>Once upon a time (Fall of 1997), The Common Man enrolled in college, and got his first extensive exposure to the Internet. Being a sports fan in general and a baseball fan in particular, he made his way to the old ESPN.com. And there he ran across Rob Neyer. And what TCM read blew his mind.
How in the hell could Scott Rolen be better than Vinny Castilla? What do you mean that the sacrifice bunt is a bad idea? Why was Rick Aguilera overrated? Who in God's name was Arky Vaughan? I was excited, and I sent word to my good friend Bill to check out Neyer's work.
Bill's version of this story is essentially reversed, as he claims to have discovered Neyer first and sent it to The Common Man. But Bill's a lawyer, so take that into a account when you assess his credibility. [Note: this isn't true. Bill's version of the story agrees exactly with TCM's. But I'm leaving it anyway.]
Anyway, since then we're pretty sure we've read darn near every word that Rob has published, from his work at ESPN, to his exchanges with Rany Jazayerli on their Royals, to his insightful and entertaining books (available now on Amazon!). And we've always come away learning something.
Look, we have no idea what the first column we read by Rob Neyer actually was. But it forever changed the way that we looked at baseball, writing, baseball writing, and the world at large. You're going to accuse us of hyperbole, but because of Rob Neyer's work, we became a bigger fans of baseball, better writers, more critical thinkers, and, because of these skills, ultimately better people. Because Rob helped me learn to think critically, to not accept "truths" at face value, and to have a strong curiousity into how underlying systems worked.
I received The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract in the late 1980s as a present. I read it cover to cover. But I didn't really understand Bill James and what he was trying to say until I read Rob Neyer. And I don't think I would be writing about baseball at all right now if it weren't for Rob showing all of us how it could and should be done.
So, a week ago, when Rob informed members of The SweetSpot Network that he was going to be leaving ESPN, it felt like a bomb had been dropped on our Gmail accounts. We were shocked and sad. Because Rob Neyer's invitation was the reason we joined The SweetSpot Network. And because Rob Neyer is the father of baseball writing on the Internet. Rob's gift was not necessarily the math, but his ability to communicate the math, to vouch and argue for it, and to inspire others to carry the torch for modern baseball analysis. Baseball Prospectus. Baseball Think Factory. The Hardball Times. Hardball Talk. Fangraphs. BaseballReference.com. Hell, even Bleacher Report. They all stem from Rob's work on ESPN. From the intellectual curiosity and ambition that he and his mentor, Bill James, fostered in others.
We have been incredibly proud to have gone, in the past few months, from his fans to his colleagues. And we hope that we're also his friends. So we're sad to see him leaving the website and the blog network he helped build. But we have no doubt that Rob's going off to do something amazing. And that he's going to be incredibly successful at it. We're excited to find out where he's headed next. Bill and I both wish him only the best of luck.