PERSONAL ANNOUNCEMENT!

This is a quick post to let you know that I will be studying abroad this fall for the remainder of September until late December, and will be unable to post regular articles. I may, however, post from time to time on The Hoya; if and when I do, I will post links here. As always, fill out the contact form or contact me via Twitter/LinkedIn with any questions or comments!

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What Ken Rosenthal joining The Athletic means for the future of sportswriting

Shortly after turbulent changes rocked the sports journalism world this summer, MLB writer/broadcaster Ken Rosenthal announced yesterday that he would be writing exclusively for a smaller startup sports blog, The Athletic. 

Rosenthal’s announcement came about a month after his home publication, FoxSports.com, dumped its entire writing staff—the website is now completely devoid of written content, and features exclusively hot-take videos featuring Fox Sports broadcasters.

This change meant that Rosenthal, one of the most prominent baseball writers of today, had to resort to posting articles on his own Facebook page. The situation was extremely discouraging; if even Ken Rosenthal couldn’t find a place to publish his writing, how could anyone else (especially an aspiring sportswriter) expect a future in the business?

To make matters worse, Fox Sports was not the only sports media outlet to carry out drastic layoffs–ESPN laid off a number of its employees in May, including NFL reporter/commentator John Clayton; Time Inc., which houses Sports Illustrated, laid off about 300 positions in mid-June.

This summer, the future of sports writing looked bleak.

Written sports content is no longer a leading source for straight sports news; Twitter, mobile notifications and other social media cover that. Now, the draw to read a piece of sports writing is for reading in-depth analysis and respected opinions, often that accompany other forms of digital content such as videos or podcasts.

In addition, digital news outlets must be mobile-friendly and easy to navigate. Publications oozing analysis and entertaining hot takes such as The Ringer and sites filled with bite-sized content such as Bleacher Report seem to be the writing-based publications to look up to.

That is, until Ken Rosenthal joined The Athletic.

The Athletic lacks sponsored content or ads; it is a sleek, clean reading experience focused on delivering aesthetically pleasing images and quality content. The site, which began with a number of regionally-based sections for all sports and that now includes national coverage, is subscription only. The Athletic is wagering that traditional, high-quality content based in good, rich reporting presented in an aesthetically pleasing way is a service that sports fans will pay for.

Maybe The Athletic is right. Maybe subscription-based publications really are the future of digital sports writing. Maybe everyone is so sick of ads and popups that they would pay to have a cleaner reading experience. Maybe writers like Ken Rosenthal are so valuable that masses will pay to read his thoughts, a concept that the bigger sports media companies never believed possible.

Whether The Athletic remains a unique publication or becomes a benchmark for many sports websites, one thing is clear: Ken Rosenthal joining a smaller startup publication with a writing focus is a bright spot in the unstable future of sportswriters.

By joining The Athletic, one of the biggest names in sports journalism asserted two very important principles: first, that written content still matters, and second, that smaller sports media outlets can and will rival the previous traditional giants.

In his new home publication, Rosenthal is restoring faith in the business of sports writing. Yesterday was a good day to be a sportswriter.

Baseball math

People love math. They love the objectivity, the specificity and the incredibly convoluted yet patterned and predictable answers that numbers provide. People feel comforted by numbers, wowed by the information they can provide, and interested in manipulating them in as many was as possible.

I am not one of those people.

So you can imagine how difficult it is, even considering my rabid passion for baseball, to delve into sabermetrics–because in the heart of my favorite subject lies an ever growing and ever important trove of insightful information based in my least favorite thing…math.

Up until now, I have mostly focused on the few numbers I understand: BA, ERA, OPS, etc. In other words, the old stats. I have explored, though hesitantly, fielding shifts, WAR and various StatCast home run speed/distance statistics–but I am hardly a regular visitor of FanGraphs.com.

And then I wrote a column last week about fatigue in the Cubs pitching staff following their World Series Championship year, and I just didn’t have the evidence that many baseball fans expect today. Though I included what I believed to be important stats, I was lacking in saber metrics, and my writing suffered.

It isn’t that people like me do not understand baseball, or the statistical direction in which baseball is moving. It’s just that we don’t like math.

So, in an effort to expand and share my knowledge of sabermetrics, I have decided to write one post a week explaining a different sabermetric. Look out for my first post next week!

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but let’s go do some math.

 

The Wiffle Ball League

In eighth grade, my Little League Juniors team came in first place in our league. I don’t remember how I played in that game, what our celebration was, or how our trophies looked. I don’t even remember which team we beat.

The only detail I remember about that game was that it would be, until now, the last baseball game I ever played.

Let’s get this out of the way now: knowing that I am a woman, I bet you expected that the word following “last game of” in the above sentence would be “softball.” Instead, I wrote baseball. Because I played baseball for over eight years leading up to high school, in your neighborhood-usually-all-male-only-except-for-me-and-two-other-girls-who-quit-eventually-so-then-it-was-just-me Little League. I played until age 14, when I was barred from trying out for my high school baseball team and then offered a spot on the varsity softball team as a consolation. I bitterly declined, pursued track and field instead (I never got caught stealing one base in my entire Little League life) and thus ended my baseball “career.”

I have not played any form of baseball–not during the summer with the boys, not on vacation on the beach, not in college intramurals–since that last game in eighth grade.

That is, until three weeks ago, when two of my friends commissioned an informal summer Wiffle Ball League. Once a week, we play a casual, six inning game where the only shoes on the field are the flip-flops that make up the bases, as footwear is strictly prohibited on the field. We play with whoever shows up, and then we usually go to the pool. It’s a great way to hang out with our friends, laugh and play a casual game.

But for me? Not exactly…

Playing wiffle ball has been one of the strangest, most déjà vu-inducing experiences of my life. When I stepped into the “batter’s box” three weeks ago, wielding the much-too-light and much-too-thin yellow wiffle ball bat, I realized the game was not, and never could be, casual for me.

Every aspect of my baseball life came rushing back. I remembered the batter’s box jitters, the quick mental checklist of my stance, my pre-plate ritual–tap home plate with the bat and whip it around once before settling into my stance–and even the way I used to try to lock eyes with the pitcher before he entered his windup. I remembered just how much playing baseball is so damn fun.

But I also remembered the crippling nerves; the awkwardness of a woman in a “man’s” game, the expectation of failure based on my ponytail–which was much longer back then–and the knowledge that every strikeout, every mistake, every swing-and-miss even, was a silent affirmation to everyone that I was in over my head.

Wiffle ball is a game anyone can be amazing at. Some of our players, who had until now never picked up a bat, can routinely smack screaming grounders and high flies to deep left center with the most creative swings I have ever seen. That’s the beauty of wiffle ball–you can hit a comfortable triple by swinging only with one hand.

At today’s game, I found myself up at the plate in the bottom of the 6th–and last–inning, with runners on second and third and two outs, my team down by one run. Everyone was laughing and joking about the “intensity” of the moment, except for me; in case you haven’t noticed, I am ridiculously competitive and serious about anything baseball related.

My at-bat was twelve pitches, culminating in a quiet groundout to end the inning and the game.

During that at-bat, I kept flashing back to Little League playoffs, where I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders not only because I was a member of a team that I wanted to contribute to, but also because I was the girl. I know that is not true of the Wiffle Ball League. Looking back, I probably should have closed my eyes and swung the bat like I was hitting a piñata–then maybe I would’ve hit a homer.

For better or for worse, the Wiffle Ball League has forced me to revisit memories from T-Ball to Juniors. From the smell of the grass to the surprised cheers when I got a hit to the sexist taunts from players in the “good game” line, I remember everything.

But above all, the Wiffle Ball League has reminded me how much I love baseball from every perspective–not just as a fan and writer, but as a participant as well.