For Those Who Like This Sort of Thing, This is the Sort of Thing They Like

Back from my three-day Baseball Prospectus 2008 media tour of Washington, DC and Philadelphia. The TV appearances didn’t pan out; in DC the station only wanted either Steve or myself, and so I graciously deferred to my editor regarding the opportunity to taxi across town to do a three-minute hit at 6:45 AM (swell guy that I am), and in Philly they decided to devote our five minutes to some 64-team basketball hoedown that I’ve never heard of. The radio stuff went well; we went to the XM studio and did half an hour live with Jeff Erickson (remote from California) for the Rotowire Fantasy Focus show, then did an hour-long season preview with Mike Ferrin for MLB Home Plate that will air next week, plus some five-minute bumpers devoted to topics like “best offseason trade” that will be used prior to early-season. Both shows were a lot of fun, and particularly by the time we got to Ferrin’s show, I was in the zone. Between the radio and the fantasy updates, I’m ready to talk about any team, any time. Let me tell you about the Nationals’ rotation, the Reds’ outfield, and the Tigers’ bullpen…

The bookstore events were tremendous fun. We drew over 100 people to DC’s Politics and Prose, which might be the biggest crowd I’ve played in this guise, with the possible exception of the Yogi Berra Museum and the now-defunct Coliseum Books here in NYC. Steve, Clay Davenport and I fielded questions from guests ranging from pre-teens to septuagenarians for a little over an hour, then signed books while munching on some pretty decent pizza and even partaking in a cold beer (gotta love those indie bookstores and their rogue promotional ways). Clay and I did P&P last September on the It Ain’t Over promo circuit, and I recognized some familiar faces; Clay and Steve, who’ve been hitting that store as part of BP’s regular circuit for the past five years, recognized even more. The Philadelphia Barnes and Noble on Rittenhouse Square was a smaller crowd of about 40, but again, there were some familiar faces, including that of their events planner, Lee, a devoted fan of BP and baseball (if I recall, her husband works for the Phillies). We did well over 90 minutes there, then dashed across the square for a quick bite at Rouge, a great restaurant we hit just about every time through Philly. Fun stuff.

My work demands were such that I didn’t get to do any sightseeing beyond the Mitchell and Ness store in the latter; I had to prepare this week’s Fantasy Baseball Index update in an array of hotels, coffee shops, and trains. This wasn’t so bad, considering that at any given moment I could lean over and pick Steve’s brain about the minutiae of Oakland’s rotation, the Padres’ outfield and whatnot. As the editor of the annual and columnist about seven different venues, he’s in the same season preview mode as I am. Even if he appears to be sleeping or grazing, some part of Steve’s brain is always working on that next deadline. To wit:

The Pinstriped Bible comes to you from a railroad car moving between Baltimore and Philadelphia, or what those of us who rarely find a reason to venture off of I-95 between New Jersey and Washington refer to as “terra incognita.” “Here there be dragons,” the maps say, and one suspects that what they refer to are not literal dragons but bad Chinese restaurants secretly staffed by goth college dropouts from the Midwest who have parlayed an interest in hair-straighteners and black dye into semi-lucrative careers in ethnic impersonation and culinary counterfeiting, passing off Indiana corn and Arkansas chicken parts as Moo Goo Gai Pan. It could be some intestinally corroding experiences with off-coast Asian foods has made me paranoid, or maybe it was two days amidst the striped-tie boys of occupied Washington. Maybe they’re all working together out of the CIE, Culinary Institute of Espionage. The latest briefing says that the Iranians won’t have the George Foreman Grill for at least five years, but we may go to war anyway.

I enjoy traveling by train between short-hop destinations like New York and Washington. In the age of the interminable airline delay, it really is the smarter, faster way to travel, and indeed, as soon as (if) the United States ever gets a true high-speed train system up, airline travel between Boston, New York, and Washington will wither and die. Similar effects have occurred in Europe, where they bullet along similar inter-city distances at roughly 200 mph in more or less perfect safety. With no grade-level crossings, there are fewer opportunities for Jereboam to park his poultry truck on the tracks and cause a major disaster.

My only regret about this one trip is being cautioned by the Norman Lloyd look-alike across the aisle (for photo reference see, appropriately enough, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Saboteur”) not to speak. Jay Jaffe, my traveling companion, and I inadvertently ensconced ourselves in the “Quiet Car.” The Quiet Car, to quote the sign hanging above the aisle, requires that you, “Please refrain from loud talking or using cell phones in this car.” When Jay whispered a question at me about — well, I never did get to find out what he was asking — I am hopeful that he had not just discovered that he was on fire — Norman jumped up and shouted, “Could you guys not TALK? It’s really disturbing.” I briefly considered shouting back, “Hey, Himmler, this is the Quiet Car, not the MUTE car. This is not the Maharishi’s Meditation Caravan or the Prior Restraint Choo-Choo. Maybe you’d be more comfortable in the Corpse Car. Are you disturbed now? How about now? Wait until I tell you my theory about Chinese food imposters in off-highway Delaware. Then you’ll be sorry you stopped my friend from telling me he was on fire.”

Alas, I only mumbled a small fraction of that, not wanting to be forcibly relocated or removed. Principle was on my side, but after a few weeks of touring, I’m too fatigued to fight. That’s my story, anyway, and I’m sticking with it.

It was an honor to be a bit player in that little comedy, just as it’s an honor to spend time with Steve, who’s one of the best friends I’ve made in this racket. We’re separated by two hours of geography and don’t get to spend much face time except in the context of these promo gigs; most of our interactions tend to come via instant messaging in the wee hours as we pick apart something I’ve written for one of his book projects. As one of the hardest workers I know, he’s a great influence to be around, always reminding me that I can and should think bigger and do better, and — given the serious health woes he constantly finds himself up against — with a greater sense of urgency. More than that, he’s a constant font of ideas, with a tremendous breadth of knowledge and a wacky sense of humor, the ability to muster an apt and funny quotation that will find its way into a conversation several times in a given encounter (such as the Abe Lincoln one in the title of this post).

Baseball Prospectus is an odd, decentralized beast, with no home office or physical roundtable where we sit around and flick paper footballs at each other while vetting ideas and theories. If it were, I might be a better and more prolific writer just by spending more time in Steve’s orbit. Note to self: make do with the example he sets.

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