I’m here to answer some questions and I’ll start by the one I’m asked more than any other. “Who is Buster?”
When I took over MLB Bullets so many years ago that I lost count, Buster Olney of ESPN was running a daily links column. It was incredible. It had a link to pretty much every baseball story published on the internet the previous day, organized by subject or by team. I’m sure Olney had an army of interns helping him at the time as there was simply no way anyone could have written that collection of links every day by themselves and accomplished anything else. But when Al asked me to take over the MLB links column, that Olney column was my model, even if I knew I couldn’t do anything close to what he was doing by myself.
Olney always finished his column with two things. One was a link to a sports story from his alma mater Vanderbilt Commodores and so I tried to link to an Iowa Hawkeyes story, where I went to graduate school. I quickly gave that up as it was too much extra work and after all, there’s Black Heart Gold Pants. But Olney’s last line was always “And today will be better than yesterday.” As a kind of tribute to Olney’s column, I ended my piece with “And tomorrow will be a better day than today, Buster.” I didn’t mean that as anything more than quickly acknowledging my admiration of Olney’s work. but it quickly became really popular with you, my readers. So I’ve kept it going all these years, even long after Olney’s links column was deep-sixed by ESPN during one of their many rounds of budget cuts.
I officially give permission to anyone who wishes to continue to use it for MLB Bullets.
So for the other question. Today is my last day as a paid writer for Bleed Cubbie Blue and SB Nation, at least for the time being. I’ve lived in the state of California since 1999 and the state has passed a new law to limit the use of “independent contractors,” in order to curb the abuses of employers who have decided to classify employees as such in order to skirt labor laws and tax obligations. This practice then dumps a whole lot of costs that should be covered by employers onto the taxpayers of the State of California. Unfortunately, the legislature decided to include freelance journalists like myself in that law. Whether or not they should have been included in that law is something I see both sides of from a public policy point of view. But from my own personal situation, that decision has had awful consequences.
I have now written as many articles for Vox Media that I am allowed to as a freelancer in 2020 under the new California law. I have applied for a part-time journalist position for SB Nation and I interviewed for that job in February. I was told that a decision on my application would come down sometime this month.
Then this happened. There are no sports and therefore no need for sports writers.
I have been told that no decision has been made on my or anyone else’s application. I have also been told that there no timeline for when a decision will be made.
All of this is completely understandable. If I were in management’s shoes, I wouldn’t be hiring part-time sportswriters at the moment either. I offered to write about the Belarusian Premier League, but the level of interest in that among our readers is probably pretty low.
I have the opportunity to write articles for free, but that choice doesn’t have a lot of appeal to me at the moment. I don’t know how many of you would jump at the chance to continue to go to work if they didn’t pay you anymore. Nor do I want to give the corporate bosses the idea that they don’t need to pay me because I’m willing to keep doing the same thing for nothing.
Al has said that he will keep my name on the masthead and the door is open for me to return. I still have the ability to hide comments and the ban hammer, although I’ve had very little reason to use those tools over the last couple of years. But it’s a fair warning to be nice to me. (That’s a joke. I’ve learned over the years that I need to say that.)
If I do get hired on, it might not be working for Bleed Cubbie Blue. In my interview with SB Nation, I discussed writing about the California baseball teams and MLS soccer. Maybe other sports as well. And in truth, I would very much look forward to doing those things. Not because I don’t want to watch the Cubs, but because after 12 years of writing about the Cubs’ major and minor league teams, I looked forward to new challenges. As much as I am a Cubs fan until the day I die, I do watch a lot of baseball played by the five California MLB teams and I root for all of them to do well, and only in part because good baseball is a lot more fun to watch than bad baseball. Can one be a fan of the Giants or Athletics as well as the Cubs? I like to think so.
And you know I’ve come to love soccer and MLS over the past half-dozen years or so.
But let me stress: there are no guarantees that I will be given a chance to do that here or anywhere else.
I first encountered Al Yellon in a Cubs Usenet group in the late-90s. He was an active participant and I was mostly a lurker, although I did occasionally comment from my old AOL account. He had a Cubs blog called “And Another Thing” that he linked to and I became a regular reader of that. My first direct communications with him was an email I sent him in response to something he had written on that blog about Adrián Beltré. I followed him to Bleed Cubbie Blue a few years later. Al and I have become friends over these past many years and for that friendship, I am grateful.
The early BCB was a more informal place with Al’s game recaps often being more about his experience in the bleachers than the game itself, which appealed to me since I’d already seen the game and I didn’t need to read about it again. At the time, I was living in a third-floor apartment that overlooked a California League minor league baseball stadium. (Sort of. It was about four blocks away, but I could see into it from my balcony, even if I couldn’t really follow the action. But I could turn on the radio and hear the play that everyone was cheering for five seconds earlier.)
So I had a real interest in minor league baseball and I noticed the site hadn’t been covering the Cubs’ minor league teams. So I decided to do a nightly recap as a fanpost of the Cubs minor league teams starting with the 2007 season. Someone else had the same idea (and I apologize for not remembering who that was) and we traded off nights for the first half of the 2007 season. Then he went on vacation and I took over the job every night. I’ve been here ever since. (I just remembered we had to do HTML code in those days.) Eventually I started to get paid (very little) for it as Al gave me more and more responsibilities. I never stopped writing the Minor League Wrap until now.
A funny thing happened as I wrote up those stories on the Cubs minors. I attracted readers like you. And because of the interactive nature of the SB Nation blogs, you the reader started asking me questions like “Is this guy a real prospect?” or “When can we expect this pitcher at Wrigley Field?”
I had no idea. I was just a guy who went to minor league games and posted the results of Cubs minor league games that I collected from the teams’ various sites. (milb.com was still a few years in the future.) No one was really writing about the minor leagues back then other than Baseball America. The games weren’t available on video and not every affiliate even had internet streams of their radio broadcasts. (Times have certainly changed in just 12 years.) But because you readers asked me those questions and because I didn’t want to disappoint you by saying “I don’t know,” I tried to turn myself into a minor league expert. How successful I was in that is open to interpretation, but I assure you that I did my best over these past 12 years.
I’ve written a lot of other stuff for this site over the past 12 years, but I want to highlight just one other thing. Starting in 2015, Al had the idea that I would do a “Rapid Recap” that would publish immediately (or as close to immediately as possible) after every playoff game, since he was at the game. That meant that in 2016, I got to write the first piece on this site that announced that the Cubs had reached the World Series for the first time since 1945. I also wrote a piece after Game 4 of the Series where I said I knew that things looked bleak, but that the Cubs still had a path to a World Series title. I mentioned that the Indians’ injury-depleted pitching staff had been pushed to the limit throughout the playoffs and it was very possible, maybe even probable, that they were out of gas and the the Cubs could win the next three games.
But nothing compares to Game 7. Here at SB Nation, we are supposed to be both fans and journalists. Fans cheer for teams. Journalists cheer for stories. Trying to be both is close to impossible and it’s a tribute to those, like Al, who manage to do it well. On the one hand, I was hoping against hope that a clearly-gassed Aroldis Chapman would keep the Indians from scoring the winning run. On the other hand, I was sitting there worried about how in the world I was going to write up a story about yet another Cubs collapse.
I had started writing a story about the Cubs winning their first World Series in 108 years sometime in the fifth or sixth inning. It was mostly written by the time of the Rajai Davis home run. During the ninth inning and the rain delay, I wrote a second article about how the Cubs had lost the World Series. Don’t ask about it. The article has been deleted and lost for all time. It was basically the same game recap through the ninth inning, copied and pasted, with a new lede congratulating the Indians, talking about our own heartbreak and how next year the Cubs would be back like they always had in the past and my faith that one day it would be different.
During that rain delay, I had to figure out how to console the broken hearts that you readers would have had while at the same time dealing with my own broken heart. I’m sure I would have failed, but I would have tried. I assure you that it is a very different experience having to deal with something like Game 7 when you know you have to be a journalist as well as a fan.
I’m so glad it turned out the right way in the end. I think I did a good job.
But that brings me up to my final point. You, my readers. I cannot tell you how grateful I am that you have and continue to read my work over these many years. Whenever I asked myself if it was worth it to do this much work for little money, I remembered that there were readers like you that appreciated what I was writing. (Plus, I did get to write about baseball and get some money for it, which I can’t deny is cool.) Whenever I wondered if anyone would notice if I published something substandard, I knew that you readers would. I didn’t want to let you down. Not everything I wrote was a masterpiece, but nothing stunk because I didn’t try. It just stunk for the sake of stinkiness. I think that wasn’t very often.
So for now, we’re taking a pause in our relationship. I hope this won’t be forever, but I can’t say one way or the other. No one can. I can guarantee that baseball will be played again and that I’ll be there in one way or another.
So I hope this isn’t “goodbye.” Let’s hope it’s au revoir or “until we see each other again.”