Marc Carig, who covers the Yankees for the Newark Star-Ledger, is one of my favorite beat writers in the business. In addition to covering the beat bases as he should, he’s intellectually curious, inquisitive and analytical, which allows him to pull off the tough trick of appealing to both the common fan and to the obsessive whack jobs like us. Oh, and he’s a really nice guy too, even if he does use the term “hella” way, way too much.
Today Marc makes his debut over at Baseball Prospectus with a column that, in its form, provides the kind of writing that I think represents the future of the beat reporter. Sourced with quotes and insider insight, but also a work of independent, outsider analysis the kind of which made Baseball Prospectus what it is in the first place. A nice hybrid that adds more to the party than your typical sabermetric analysis, yet eschews the faux-knowing “I know more than you do because I interview ballplayers in their underwear” tone that you see from a lot of weekly newspaper columnists as they get older.
And maybe that’s the key. Carig is a young guy who, if he waited for the traditional newspaper career path to take its course, would be doing the straight beat thing for several more years and then move up to column work where his daily reporting skills and ability to manage tough deadlines would no longer be as much of an asset as they are now. Assuming there still are traditional newspaper columns a decade from now.
The key, I think, is for the reporting and opinion/analysis roles to merge to a significant degree. The trick, of course — and it’s a big trick — is to make sure that the reporting remains accurate and the analysis remains sharp despite the fact that there are various tensions in those things. There are a few guys doing a good job with this now. Beat writers who also blog in a significant way as opposed to merely repurposing reporting bits into blog posts. Ken Davidoff of Newsday is one. There are a handful of others. Marc is doing that here today, giving us good stuff about the fearsomeness of Miguel Cabrera and some thought on defensive metrics, unhindered by strict AP style and newspaper column inches.
It’s the kind of stuff that, along with some of the other quasi-radical ideas that people like to float, will help baseball writing successfully navigate its way from the past to the future while maintaining its quality, integrity and self-respect.