen him wear: a pair of eyeglasses. “Gentlemen,” he said, “you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.” …The hardened soldiers wept.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have grown not only gray but almost blind in the service of my website. It is time for me to move on and undertake new challenges.
Before I depart these pages, a few words about some others who have meant so much to me in my days here. To offer encomiums to them all would push this farewell beyond acceptable lengths and paralyze me with emotion, so I hope both you and they will understand that brevity does not equal disregard but is actually a measure of my devotion: Keith Law scouted me with his usual perspicacity and gave me his hard-sought stamp of approval. Christina Kahrl, Jonah Keri, and Gary Huckabay brought me here and believed in me. Christina became my advocate and mentored an older pupil who didn’t always believe he needed mentoring with patience, good humor, an innate understanding of what makes good writing, and oh so many talks about history, each better than a semester with a great professor. Jonah and his brilliant, lovely wife Angele became instant friends, confidants, and supporters, and have rarely been out of my thoughts since.
I had the great fortune to be in frequent or daily contact with Nate Silver, Keith Woolner, Clay Davenport, and Colin Wyers, all of whom gave me the privilege of learning from good people of off-the-scale intelligence.
I would not be shocked if ten years from now Jason Parks will be known as a novelist first and a baseball writer second. Getting to know someone who is as passionate a seeker as Jason is has been one of the highlights of my short administration. One of my many regrets in leaving is that I will no longer get to be the first reader of his explorations, but I am pleased to have a friend, one whose work I will be watching from close by.
From the day I got my foot in the door, I was telling anyone who would listen about the brilliant Jay Jaffe, already highly esteemed by me as a friend and baseball mind. Others picked up the cry, and soon he arrived like Venus emerging from the ocean spray. I can take no credit for anything he has accomplished since; all I can say is I am not in the least surprised. Keep an eye on this guy: He’s not yet done rising, and if you have the high honor that I do, of calling him your good friend, you have achieved something worth bragging about.
Because so many people said wonderful things about him, I knew Kevin Goldstein was a formidably intelligent and kind person before we ever met. In the years since, I have come to treasure his passionate feelings, deeply held opinions, many interests, and steadfast loyalty to his friends. Kevin’s unique charm derives from being someone who doesn’t want you to agree with him too easily, but rather to stake out a position, hold it, and thereby earn his respect. I know that many years from now, I will still be calling Kevin for advice—not just on the best prospects, but about everything—and that’s even though he’s still wrong about the Beatles.
Ben Lindbergh presented himself as an intern whose intelligence and ability was so apparent that everyone who came into contact with him knew that he wouldn’t be an intern for long. I am pleased to call him my friend and seatmate at many a classic rock concert. I can only hope that our association has been as educational for him as it has been for me. Ben is still young and has many possible destinies in front of him. The only limit on his progress is the breadth of his imagination, and I look forward to seeing what path he takes.
Another writer who came to us young and grew up before my eyes was Marc Normandin. I have missed seeing his indefatigable energy applied here every day since he left, but I still get a hearty good morning from him each day, and I look forward to hearing what new mountain he has climbed. Marc has developed from a phumphering kid who could barely make himself heard in the library atmosphere of a book signing to an assured young man with whom I have done television and radio and now hosts his own video podcast. If I thought I could take the tiniest bit of credit for that, I would be proud indeed. He’s a good man and he works, which for me is as high a compliment as I can give a fellow writer.
Most of you haven’t gotten to see as much of Stephani Bee as I have, as most of the work she has done for us over the last four years has been behind the scenes. It is entirely to my regret that I couldn’t get her out on stage more, because you really have missed something. She is still only 22, and yet has accomplished so much at an age at which I was still learning how to tie my shoes, a realization which constantly puts me to shame. I have never known anyone who was as much a self-starter, who cared so passionately about doing the right thing in all situations, in her work, by her students, and those who are fortunate enough to number among her friends. She has been an impossibly valuable colleague and confidant, tolerating my many eccentricities with the patience of one much older. A recurring theme: I cannot wait to see what she does next, but already I could not be more proud.
There were so many others over the last nine years, all of whom it was my privilege to know and work with: Maury Brown, Will Carroll, Derek Carty, James Click, Corey Dawkins, Neil deMause, John Erhardt, Mike Fast, Ken Funck, Larry Granillo, Rany Jazayerli, David Laurila, Rob McQuown Ben Murphy, Dayn Perry, John Perrotto, Joe Sheehan, Emma Span, Ryan Wilkins, Derek Zumsteg. If I have left any off this list, I only wish that I had had the chance to know you better. It is entirely my loss.
Finally, I would like to thank Kevin, Dave Pease, and Joe Hamrahi for giving me the opportunity to play with this marvelous toy, for their patience and strong opinions, and for carrying on. I know some of their plans for the future, and it is my loss that I won’t be among the musicians in the orchestra playing their new tune.
I am not disappearing entirely, of course; I will be back here periodically to see to the launch of Extra Innings, I will be at our New York and Washington events next week, the Pinstriped Bible rolls on with my good friend Rebecca Glass and myself, I remain reachable at Twitter and via my BP email address as well as my Wholesome Reading address, and I hope you will come visit me at my new home, where I will be among the vanguard of a new wave of (humbly) top-flight writers. And you never know what else may happen: as I said to Keith Law at the winter meetings, once a BPer always a BPer, and this place will never be far from my thoughts.
I would like to thank you for reading me all of these years, and for making all of my chances possible. Without you, I’m nothing. All of those inscribed here: Each in your own way, I will remember you all for as long as I live. See you soon.
Nulla dies sine linea,