|My Ledger column was a lifesaver|
Tomorrow marks three weeks since I got laid off by the Star-Ledger. It's cliche to say it, but I truly believe things happen for a reason. Especially this thing.
First, it's got to be said, the Ledger saved me. In May of 2011, knowing my days at ESPN The Magazine were numbered, the Ledger threw me a life line, making me their baseball columnist.
What I learned in my two seasons back on the everyday baseball beat is just how much things changed in the 16 years I was working on features across all sports at ESPN. I have so much respect for the amount of work the daily guys churn out on a day-to-day basis.
Actually, change that.
I have so much respect for the amount of work the daily guys churn out on a minute-to-minute basis. You don't show up at the ballpark at 2:30 anymore just to prep. You show up to begin tweeting, blogging, taking cellphone camera photos. It's all good. It just wasn't for me.
And I know this will get me ridiculed, but the way baseball writers are expected to write about the game has changed so much. Basically, if you can't back up something somebody said, or something you observed, with a telling statistic, you're setting yourself up to get skewered.
There's a whole legion of folks out there now who are in the business of "debunking." I saw this at The Mag. Get a quote from Red Sox batting coach Dave Magadan about Dustin Pedroia's uncanny knack for putting the barrel of the bat on the ball and someone's got a stat to tell you he's only average at that. Heaven forbid you write that someone hits in the clutch.
Personally, I don't buy all of it.
I remember as a young writer sitting down to talk to Bob Boone, then a veteran catcher, about things he observed behind the plate. He didn't care about a guy's average with runners in scoring position. He talked about things he'd seen the day before, or the at bat before, that told him how to attack a hitter, or whether it was a good time to pitch around a guy.
|"Writing about leadership is lazy," I was told.|
Over the last two seasons, I had more than a few heart to heart conversations with Bob Klapisch, an old teammate from the New York Daily News who now writes a baseball column for the Bergen Record and for Fox Sports. I consider Klap among the best baseball writers of all-time (and a future Hall of Famer) because of his understanding for the game's nuances and subtleties, but also for the respect he gets from players, coaches and managers, who can easily see he's more than just a guy who pores through pages of stats.
"The game is an art, not a science, Bradman," Klap would say to me. "We can't forget that."
I'm not stat averse, but I prefer my advanced baseball metrics to be served in charts and graphs rather than sentences and paragraphs. Stories driven by stats remind me of the reading comprehension segment of the SAT, where I always felt the author's sole mission was to bore me to death.
During my three weeks out of work, I've found myself searching the SI Vault for stories written by Peter Gammons, Steve Wulf and Tom Verducci. Love stories, if you will. For these were the stories that made me love the game of baseball even more.
|My Rawlings XPG3 here was passed on to a Gold Glover|
I knew I was no wonk. If there's a market for wonkish debunking, that's fine. I'm not going to be a regular consumer.
|Tyler trusts the pocket of his Wilson A2000|
Which brings me back to the "everything happens for a reason" cliche.
In the aftermath of my layoff, my friend Paul Cunningham of Leather Head Sports reached out to me. Paul grew up in Cooperstown, N.Y, and is a hopeless baseball romantic, like me. Paul's passion is for leather-made sporting goods. Our friendship evolved over a mutual fascination with baseball gloves.
|I broke in a few gloves for Beau, my defensive wizard|
It doesn't get any more romantic in sports than a baseball glove, does it? The smell of the leather. The way the perfect glove earns your undying trust. Just put it out there and the ball will stick.
Paul and I are going to launch a line of baseball gloves under his Leather Head brand. It's going to be a lot of hard work, fueled by passion. Fueled by baseball romance. There's going to be trial and error. But we're going to make some incredibly sweet gloves, and I'm going to be calling on so many people who helped me learn the game over the last 40-plus years. Old teammates, coaches, dads who've sat in the stands the last decade with me watching our sons play ball.
Now, I'm sure you could throw a stat sheet at me that will tell me we have no chance to succeed. Give it to me and I'll throw it right in the trash. I'm going to believe baseball is an art, not a science.
And I don't think there's a wonk out there who can teach me a thing about baseball gloves, about what makes a good pocket or what makes a web double play friendly.
I'm not going to stop writing (as you can see above, I still like to tap on a keyboard, and I'm going to look to dive back into writing about soccer in the near future), but I'm going to try something new, with something I love. And I'm going to lean hard on "things happen for a reason."
And trust my intangibles.
Also, check out...
The Wall Street Journal thinks Leather Head may have invented "The Perfect Football"
How to make a Leather Head Football by Paul Cunningham