31st December 2015
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.