Let’s Get Real

Back on February 28, I was part of the Baseball Prospectus team that visited the Yogi Berra Museum at Montclair State University in New Jersey. Beyond the usual business of promoting Baseball Prospectus 2010, the occasion was notable because HBO Real Sports sent host Bryant Gumbel and their production team to film the event and conduct interviews in the service of a segment on three transgender sportswriters, including my colleague and friend Christina Kahrl.

Christina is one of Baseball Prospectus’ co-founders and quite probably the most original talent the organization has produced. Many a BP writer can pick apart a manager’s bullpen usage, run a regression connecting market size to on-field success, or step into a major league front office to advise on Rule 5 draft options. But where else on God’s green earth can you find references to Habsburg-era archdukes in the context of breaking down the godforsaken Washington Nationals’ non-roster invitations besides Christina’s “Transaction Analysis” column, BP’s longest-running feature?

Anyway, the Real Sports segment aired on March 16, contrasting the torment and the ultimately tragic demise of the Los Angeles Times‘ Christine Daniels (née Mike Penner) with the ongoing battles for acceptance that Christina and MLB.com’s Bobbie Dittmeier wage. Both surviving writers counseled Daniels/Penner on what became a very public transition, and both have fortunately fared much better than their fallen comrade, facing their challenges with extreme courage and heartening amounts of success.

The story could have been handled in an exploitative manner, but Gumbel and company did a commendable job in treating it with sensitivity. It’s a heartbreaking but also inspiring segment, well worth watching. Given how much footage the HBO team shot, I only wish it could have been longer.

On a personal note, yes, that’s me visible in a non-speaking role at about the 5:30 mark. While I did have the decidedly surreal experience of standing next to Gumbel while watching the tying goal in the Olympic Gold Medal hockey game — which was going on at the same time as our event, cutting into our attendance — he didn’t interview me for the bit. While I wish he had, it’s not for my own ego gratification that I say that; I know what I look and sound like on television, thanks.

No, what I would have liked to add to the piece was merely that Chris Kahrl’s TA columns were the gateway drug via which I started reading BP back around the turn of the millennium, before this website had even been conceived. It wasn’t until shortly after she emerged from her transition in 2004 that I actually met her, and upon doing so, I was instantly relieved to find that talking baseball with a transgender expert was no more difficult than doing so with any male or female expert. Now I’m proud to call her a colleague, a mentor, and a friend, and via the HBO segment, I — and the rest of that episode’s audience — understand her world just a little bit better.

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