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    Sabermetrics, TV, And Not Using Too Much Of A New Color In Your Painting

    17th August 2016

    math-equations-blackboard

    Sabermetrics is good. Thinking that programming fully centered on them as something that will reach the masses on television is not so good.

    More than once on radio or television, I’ve been asked about sabermetrics, the advanced statistical analysis in sports, most commonly associated with baseball. I’d also say I’m a firm believer in information. That you can’t have enough of it, and that the value of it in sports should never be discounted.

    This would make sense, coming from me. I was approached early on to write about the business side of baseball from internet outlets that were steeped in reaching out to those that saw not only value in the numbers game in baseball, but for some that were repeat visitors to the sites, sabermetrics verged somewhere on par with religion. Whether that was The Hardball Times, Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, or to a lesser extent Baseball America, looking at new statistics to better understand baseball was, unlike the mainstream sports media, not frowned upon.

    While I was part of this culture and never looked down my nose at it, my interests and what I covered were not known for being big sabermetrics hot beds. There absolutely were economists that centered on sports, but they were mostly in academia. You knew of Roger Noll, or Rodney Fort, but it was really only Andrew Zimbalist that seemed to move the needle in the baseball fan culture.

    That changed some with the late, great Doug Pappas. Doug most well-known metric creation was Marginal Payroll/Marginal Wins to show efficiency and effectivity of how clubs were spending on player talent. Still, myself or Neil deMause would touch on this in later years, with Neil doing adjustments to Doug’s formulas, but the honest to goodness truth was—and still is—business of baseball writers exploring advanced metrics have always been the musical version of the backing band to the rock stars that delved into looking at the players themselves. After all, people don’t go to the ballpark to watch how payrolls are constructed. They go to see the players and the teams they support.

    But that didn’t mean that those that look at the business of sports don’t have some value in this discussion. And it’s here that my spending far too much time looking at how the workings of MLB front offices, and the networks that air games, has led me to want to get to the heart of this article.

    Today, I ran a piece for Forbes called MLB Network’s ‘MLB Now’ Call Of Pirates At Giants Game Shows The Sabermetrics Battle Has Been Won. In it I described how the unique call of the game done by host Brian Kenny, my former BP colleague and now CBS Sports media member Jonah Keri, MLB.com’s Mike Petriello, and Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz would be using the Giants’ local feed of the game with Kenny providing his own play-by-play of the game while incorporating the multiple perspectives on the desk and live info provided by MLB.com’s powerful Statcast technology.

    Social media (as social media is wont to do), had some things to say about this idea. That because there was one game being shown with some sabermetric guys on a panel, did not mean that we’d be seeing something akin to PHD level physics dressed up as a baseball broadcast anytime soon. Maybe the best comments came from FOX Sports’ CJ Nitkowski:

    What CJ is alluding to is something more about how television has approached sabermetrics. Producers have seen that there’s this community of people that dig the numbers side of baseball, and have thrown programming weighted almost entirely around this. “If you dig numbers in baseball, we’re going to talk advance metrics like you’ve never seen before!” or something to that effect.

    The problem here is, while you’ll get some interested, for the most part CJ is right: it’s just not going to ever reach the masses, and in television, masses are what count.

    I don’t hang this on sabermetrics. I hang it on well-meaning producers trying to paint with one color.

    The analogy is this: there’s this new color that few have seen, but there’s a group of people out there that think it should be used more often as the establishment has largely ignored it. So, someone says, “Hey, we have a market for this new color, so let’s use lots of it. Let’s use it pretty much exclusively and we’ll reach this new audience.” Well, you know how that turns out. You get too much of one color. Yes, you’re reaching an audience, but the audience wouldn’t be nearly as large as using that new color evenly along with all the other colors in your palette to paint your picture.

    So, what CJ is saying is correct, but what I truly believe is that you don’t need to overwhelm programming with sabermetrics. It only has value within context of everything else that is out there. So, maybe you start by putting a player’s WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in the graphics for players when they step in the box or take the mound alongside the more traditional stats. Maybe you make the whiz-bang aspects of Statcast something highlighted often around replays of dazzling catches or routes around the base paths (in reality, this is already being done incrementally).

    And maybe that’s the biggest thing to focus on. That as more fans—especially younger ones—are exposed to advanced analytics, the audience grows incrementally. That what is declared “advanced analytics” now simply grows into ‘baseball stats” in the future like we look at batting average, or earned run average now. The new stats simply grow into commonplace due to exposure.

    None of this is to say that what is going on prior with Jabocast, or Clubhouse Confidential, or currently with MLB Now is bad. What those programs are are highly targeted to the sabermetrics community.

    So, when I say that “the sabermetrics battle has been won” it’s a reflection that it’s now embraced by the league and front offices, and that it’s now part of a larger culture. Is it going to overwhelm what we see as part of television and mainstream media? No. Is it going to slowly but surely become more common in both? Absolutely. It’s a new color that the average fan deserves to see.

    Posted in Baseball Insight, Broadcasting, Social Networking | No Comments »

    The Long, Strange Trip

    31st December 2015

    Writer
    Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. – Ferris Bueller

    I don’t really know how I got to this point. I mean, I know I was always a sports fan. And as a product of the 1970s and a family that seemed to thrive on debates around politics and the world around us, I’ve always (for better or worse) had an opinion. I also know I’ve been one OCD SOB. I’ve never been satisfied without digging deeply into details.

    So somewhere between my first San Francisco Giants game at Candlestick Park as a young kid, working on bringing Major League Baseball to Portland, starting The Biz of Baseball, writing for The Hardball Times, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America, FanGraphs, some freelance gigs and eventually Forbes, I’m here. What “here” is will be different than what “here” is in the future, but then I guess that’s been my journalism career trajectory: just do what you do. Never stop writing and wherever it goes, well, at least you’re not sitting around waiting for something to happen.

    Maybe unshockingly for those that read my work on a regular basis, I did not graduate college with a journalism degree. That said, as young as I can remember, I spent at least every Sunday, and many times in-between, using that ever-present OCD I had to analyze the great scribes that provided insight into the world through the newspapers. I was transfixed by Watergate, Bill Bradley, Woodward and Bernstein, and therefore a fan of investigative journalism. As I began to write, I shifted to looking at The AP stories and their formats before I knew what “AP style” was.

    I’m unsure if any of that translated into a particular writing style noticeable to readers. It does speak to my profound appreciation of those that cover the news at the highest levels. For sports, Peter Gammons, Eric Fisher, Jerry Crasnick, Liz Mullen, Rob Neyer, Jayson Stark, Ken Rosenthal, Buster Olney, Ronald Blum, and in his day at The New York Times, Murray Chass, became the writers I watched with a keen eye. They may not have always said what I wanted to hear, but it’s how they said it that mattered. It’s not just important to write; it’s important to see how the pros’ pro goes about it day after day. As my friend Will Carroll said, “There is no such thing as writer’s block. You just push through if you want to do this thing for any period of time.”

    At a certain phase what really distinguishes a professional journalist that wishes to not only write, but report news and expand understanding of the topics they cover, is accessibility to the people making news. This isn’t to say that there aren’t exceptional writers providing indispensable analysis around the news of the day. It’s to say; to get to the heart of whatever it is you are covering you need to understand those within it. That leads to wanting to talk to those at the highest levels and ask questions others aren’t asking.

    I have been an outsider with inside access my entire career covering Major League Baseball. I have no idea why where others have butted up against a wall I was able to get past it. I’d like to think it was because I was pumping out quality work, but in reality there just had to be some seriously good luck that came along for the ride. I’ve never been denied access. If I applied for credentials to MLB games, I have been granted them. Ditto jewel events such as the All-Star Game, Postseason (including the World Series), and the Baseball Winter Meetings.

    With all that as the backdrop, beginning in 2016 I’m about to see a change.

    The long, strange trip took another turn yesterday when I was accepted into the Seattle Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). I had tried gaining access some years ago, but the landscape was different. I remember coming out of the interview process the first time feeling a bit dazed, and having then BBWAA president Ken Davidoff tell me, “Don’t be discouraged. Keep doing what you’re doing. It will eventually happen.”

    What “happened” was a shift. No longer would writers be accepted or denied at the national level, but instead be looked at by their local chapter. I made my case to current chapter president Ryan Divish and said basically that wishing inclusion wasn’t about gaining access, it was about the protections of retaining it. In other words, only through the good graces of the clubs and Commissioner’s Office had I been given access to allow me to report. There was nothing that said that it couldn’t be taken away for whatever reason. As Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan said so perfectly to me in an email, “Scrap the awards. Take away HOF voting. Just don’t [screw] with our access.” This explains while I was flattered that the IBWAA told me I was welcome, I was uninterested. It’s not about the award voting (although I will be taking it exceptionally serious with the BBWAA), it was about something the IBWAA couldn’t offer that affects my ability to work.

    I made mention of being granted BBWAA status to current ESPN and former Baseball Prospectus writer, Christina Kahrl.  No one editor pushed me harder than Christina when I was at BP, and I’ve never forgotten the valuable lessons she taught me during that time. She said something I hadn’t considered which is with BBWAA status, you could make a case that I’m now part of the “establishment”. Maybe it’s cool to be antiestablishment, but I write for “Forbes” covering “sports as it intersects with business” so I was likely kicked off the cool kids table long ago. Still, her commentary is important and got me to thinking.

    Over the past 15 years, I’ve always thought readers gave my work a critical eye, and with me now being a member of the BBWAA, I expect that will increase. There is absolutely nothing bad in any of that. I know that there are a lot of people that see consumers of news and respond to it online as “trolls”. “Never read the comments” is going to make a great tattoo in the journalism community at some point, but it seems essential for writers to be held accountable, especially in an age of less editorial oversight, and the hyper-completive nature of the industry. I want readers to challenge me, even knowing that there’s never been one writer out there worth their salt that didn’t get it right at some point. As Carroll said, you push on.

    Finally, I thought it was important to talk about this all for others in the journalism community, both established and otherwise. There are bound to be some that question what my intentions are with wanting BBWAA status, and I’ve laid that out. Outsiders will wonder how the inclusion process all works, and to that I can only say, I really don’t know. Short of making a living at being a baseball writer, if you go about it professionally day in and day out, it can happen or not happen. Every writer is a unique decision for the BBWAA.

    Maybe the best way to put it all is this way. The long, strange trip is different for everyone… including me.

    Maury Brown writes about the business of sports for Forbes SportsMoney and USA Today’s The Fields of Green. He can be found on Twitter @BizballMaury

    Posted in Baseball Insight, Maury's World | 2 Comments »

    That Ringing In Your Ears is the 60-Cycle Hum

    18th December 2012

    The Original Music Gar?

    Gear. For a musician, it’s the tools of the trade, and then some. Get heavily into it as a pro and you’ll preen and dream, lust and coddle, protect and improve on every last piece you own.

    So, it seemed appropriate that functional art (and yes, that’s what I view guitars, basses, drums, and other assorted musical equipment), should get some treatment. Why not break down the beautiful essence of vintage collectable guitars? What’s the matter with basking in the glow of amp tubes? Who says that an old drum kit isn’t as cool today as it was the day it was manufactured? And better yet, why not look into players at the local and international level that use them?

    For the musician (and especially guitarists), my renamed personal blog is something that you’ve all heard: that unplugged guitar cord, or an amp in a bar that needs a ground-lift. Yes, it’s that 60-cycle hum. But, in my head, that “hum” is the sound of sweet live music; that buzz that lives in breaths in clubs and venues. I hope you’ll return often.

    To give you an idea of what future articles might be like, please see the following, and thanks, as always, for supporting live music!

    Guitar Talk: High Maintenance Beauty — Gibson Firebird Non-Reverse Design

    Guitar Talk: I Have a Metal Neck and My Name Is Travis

    Posted in 60-Cycle Hum | Comments Off on That Ringing In Your Ears is the 60-Cycle Hum

    A Father and Autism: When “Thanks” is Not Enough

    22nd May 2012

     


    Travis just after anesthetic

    “Exhausted”.

    That’s about the best word to describe today. But, with assistance from friends, family, and surprisingly, a host of people that we have never met, Travis had his medical/dental procedure done today. As he sleeps near me on the floor – part of the lasting effects of the medication still in him – it’s been 9 hours since we left across town for his appointment. We had to wait all this time to find an opening in the schedule that would allow us to get in first thing in the morning as Travis could not eat after midnight the day of the procedure. The worry was if it was later, he’d start whining for food and milk, and well… when you can’t reason with a child; it can be a dramatic affair. After all, all he’s wanting is something to eat. You can’t reason with him via the autism.

    The picture above shows Travis about 30 seconds after the anesthesiologist administered the shot. Travis being Travis didn’t know what was going on with the shot until it happened. “Owwww!!! BAND-AID….!” A few seconds later, he was out and he was carried away out of sight of his parents.

    As we sat in the waiting room, my thoughts on the fundraiser that we had to have for all of this to happen was on my mind. We have been incredibly fortunate to be blessed with assistance from so many, and I thought about how often the scene I was living out was playing out across the country and around the globe. Many are not as fortunate and I don’t know how some parents survive the challenges.

    So, what was the result of the examine and work thereafter? X-rays revealed that Travis had 9 cavities which needed to be filled, a nasty side-effect of a diet that redefines “picky.” He will not eat much of anything other than starches. Bread… French fries… cookies… the best we can do is get Soy milk in him with vitamins and if we’re lucky the occasional request for apples or cheese.

    Total out-of-pocket cost for the day would exceed $3,000 for approx. 2 hours of work. If not for the fundraiser that covered a fair portion of the total, we would have been in a tight spot.

    This is a tale of just one thing. These types of events will occur throughout Travis’ life as it will for other children on the autism spectrum. I never understood how the cost of raising a child on the ASD scale could reach well into the millions, but I understand now. It is the unexpected. It is the thing that seems so simple in relationship to raising “neuro-typical” kids and yet becomes a huge challenge on a level you never expected to face with autism in play.

    We can’t thank all those that donated, enough. There were so many, most of whom wished to remain anonymous. But, I do wish to extend a special thanks to the sports community of which I’m blessed to be a part of. Via Twitter, blog posts, and more, word of Travis’ situation spread, and the donations came pouring in, none more than through my Texas Rangers friends. No, I do not live in Texas, but Adam Morris and the good people at LoneStarball.com brought in so many donations that it reaffirmed my belief in humanity. That spread to PinstripeAlley.com where New York Yankee fans  added their voice. Along the way, members of the media – both big and small – joined in. The result is that you have made a difference in a family’s life. My wife and I thank you, and one day, I hope to hear Travis thank you, as well.

    Our love,
    Maury and Glenna Brown

    Posted in Maury's World, Social Awareness | Comments Off on A Father and Autism: When “Thanks” is Not Enough

    A Father and Autism: The Cost of Autism

    1st April 2012

    UPDATE: (Weds, 4/4/12) – First off, I and my wife have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of support for Travis. The compassion we’ve seen has touched us beyond words. With so much interest, I wanted to pass along this update…

    I wish we had better news to report, but our trip today did not go as planned. Trying to get the sedatives into Travis required holding his mouth shut, and even then, he did not get all that was needed in his system. The comment from the pediatric dentist was, “You have three options: we can try, but by the looks of it, I would not suggest it. The other is we can strap his arms down and lock his mouth open. Or, we can go the suggested route which is putting him completely under with an anesthesiologist to administer.”

    We have decided to go with the latter. One hopes and prays that over time, his ability to go to the dentist without these radical options will subside. Maybe it’s me, but “strapping down” a child – autism or not – is going to create a massive amount of anxiety. The downside is, the cost will be increasing… substantially. As I said to a friend, “Autism: the gift that keeps on giving.” Of course, it’s not “autism” it’s the insurance companies. Why will it cost so much out of pocket? The procedure that is needed for Travis is deemed “elective”. I wish whoever wrote that into the policy would have been there today to see what occurred.

    Thanks again for all your support. It means more than words can say. – Maury Brown


    Four years. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long. And at the same time, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to see my son without it through the prism of autism.

    Travis will be turning 7 in May. Many of the challenges that we faced when he was first diagnosed have gone away, only to be replaced with new and different ones. In that, autism is a dynamic, morphing, and life-altering process. It has changed me, my wife, and eldest son’s life in ways unfathomable. It has made me revaluate what is truly important. In that, Travis has taught me more than I have taught him.

    But, even in our best efforts to try and understand and prepare for what may come forth from Travis as a “classic” autistic – one lower on the scale – it can be surprising. The cost of autism was not something we thought would impact us so soon.

    The cost of autism is staggering, and this is just everyday life costs. We have yet to get Travis fully potty trained. Cost? As much as $60 every week.

    It goes further. While it’s not uncommon for kids to be anxious about going to the dentist, for Travis, it’s a full-blown medical procedure. You can’t rationalize with him to get through getting the cavities filed (a side-effect of the autism is a diet that is almost all starches – he will not eat much of anything else, which increases the chances for cavities). Getting a drill in his mouth is an impossibility. So, to do so, we will go to a special dentist, and try sedation. Cost not covered by insurance? Between $500-$1,000. If that doesn’t work, we will have to have him go to the hospital where he will be put under complete sedation, and monitored by an anesthesiologist, just to allow the dentist to do his work. Cost? Thousands (with an inability to shoot X-rays, he may require more extensive work). And, this doesn’t include his “night terrors” which don’t always happen at night and will likely require more attention. The reason for these moments are likely a side-effect of being over stimulated by way of the autism disorder.

    To that end, this year is personal. We have started a small fund-raiser for Travis to meet these needs. A PayPal link is provided below for donations.

    Donate to the Travis Brown Autism Fund

    Through it all, Travis is still a soon to be 7-year-old little boy. He has incredible tactile skills on the computer, often exceeding the skills of his 10-year-old brother in games. He likes Transformers, Legos, and dominoes, but not in the traditional way: he watches YouTube clips. He loves short hikes with his dad, and enjoys school. In that, he is just another little boy. A little boy that can’t speak, but can communicate in other ways.

    This is why autism awareness is so important. The challenges are often daunting for parents and siblings, not to mention the children that will grow up to be adults. Please help by promoting not only awareness, but compassion.  Our main focus is to promote autism awareness and have donations made to Autism Speaks through all the Business of Sports Network websites. This personal story simply tells of one aspect and the reason why finding the root cause of autism is so important.

    Thanks,
    Maury Brown

    See details on the 2012 Autism Awareness Challenge.

    FOLLOW MAURY BROWN ON TWITTER @BizballMaury

    Posted in Maury's World, Social Awareness | 2 Comments »

    Media Accessibility Leads to Enlightenment

    22nd October 2011

    It’s not good to try and look in the mirror and size yourself up as a media member, unless of course your position is clearly defined. Peter Gammons, Peter King, John Clayton, Ken Rosenthal… “Insider”. If you blog from home and do analysis around stories in the mainstream and alternative media and provide commentary, clearly an “outsider”.

    There are tweeners. Liz Mullen of the SportsBusiness Journal/Daily is as inside as they get when it comes to what agents are up to, but outside, for the most part when it comes to leagues.

    And, then there’s me.

    I’m an “inside, outsider” in that I’m an independent. I have insider access to an extent, but I would never dream of saying that I have the muscle needed to get into every place I’d like to be because I don’t have “ESPN”, “FOX”, or “Yahoo! Sports” on my title at this point.

    You’re asking what this is all about. Keep reading….

    Much was made of how Albert Pujols and some of the veterans on the St. Louis Cardinals didn’t make themselves available to the media after the World Series Game 2 loss on Friday night. A host of columns, and a mountain tweets and Facebook comments were generated out of the actions, specifically with Pujols.

    This morning, Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com ran a story that may best describe why accessibility is critical to good reporting (see Stars need to talk to media, regardless). Part of the column reads:

     

    Anti-media types consider reporters to be pests. Fanboys want to hear only the best about their favorite players and teams. But the daily contact between reporters and players produces not just quotes, but also background information for context. And the checks and balances actually work both ways.

    […]

    Such accountability is healthy, often prompting restraint. Judging from Twitter, many fans took exception with the other side of the argument, that players should be accountable to reporters. Well, reporters essentially are conduits to fans, means to an end

    Rosenthal hits on something that has been a source for my desire to write daily: background information for context.

    From the time I began writing, I wanted to interview those around sports. I wanted to ask my questions, and get answers from individuals directly without the filter that may come from another writer’s perspective. It was done, not only to get original content out there, but to be enlightened.

    Rosenthal talks in his column about how those that are balanced pros as reporters can be heard to say, “I don’t know.” Even the best, with many, many years in the trenches have been heard to say that. And, the best advice I ever got about doing radio was when confronted with a question you might not know the answer to, the best of them know how to gracefully say, “I don’t know.”

    There can be pitfalls in accessibility. One can run the risk of being a conduit for one point of view or another. “Balance” has to be a reporters credo, even if a story is incredibly one-sided.

    Reporting on the business side of sports can be difficult. Report on a game, and the outcomes are fairly clear, and the story rarely lingers more than a few days. Contrast that with a story on labor issues, or the complexities around a club bankruptcy or sale, and the story can ebb and flow for months, if not years.

    I have been pounded every which way to Sunday on reporting a story one way, only to see the direction of events shift 180 degrees in a matter of days or weeks. That’s the nature of the beast.

    So, talking to those directly involved in negotiations is paramount to understanding how matters can change, the complexities and internal politics, and more.

    I have never considered myself an “expert” in the field of sports business. To say as much would mean knowing everything about an industry that is constantly moving and evolving. There are no rules. There is no “final out” or “time has expired”, it just moves on.

    So, in a world where fans take sides, and look for any little matter to say, “You’re a hypocrite,” if you want to be a journalist, get some real thick skin. If you’re good, you’re always learning, which if you think about it, isn’t a bad thing, right?

    FOLLOW MAURY BROWN ON TWITTER @BizballMaury

    Posted in Maury Talkin' Sports | Comments Off on Media Accessibility Leads to Enlightenment

    I Robot? Should Media Members Have a Personality on Twitter?

    24th June 2011

    You want to write these days? Blogging ain’t enough. Jump on the social media train, as it’s left the station. Twitter in. Blogging out.

    But, if Twitter is “in” then that begs the question: Are reporters, authors, columnists allowed to be “social” on a social network?

    Or, more correctly, am I allowed to have personality?

    It’s a thorny question. Write for ESPN or other mega-outlets, then there are social network policies. Some writers aren’t forced into policy, but the mandate from publishers are pretty clear: talk your articles up. “Promote your outlet. Keep other aspects of your life out of the social network space. It’s dangerous to us.”

    Those that follow also have an interest in whether you talk about everything from your morning cup of Joe to what’s playing on your iPod. Some have come for the information you provide. “I want your information and personally, I don’t want to wade through the chaff. Keep your life separate.”

    I get this, kind of. Twitter is a tool for many to get information. On the other hand, some Twitter’s greatest aspects are that a) by definition it’s social, and; b) it gives authors a chance to show their something besides a breathing RSS machine – a robot there to dispense news.

    It’s happened to me. I was politely asked (see below), and to that end, it provided the opportunity to ask some of the over 7,000 followers I have: “Should I keep sports biz and personal commentary in separate Twitter accounts?”

    @ Enjoyed the sports info but a lot of other tweets that didn't interest me. Suggest seperate BizOfSports acct + personal acct.
    @WherYaAtWhoDat
    Pony Tellagroni

    The overwhelming response was to keep it a mix. For some strange reason, people want to know what I think of music, news on autism, and other nonsense. More than one said it was refreshing and added personality. Hitting close to home, Kevin Goldstein understood something else:

    @ That would be a bad business decision to separate them.
    @Kevin_Goldstein
    Kevin Goldstein

    If there’s something lacking, it’s personality from some of those reporting sports on Twitter. This maybe due to company policy. It may also be that there are some that view Twitter as nothing more than a vehicle to pimp their stories. Or, it may be that they’ve built a following to the stage where the need to show some color is deemed unneeded. Whatever the case, I hope fans get to know the writers. Some are as compelling as those they cover in the media.

    I always am astounded that there’s more than zero following me. I just don’t seem to me to be compelling. To all those that do follow, thanks for coming along for the ride. For now, take a dose of sports biz, and… get a dose of whatever else is going on in my little world.

    FOLLOW MAURY BROWN ON TWITTER: @BizballMaury

    Maury Brown is the founder and president of the Business of Sports Network. He is a contributor to Forbes SportsMoney and Variety. He has freelanced for the New York Times, MSNBC, Baseball America, NBCSports.com, and Yahoo! Sports. His contact info is here.

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    Posted in Social Networking | 1 Comment »

    Confessions of an Independent Sports Writer

    17th June 2011

    This is not about sports. It is sports only insofar as it was the impetus to write. To provide information. And yes, in some sense, to stroke my ego.

    I have pushed and prodded. Wrote for nothing. Wrote for something. Wrote to report. I wrote for the truth. Wrote to entertain. Wrote to make my head spin.

    I did not begin writing to make money. I began writing as an outlet. A deep, and in some ways, sick need to get information, thoughts and feelings out of my head.

    I began it all as part of a civic effort. Take some analytics around my home market, look across the baseball landscape, and see if Portland, OR could support an MLB club one day.

    That was 2000. I worked with civic leaders and baseball boosters in what I call “the ultimate SABR research project” – a real, live effort with funding, press and politics.

    It was eye-opening. I had a mentor in David Kahn, who is currently the President of Basketball Operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves. “Learn to be dispassionate,” was the message. Getting an MLB was more than a long shot. “The process is the reward,” said Kahn.

    The process is the reward… I took that to heart.

    Portland didn’t land the Expos. It was wired for Washington, DC. That didn’t mean I stopped writing. The joy of pumping out article after article had meaning. Or, it had meaning to me and a niche of others looking for something on sports outside the lines.

    I was approached by The Hardball Times to write an essay for one of their annuals, and simply stuck around. I began understanding that there was a fraternity of great writers covering baseball. Whether it was Rob Neyer, Dave Studeman, Aaron Gleeman, Joe Sheehan, Will Carroll, Christina Kharl, Jayson Stark, Jerry Crasnick, or the late, great Doug Pappas and John Brattain…. more than I can mention in this space. I was jacked to be involved.

    When I went to Baseball Prospectus, there was a sense that I had, in some form or another, “arrived”. I don’t know why I wound up feeling disappointed after a period of time. Writing for BP was to be lined up with the best writers and minds around sabermetrics.

    Which is probably why wasn’t happy.

    I was clearly not going to be the most popular there. I mentioned that ego is a part of writing (for most), and this was the case.

    I called Will Carroll, someone that I knew that would be straight up with me. “This sounds stupid, and a bit pompous, but you’re not helping your brand,” said Carroll.

    Will knew I had seen myself as a niche in a niche. Writing about the business of sports was one thing. Writing about the business of baseball wasn’t going to allow the visibility I ultimately hoped for; I’d be a one-trick-pony. If I was going to see growth in “brand” then writing about just baseball was not going to cut it. It was always going to be the first love, but branching out made sense. In some senses, sports business is like art: when you step back and look at the whole, there is a point where each sport intersects and lends itself to the overall picture. I focused on The Biz of Baseball, launched three more sites, and knew I would somehow live and die by the Business of Sports Network.

    It’s here that I can’t help but look at the print and alternative outlets and see what is happening on both sides of the fence.

    For me, I began to think that in moving to BP, it was just a short hop to writing for one of the larger outlets for pay. In a short period, I’d be at ESPN, Yahoo! Sports, the SportsBusiness Journal… a serious paying gig. That became the focus.

    Ego had supplanted desire. In an industry stacked with writers, I (foolishly) thought I was good enough to climb into a contract position. I may be good enough, but only a fool would say that in an industry with more workers than positions that they’d come knocking. Do what you do because you like doing it.

    I am a product of blind luck. I had always had an interest in sports. But, I had early on taken an interest to sports outside the lines. When I began writing, few were plying their wares in that area.

    There are aggregators of news – those that scour the internet looking for sports stories, and blog traditionally about it. A couple of sentences here… a pulled paragraph from the source story there… some commentary. Done.

    I wish I were Craig Calcaterra, a rare breed of sports writer that has been able to be a superior columnist in every right. I, stupidly, have to want to break news, or provide data that others don’t.

    I feel for this former blogger from AOL (see AOL Hell: An AOL Content Slave Speaks Out). I never wanted to go to a large outlet strictly to pump out stories. Being independent (and often times, broke) was okay by me. I write for Forbes gratis and have never thought twice about it. It’s “Forbes”. It looks good on the resume. That’s allowed me to write for Variety as a freelancer — a bit of frosting on the cake.

    Finally, it’s about chops. Here I am prattling on for no other reason than to prattle. Write because you have a passion for it. In that, you will find there is never writer’s block. You push through, get the story out, and move on to the next story. Not everything you write will scream, “Pulitzer”. Everything you write should scream, “I’m a writer. This is what I do.”

    I’m an independent writer, and somehow have had the incredible graces to have accessibility… well, at least within Major League Baseball. The NFL despises me, but if a story is a story and the truth lies on one side far more than another, you can’t try and make an egg into a perfect sphere. Slamming hard on the opposite to be balanced will only get egg on your face.

    Writing to write is a joy. It costs nothing. It’s clearly cheaper than psychiatry.

    I hope to do a book one day. Something that will have me dig so deep into a subject that at the end of it, there will be the liberation that every rock has been looked under, and more ink was spilled on the topic than I could ever do in any other form than within a book. I hope to say that’s soon. Until then, I’m writing to write.

    FOLLOW MAURY BROWN ON TWITTER: @BizballMaury

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    Posted in Maury Talkin' Sports, Maury's World | 4 Comments »

    Why the NFL Saying “Trust Us” Won’t Do

    22nd January 2011

    I’m an optimist in life, but for most there are few things in life you can really trust. I can trust that the sun will come up tomorrow, and unless you’re part of the Flat Earth Society, I can say the world is round. Some will say, you can really only trust yourself. Some will say they trust in God.

    But, there are some things I’m not going to trust others to. I’m not going to let some random person off the street check my parachute before I go skydiving or let a high schooler conduct surgery on me. Common sense, right?

    And, if I work in a union, I’m not going to accept, “Just trust us,” when it comes to negotiating my pay.

    I am neither a union member or NFL player, but you can understand what they’re asking for in terms of their labor situation, which is the status quo, and if you want to ask us for a pay cut, please open your books. For me to report on the league’s position – that they are seeing declines in cash flow – it’s irresponsible to accept “the economic realities show we’re hurting” without, well… more than that.

    I have always prided myself on objectivity. In working with several sports leagues, most closely with Major League Baseball, they would agree with that assessment. So, it’s an odd feeling to look into the numbers that are available on the NFL’s economics without the league doing anything more than stonewall the media, fans, and players on why they are willing to possibly lockout the players after March 3 while working from the position of, “it’s none of your business.”

    So, when my Forbes SportsMoney piece Numbers Show NFL’s ‘Economic Realities’ for Lockout Unwarranted started making the rounds with the league’s players, there was a bit of discomfort in it. They’ve trumped it as part of their rallying cry.

    For those that haven’t read the article, it is done in an FAQ format, going over the issues in the labor battle between NFL and the NFLA. When going over it, one might say that about 90 percent of the data shows that owners’ position for a lockout is, as the article says, “unwarranted.”

    But, the larger issue, and the one I was truly trying to make was, you can’t take a $9 billion industry that saw revenues grow in the worst economy since the Great Depression; one that pulls in over $4 billion in TV revenues; had the highest viewed season in television history, and is over the verge of inking an extension with ESPN for Monday Night Football to the tune of nearly $2 billion annually for the rights to air one game a week and say you are hurting… “Trust us.” The real point of the article is, “prove it.”

    This isn’t rocket science. The league shouldn’t act like you’re from outer space for saying, “Huh?” At its most basic level, by working from a “it’s none of your business” position, it makes it look like you have something to hide. If you want to be seen as credible, give me the evidence.

    Since “Unwarranted” I have gone to the next best information available, Forbes’ NFL franchise valuations, and poured over them. I collected, queried, and examined the data back to 2004. That was then published in Instead Of Player Pay Cuts, NFL Needs More Revenue Sharing and More Numbers Show Labor Issue in NFL Far From Cut and Dry.

    I want to take the NFL serious. I’m addicted to telling both sides to the story. So, to the NFL, I’ll say it again, “You’re just going to have to do better… trust me.”

    Posted in Football Insight | 1 Comment »

    Guitar Talk: High Maintenance Beauty — Gibson Firebird Non-Reverse Design

    8th January 2011

    Firebird
    The late ’70s Firebird that I had a
    love-hate relationship with

    When you think about it, going to the guitar shop is kind of like the single guy heading to the bar to check out women. You go in, and can be taken aback with the beauty that surrounds you. Spend more than a couple of minutes and you’re liable to hook-up with one, spend some time with her, have a conversation (read: plug into an amp and try it out), and it could be love at first sight.

    You’re reasonings can be clouded. “She’s beautiful. Imagine how I’ll look with her.” You throw caution to the wind, take her home and the marriage begins.

    You get her home, and reality sits in. She’s high maintenance, and can be temperamental at times. You start to feel uncomfortable around her. Her outer beauty still remains, but it’s she’s not as attractive as when you first met.

    If there were ever a case for that with a guitar, the Gibson Firebird “Non-Reverse” design is probably the case. I fell into this trap outlined above, and spent the better part of 2 years trying to gig with a late 70’s model, an image of the exact paint and configuration I provide here/ In the end, I sold her opting for function rather than form. This isn’t to say I wouldn’t want to get one again, but as main squeeze…. Thanks, no.

    Model 1
    Model 1 – “Reverse” Firebird
    design

    The Firebird was released in 1963 and came in several different designs. The “Reverse” design Firebird has a headstock designed similar to the Stratocaster and the smooth “Z-shape” that was leveraged off the radical Explorer design from 1958 but flipped; the horn on the top.

    The “Non-Reverse” took the Explorer design and simply smoothed it’s sharp edges. The one difference was Gibson flipped the headstock and employed the use of banjo tuners. These design changes create interesting issues, which we’ll get into shortly.

    The Firebird III-VII – the “Non-Reverse” – came with several configurations. Designs with 1, 2 or 3 pickups, hard tail piece, or tremolo, trapezoid, block, or dot fretboard inlays. All but one had rosewood fingerboards, with paint options starting with wood grain and tobacco burst, and then solid colors such as white and black. There was also a 12-string design. The classic bass design that went with had the product line “Thunderbird”. All were made of mahogany and had neck-through design (see this great image of the sales flier from the ‘60s)

    For pickups, the reverse came with P-90s while the non-reverse came with mini-humbuckers.

    As mentioned, the design is beautiful. Firebird collectors abound and they’ve been used regularly by the likes of Johnny Winter, Keith Richards, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, Paul Raymond of UFO, and the late Allen Collins of Lynyrd Skynyrd (both Pete Way of UFO and the late Leon Wilkerson of Lynryd Skynrd used Thunderbirds as main bass rides at points in their recording careers).

    But to say that they are easy to play would be lying. Where a Les Paul or Strat feel comfortable in terms of right hand position and the distribution of weight, the Firebird has the strings off-set to the left by roughly an inch. Play, say a Les Paul for some time, and then grab a Firebird and you’ll find yourself sliding your left hand a half-position out of place if you’re not watching what you are doing.

    To add, by shifting the position, the weight is so unevenly distributed that if you’re using a nylon strap, just by letting go of the neck and having it hang on your body, you’ll see the neck dip to the floor – it’s weighted that far to the left.


    Non-Reverse banjo tuners

    And while the reverse headstock with the banjo tuners looks clean, it creates a case of nearly non-stop tuning issues. By having the low E now stretch the furthest distance from tail piece to nut, stretching and winds getting caught in the nut become nearly an “every song” matter. I went through so much graphite on the nut that at one point I considered buying a box of it. Throw in the banjo tuners that had considerable slip, and tuning after nearly every song becomes the norm, rather than the exception.

    The Non-Reverse Firebirds are beautiful. Every time I see one, I think of that first day when I was smitten with its beauty and was blinded by it. They make a beautiful addition to any collection, and I could see how a white one sitting next to my black Les Paul custom would be a nice view. A good tech can make them manageable, but as a main squeeze for live gigs, they’re a handful.

    Beauty? Yes. But, for the Non-Reverse Firebird, beware… It can be skin deep.

    For more on my obsession with guitars, and the first guitar installment here on SportsBash see:

    Guitar Talk: I Have a Metal Neck and My Name Is Travis

    Maury Brown is the President of the Business of Sports Network where he is also a senior writer. He also currently writes regularly for Forbes SportsMoney and FanGraphs. His freelance work includes several book essays, The New York Times, Yahoo! Sports, MSNBC, NBC Sports, and the New York Post.

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