Some Thoughts “On Baseball Writing”
In December of 2014, I did something I never thought I would do. I posted a baseball article online. That year, a small group of fans of the Effectively Wild Podcast decided to start a blog together. Few of us had any experience, but we loved the game. Over the course of the next few months, we slowly and consistently began putting our thoughts about baseball down on a website. It was the perfect opportunity for us to try our hand at something we had always dreamed of.
I had a lot of fears writing those first few posts (who am I kidding, I still do). I felt like I was too old to get started. I felt like I didn’t have a deep enough understanding of the game to write about it. Yet, for some reason, I jumped in. Once I started, the doubts were almost crushing. Would people like this joke? Are fans interested in this topic? Maybe the biggest doubt I faced was, “Why on earth would anyone care about my thoughts on baseball?”
That was two-and-a-half years ago. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about baseball writing. Admittedly, I still have so much to learn. I recently found myself thinking about all I’ve experienced since that first post. What follows is a short list of the things this journey has taught me.
It would be easy to write a post about all of the problems with baseball writing. It feels near impossible to turn it into a full-time job. There’s little money in it for most of the people doing this. It can be exhausting dealing with negative trolls and commenters. That doesn’t even take into account the aforementioned self-doubt you’ll face throughout this entire process.
However, for all of its faults, I can honestly say that doing this has brought me more joy and happiness than a lot of other decisions I’ve made in this life. For all of the bad, there’s an overwhelming amount of good that’s a part of this. Here’s what I’ve learned about baseball writing as I’ve…well, tried my hand at baseball writing.
The Online Baseball Community is Filled With Wonderful People
Over the past few seasons, one of my favorite things to do has been to watch baseball late into the night and follow the conversations taking place on Twitter. There were constantly fun and insightful conversations taking place about the game that I loved so much (yes, I know there are also plenty of less-fun, uninsightful conversations taking place on Twitter too). Sure, there were plenty of discussions on whether a hot dog was a sandwich and bands I had never heard of, but there was also a lot of simple baseball talk. That’s not something I had a lot of in my day-to-day life.
As I sat down to write about baseball, one of the thoughts I had was “How can I possibly fit in with this group of people?” There were so many talented writers who seemed to understand the game much better than I ever would. Why would I think I could be a part of this conversation?
What I found is that the online baseball community is primarily filled with loving, fun, gracious, and helpful people. Once I started, I found no shortage of writers willing to help me out. Writers weren’t putting up walls to keep new “talent” out. Rather, they were extending a hand to help. I found a community excited to help someone understand the game in a deeper way. I found people willing to help me develop my ability to communicate my thoughts about my passion.
This became most obvious to me once I started the On Baseball Writing podcast. There were plenty of moments I wished I could have asked a more successful writer for advice. How did you get started? How do you power through writer’s block? How do you deal with the doubts? I took a shot that others might be interested in these kinds of conversations. With that, a podcast was born, but would anyone talk to me?
I sheepishly began sending out the first invitations. Most of them went to people I had never met. I was blown away by the response. The show is nearing 70 episodes, and I really haven’t had one bad experience with a writer I’ve invited to be a guest. People with much more influence and bigger platforms than I’ll ever have gladly gave away a bit of their time to help this project get off the ground. I can’t thank all of you enough who were willing to help someone get their foot in the door. You have no idea how much it still means and how helpful those conversations have been.
The same thing was true when it came to writing. Occasionally, I’ll message someone asking for thoughts, feedback, or an editorial eye. Time after time, writers were willing to offer their help even when it had no real benefit for them. What I’ve encountered is a group of people happy to lend a helping hand. Don’t let fear keep you from engaging with this community. My experience has been that they are all too welcoming.
It’s hard to put into words how much these relationships mean to me now. I’ve never met most of these writers in person, but some of them have become incredibly close friends. There are conversations I have throughout the day now that never would have happened were it not for baseball writing. Watching and writing about this game has enriched my life relationally. I’m deeply thankful for that.
There’s Room For Your Point of View
I’ll confess, when I started writing about baseball I had a crippling fear that almost kept me from starting. What was it?
I’m terrible at math. Don’t tell my bosses at Baseball Prospectus.
In high school, I almost didn’t graduate because of my work in a statistics course. Luckily, I had a teacher willing to let me come in and clean her room a few times after school to get me up to that all-important passing grade. I’ve always struggled with math, and I thought this would be the thing that kept me from ever writing about baseball.
The work writers have done dealing with advanced stats is truly incredible. I don’t understand all of it, but it’s enriched my understanding of baseball. Thanks to the new tools and formulas that have been created my thoughts have been shaped, molded, and changed. Once I discovered writing like Bill James, Rob Neyer, Baseball Prospectus, and FanGraphs (not to mention many others) it opened up a whole new world to me. I couldn’t explain the ins and outs of what they were doing, but it definitely helped me appreciate the game.
I do what I can now in this area. Admittedly, I skip the sections of a Russell Carleton article labeled “Gory Math Details Ahead.” His intro and conclusion usually give me a pretty good idea of the point he’s making, but I’m not always sure how he got there. Dissecting the numbers and formulas that go into current baseball research is never going to be my strong suit.
My assumption was that this would put a ceiling on my ability to write about baseball. I never dreamed I would be a writer at Baseball Prospectus. What I’ve learned the deeper I’ve gotten into this is that there is a need for all kinds of baseball writers and writing. Yes, we absolutely need people doing work in advanced stats. But we also need storytellers. We need history teachers. We need individuals who can connect the game to the broader social issues of the day. We need people who can write an entire article about crowd reactions to a moment. There’s so much more to this game than math.
Don’t let a fear of statistics keep you from pursuing your passion. There are different kinds of baseball fans. Thus, there needs to be different kinds of baseball writing. Don’t force yourself to be something you’re not. You should absolutely grow in the areas you don’t understand, but don’t be afraid to bring your unique voice and experience to this endeavor. The baseball writing community will be a richer place for it.
Don’t Be Afraid to Jump In
I’ll leave you with this. I’m sure there are people who have wanted to give this a shot, but they haven’t for a host of reasons. My biggest piece of advice to you would be to simply start writing. Start a blog. Reach out to a site looking for help. Read everything you can get your hands on. Your early articles won’t be very good (mine weren’t), but you’ll learn so much in the process.
You’re going to find negative comments and criticism. You’re going to have nights when the words simply won’t come. You’ll have moments where you wonder why you ever started doing this. For all of these difficulties, I truly believe you’ll receive back so much more than this will cost you.
So, just give it a shot. The worst a site or editor can do is say no. It sucks being rejected, but everyone who does this has been rejected numerous times. Doing this isn’t just going to deepen your understanding of the game, it’s going to grow you as a person. That alone is absolutely worth it.
To the new friends I’ve made along the way, I love you guys.
To the people who were willing to help me get started, thank you.
This is never going to be my full-time job. I’m not going to be a beat reporter. I’ll likely never have a massive platform, but I’ve met a lot of really great people who find as much enjoyment in this silly game as I do. That on its own has been worth the late nights staring at a monitor, the fears over negative comments on my articles, and the periods of self-doubt.
These two and a half years have been some of the best of my life. I can’t wait to see what’s in store, and I can’t wait to see what all of you come up with. I’m not intimidated by baseball writers anymore; they inspire me. Keep up the great work, and thanks for letting me have some small part in this.