The Call-Up

Oy vey, it’s been far too long since I updated this space, easily my longest stretch of silence here in over nine years of blogging. Needless to say, I’ve been extremely busy, delivering content for Baseball Prospectus and Pinstriped Bible through the postseason and into the Hot Stove season, diving into the Prospectus annual and the Fantasy Baseball Index winter work, and dishing out the shorter reactions to the news of the day via Twitter instead of this blog. That’s been a matter of self-preservation, because as I’ve re-learned in blogging at Pinstriped Bible, it’s nearly impossible for me to keep anything brief. Why say in one paragraph what you can say in five?

Though my tendency towards verbosity is not my strongest trait when it comes to self-preservation — ask anyone who’s ever had the burden of editing me, most notably colleagues Steven Goldman and Christina Kahrl — it’s an extension of my belief that if you’re going to find the time to read my work in whatever venue, you deserve something substantial, well-composed, and distinct from what’s being offered elsewhere. Anybody can react to the news of Adrian Gonzalez being traded to the Red Sox, but how many people who wrote about the story over the last 48 hours linked it to his career-long shadowing of Mark Teixiera while also parsing the various rumors of his contract extension?

I don’t wish to sound as though I’m patting myself on the back, but today, I do owe myself a pat on the back. Shortly after 10 AM, Christina Kahrl called me from the Winter Meetings in Orlando to relay the news that I’ve been voted into the Baseball Writers Association of America, the professional association of baseball journalists writing for newspapers, magazines and qualifying web sites — and the people whose votes on year-end awards and the Hall of Fame I’ve spent a great deal of time critiquing and occasionally ridiculing over the years.

Now I’m one of them — one of somewhere between 700 and 800 in the entire country — which means that I’ll have credentialed access to major league press boxes and clubhouses just like the beat writers and columnists of the New York Times and ESPN and so forth. I’ll be able to vote for a postseason award, and if I reach 10 years doing this, I’ll be able to vote on the Hall of Fame, provided I haven’t already gone joyriding up to Cooperstown with Jonah Keri to burn it to the ground over the exclusion of Tim Raines — who will still be eligible at that point, so long as he doesn’t slip below the five percent mark in any vote between now and then.

But I digress. Fucking hell, I always digress…

In getting to this stage of my career, I’m standing on the shoulders of giants… giants, at least, within this little niche of web-based baseball analysis. Because for so long, our sliver of the industry has been outside the gates of the BBWAA. It wasn’t until 2007 — three short years ago — that the organization voted to open its membership to web-based writers at all, and even that first wave consisted mainly of ESPN, Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated and Yahoo writers who had lost their memberships by moving from print publications to web ones, among them Peter Gammons, Ken Rosenthal, Buster Olney, Jayson Stark, John Heyman, Tom Verducci — a Murderer’s Row of industry veterans.

Left outside in the cold at that point were ESPN’s Rob Neyer and Keith Law, the only two of the 18 web-based writers whose applications which were turned down. Neyer’s work at ESPN was one of the main drivers of just about every early baseball blog that sprung up, helping to bring the teachings of Bill James (for whom he was an assistant) to a new audience. Law, a longtime writer at Baseball Prospectus, was a pioneer in making the leap into a major league front office (that of the Blue Jays) before departing four years later to take a job at ESPN. Fortunately, both gained entry the next year (2008), as did the first two of my BP colleagues, Christina Karhl and Will Carroll. With arrivals and departures, BP’s BBWAA contingent now includes Karhl, managing editor John Perrotto, Brad Doolittle, fellow 2010 entrant David Laurila and myself. I’ve known that my application was in process for almost exactly a year, but only a few people closest to me were aware of it as well.

The new kids on the block have found controversy, particularly when it came to the 2009 NL Cy Young vote, when both Carroll and Law caught flack in some quarters for leaving the Cardinals’ Chris Carpenter off their ballots in favor of Dan Haren and Javier Vazquez, respectively. Both made choices informed by non-mainstream statistics, breaking some amount of ground by tossing around acronyms like VORP, WARP, FIP and SNWP as voting members of the BBWAA rather than interested bystanders, and both defended their votes rationally against an angry mob while withstanding more scrutiny than most mainstream writers get — or at least used to get — over their picks. The controversy even resulted in a rule change; the so-called Keith Law Rule now provides for five spaces on the Cy Young ballot instead of three. (I’m told Keith isn’t crazy about being singled out in such a manner, but it only points to the disproportionate level of scrutiny to which he and the other members of this small minority have been subject.)

In any event, sometime late next season I’ll find out what award I get to vote for next year. The more immediate result is that I will have consistent access to major league press boxes and clubhouses, and will thus find myself at Yankee Stadium, CitiField (and perhaps other venues) more often as a result. After years of being denied credentials via various circumstances — most particularly the Mets’ spectacular folds in 2007 and 2008, those after BP had painstakingly arranged postseason credentials for me — I finally got a taste of access last year. It’s a different world than being at a ballgame as a fan; there’s no cheering in the press box, as Jerome Holtzman’s book title reminds, and on a couple of occasions I caught myself having to stifle the urge to whoop it up. On the other hand, I had an extremely hard time getting myself to ask questions in press conferences and pre/postgame clubhouse visits, stifling the urge to nitpick Joe Girardi’s bullpen usage down the stretch or to secure a post-game quote from Alex Rodriguez when I was standing three feet from him as he asked, “Anyone else have a question?” I was a green rookie then, up for my cup of coffee. While I’m still a rookie, I’ve tasted the Show now, and have a better idea of what to expect.

In reaching this point, I have so many people to thank that I’m in danger of leaving some of them off. Most notably I owe a huge debt of gratitude to BP colleagues past and present, particularly Christina, Will, Kevin Goldstein, John Perrotto and Joe Sheehan. Huge thank yous to BP/PB colleague Steven Goldman and Bronx Banter’s Alex Belth as well, two fantastic pals inside the baseball writing racket who have encouraged me to keep pushing down this path; Nick Stone and Issa Clubb, two incredible friends who’ve put up with my daily yammerings on baseball and the rest of my life since years before this blog was invented; my family and other loved ones too numerous to name; and those to be named later.

And thank you, dear readers. My most heartfelt thanks and gratitude for nearly 10 years of checking in here, at Baseball Prospectus and at Pinstriped Bible, whether it’s on a daily basis hoping that I’ve got something new to say or just from time to time to follow my progress around the web and around the world. Without your feedback and encouragement, I’d have never gotten very far down this path, never left the relative security of my job as a full-time graphic designer to test the waters with my writing. In the few hours since breaking the news over Twitter and Facebook, I’ve been reminded by so many of you that you’re out there and that you care, and I’m incredibly touched by your well-wishes. Rest assured that so long as I am a member of the BBWAA, I will remember the humble roots from which that privilege sprouted, and the examples of those who blazed this unlikely trail.


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