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Rob Neyer says goodbye to ESPN

Jan 31, 2011, 3:02 PM EDT

Rob Neyer

Rob Neyer has announced that after 15 years — which is about 300 in Internet years — he’s leaving ESPN.  Rob is going to keep writing, of course — we don’t know where, but a little bird tells me that we’ll hear more about that part tomorrow morning — but this is still pretty major news. As long as there has been Internet baseball writing, Rob has been over at ESPN, so in many ways this is the end of an era.

While Bill James is rightfully credited for revolutionizing baseball analysis, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the revolution doesn’t happen — or at least doesn’t happen as quickly and as thoroughly as it did happen — without Rob Neyer. Rob, who was once James’ assistant, popularized sabermetrics via his ESPN column/blog, reaching far more people in his first few weeks as an Internet writer than the number of people to whom James sold his original Abstracts. He was the gateway drug for stat geekery. At least he was mine.

It was 1998. I was fresh out of law school and was working my first real job. Somewhere during my seven years of higher education I had regressed from baseball fanatic to a mere casual fan. I still followed the Braves, but I wasn’t nuts about it. I watched baseball, but I missed a lot of what was going on.

It was then that I discovered Rob’s column, and it was nothing short of a revelation. Five days a week, this voiceless man in red faux flannel would challenge nearly every lazy assumption I had about the game. Telling me things like RBIs weren’t the most valuable measure of a hitter. That strikeouts weren’t the worst thing in the world. That Dante Bichette wasn’t really any good.

Rob didn’t make his pronouncements from on high and expect you to take his word for it. He showed his work. He encouraged you to run the numbers yourself. He wrote in a clear and uncomplicated voice that made even the most complicated concepts seem quite simple, which was extremely important to a mathophobe like me. I read Neyer every day.  He, more than any person or event, rekindled my love for baseball that had gone somewhat dormant in the 1990s.

I began writing about baseball myself at a now-defunct webzine in 2001. There is no question I never would have done so without Rob Neyer’s influence and inspiration.  While that ‘zine tanked in early 2003, I considered it a success because at some point during the run Rob, who must have been forwarded the link by one of my 11 readers, sent me a nice email telling me that I had done a good job on a particular piece of analysis. That email was the biggest reason why, a few years later, I felt like I was good enough to start my Shysterball blog. I didn’t care that absolutely no one read the thing for the first couple of months. Rob had once seen my work and said it was good and that was all the validation I needed.

But then people started reading Shysterball. Why? Because Rob started linking it.  At first just a couple of random “this is neat” links. Then, in November 2007 he mentioned Shysterball prominently during one of his ESPN chats.  My traffic took off.  I was asked to write some guest columns on other websites that got some notice. Eventually I was asked to move Shysterball to The Hardball Times, and from there I was asked to chip in part time on the blog that became HardballTalk. In short, I owe my career to Rob Neyer.

Thank you for all of your great work for ESPN, Rob.  Good luck with all of the great work you’ll surely do in the future.

  1. The Dangerous Mabry - Jan 31, 2011 at 3:13 PM

    It’s going to be great for Rob. I’ve loved his work at ESPN, but in recent years, the comments section has just been absolutely awful, and I can only hope he’ll head somewhere where he’ll have more control over things, and where he’ll actually be able to get involved in discussions with the readers. At the four letter, that seems to be becoming more difficult with every column.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jan 31, 2011 at 3:17 PM

      The comments section in general is terrible there, not just with Neyer’s articles. It’s one of the reasons I started reading Shysterball. As Craig mentioned, Neyer linked it a few years back, I started reading and enjoyed what I saw (both from Craig and the readers). ATH was one of the first things I read every morning, and now we’re here.

  2. sdelmonte - Jan 31, 2011 at 3:23 PM

    Rob’s on my Mt. Rushmore of baseball bloggers, with you and JoePo. His blog is one of the first things I check daily, even before I come here. I look forward to seeing where he lands.

    Can’t say it’s a surprise, though, that he’s moving on. If you want to find the blogs for the other sports at ESPN’s website, they are more prominently highlighted. And while I hear Buster and Jayson on the radio all the time, I never hear Rob. I don’t think his bosses appreciated him nearly enough.

    • billybeaneismyhero - Jan 31, 2011 at 8:56 PM

      Totally, but you know there are four heads on Mount Rushmore, right?

  3. billtpa - Jan 31, 2011 at 3:40 PM

    Definitely grateful to Rob for (among so many other things) introducing me to Shysterball. If there’s a non-fanboy(/girl) baseball blogger out there who doesn’t owe something to Rob, I’d really like to hear his or her story.

    • Matthew Flint - Jan 31, 2011 at 3:52 PM

      Always been a big baseball fan but never read any of Neyer’s stuff because I have completely seperated myself from ESPN. Looks like it was my loss. But as someone above said, most of the ESPN guys are on the radio all the time and I would take that commentary and my local newspapers (Philly Inquirer and Daily News) and their blogs and piece together as much information as possible. I found this blog by accident and it has totally changed the game (for me).

  4. stichey - Jan 31, 2011 at 4:15 PM

    Rob’s baseball books are really great too! Rob has that fantastic writing style that makes it seem as if you’re learning from a trusted friend who has a great sense of humor. I LOVED Rob’s Baseball Line-up book if for no other reason than to be reminded of all those pretty-great players from the recent past that don’t really get mentioned unless you examine them team-by team or in context. I look forward to reading Rob wherever he ends up!

  5. bigcatasroma - Jan 31, 2011 at 4:18 PM

    WHOA.

    You could tell something was up the way he signed off his chat last week, now that I think about it. I don’t remember when I started reading ESPN.com or Neyer, but Neyer was definitely the reason I started reading ESPN.com. I think he has outgrown ESPN; I think as a whole, quite frankly, someone with the insight and writing ability and connectivity with fans that Rob has shouldn’t be on ESPN. The conglomerate has descended into some weird, po-mo like existence, with writers yelling at the audience much the way Skip Bayless does. This is the network of Bayless, and Jim Rome, and Stu Scott, and countless others that have turned me off of ESPN over the last 5-10 years for getting my sports fix precisely because of their personalities. Even someone like Bill Simmons has been infiltrated by the network and has lost 50% of his appeal. As I get older, I don’t lose interest in sports, but my interests do change, baseball and soccer remain the two I follow closely, and I don’t have time to be boo-yahed at all the time. Rob Neyer was one of the few voices at the WWL that actually engaged me. I’m glad he’s moving on because I feared that he would lose his fastball, and in a way, it seems like he has lost a mph or two over the last few years. I can’t wait to see where he ends up and I’ll always continue to read him, as long as he continues to right.

    (And Craig, don’t *you* go anywhere. You two + Law are my Three Musketeers right now . . . )

    • lar @ wezen-ball - Jan 31, 2011 at 7:05 PM

      Here’s his sign-off from that chat. Makes a lot of sense now:

      “Thanks for all the questions today, and for the many, many thousands of questions over the last (nearly) 15 years. I’m sorry I haven’t answered more of them. Until next time we meet, don’t forget this Chinese proverb: “A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.””

  6. bigcatasroma - Jan 31, 2011 at 4:19 PM

    And Joe Poz. I can’t believe I forgot Poz. I guess I have a Mount Rushmore too.

  7. Lukehart80 - Jan 31, 2011 at 4:34 PM

    Ugh, I’m not sure I can wait until tomorrow morning to find out where Rob Neyer is heading.

    I started reading him in ’98, when I was in college, his blog is what introduced me to Posnanski, to Shysterball, to Fangraphs, to Baseball-Reference, to Tango and The Book. I spend a lot of time reading and researching baseball on the internet; Neyer was my ticket to almost all of it.

    Hopefully he ends up somewhere that allows him to be even better, as ESPN seems somewhat limiting in this day and age of internet analysis.

  8. skerney - Jan 31, 2011 at 4:35 PM

    SNIP.

  9. paperlions - Jan 31, 2011 at 4:45 PM

    Same story here. I started reading Rob in 97, the stuff he wrote about changed the way I thought about baseball….then later he was the gateway to all the sites I now visit (this one, Joe Poz, Fangraphs, baseball ref, ect.)

  10. yankeesfanlen - Jan 31, 2011 at 5:16 PM

    Is “the little birdy” a peacock?

    • Craig Calcaterra - Jan 31, 2011 at 5:20 PM

      Nope. I will say that much. It’s not us.

      • Ray Steele - Feb 1, 2011 at 8:24 AM

        too bad. Had visions of Neyer showing up with the old ESPN belt, billing himself as “The Real World Champion.”

  11. joshfisherdd - Jan 31, 2011 at 5:37 PM

    I guess it wouldn’t surprise me if he left baseball altogether, or at least mostly.

    Josh

  12. apbaguy - Jan 31, 2011 at 6:14 PM

    Same story here. It was Rob’s writing style that attracted me to more in depth analysis of the sport, then his link that got me over to Shysterball. Like Big Cat above, these days it’s mostly baseball and the EPL for me, and as a result I watch a lot of Fox Soccer channel and Sky Sports News. The contrast with ESPN is pronounced. ESPN is indeed a network of shouters. Unfortunately the technical presentation of events on ESPN is far superior to Fox, so I watch their events. Also, Keith Law is fabulous. When Keith leaves ESPN, I cancel my insider.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Feb 1, 2011 at 8:39 AM

      Also, Keith Law is fabulous. When Keith leaves ESPN, I cancel my insider.

      Same here. I only really read Buster Olney’s pieces (which seem to be less and less frequent during the year) and KLaw’s for outsider. I can replace Olney’s with ATH, but you can’t replace the Snark

  13. mattjg - Jan 31, 2011 at 6:41 PM

    Losing Neyer will be ESPN’s loss. Like a lot of others, I discovered Shysterball through Neyer’s blog.

    Hopefully we won’t be without Neyer’s writing for long. Baseball Prospectus made some organizational changes today, including making Steven Goldman editor-in-chief. The most intriguing sentence of that article was this: “In the coming weeks, you will be seeing many new names here, some who carry great reputations with them, others rookies and tyros in every sense of the word.” Rob Neyer at BP? Hey, I can dream right. I have to admit, though, that it would be a shame to see Rob leave insider only to end up behind another paywall at BP.

    http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=12818

  14. billybeaneismyhero - Jan 31, 2011 at 8:55 PM

    Craig –

    Even several hours after first hearing (through Jason’s article at IIATMS) the news, I’m still in shock. Rob’s been one of my “must reads” every day for several years now, and it will be weird not be able to read his daily baseball musings. Rob opened up my eyes to a baseball world I didn’t know existed. Without him, I probably never would’ve discovered you or several other bloggers within the baseball blogosphere.

    In a way, as the godfather of baseball blogging, Neyer’s touched every one of us who has ever been brave enough to start a blog. He spawned and cultivated an entire legion of analytically minded baseball fans that he inspired to follow in his footsteps. While it wasn’t his intention to inspire us, it happened anyway. To me, that’s the mark of a truly inspirational individual. I can honestly say that I probably never would’ve started this blog had it not been for Rob, a man with whom I’ve never met, spoken, or even exchanged emails.

    Rob, if you’re reading this. Thanks man. You will be missed, and hurry back.

  15. RickyB - Feb 1, 2011 at 12:27 AM

    Not sure which year I began reading Neyer, but I remember what first attracted me was the title of his column — Chin Muzak. I remember him getting a cease and desist letter from Muzak for using that name in his column, and he had to change it. His humor, his tone, his writing made reading about sabermetrics so enjoyable. I am a Yankee fan, and I was just becoming a young fan when the Yankees and Royals battled year after year in the playoffs. I absolutely hated the Royals back then. Yet I would religiously read Rob and Rany on the Royals, and found myself rooting for KC, just so Rob would be inspired to write more. And he would write back, much more often than someone with his readership would be expected to. I have saved many of his replies to my e-mails throughout the years, and have enjoyed an occasional e-mail conversation with him. And if I went on vacation without access to the internet for several days, I would have to go back and read the archives of the days I missed. You are very right in that reading his work is like hearing it from a close, trusted friend. Not only did Neyer introduce me to Mr. Shysterball, but also to the brilliant writing of Posnanski. Those three are the only three blogs that have bookmarks on my browser. And I check them, multiple times a day, in hopes that something new has passed through their brains and found their way onto my computer screen. I can only hope I have another avenue to read his work, and quickly update my bookmark for Rob Neyer. He may not have taken the orthodox path for a writer — and would quickly inform you of that — but the path he took helped mold his writing for the better. My baseball fandom would be much less enriched without his fantastic work. Thanks for your 15 years at ESPN. Looking forward to your next outlet.

  16. levistahl - Feb 1, 2011 at 9:01 AM

    Same story for me: though I’d grown up as a baseball fan on Bill James’s writings, discovering Rob’s columns in 1999 was part of a full-on re-engagement with the game that hasn’t let up for me since.

    Wherever you go to write next, Rob, I’ll plan to follow. Thanks for all the great writing and thinking over the years.

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