NBC Sports welcomes Joe Posnanski

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And now it’s my privilege to introduce NBC Sports’ latest addition, even if he’s a man who needs no introduction around here: welcome aboard, Joe Posnanski.

Joe’s track record is well known. He comes to NBC from Sports on Earth. Before that he wrote for Sports Illustrated and before that, for many years, the Kansas City Star. Joe was named National Sportswriter of the year by the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame in 2011. He was named best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors twice. He’s the inaugural winner and namesake of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance’s “Joe Posnanski Award,” given to the top Internet baseball writer of the year. He’s written four books, one of which — The Soul of Baseball — is, in my view, a top-5 all-time baseball book.

Apart from all of that official stuff, I say — and have said, long before I knew he’d be joining me at NBC — that Joe is the best baseball writer around. I know that’s subjective — we all have our favorites — but in my estimation Joe loves the game, understands the game and writes about the game better than any other guy who gets paid to do so, full stop. Along with Rob Neyer and Bill James, Posnanski is one of the biggest single influences on my understanding of baseball and on my writing. Rob and Bill helped me approach baseball analysis in a different way. Posnanski changed the way I thought about the personalities and stories which surround the game. And now Joe’s going to be writing here. So, yes, I’m a little bit giddy.

He’s going to writing all over NBC Sports.com, actually.  He will be doing what he’s always done, covering all sports, and you’ll be able to read all of that work at our main page.  But if you know anything about Joe’s work you know he’s rather baseball-heavy and quite prolific, writing both long columns and blog posts (sometimes long blog posts).  Which will be great for us because that means his work will be showing up here at HardballTalk as well.

Joe’s first column for NBC drops today. It’s about Alex Rodriguez and what he used to be, back before the quarter billion dollar contracts and back before the celebrity. How he got to where he is now and how things could have been different (if, in fact, they ever could have been).

Jose’s first “[Player] is in The Best Shape of His Life” post is TBD, but I assume we have that in his contract.

Must-Click Link: Sherri Nichols, Sabermetic Pioneer

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If you are old enough and lame enough as I am, you may have lurked around on sabermetic message boards in the 1990s. If you did, you may have heard of Sherri Nichols, who back in the day, was a significant contributor to the advancement of statistical analysis, particularly defensive analysis.

While it’s probably better that not everyone is as old and nerdy as me, the downside of it is that most people haven’t heard of Nichols and know nothing about her contributions. That changes today with Ben Lindbergh’s excellent analysis of Nichols and her work over at The Ringer, which I recommend that you all read.

The short version: Nichols is the one who planted the seed about on-base percentage being valuable in the mind of Baseball Prospectus Founder Gary Huckabay, back in the late 80s. She’s also the one most responsible for the rise of zone-based defensive metrics in the 1990s, such as Defensive Average, which she created and which served as the basis for other such metrics going forward. She also played a critical role in the development of RetroSheet, which collected almost all extant box score and play-by-play information going back to the turn of the 20th century, thereby making so much of the information available at Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs possible. A key contribution there: making the information free and available to everyone, rather than closing the underlying data off as proprietary and either charging for access or keeping it in-house like some recent data collectors have chosen to do. Ahem.

A larger takeaway than all of Nichols’ contributions is just how loathe the baseball community was to listen to a woman back then. I mean, yeah, they’re still loathe to listen to women now, as indicated by the small number of women who hold jobs in baseball operations departments, but back then it was even worse, as evidenced by Lindbergh’s stories and Nichols’ anecdotes.

A great read and a great history lesson.