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Some thoughts about the catfish baseball writer


A few days ago, some people I follow on Twitter started talking about someone who was not, it turned out, what they seemed to be. The person in question was “Ryan Schultz” a White Sox fan and, in the past year or two, a baseball writer for Baseball Prospectus’ White Sox and Cubs team sites and a contributor to SB Nation’s “Beyond the Box Score” site.

Ryan Schultz was not — as he claimed — Ryan Schultz, married late-20-something father of two, putting himself through pharmacy school. Ryan Schultz was actually Becca Schultz, a 21-year-old woman who adopted the name Ryan on Twitter back when she was 13, and for the past eight years has pretended to be a man. Schultz was very active on baseball Twitter. Some of you likely interacted with “him” over the years. I looked back at our archive and couldn’t find him as a commenter or anyone whose work we linked, but “Ryan” did submit a question to Bill in a Q&A back in July.

As Lindsey Adler of Deadspin writes in her detailed story on the controversy, however, it was not a benign fraud. Schultz cultivated deep, personal relationships with multiple women on Twitter which eventually turned abusive. Schultz would harass women and manipulate them emotionally. It was pretty ugly. Adler spoke at length to the women Schultz harassed and then spoke to Schultz as well. The portrait the story paints is an ugly and disturbing one, but one which is a necessary read for anyone who has cultivated relationships which exist largely or exclusively online. Which, I suspect, is most of us.

The fraud, abuse and manipulation is, obviously, the reason this story is relevant, and to that end, I cannot stress enough how important Adler’s article is. But there is a sidebar topic to this which Adler mentions that I find to be significant as well, and I’d like to talk a bit about it:

Schultz’s story is interesting for reasons far beyond its sheer shock value. It’s entirely reasonable that at the time she created the Ryan persona, she might not have thought she could easily have a career writing about baseball as a woman. She’s also drawn a big red arrow sign pointing toward the exploitative ecosystem of online sportswriting, which created the conditions for her to get her enviable opportunities without much interrogation from editors who have a lot to do and few resources with which to do it.

Schultz need not have gotten work writing for reputable websites like Baseball Prospectus and SB Nation in order for her fraud to be bad. Indeed, for around six years she played the role of “Ryan” without being connected to any sort of baseball writing job, and the damage done to baseball publishing out of this pales compared to the human toll she inflicted on the women whom she abused. But it’s certainly the case that the imprimatur of those sites on “his” identity bolstered the fraud and enabled it further. You’re far less likely to be suspicious of a person with ill intent if they are associated with entities which you trust or towards which you have goodwill.

I don’t blame any person at Baseball Prospectus of SB Nation for this — they were duped too — but it’s worth noting that they were able to be duped because of the nature of the online sports media business. Or at least the nature of most of it.

A lot of the people who write about sports online are doing it on the side, for little or no money, because it’s a passion. I started out that way myself, as did Mike Florio over at PFT, as did Bill Baer here, as did our old friend Aaron Gleeman and as did most people whose work you read online who did not come up through newspapers and traditional media outlets. Some of us — Mike, Bill, Aaron, me are good examples — were able to turn our passion into real full-time jobs. We did so because (corporate brown nosing alert!) companies like NBC thought it worth the money and effort to make us employees with real wages and benefits and stuff, with the thinking that (a) you get what you pay for; and (b) if you want a professional product, you hire professionals. I wrote about this dynamic a couple of years ago over at my personal website.

Not every site out there approaches things the same way. It’s not necessarily because they’re cheap or because they want to exploit people, of course. Some may, but the fact is that not every outlet is part of a giant media company like this site is. And God knows, it’s a challenge to make money in the ever-changing world of online media. This site, standing alone, without the backing of NBC, may not have lasted nearly nine years as a commercial entity and a lot of sites without that sort of backing may never have come into being. But whatever the reasons behind it, good, bad or neutral, many online sports outlets rely on eager volunteers or low-paid part-timers to create content.

On a supply-demand basis, it makes some sense. There are a lot of people willing to work cheaply or for free because, man, writing about sports is cool! I did it for free for years and even if I never got this job, I’d likely still be doing it in some capacity. Many have made strong philosophical arguments that writers should never write for free or on the cheap out of principle, but when you’re a writer, and someone is offering to publish your stuff, those principles seem rather quaint. It is totally understandable when someone takes up a company’s offer to write for free. In the end, it’s an emotional decision by a writer and a simple matter of economics for a lot of companies. The net result is a lot of cheap sports writing labor out there, looking for places to write.

When the labor comes cheaply, you don’t have a strong incentive to vet that labor very thoroughly, and that seems to be the case with Schultz and the jobs she landed. Yes, Schultz misrepresented herself to Baseball Prospectus and SB Nation, but it’s not the sort of misrepresentation that could’ve stood up very long had they been seeking to hire her for a real full time or paid part time job. This business lends itself to people working remotely and interacting online — fun fact: I’ve never actually met Bill or Ashley in person — but there is a level of scrutiny that comes when you’re investing in workers as opposed to merely getting whatever you can get cheaply.

Again, I’m not offering any of this to slag on Baseball Prospectus or SB Nation. I have been a devotee of those sites for years, I have many friends at both places and I read excellent work on those sites every day. Moreover, I am not saying that the sort of fraud Schultz perpetrated is some common danger that they could have reasonably expected or that we should worry about happening over and over again at the websites we like to read. This is unique case, to be sure, and as I said above, they were duped here like everyone else.

But it is worth asking, in a general sense, what the nature of the online media business environment means for the product and for its readers. It’s worth wondering what sort of product a model that, at present, encourages publishers to get the cheapest talent possible in order to keep costs down while pursing the most page views possible, produces. Whether there isn’t a way for a better product to flourish more thoroughly than it currently does.

I don’t have any great answers to those questions, but they’re questions I’ve been asking for years and which we as sports fans should all be asking.

Wayne Huizenga, founding owner of the Marlins, dies at 80

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MIAMI (AP) H. Wayne Huizenga, a college dropout who built a business empire that included Blockbuster Entertainment, AutoNation and three professional sports franchises, has died. He was 80.

Huizenga (HY’-zing-ah) died Thursday night at his home, Valerie Hinkell, a longtime assistant, said when reached at the family residence Friday. She gave no details on a cause of death.

Starting with a single garbage truck in 1968, Huzienga built Waste Management Inc. into a Fortune 500 company. He purchased independent sanitation engineering companies, and by the time he took the company public in 1972, he had completed the acquisition of 133 small-time haulers. By 1983, Waste Management was the largest waste disposal company in the United States.

The business model worked again with Blockbuster Video, which he started in 1985 and built into the leading movie rental chain nine years later. In 1996, he formed AutoNation and built it into a Fortune 500 company.

Huizenga was founding owner of baseball’s Florida Marlins and the NHL Florida Panthers – expansion teams that played their first games in 1993. He bought the NFL Miami Dolphins and their stadium for $168 million in 1994 from the children of founder Joe Robbie, but had sold all three teams by 2009.

The Marlins won the 1997 World Series, and the Panthers reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1996, but Huizenga’s beloved Dolphins never reached a Super Bowl while he owned the team.

“If I have one disappointment, the disappointment would be that we did not bring a championship home,” Huizenga said shortly after he sold the Dolphins to New York real estate billionaire Stephen Ross. “It’s something we failed to do.”

Huizenga earned an almost cult-like following among business investors who watched him build Blockbuster Entertainment into the leading video rental chain by snapping up competitors. He cracked Forbes’ list of the 100 richest Americans, becoming chairman of Republic Services, one of the nation’s top waste management companies, and AutoNation, the nation’s largest automotive retailer. In 2013, Forbes estimated his wealth at $2.5 billion.

For a time, Huizenga was also a favorite with South Florida sports fans, drawing cheers and autograph seekers in public. The crowd roared when he danced the hokey pokey on the field during an early Marlins game. He went on a spending spree to build a veteran team that won the World Series in the franchise’s fifth year.

But his popularity plummeted when he ordered the roster dismantled after that season. He was frustrated by poor attendance and his failure to swing a deal for a new ballpark built with taxpayer money.

Many South Florida fans never forgave him for breaking up the championship team. Huizenga drew boos when introduced at Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino’s retirement celebration in 2000, and kept a lower public profile after that.

In 2009, Huizenga said he regretted ordering the Marlins’ payroll purge.

“We lost $34 million the year we won the World Series, and I just said, `You know what, I’m not going to do that,”‘ Huizenga said. “If I had it to do over again, I’d say, `OK, we’ll go one more year.”‘

He sold the Marlins in 1999 to John Henry, and sold the Panthers in 2001, unhappy with rising NHL player salaries and the stock price for the team’s public company.

Huizenga’s first sports love was the Dolphins – he had been a season-ticket holder since their first season in 1966. But he fared better in the NFL as a businessman than as a sports fan.

He turned a nifty profit by selling the Dolphins and their stadium for $1.1 billion, nearly seven times what he paid to become sole owner. But he knew the bottom line in the NFL is championships, and his Dolphins perennially came up short.

Huizenga earned a reputation as a hands-off owner and won raves from many loyal employees, even though he made six coaching changes. He eased Pro Football Hall of Famer Don Shula into retirement in early 1996, and Jimmy Johnson, Dave Wannstedt, interim coach Jim Bates, Nick Saban, Cam Cameron and Tony Sporano followed as coach.

Harry Wayne Huizenga was born in the Chicago suburbs on Dec. 29, 1937, to a family of garbage haulers. He began his business career in Pompano Beach in 1962, driving a garbage truck from 2 a.m. to noon each day for $500 a month.

One customer successfully sued Huizenga, saying that in an argument over a delinquent account, Huizenga injured him by grabbing his testicles – an allegation Huizenga always denied.

“I never did that. The guy was a deputy cop. It was his word against mine, a young kid,” he told Fortune magazine in 1996.

Huizenga was a five-time recipient of Financial World magazine’s “CEO of the Year” award, and was the Ernst & Young “2005 World Entrepreneur of the Year.”

Regarding his business acumen, Huzienga said: “You just have to be in the right place at the right time. It can only happen in America.”

In September 1960, he married Joyce VanderWagon. Together they had two children, Wayne Jr. and Scott. They divorced in 1966. Wayne married his second wife, Marti Goldsby, in April 1972. She died in 2017.

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