Back in January, when I signed a book contract with PEV to assemble a collection of my work along with original material, September 1 seemed like a long, long, long way off. The deadline made perfect sense: it would leave plenty of time for reading and evaluating the old work, divining a structure, whittling down a list and writing a bunch of original material. With submissions throughout the year, it would leave time for editing, proofing and printing -- the last a very quick process these days -- and a sales season that would coincide with the MLB playoffs, a time when everyone is focused on baseball and one that I have long considered my best time of the year as a writer.
It would also get the book off my desk before I threw myself into postseason coverage.
That thunder you heard in the New York area last week wasn't the weather, no matter what was reported. No, I think the sound was the earth moving as I filed the first segments of the book to Christina Kahrl. I could not be more fortunate. Christina and I have worked together for 15 years, editing each other's work -- and the work of many others -- in BP annuals and on the Web site. She knows my writing as well as any person alive, making her the perfect editor for this project.
Now, I just have to keep the copy flowing. Having started filing, gotten over that hump, I'm sure the rest of the book will come quickly. In retrospect, I probably spent too much time selecting the pieces for inclusion, which put me behind on the writing, but we're here now, and the words are flowing, and there's an editor and we're vetting layouts, so it won't be long now.
The thing about September that makes finishing a book hard -- one reason why my original deadline was September 1, to be honest -- is that there are so many storylines in play that you can write all week and not get to all of them. In just the last six days I've written a Sports Illustrated piece on Carlos Gonzalez, an SI.com piece about home-field advantage, a book blog entry about the Yankees/Rays series and newsletters about key games in the NL West race, the Twins' second-half surge, similarities among some AL teams, a wrap of Tuesday night's games, and, if you can believe it, Wilson Betemit. I'm working on an AL Cy Young piece for tomorrow, while also plowing through copy on Bud Selig for the book.
I know this sounds funny coming from the guy who just wrote about the struggles of dealing with volume, and I won't pretend it's like this for everyone, but sometimes I can get into a rhythm and everything just comes easily. This week has been like that. It's a great feeling, especially on the heels of the recent struggles. I am well aware that one reason I write is because I want to be liked, and I need that approval, that e-mail, that comment, that Retweet. When I'm cranking out the bylines, I get that. Make no mistake about it: I'm addicted to that rush, that ego boost.
I want to be excited about tonight's Yankees/Rays game. I want to be pumped about the clash of the two best teams in baseball, separated by a half-game in the standings, with two of the best pitchers in the AL squaring off in the opener. I want to be invested in the outcome, either as a Yankee fan since childhood or a professional writer for about half that time. I want to believe.
I can't do it. The game just doesn't mean very much. I have no doubt that the players on both teams will go all out to win, and I am sure that Joe Maddon and Joe Girardi would rather win than lose, but I know the history. We have 16 years of evidence that suggests that teams that have locked up postseason berths treat winning the division rather than being the wild card as something nice to have, rather than something necessary.
I don't think I'm a natural writer. I think I probably write better than I do anything else, so it's fortunate that I have been able to make a career of it rather than resorting to editing or carpentry or male modeling, but it's not something that's just a matter of course, like it's just always been there. I went to college intending to be a stockbroker, and kind of fell into journalism when I realized I enjoyed writing more than I enjoyed math. I still do, which is why it's always been a little uncomfortable when people who don't know all the names and the history position me as a sabermetrician. I'm not; I work with them and I admire them, but I can't do what Clay Davenport or Keith Woolner did, or what Colin Wyers and Eric Seidman continue to do. I don't have the database chops, for one, and I don't have the math skills, for two.
All of this is a long way of saying that I admire and envy the writers I know who are prolific. I'm convinced that Joe Posnanski is actually triplets, and he's just done a great job of hiding that fact. How else could he write as much, on as many topics, as he does? I used to think that Kevin Goldstein wrote a lot, generally five days a week on prospects and the minor leagues after joining BP. Then he ramped it up with "Minor League Update," and I'm in awe. Even beat reporters, who I've tended to criticize as a class, almost all have the ability to generate huge amounts of copy in an age when filing a couple of stories to the paper each day just isn't nearly enough. There's a particular skill, the skill of volume, that I just don't have. I can be prolific at times, such as each October, but it rarely feels like I'm tapping into some kind of natural talent. It's just that I like baseball and have a lot of strong opinions about how it should be played, managed and administrated.
I don't remember exactly when, but at some point in the middle of the '00s, the Boston Globe's Bob Ryan penned an article in which he expressed wonderment at what it would be like to attend a ballgame with a stathead. Jonah Keri, with Baseball Prospectus at the time, subsequently invited him to attend one with him, although I don't think the date ever happened.
I wish Ryan could have been at MCU Park in Coney Island last night, where a collection of statheads and fellow travelers gathered on a cloudy night to watch some pretty unimpressive baseball. I think he would have been surprised, and while I don't know whether he would have enjoyed himself, I do hope it would have changed his perceptions about how this particular type of fan enjoys the game.
In 2007, Barry Bonds hit .276/.480/.565 in 126 games, leading the NL in OBP for the sixth time in seven seasons. He hit a homer every 12.1 at-bats, was intentionally walked about once every 11 plate appearances -- in 29% of his plate appearances with runners in scoring position -- and played a below-average left field that was far from among the worst in the game.
In 2007, Carlos Delgado hit .258/.333/.448. It was his worst season since establishing himself in 1996. Delgado played in 139 games, two weeks' worth more than Bonds had played, was intentionally walked eight times and led the league in nothing.
Joe Sheehan's first solo book is nearing publication, and he needs your help.
I guess we should reset this…
This blog exists to promote a still-untitled book coming out this fall, my first solo project. The book is a collection of my own Prospectus articles and columns dating to 1996, as well as original material, most notably a chapter devoted to the Mets/Cardinals 20-inning game from April of this year, a game that represented both the joys of being a baseball fan and the agonies of being a baseball analyst in the early 21st century.
It's taken a while, but I think I finally have the structure of the book laid out. I played around with writing it chronologically, which would have enhanced the biographical aspects, but instead, it will be organized by topic. The following list isn't final, but you can expect sections to include:
I spent a lot of time trying to come up with a rationale for the Phillies' decision to commit $125 million to Ryan Howard's ages 32 through 36 seasons 20 months before a decision point on doing so. The ones I see fall into two categories: soft factors, such as keeping a perceived key player happy, fending off two years of stories about Howard's impending free agency and showing the fan base that the team will keep its most popular players in Philadelphia; and poor player-evaluation skills: using runs batted in as a primary measure of player value, not taking into account the career path of players with Howard's skill set and badly misreading the replaceability of players like him.
No combination of these factors can justify the contract. Howard is a good, not great, player, a mix of obvious skills — his ability to hit for power and against right-handed pitching — and obvious flaws — a contact rate that limits his ability to reach base, middling defensive skills, terrible problems against left-handed pitching. The package makes him an asset as he moves through his prime, and he has been a key contributor to the Phillies' success since 2006. He has never been the best player on his team, and now, he is no better than the third-best Phillie, and could be rated lower depending on what kind of years Jimmy Rollins and Jayson Werth have. The Phillies have missed badly on Howard, committing maybe 20% of their payroll down the line to a player who will be contributing, at best, 70% of the time at the plate and not at all in the field.
The epic Mets/Cardinals game Saturday provided more than just memories. It gave me the first concrete new-content idea for the upcoming book.
I've mentioned the struggle to decide exactly what the book will look like, what material it will include, what percentage of it will be original versus new. The process is a bit like taking four or five jigsaw puzzles and tossing all the pieces together in a single pile on the table. You know there's a good picture in there, maybe even more than one, but to get to the end you're going to have to not only make the correct pieces fit, but you're going to have to throw out three-quarters of the ones you start with.
I ran my 2010 season preview at Rotowire, including a series of fantasy-leaning divisional previews followed by my traditional breakdown of all 30 teams, including runs allowed and runs scored projections. With their permission, I'm running my predicted standings here in the book blog as well.
For those who have asked, work on the book came to something of a halt during March, as college basketball, season-preview work, fantasy drafts and other things took precedence. I still find myself thinking about the question of what the book will be, and to that end have read or re-read books that to one extent or another touch on aspects of what I'm trying to do. I banged through Bill Simmons' The Book of Basketball, Josh Wilker's Cardboard Gods, Paul Krugman's The Great Awakening (a re-read) and parts of various Baseball Abstracts by Bill James. I need to close ranks on this question soon, because while I'm comfortable with the writing volume ahead of me, for my sanity I'd like to end the discussion in my head.