Talk about burying the lede. Tucked away at the very end of a fun column about the amazing Bo Jackson, is a note that Rob Neyer is leaving his 15-year-old spot at ESPN.
Of course, it’s this end-note that has everyone all abuzz, which is kind of sad for fans of Bo Jackson discussions. Already, several people have referred to Neyer as this generation’s Bill James – in other words, it’s Neyer’s fault that so many of us young whippersnappers are so into baseball stats.
In a few years, someone will write a farewell posts that makes bloggers say “______ was what Rob Neyer was for the previous generation of stat nerds.” Who will it be?
(I’m certain it won’t be me, by the way. Even among the most niche of niche baseball blogs, the traffic at this site barely registers as anything. You, gentle reader, are part of a teeny-tiny readership.)
Suggestions included RJ Anderson and Jonah Keri. Both are good ideas – Keri was pretty much it for me. A repeating theme among responses was that it won’t be someone whose work is super math-heavy, but a writer who happens to deal with numbers. Joe Posnanski, when he writes about sabermetrics, is that, even when he’s using stats that are not state-of-the-art. It’s about how to look at the game we already love, not just about calculators and spreadsheets (though we love those things too).
If I have a friend who is an old-school baseball fan, sending them a player’s FanGraphs page with no other context is probably not going to “convert” them. Instead, they need to be shown, in skillful language with with gentle patience, why these fancy numbers are there, what they do, and why they make being a baseball fan more awesome. That’s what Neyer and James have done for countless nerds among us. That’s what makes their work matter.
Anyway, this was just a silly conversation on Twitter that I wanted to share. It’s silly because, as Twitter friend Bill pointed out, the next Neyer or James probably won’t be just one person: “Neyer and James were so successful that there are dozens of them.”