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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