No Platform

77 People I Need to Thank

I’m currently in possession of advance copies of Philadelphia Phenoms, which is a monograph about 60,000 words in length, which is being published by an actual publishing company. Having a book published has been the primary goal of my life since I was about 10 years old, and I’ve done it. This isn’t the book I’ve always wanted to write—it’s a series of essays on a topic that was chosen for me—but not having accomplished that gives me something to aspire to in the future.

Because there is neither a dedication nor an acknowledgements section within the book itself, I want to do something I don’t do very often and say thank you to some people. Not only do I have a book coming out, I’m at least some form of professional writer, which is the only job I’ve ever really wanted to have. This book is my own work in the sense that I wrote it (and did so pretty much in the space of four weeks), but it wouldn’t have happened without the people I’m about to mention.

I’ve had a few people ask how I got to where I am, and I have never once given good career advice, because what I’m doing now is thanks to the confluence of a series of lucky breaks and a lot of stuff that happened to me before I turned 21.

I became a writer the same way professional athletes become professional athletes—I practiced, constantly, as a child. My parents made sure that if I wasn’t good at something, it would be because I didn’t try hard enough. My brothers and I all became voracious readers, and I put in my proverbial 10,000 hours writing short stories on a second-hand laptop that ran Microsoft Word and nothing else.

I also owe thanks to the college professors who filled in the gaps and managed to put up with a less-developed, less-polished version of me that hadn’t learned how to think and write quite yet: David Bajo, Mark Sibley-Jones, Ernie Wiggins and especially Dan Smith at the University of South Carolina, and Megan Mullin at Temple University. 

My wife, Kate, has been more patient and understanding than I could ever have expected. I don’t know how I’d live with someone who spends his life just sort of milling around and being aimlessly unhappy all the time, the way I do. But Kate has not only tolerated me, she’s been actively supportive.

I would also not have reached the point where I could start doing this if certain friends hadn’t convinced me I was capable and supported me before I really made a go of this about five years ago. I’ve had dozens, if not hundreds, of small moments of encouragement or motivation over the years, from dozens of people, but Randall Sweet and Ben Maddison have been of special importance, and without them, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.

Since I started writing seriously, Liz Roscher, editor of The Good Phight and my co-host on the Defensive Indifference podcast, has been my most valued sounding board. She’s helped me come up with ideas for posts, line-edited problematic bits of copy and always answered the phone or opened a Gchat window, no matter how late the hour or how pathetic the reason. I wouldn’t be here if not for her, and I hope she’s gotten as much out of our friendship as I have.

The real reason I was able to write this book is that over the past ten years, I’ve been elevated to positions for which I was capable, but not necessarily qualified. The people who really got me here are the ones who trusted in my ability more than my resume. This includes Julie Ganz at Skyhorse Publishing, who hired me to write this book, as well as Lauree Padgett at Information Today, Pat Gallen at Phillies Nation and Jackie Alexander at The Daily Gamecock, where I worked harder and had more fun than in anything else I’ve ever done. It’s also where I met and learned from Alex Riley, at whose elbow I really learned how to be a sportswriter.

But others deserve a longer mention.

First and most important among these is Paul Boye, who let me write for his Phillies blog starting in the summer of 2009. Paul and I have been friends since middle school, and he was the best man at my wedding. He also really taught me baseball the way I understand it now. I was always a huge baseball fan, with a voracious appetite for information, but my interest in sabermetrics, prospect lists and teams other than the Phillies always followed Paul’s lead. He told me to start reading Bill Simmons, Joe Posnanski, Fire Joe Morgan and Keith Law, and introduced me to the amazing and often bizarre online baseball community that’s fostered my writing and turned into something of a career.

Paul and I have shared a masthead at The Phrontiersman, Phillies Nation and now Crashburn Alley, and we pushed each other from the beginning to know more and write better. A part of everything I achieve will always belong to him.

Speaking of Crashburn Alley, Bill Baer has given me a tremendous platform and tremendous freedom over the past three years to write even tangentially about the Phillies. He’s asked little and given back much more, and stood by me even when it would probably have been easier for him to cut me loose. At some point, I changed from a narcissistic white boy with a blog into a real writer, and that transition happened on the pages of Crashburn Alley. I’ll always be grateful that Bill let me work out my issues on his site, and for giving me a chance to meet and work with the crew he’s assembled: Ryan Sommers, Adam Dembowitz, Corinne Landrey, Eric Longenhagen and Brad Engler.

Michael Levin, now former editor of Liberty Ballers, has been similarly supportive and took an even bigger leap of faith in bringing on someone he didn’t know (and who doesn’t really know a ton about basketball) to write for his site. He’s also become a god friend and an invaluable resource. I’ve never been part of a community quite like the one at LB. In addition to having what I believe to be the only comment section on the internet that adds value, Liberty Ballers is home to a tremendous stable of writers: Derek Bodner, Roy Burton, Matt Carey, Sohil Doshi, Justin F., Jake Fischer, Rich Hofmann, Brandon Gowton, Kyle Neubeck, Dave Rueter and Tanner Steidel, as well as Levin’s successors, Sean O’Connor and Jake Pavorsky. (I’m going to be taking at least partial credit for everything Jake accomplishes in the future.)

Of course, I only got the Liberty Ballers gig because Spike Eskin recommended me. In addition to introducing me to Levin, Spike was also the first person to put me on the radio, the first person to see even a part of the unfinished manuscript of this book, and a huge help in setting up interviews. This project truly would not have been possible without Spike, and he’s had a huge hand in what modest success I’ve had.

I also need to thank Chris Ryan, who gave me my biggest break: the opportunity to freelance at Grantland, the place I’ve wanted to work since the site came into existence. Before I started working there, I made a list of the 10 sportswriters who had most influenced the way I think and write (a list I’m going to keep to myself, because whenever I think of naming someone who influenced you, I think of an interview Chris Martin of Coldplay gave where he said he admired Radiohead and Thom Yorke responded by shitting all over him, as Thom Yorke does). But thanks to Grantland, I’ve worked with or for half of the people on that list. I owe a tremendous debt to Chris Ryan’s Philadelphia homerism, because if he wasn’t a Phillies fan, he’d never have read my stuff, much less thought to hire me.

Grantland also gave me the opportunity to work with Mallory Rubin, who’s the best editor I’ve ever heard of anyone having. She wasn’t directly involved in the creation of this book, but she has been an indescribably positive influence on me, both professionally and personally. She gives me enough rope to write 58-word sentences and express my seething leftyism, but stops just short of giving me enough rope to hang myself. She’s a tremendously talented editor and a delightful person who doesn’t get anywhere near the recognition she deserves.

My biggest regret with this book is that, because of the compressed timeline (I sent my first draft in less than three months after I signed my contract), I didn’t get to do as many interviews as I’d have liked. However, those people I was able to track down were more generous and forthcoming than I’d dreamed, particularly Sebastien Le Toux, John Hackworth, Jeff Marek and Bill Barber.

Finally, there are dozens of members of that online sportswriting community who have done small things, here or there, that have helped me out over the years, whether they’ve linked to my work or had me on a podcast, or even something as simple as making me feel like I belonged before I really got established. Here’s a partial list: Jonah Keri, Ben Lindbergh, Sam Miller, Jason Wojciechowski, Lang Whitaker, Steve Jacot, Lana Berry, Aaron Fitt, Ty Hildenbrandt, Jay Jaffe, Lana Berry, Chris Crawford, Emma Span, Howard Megdal, Colin Wyers, Kevin Goldstein, Mike Ferrin, Dustin Parkes, Jack Moore, Mike Bates, Bill Parker, Zachary Levine, Eno Sarris, Dan Szymborski, Carson Cistulli, Ryan Petzar, Dan McQuade, David Murphy, Jim Callis, Dave Brown, Mark Simon, and David Schoenfield.

That’s 77 people, if I counted right, who had some part in getting me to the point where I could publish this book. I never really feel comfortable expressing gratitude, so I hope they’ll all forgive me for taking as long as I did.

An 832-World Excerpt From a Novel I’m Never Going to Write

“She’s going to live,” the doctor said. “But at the moment, she’s still blind. We don’t know if the effects of the chemicals will wear off in the long term—I’ll be completely honest, we’ve never had to deal with something like this before.”

I closed my eyes and exhaled. Blind. I wasn’t proud that when the initial relief wore off, the first thing I felt was apprehension. What if she never recovered? Could we make do with the burden of having to care for someone who couldn’t see? What if I was left to care for her alone? But that was how I had to think. I opened my eyes and looked at the doctor again. He was shifting his weight anxiously.

“Thank you,” I said. “Can I see her?”

“Sure. I’m sorry, but…”

“There’s somewhere else you need to be,” I said. “Go.”

And off he went. I shuffled up to the door to Madison’s room and stopped for a moment. I took off my hat and wiped my face with my hand. It came away covered in soot and dried blood, and even after I wiped it on my pants, I left a handprint on the pale green door when I opened it.

Madison was lying in bed wearing a set of pale blue scrubs, a bandage over her eyes. Her jet black hair was plastered to her forehead with sweat, and her hands and arms were covered in scrapes. She heard the door open and sat up slightly.

“It’s me,” I said. “How do you feel?”

She smiled. “Tired. Scared.” She extended her right arm toward me and I walked over and took it in both my hands. We didn’t say anything for a moment, and in the silence, I glanced over at the window. It was the first time I’d been able to look outside since I entered the hospital the first time. The sky was a dark orange and fires sprouted from the ground like dandelions, from the hospital parking lot all the way to the horizon. Once every few seconds, we’d hear a rumble in the distance, inching steadily closer.

I turned back to Madison. “What did the doctor tell you?”

“That I’m going to be fine,” she said, her face wrinkling slightly while she tried not to cry. “But I’m blind, and my sight might not come back.”

“That’s what he told me too,” I said. “It’ll be fine. It always is.”

“Alex,” she said. “Did you mean what you said, right before, you know…”

“Well, yeah,” I said, suddenly nervous again. “I mean, you don’t tell someone you’ve loved them for years and years and been afraid to tell them unless you mean it, right? Like, that’s not something you lie about or joke about, even if you think you’re about to die.”

“I guess not,” she said. “Do you still mean it now?”

“Yes,” I said. Too afraid to leave enough open air to let her talk, I continued. “And listen, if you don’t feel the same way, nothing has to change. I don’t want to put any pressure—”

“Good,” she said, smiling. “That’s something good that’s happened today.”

The latest tremor was close enough to feel, and half a second later, an alarm rang out through the building. The tremors turned into crashes, and I felt my blood run cold.

“What’s going on?”

I dropped Madison’s hand and ran to the window. “They’re here,” I said.

We had only minutes to get out of the hospital and find some means of transportation. “Are you connected to anything?” I asked. “IVs or something like that?”

“No.”

I bounded over to the corner of the room where I’d dropped my rifle and backpack full of food, ammunition and grenades.

“Sit up and put this backpack on,” I said. Maddie did so, and I handed her the bag.

“What are we doing?”

“Getting the hell out of here. Untuck your blanket and wrap it around you. It’s cold out there.”

“Wait, how? How am I supposed to run if I can’t see?”

“You’re not,” I said. I grabbed the assault rifle by the barrel and backed up to the side of the bed. “I’m going to carry you out of here.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Not like fireman-style or anything. I’m trying, but I’m still not that heroic. Get on my back.”

She did. “This is crazy.”

“I’m not going to leave you here. Hang on tight, and please try not to scream into my ear or choke me.”

“Try not to run me into anything.”

“Deal.”

I walked over to the door and opened it slightly. Looking through the gunsight, I saw two alien soldiers, each slightly smaller than a human, wearing suits and firing energy weapons down the hall. I closed my eyes and exhaled again. We had five floors to fight our way down, past who knows how many invaders. I reopened my eyes, leveled the gun at my target and fired.

My Brother’s iPod Case

My brother is a huge Coheed and Cambria fan. Last year, my parents got it in their heads that they’d buy him a new iPod for his birthday, and they mentioned that to me, I offered to chip in for a customized case: polished steel on one side with his name etched on the cover, and the Co & Ca “Keywork” logo airbrushed on the back. I knew a shop in Madison that could do the artwork, so I bought a case, left the instructions, and was told to come back in a week to pick up the finished product.

I went back to the store to retrieve the case, but I was mortified to discover that my brother’s name as misspelled on the cover: “Tim Buaman.” I pointed out the error, but while the manager offered to fix it for free, it would be another week before I could get the case and mail it back to New Jersey—I’d miss my brother’s birthday by several days.

So I went home and sent my parents an email that started something like this: 

Subject: Engraver Mistakes

Dear Mom and Dad,

I write you in this letter that states…

Movies: The 20-80 Scale

  • 80: Network
  • 75: Broadcast News
  • 70: The Departed
  • 65: Jurassic Park
  • 60: Apollo 13
  • 55: Inglourious Basterds
  • 50: Spy Game
  • 45: Forrest Gump
  • 40: Clear and Present Danger
  • 35: Sleepless in Seattle
  • 30: Star Trek Into Darkness
  • 25: Lost in Translation
  • 20: Just My Luck

Fall Out Boy and 80s Movie Classics

Patrick Stump and Pete Wentz were having an 80s movie night. Neither had ever seen WarGames before, so they sat down to watch the 1983 Matthew Broderick vehicle together. 

Pete was in the bathroom when the opening credits rolled, so he missed the name of the lead actress. About halfway through the film, curiosity got the best of him, and he spoke up.

"Who’s the girl who plays Jennifer?" he asked. "She looks familiar. I think I’ve seen her in something before."

Patrick nodded toward the TV. “That’s Ally Sheedy,” he said. “And it’s a goddamn arms race.”

My Ersatz Italian Sub

I experienced something today. On my way home from work, I stopped at a local sandwich emporium because (thanks to about four different layers of my own laziness and nihilistic defeatism) I have no food in my apartment that I care to cook. It took me almost a full minute to find the Italian hoagie, because, since this is Wisconsin and I’m the darkest-skinned person for 80 miles in any direction, we don’t have Italian people, much less Italian hoagies. I purchase my hoagie and eschew the bag, since it’s the only thing I bought. I put the hoagie on the passenger seat of my car. It’s wrapped in wax paper, as hoagies often are, and taped shut.

On the first turn, I look over to see that the tape has come undone, the wrapper unraveled and my ersatz Italian sub is rolling across the seat, with little bits of lettuce trailing behind like cinders coming off a falling meteorite.

Such is the unpredictable nature of life. No matter the airtightness of our plans, the purity of our motives, the height of our aspirations, we are subject to the caprices of fate and the unintended consequences of our own failings, which weigh on us like millstones. All our tape is coming undone. We are all the rolling sandwich. We are all the falling lettuce.

The Perfect Metaphor

This was the utterance of Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated this morning, as he prepared to face a full day’s slate of broadcast appearances regarding the fallout of Major League Baseball handing down suspensions for the Biogenesis affair. 

It’s also the greatest metaphor of all time. 

Okay, maybe not literally that, but Jay’s frustrated throwaway comment is a remarkable piece of writing, and here’s why:

  • It’s simple. Eleven words, the most complicated of which is “bullshit.” Elegant, minimalistic prose that evokes the detached ennui of Camus. As you can tell from that last sentence, I’m incapable of writing something so pithy and simple, and I’m jealous. It says everything there is to say about the situation in colorful detail without sending anyone with more than a second-grade reading level running for the thesaurus. Moreover, you almost dance from word to word, treading heavily on the first clause, “It’s raining bullshit today,” to the second. 
  • Bullshit is a great word. It’s an expression of disgust and outrage, and you can’t string together an “l” with an “sh” vocally without contorting your mouth into a scornful shape. You almost spit this word out when you say it.
  • It’s a powerful image. Think about it. “It’s raining bullshit.” Imagine that “the heavy stuff is already coming down.” It’s the kind of thing you say about a blizzard or a hurricane, the kind of driving, relentless, destructive precipitation that can ruin your day even when it’s only water. Now imagine that it’s just a torrent of bullshit, big, malodorous chunks of well-digested foliage, the kind of substance that is shoveled into piles where it often literally steams its noxious fumes into the air. Bullshit is unpleasant to all the senses (or so I’m told, I’ve never eaten it). It’s ugly and it reeks of uncleanness, of disease, of discomfort. Imagine that raining down, literally raining, with no end in sight.
  • It fits the situation. Biogenesis is relentless, ugly and unpleasant. There are situations where possible outcomes exist where anyone will leave happy. This is not one of them. No matter what the outcome, everyone will be displeased somehow, and everyone is airing that rage and unhappiness on every sports publication with a website. There is no redemption, no justice, no good feeling. It’s ugly and it reeks of disease and it’s raining down with no end in sight. It’s raining bullshit today. It’s a sentence that just teems with boredom and fatigue and cynicism, and it could not be more perfect for the situation.

I’ve looked up to Jay for a long time, not only because of his superb mustache, but because I think he’s a great sportswriter. And that was before I knew he’d pen the greatest metaphor of all time. 

The MLB Teams, In Order of How Much I Think I Watch Them

  1. Philadelphia Phillies
  2. Texas Rangers
  3. Baltimore Orioles
  4. New York Mets
  5. Toronto Blue Jays
  6. Oakland Athletics
  7. Houston Astros
  8. Atlanta Braves
  9. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
  10. St. Louis Cardinals
  11. Pittsburgh Pirates
  12. Minnesota Twins
  13. Kansas City Royals
  14. Milwaukee Brewers
  15. Los Angeles Dodgers
  16. Tampa Bay Rays
  17. Cincinnati Reds
  18. Boston Red Sox
  19. Miami Marlins
  20. Washington Nationals
  21. Cleveland Indians
  22. San Francisco Giants
  23. Arizona Diamondbacks
  24. New York Yankees
  25. Seattle Mariners
  26. San Diego Padres
  27. Colorado Rockies
  28. Detroit Tigers
  29. Chicago White Sox
  30. Chicago Cubs

The First 402 Words of the Novel I’ll Never Write

They do a strange thing in southern Wisconsin and northern Iowa. Rather than sending their highways over and around mountains (as they would, Alex thought, in the civilized world), they’d shave the top couple dozen feet off of a hill, but only as much as was needed to create two lanes in each direction, plus a median.

So David Santangelo drove his aging Camaro, like six white horses, not so much over as through the rolling hills of the Midwest, until, after all, he finally started to see signs for Saint Ignatius, Iowa.

Saint Ingatius is a hamlet, roughly halfway between Dubuque and Davenport along U.S. Highway 61, that exists for two purposes: first, to provide a post office, liquor store, school, gas station and pizza delivery service to the surrounding dairy and sheep farms. Saint Ignatius counts among its population some 6,430 souls, spread out across ten times as many square miles.

It’s a town that has more sheep than people and more traffic circles than sheep. If you get off the exit for gas, or food, or to use the toilet, you’re liable to have to navigate half a dozen roundabouts before you encounter the Shell station (run by the family Nygaard for three generations) that serves as the primary navigational waypoint for the city.

If you’re so inclined, you can see a monument erected to the westernmost point of the advance of George Rogers Clark’s Illinois Campaign during the Revolutionary War, but very few visitors ever are. Most often, they’re happy to take on fuel and drink at the Nygaard Family Shell and perhaps to sample a slice or two of the four cheese pizza at Ristorante La Forgia, have a pleasant conversation or two with a genial local (because, let’s face it, all Iowa locals are friendly to strangers for at least fifteen minutes), and be on their way, whether it’s to Dubuque or Davenport or even more exciting lands, such as Omaha or Cedar Rapids or Madison or sometimes even Chicago.

Saint Ignatius, Iowa, in short, is like tens of thousands of other agricultural hamlets across the Midwest—some local businesses in service of the larger city purpose, surrounded by farms.

But what sets Saint Ignatius apart from other, similar cities, is that it is the Mecca of sex tourism in North America.  

And that’s why David Santangelo was driving his Camaro there in such a hurry.

Five Crappy Jokes Based on TV On the Radio’s “Wolf Like Me”

  1. Tunde Adebimpe is ghostwriting Michael Dorn’s autobiography. It’s called “Worf Like Me.”
  2. Tunde Adebimpe is teaching a monthly seminar on how dog owners can impress their pets. The promise: “When the moon is round and full, gonna teach you tricks that will blow your mongrel’s mind.”
  3. Tunde Adebimpe hides copies of his second album, Return to Cookie Mountain, around the Sesame Street studio in the hopes of inciting riots among the Muppets.
  4. Tunde Adebimpe announces that he’s going to start naming his internal organs. He calls his heart “Curtis Glencross” and explains by saying “My heart’s a Flame.”
  5. Tunde Adebimpe refuses to help you move your sofa and instead sits in the corner and yells “Motherfucker!” over and over. By way of explanation, he says only: “Gotta curse. I cannot lift.”