Rob Neyer says goodbye to ESPN

23 Comments

Rob Neyer has announced that after 15 years — which is about 300 in Internet years — he’s leaving ESPN.  Rob is going to keep writing, of course — we don’t know where, but a little bird tells me that we’ll hear more about that part tomorrow morning — but this is still pretty major news. As long as there has been Internet baseball writing, Rob has been over at ESPN, so in many ways this is the end of an era.

While Bill James is rightfully credited for revolutionizing baseball analysis, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the revolution doesn’t happen — or at least doesn’t happen as quickly and as thoroughly as it did happen — without Rob Neyer. Rob, who was once James’ assistant, popularized sabermetrics via his ESPN column/blog, reaching far more people in his first few weeks as an Internet writer than the number of people to whom James sold his original Abstracts. He was the gateway drug for stat geekery. At least he was mine.

It was 1998. I was fresh out of law school and was working my first real job. Somewhere during my seven years of higher education I had regressed from baseball fanatic to a mere casual fan. I still followed the Braves, but I wasn’t nuts about it. I watched baseball, but I missed a lot of what was going on.

It was then that I discovered Rob’s column, and it was nothing short of a revelation. Five days a week, this voiceless man in red faux flannel would challenge nearly every lazy assumption I had about the game. Telling me things like RBIs weren’t the most valuable measure of a hitter. That strikeouts weren’t the worst thing in the world. That Dante Bichette wasn’t really any good.

Rob didn’t make his pronouncements from on high and expect you to take his word for it. He showed his work. He encouraged you to run the numbers yourself. He wrote in a clear and uncomplicated voice that made even the most complicated concepts seem quite simple, which was extremely important to a mathophobe like me. I read Neyer every day.  He, more than any person or event, rekindled my love for baseball that had gone somewhat dormant in the 1990s.

I began writing about baseball myself at a now-defunct webzine in 2001. There is no question I never would have done so without Rob Neyer’s influence and inspiration.  While that ‘zine tanked in early 2003, I considered it a success because at some point during the run Rob, who must have been forwarded the link by one of my 11 readers, sent me a nice email telling me that I had done a good job on a particular piece of analysis. That email was the biggest reason why, a few years later, I felt like I was good enough to start my Shysterball blog. I didn’t care that absolutely no one read the thing for the first couple of months. Rob had once seen my work and said it was good and that was all the validation I needed.

But then people started reading Shysterball. Why? Because Rob started linking it.  At first just a couple of random “this is neat” links. Then, in November 2007 he mentioned Shysterball prominently during one of his ESPN chats.  My traffic took off.  I was asked to write some guest columns on other websites that got some notice. Eventually I was asked to move Shysterball to The Hardball Times, and from there I was asked to chip in part time on the blog that became HardballTalk. In short, I owe my career to Rob Neyer.

Thank you for all of your great work for ESPN, Rob.  Good luck with all of the great work you’ll surely do in the future.

Sandy Alderson thinks Tim Tebow will play in the major leagues

Getty Images
16 Comments

Based on his track record so far I don’t think Tim Tebow deserves to play in the major leagues on the merits. Not even close. But then again, I’m not the general manager of the New York Mets, so I don’t get a say in that.

Sandy Alderson is the general manager, so his say carries a lot of weight. To that end, here’s what he said yesterday:

Noting the Tebow experiment has “evolved” into something greater, general manger Sandy Alderson on Sunday said, “I think he will play in the major leagues.”

To be fair, Alderson is pretty up front about the merits of Tebow’s presumed advancement to the bigs at some point. He didn’t say that it’s because Tebow has played his way up. He said this:

“He is great for the team, he is great for baseball, he was phenomenal for minor league baseball last year. The notion that he should have been excluded from the game because he is not coming through the traditional sources, I think is crazy. This is entertainment, too. And he quietly entertains us . . . He benefits the Mets because of how he conducts himself. He’s a tremendous representative of the organization.”

I take issue with Alderson’s comment about people thinking he shouldn’t be in the game because of his background. Most people who have been critical of the Tebow experiment have been critical because there is no evidence that he’s a good enough baseball player to be given the opportunities he’s been given. I mean, he advanced to high-A last year despite struggling at low-A and he’s going to start at Double-A this year in all likelihood despite struggling in high-A. If he does make the bigs, it will likewise come despite struggles in Double-A and maybe Triple-A too.

That said: I don’t mind if they promote Tebow all the way up as long as they’re being honest about why they’re doing it and aren’t trying to get everyone on board with some cockamamie idea that Tebow belongs on the baseball merits. If they do put him in the majors it’ll be because he’s a draw and a good promotion and because people generally like him and he’s not hurting anyone and I can’t take issue with that.

That’s basically what Alderson is saying here and if that’s the case, great. I mean, not great, because Tebow in the bigs will likely also mean that the Mets aren’t playing meaningful games, but great in the sense of “fine.” Baseball is entertainment too. No sense in pretending it isn’t.