I started to write this to praise Alex Belth. His piece on the death of his friend at Baseball Analysts ranks as one of the top reads this year, perhaps this decade. I often say that good writing makes you think while great writing makes you feel. I'm proud to call Alex a colleague, but honored to call him a friend.
Instead of calling Belth one of the best writers of his generation, something I imagine you already know, I realized that his writing and the rest of the Designated Hitter lineup, put together by Rich Lederer, is not only a great read, but is the best case I've seen for why 'net-based writers deserve recognition.
I've written on more than one occasion, here and at BP, about my desire to have one of those BBWAA cards hanging from my neck someday. I want to go in behind Joe Sheehan, Rob Neyer, Jim Caple, Eric Neel, and the others who blazed the path but I want the card just the same.
I had the chance to meet Jim Caple for the first time at the World Series. Great guy and great writer. It was a meeting that could best be called brief, perhaps in passing. He was grabbing food and was engaged in conversation with Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun ... and incoming President of the BBWAA. I'd been on a couple shows with Schmuck in the wake of the Palmeiro situation, so I had a nice segue into the conversation. Invariably, the conversation came around to net-based writers and Peter was gracious, but like most, doesn't think it will happen.
I know Peter reads BP, so maybe he'll stumble across this -- or maybe I'll send him a link. The awkward case I've tried to make is made brilliantly by the Designated Hitters series. Alex Belth and Eric Neel stand shoulder to shoulder with Bob Klapisch and Kevin Kernan. Even Klapisch, a young buck in the old school, shines given freedom from his format. I'm curious if Rich will continue to get great writing out of good writers, if more will test their metal in his crucible, and whether they'll notice that there are some great writers here, not just good.
There's been a subtle, small shift in how we follow the game. I'm as likely to read Alex Belth as I am Murray Chass, to check Dodger Thoughts as I am the LA Times, or to watch the MLB FastCast as I am to sit through Baseball Tonight. The vast baseball masses don't know we exist, but watch how BP is quoted over the last year. There's no explanation of what BP is and in its absence implies something.
Can we name most of the good off-line writers in baseball -- and of those, how many do we read on the net? I read Schmuck's work on Palmeiro on pixels, not paper. I read Gordon Edes, Joel Sherman, Drew Olson, Mike Berardino, Tracy Ringolsby and others without ending up with a pile of out-of-town papers in the recycling bin. (Perhaps we should make an environmental argument when pitching the BBWAA!) Are there new, good, notable writers in newspapers? Sure and lots, but the democratization of the 'net has loosed the floodgates and left the public as the decider rather than J-schools and the HR department from the Times, Post, or Daily News.
I've ceased hoping that the BBWAA will open their doors to us, yet I still lobby and dream. Like I told a GM recently, "you don't have to talk to me or read your column, but there's a kid out there who will have your job someday who does. I'm writing for him and hoping he remembers me."