This one's a little bit personal and more than a little self-involved, so if you're just here for the baseball you might want to come back tomorrow.
I got news Saturday that Baseball Prospectus 2007 hit (or will hit, I've never quite figured out how this works) #9 on the New York Times Bestseller list, in the "Paperback Advice" section, as of March 25. Apparently, this reflects how well the book sold through March 10. Saturday was March 17, by the way. Confused? Me, too!
More certain (but certainly not less confusing) is that this means that all the authors of BP2K7 (as we like to call it) are best-selling authors. Including me. This was unexpected (apparently, this is Baseball Prospectus's best-ever showing), and it came on the tail of some big changes in my life.
So the last few weeks, I've been dealing with the ups and downs of being a BP author. On the up side, at the end of February, I was interviewed for Japanese television, a story about the Yanks/Red Sox rivalry and Daisuke Matsuzaka. The opportunity was sent my way by BP colleague Neil deMause. It was pretty cool: the crew came to my home, and did a detailed interview in which I talked about the Yanks' and Sox's finances and payroll advantage, explained the luxury tax, and gave the Yanks an extremely slight edge going into the season. Then they asked me for action shots of me at my computer, which you can see above. Sadly, the interview will only air in Japan; if I'm able to get my hands on the footage, I'll be sure to share. But it was weird being interviewed on TV, particularly since they were interviewing me...and Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe.
That's a weird feeling. Ryan's been one of the top sports writers in the country since I was in high school, if not earlier. How'd I become the next name they pick out of the hat?
On the down side of all this, came the news just after BP was released that four players were missing from the book--and two of them were from my chapter, including the one that people would be most likely to miss, Seattle third baseman Adrian Beltre. Now, as one of my editors, Christina Kahrl, made clear on BP's Unfiltered Blog, if wasn't that we forgot about Beltre or anything. The team working on BP2K7 had a really cool web-based interface that we used to submit and edit our work, rather than emailing dozens of Word files to each other. From what I understand, something went wrong in that interface, causing the entries on Beltre, Wladimir Balentien, Bob Wickman, and Hernan Iribarren (how's that for a bizarre random sampling of players?) to get lost on their way to the publisher, and so none of those guys made it into the book.
These things happen. The first Baseball Prospectus annual, back in 1996, was missing an entire team, the Cardinals. As was the case back then, we're trying to make the inconvenience up to people--this time, by making all the information from the entry, plus quite a bit more, available to the public by making all four players' PECOTA cards available to the public for free (you can click on any of the player names above to see what those PECOTA cards look like, and the comments that should have been in this year's annual). Still, it sucks because a) a bit of work, by myself and others, went into those comments, and it sucks that they didn't get into print, and b) there are plenty of people who will buy the annual but never see Christina's Unfiltered post, or know that they could get the missing entries online. To all those people, I am very deeply sorry.
Even without Beltre (and Balentien), it's still a great book, and I'm still proud of the Seattle chapter, which is where I made my contribution.
Still, I'd only just gotten over the waves of nausea that the missing players caused me, when another hubub erupted, having to do with my chapter. This one was simultaneously more annoying and far less substantial. Someone took one of the players comments as a personal insult against one of his friends, and decided to make a giant public stink about it. The post about this no longer exists, but the Baseball Think Factory thread on that post can be found here, and another post from the same website giving the denouement of the whole affair can be found here. All in all, I guess the firestorm took maybe six or seven hours one afternoon and evening. It didn't help that I got to the party late, by which time there were many, many comments at both the site in question and at BTF, accusing me and my colleagues of all manner of ugly and scurrilous conduct.
The worst part is, people took great umbrage over the fact that the person who wrote the comment in question (me) was anonymous, as a result of BP's policy that team chapters and player comments are written by the Baseball Prospectus Team as opposed to any particular author. To understand why that policy makes sense, you have to understand how the book writing process works. There are chapter authors, each responsible for writing the team essay and a number of player comments. Each author decides--with the able assistance of BP's resident prospect expert, Kevin Goldstein--which players he'll write about, and who will get a full comment or just a single-sentence Lineout comment. Kevin will also give input on the minor leaguers, ranging from the incredibly detailed to a simple "big fastball, no command."
Then it's off to deal with the blank page, but even that isn't a solitary process. Writers have the backup of BP's technical staff and internal mailing list, where they make requests for statistical queries, often drawing commentary and suggestions from other members of mailing list. By the time all's said and done, the research is collaborative enough that if you had to attribute all the individual contributions, something like "based on research by Ben Murphy with suggestions from Keith Woolner, and a verbal smackdown about historical context from Jim Baker..." by the time you got through with all the shoutouts, you wouldn't have much wordcount left to actually say anything.
Once all the research is done there's the writing, and after the writing, our editors get their thing on. Sometimes their influence is relatively small, just covering up the fact that the writer doesn't know when one should use "that" as opposed to "which", or that he doesn't have any idea about the proper use of the semicolon. In other situations, they're streamlining the text, making it more readable, adding jokes, and trying to make the whole thing read less like a dozen different authors writing in their own voices, and more like a chorus singing in a single key. Sometimes the verbal surgery they perform is radical--in one 120-word player comment I submitted, the editors kept only two of my words, re-writing everything else. Those words? "Hamster wheel."
So the point is, it takes a village to write a player comment.
This comes into play in the weird internet argument I was talking about before. The problem was, I wrote a comment about longtime Mariner Raul Ibanez, in which I looked back at BP's 2004 comment about Ibanez, in which the Mariners' signing Ibanez away from the Kansas City Royals was labeled a waste of money, and pointed out that the previous comment had turned out completely wrong: Ibanez stopped his decline, started playing like a completely different person, and was a bargain over the course of his contract. At the end of this, my editors appended, for humorous purposes "...the guy who made that comment isn't with us anymore."
Someone assumed that this last part was a dig at former BP author Derek Zumsteg, who did the Mariners chapter for several years, including 2004. The only problem with this theory was, well, that the Ibanez comment in 2004 wasn't in the Mariners chapter--it was in the Kansas City Royals chapter, which was written by someone else. I knew that when I wrote the comment (although I'll admit that I forgot for a while in the post-accusation shock period; I thought the guy who'd accused me of being a miserable person was right, and that my memory was wrong). I have absolutely no grudges against either Zumsteg or the person who actually wrote the comment (to the contrary, they're two of my favorite writers). The idea wasn't to get a dig in on anyone, it was to take accountability for a prediction that turned out wrong--one that lots and lots of people, and not just at Baseball Prospectus, shared.
Anyway, all of this comes up because as of today, I'm outed from my Seattle chapter anonymity. I did a Baseball Prospectus Radio spot for today previewing the Mariners' season--ironically, in connection with a piece Zumsteg wrote for Baseball Prospectus's Hope and Faith series. With any luck, my own Hope and Faith entry--on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays--will be up on the site later this week. On Thursday night, I'll be at Columbia University and on Saturday afternoon I'll be at the Yogi Berra Museum in Montclair, New Jersey, signing copies of Baseball Prospectus 2007 and talking baseball (details can be found on BP's events page). Feel free to come by and have your book signed. If you've happened on a copy of Bombers Broadside 2007, I'll gladly sign that, also.
Heck, if you bring a printout of the Adrian Beltre or Wladimir Balentien PECOTA cards, I'll sign those, too.
[UPDATE: fixed typo]