Springtime with Roger Angell, who doesn't feel bad about writing about baseball.
Most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.
Tim Britton is entering his third season as a Red Sox beat writer for the Providence Journal. He is a native of New Jersey, a graduate of Duke, and a career .220 Little League hitter. He has never hit a home run. You can follow him on Twitter @TimBritton.
How can we distinguish between a pitcher's "command" and "control"? And what does that have to do with good writing?
In his sparkling debut for Baseball Prospectus last week, Doug Thorburn wrote perceptively and with iconoclastic intelligence about pitching mechanics.
“The ominous world of pitching is full of theoretical sand traps,” Thorburn wrote, “and modern research has uncovered the evidence to challenge some deep-rooted beliefs.” His article does just that. (And let me also put in a plug for “Raising Aces: Da Pitching Code,” which he published about a year ago on the Baseball Daily Digest web site and which provided some of the seeds of thought for last week’s BP article.)
We've been busy since our last State of the Prospectus, so it's time to bring you up to date on all of the exciting additions to our roster.
Steven Goldman wrote something in his preface to Baseball Prospectus 2011that has stuck with me since. I quoted it in my own preface to the Best Of Baseball Prospectus books, and I’m about to quote it again. Someday, I’ll feel inspired and find another line to use in my introductions. For now, though, Steven’s sentiments will suffice, since they explain how we’ve managed to remain true to our roots even as many of our founding members and longtime contributors have moved on to other challenges.
True institutions do not survive due to the efforts of any one or two people, but because a collective of believers holds true to their animating principle, thus forming an unbroken chain from founders to inheritors. In our case, we continue to focus on cutting through baseball’s homilies—stomping the dead, whenever possible, along the way—in favor of realism and hard truths.
A certain prospect writer went to the Winter Meetings on a quest to meet The World.
He saw him once on the 4th of December 2011, but only as a fading image in the lids of his eyes, a photograph of bone and hair and enlightenment. As he slept, the World’s posture was perfect and its gait was elegant and immaculate. The World was more than just a writer, he said with two fingers bent on each hand from a comfortable distance apart and in steady contraction. He told himself as he slept that the dawn of the next day would bring him closer to the world. He told himself that being closer to the World would bring him closer to living. He could exist in the world; he told himself he could exist in the world if placed his path within the path of another. He traveled to Dallas, Texas, home of the 2011 baseball Winter Meetings. He was on a journey to find his life. He was out to execute a visit with Verducci.
He didn’t pretend to be unimpressed as he went foot to floor in the lobby of the luxurious downtown hotel that was to host the yearly baseball industry gathering. The crystalline metamorphic form of limestone was polished and ubiquitous; he later quipped that the first foyer in the hotel was the birthplace of marble. He always laughed when he quipped, even privately. He later quipped that he laughed when he quipped, after which it was assumed he laughed, privately. The marble grew on the floors and the walls like stone moss, the wallpaper of the wealthy, he thought. He told a friend that he was impressed by the foyer and by the connection he drew between the marble and the moss, which he felt was apt. Having been around wealth, he was capable of taste identification, and he later described his immediate surroundings in Dallas as a few letters short of being tacky.
I am someone who feels most comfortable in small settings—alone, one on one, or with a small group of intimates. I would not say that I am a recluse, but I certainly have tendencies in that direction, inclinations that the internet has made all too easy to indulge while still allowing me to keep tabs on the larger world. As a writer (as distinct from a journalist) I also have an interest in living in my head—it's the laboratory where I get my work done. What happens at the keyboard is just the outputting of a much longer cognitive process. That's true even when I'm writing about, say, A.J. Burnett, although in that case the cognitive process is about as brief as his typical start.
A season of thoughts and observations are recorded within scouting notebooks, though sometimes those observations are misinterpreted.
The baseball season is long and girthy, filled with raw stumbles, elegant strides, and euphoric climaxes. Fall baseball sputters on, at least for a few more weeks, and winter ball spans into the winter months, but the meat of the games that “count” have already been counted. Now we are left waiting with semi-idle hands for news of pitchers and catchers reporting to camp.
During the 2011 season, I spent an aggregate of nine full weeks on the road watching baseball, mostly at assorted team complexes in Arizona (spring training, extended spring training, Arizona rookie league, fall instructional league), but also taking short hops to the less-than-capacity stadiums strewn about the East Coast landscape. In those nine weeks, I filled 21 notebooks (80 sheets per pad) mostly with legitimate [read: usable] notes, but some of the pages contain spray charts, casual doodles, and the occasional sunstroke-induced rant. We live in the modern age, where modern devices allow for easy and organized access to information, yet my notebooks exist on their own, free from artificial reproduction or systemic organization. To an outside eye, my ramblings on the Ampad’s fine-quality weight paper, which are micro perforated for neat sheet removal, medium-ruled, flop-top, gold fiber, finest selection notebooks, read like the scribbles from the unbalanced antagonist from the movie Se7en, every line on every page tasked with holding my ink. I use a silver- and black-bodied Zebra Lunar pen, with a medium roll and a smear factor that plays nicely with my writing pad. The pen allows for a meticulous approach, with a fine enough point to easily maneuver within the ruled lines, yet thick enough to pack a punch when spray charts and pitch location boxes are needed.
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How can you compare the AL East teams using nothing but similes?
Humblebrag alert: you don’t really make a lot of money writing about baseball for a living.
I earn my livelihood as the editor of a baseball blog on the website of a national sports network in Toronto, Canada. And while my earnings will never win me a date with the type of woman whose level of desire for a man parallels the amount of money in his bank account, it does occasionally have its perks.
Intone the enigmatic words of John Cale along with history's most irascible dead second baseman.
She makes me so unsure of myself…
Standing there, but never ever talking sense
On Sunday evening, my Twitter followers received a stream of dispatches from my parents’ house, where I had been commanded to appear along with my wife, children, sibling, and various other family members. I always enjoy seeing my parents—in my early 20s, my father and mother stopped being conflict partners in my struggle to achieve adulthood and independence and became nice older people I happened to know—but when it comes to larger family gatherings, I often find reasons to demur. However, on this occasion I could not escape, as my father had spent the past 30 days in the hospital, and he had made this a command performance. He nearly died a couple of times over the last month, so he gets his way about things. It says that on the card they gave him when he was released.
I’m not sure precisely when I started ducking certain family events; I’d say it has been roughly ten years. At some point in what is now the distant past, I began to associate such occasions with feeling trapped. Family gatherings are always a strange alchemy of being praised and belittled by people who, at least in my case, really don’t know me that well and probably aren’t prepared for me to be 100-percent honest with them about how I feel about, well, anything, because I’m still nine years old in their eyes. As such, confronted with an assemblage of loving but judgmental faces, I clam up, seek the solitude of an empty room as soon as I can slip out unnoticed, and write in my pocket notebook or, as I did on Sunday, tweet desperately until the battery on my phone gives up the ghost. Both are fine and worthy refuges, because when one feels in danger of being invalidated, one takes shelter in that pursuit which makes them feel most worthy, which in my case is writing. For many others, their best refuge is in drinking and physical violence, which is why psychologists always have to be on call on major holidays.
Something old, something new, but in the end, it's always been about me and you.
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.
What's a baseball writer to think when watching games starts to assume secondary importance?
Believe it or not, most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.
Craig Calcaterra writes the HardballTalk blog at NBC Sports.com. Before that he was the proprietor of Shysterball, a baseball blog of moderate renown. He was a civil litigator for 11 years, but he's feeling much better now.
BP unveils its new crop of signings for the coming season.
I dimly remember my high school French — I’m not sure if I even passed the second year I took — but I do recall memorizing one of those famous Gallic adages that we pretentious English speakers like to drop into our conversation now and again to make ourselves sound educated. I have used it many times to impress dates and potential business partners: La plus ca change, la plus c'est les vaches — “The more things change, the more they stay the cows.” The saying has its roots in the Greek tale of Sisyphus, who would spend all day pushing a boulder uphill only to have it transform into a giant amorous heifer and chase him back down again. Attempting great change can be like that: You wait for the cheers, but all you hear is a lot of mooing.
At Baseball Prospectus, we fear cows far less than we do complacency, which is why we’re making some changes for 2011. First, if you hadn’t already heard, we have engaged a new editor-in-chief (John Perrotto remains with us, having stepped down to concentrate on his writing). This new fellow is so clever, so wise, so wonderf — I can’t go on: It’s me, and very nice of you to say all those things. After a seven-year apprenticeship on the BP annual, I have been given the honor of supervising the next stage in the development of our website. I’ll have a lot more to say about that as things progress over the next few weeks, but for now, suffice it to say that I do swear that I will faithfully execute this office and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the high standard of analysis and insight you have come to expect from us over the 16 years of our existence. I will also be writing a new thrice-weekly column, “The BP Daily Broadside,” which will see me take on the top news stories of the day.