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.