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Some thoughts about the catfish baseball writer

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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.

And That Happened: Tuesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Dodgers 4, Cubs 3; Cubs 2, Dodgers 1: Kyle Farmer hit a two-run double to rally the Dodgers to victory in the top of the ninth in Game 1 and, in the nightcap, Albert Almora knocked in a walkoff single in the bottom of the tenth. Almora’s heroics were set up by a Kris Bryant leadoff triple. After the game Almora talked about how this was redemption for him in that he missed an opportunity to plate an insurance run or two late in Game 1. If the sequence and the game outcomes had been reversed, someone on the Dodgers would be telling a story about how they got redemption and didn’t let Almora beat them again. A great bit of life is colored by recency bias and the order in which things occur as opposed to that which simply occurs.

Indians 6, White Sox 3: The Indians’ four-run second inning was all Mike Clevinger needed as he struck out ten and allowed only one run in seven and two-thirds. Clevinger has three wins against the White Sox this year, striking out 11 Pale Hose batters just last week. He owns Chicago. Loves to face the Chisox. Yes, I’m just vamping here in order to get in as many nicknames for the South Siders in one blurb as a I can.

Twins 6, Red Sox 2: Jose Berrios allowed only one run while pitching into the seventh and Eduardo Escobar hit a pair of RBI doubles and then came around to score on an RBI triple from Robbie Grossman in the eighth. Escobar has 32 doubles on the year, which is on pace to break the single season doubles record of 67 which has been held by Earl Webb for 87 years. And let’s be honest, back in 1931 the science of groundskeeping and security was not what it is now, so Webb probably got a bunch of gift doubles by ricocheting balls off of rocks and trash left by orphans, anarchists and random members of the Bonus Army who were all allowed to just wander and loiter around baseball fields back then. Seriously, there were almost no laws in the early 30s. Thank you, FDR, for restoring order!

Yankees 7, Mariners 2: Four homers — from Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Andujar, Aaron Hicks and Gleyber Torres — powered the Yankees and Domingo German‘s two runs — one earned — over seven with nine strikeouts tamed the M’s. Hicks’ homer was his third in the past three days. Maybe people should be more careful with him and instead go after . . . ah, wait. Now I see the problem with trying to pitch to the Yankees. Never mind.

Giants 6, Marlins 3: This one got ugly, with the sides throwing at one another over — depending on who you believe — Evan Longoria getting his hand broken last week or Hunter Strickland getting mockingly jawed at by Lewis Brinson on Monday night. Personally, I don’t buy the “retaliation for Longoria” thing because said retaliation would’ve happened on Monday. I suspect this was over the Brinson stuff, which is dumb, but whaddaya gonna do? Not that this will end soon Jose Urena is pitching for Miami this afternoon and he hits guys like it’s his job, so no one better dig in too deeply. As for the game: Dereck Rodriguez allowed three over five but the Giants bullpen blanked Miami for the final four. Gorkys Hernandez homered and drove in three and Buster Posey went deep as well.

Nationals 9, Orioles 7Trea Turner went 4-for-4 with a homer and Anthony Rendon drove in three. At one point the Orioles led 4-1 and then loaded the bases with no one out and only got one run across. In the bottom half of the same inning Washington loaded the bases with no outs and batted around, scoring four. The O’s season in a nutshell. Washington is 4-0 against their regional rival this year and has outscored them 20-8.

Cardinals 7, Phillies 6: Matt Carpenter broke a 6-6 tie with a solo homer in the top of the ninth, two innings after his two-run double had tied it up at four. Tommy Pham and Kolten Wong each went deep for St. Louis as well. Adding to the misery for Philly: they lost infielder J.P. Crawford when he was hit by a Luke Weaver pitch in the fourth inning, fracturing his left hand. He’ll miss four to six weeks.

Brewers 3, Pirates 2: Freddy Peralta tossed six shutout innings allowing only two hits and striking out seven. Jesus Aguilar was all the offense the Brewers got or needed, homering in the first to plate himself and Lorenzo Cain and then plating Cain once again in the third with an RBI double.

Braves 11, Blue Jays 4: Johan Camargo hit a second inning grand slam, went 4-for-5 and knocked in five on the day. Atlanta had seven doubles and ten extra-base hits in all. The bottom four hitters in Atlanta’s lineup — Kurt Suzuki, Charlie CulbersonEnder Inciarte, and Camargo — combined to go 11-for-18 with five doubles and two dingers. The Braves have won six of seven and maintain a 3.5 game lead in the NL East.

Reds 9, Tigers 5: Joey Votto hit a third inning grand slam. It was his first homer in 30 games. It also came after he unsuccessfully tried to shoo a bird that was sitting on the infield out of the way. As he rounded the bases, Votto flapped his arm like a bird:

Votto is weird. Like, the good kind of weird. I’d like to hang out with him.

Rays 2, Astros 1: All good things come to an end, including winning streaks. The Rays’ snapped the Astros’ 12-gamer, thanks to Blake Snell allowing only one run over seven. He did that, somehow, despite walking seven dudes. Justin Verlander was also sharp for the Astros — he struck out ten while pitching into the seventh — but he gave up a solo shot to C.J. Cron and Wilson Ramos singled in the tie-breaking run off of Hector Rondon in the eighth. Cron’s homer broke a personal 0-for-23 skid.

Rangers 4, Royals 1: Hammels beat Hammel, with the former allowing only an unearned run in seven and the latter allowing four over five and two-thirds. The Royals have lost eight straight and 14 of 15. They are 22-51, which is the worst mark in franchise history after 73 games. Which is saying a lot given their franchise history, particularly from the 1990s-on.

Rockies 10, Mets 8Nolan ArenadoTrevor Story and Ian Desmond hit back-to-back-to-back homers in the sixth. Carlos Gonzalez went deep too. German Marquez pitched well enough to win a Coors Field game and (all together now) helped his own cause with two hits, scoring a run and driving one in as well.

Angels 5, Diamondbacks 4: Mike Trout drove in two with an RBI single — kudos to him for not being overly distracted by the unusual circumstance of there being men on base when he came to the plate — and walked a couple of times. Kole Calhoun and Ian Kinsler added solo homers, which gave the Angels a glimpse of what happens when, you know, someone besides Mike Trout contributes. Trout raises his line for he month of June to .448/.554/.776.

Athletics 4, Padres 2Stephen Piscotty hit a tying home run off closer Brad Hand with two out and with two strikes in the ninth to force extras and Jed Lowie hit a two-run shot with two outs in the 10th off of Adam Cimber to give the A’s the win. Lowrie on his homer: “I was just looking for something over the plate that I could square up.” Interesting. Never thought about it that way.