Hello, all. Wanted to take a moment and announce that I’ve just agreed to return to Baseball Prospectus in a content provision role, after literally battling a vicious case of writer’s block for nearly six years. I look forward to working with all my old friends (as well as Will & Dave), and with all the new faces currently wandering the halls of the Prospectus Entertainment Ventures building here in glorious Glendale. I’ll be writing a regular column about once every other week, as well as doing some new media stuff, and hosting the occasional roundtable/pizza feed/pinata bashing somewhere in California, Nevada, Minnesota, Ohio, or Texas. I’m grateful for the opportunity to come back, and it’s nice to be able to talk with all the BP readers again, many of whom have become good friends over the years.
I wanted to get my first Unfiltered post up quickly, because I wanted to speak about the passing of Bill Walsh, a figure whose impact on football is unquestioned, but also someone who’s had a profound effect on baseball as well. I first met Bill in 1992 or 1993 in Palo Alto, when I was attending a wedding with my then girlfriend/now wife Kathy, whose friend Beth Eyles was getting married. I had snuck out of the reception to catch some fresh air, where I ran into Mr. Walsh, who was waiting for a valet to bring his car around. We spoke for about two minutes, and he was kind and tolerant in kind of a highly practiced way.
About ten years later, I had occasion to spend some time helping out with some projects at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, where I was introduced to Mr. Walsh again. Not surprisingly, he didn’t remember our first meeting. I was fortunate enough to sit down and have coffee with him and some of his colleagues on several occasions. His insight and perspective was far broader than just football or sports in general, and I found the man to just generally be a really good, standup guy during the few times I interacted with him. Admittedly, we talked more about hedge funds and venture capital than we did about sports.
Two things really struck me as his battle against his illness became more and more intense. First off, the mainstream media have some very bad apples in their midst, and everyone should work exceptionally hard to avoid acting like them. The vermin who originally ‘outed’ Mr. Walsh’s private health concerns are scumbags worthy of the contempt of every decent human. I usually like to leave room for equivocation, but in this particular case, there’s no need. Sometimes, behavior speaks for itself.
Second and less importantly (if more on topic), is that some of the very basic lessons of Bill Walsh’s success still haven’t sunk in. Walsh was often reviled for being heartless when it came to veterans of a certain age. Beloved members of the 49er family were often allowed to leave the family at the height of their popularity, which often coincided with the end of their performance peak. Walsh understood Branch Rickey’s admonition about “a year too late” far more thoroughly than pretty much all the other decision makers in any sport, and in baseball, it’s clear that Walsh’s highly visible success and easily identifiable tactics still haven’t been sufficiently adopted. Teams still end up trapped with crappy players on the roster that are absolutely eviscerating their chances to win on the field, often in the slavish pursuit of some arbitrary individual number, like 3000 hits, or 300 wins, or some other number that’s only interesting because we happen to have 10 fingers instead of 8 or 12.
Farewell and thank you, Mr. Walsh. Certainly a genius, but more importantly, a man truly full of grace.